Looking back over this blog, it hits me this has been almost as much an anti-bullying site as it has been an autism advocacy site. That’s fine with me. I’m openly a bullying victim and I don’t mind being open about the experience. My words are a tool to be used in service of fixing this toxic situation. I do all I can to fix it.
So it is that I find myself here. I’m certain I’ve covered this before. I know I’ve said it before. But I really, really need to go into this topic because of late I’ve been hearing these words a lot. And I’m not ok with it.
In the last few weeks, I’ve experienced an amount of harassment online. I won’t engage in hyperbole and say it’s a lot. After all I know people who get it way worse. I’m a cishet white man so there is a certain limit to what I face. I’ve vented about this to a number of people and I hear one phrase repeatedly: “Just ignore it.”
Just ignore it is of course the exact same advice I heard as a child. It was despicable advice then, when I was immature and lacked the defense mechanisms to deal with it. It put all the blame for my bullying on my 8-13 year old shoulders. It was an act of vicious victim blaming.
So 20 years later, I should be stronger. I should be able to stand up for myself, right? I mean obviously I am. Blogging is standing up. So when a person I disagree with and don’t know shares something I’ve written in a highly public forum and distributes it to strangers along with a vicious attack that leads to more, crowding out comments from my friends and making me feel bad in a space I use for socializing, I should just use the block button and move on, right?
OK I gave away the answer just by laying out the situation.
The hard truth is it’s almost impossible to just ignore harassment. Sure I can use the block button, and I do with great ease and zero trouble. I’m even on a blocklist service. But saying harassment should be ignores misses the point of what harassment is and why it bothers us.
See, harassment really isn’t about the words at all. It’s about the presence in a space we value. I love Twitter. I’ve met many of my best friends there. I built this blog there. So when I get unexpected negative comments in my feed, it bothers me. It has to. And to be clear, I’m not talking friends disagreeing with my opinions or even negative opinions from strangers about my take on a movie/book. That’s the fun of it.
What I’m describing are people who seek out opinions about serious matters they dislike and attack them. These people often use very angry, insulting language. What they hit me on could be politics (though I avoid the election), social issues (I’m unapologetic here), or even things like eating meat, which earned me an unexpectedly angry round today. (I have vegetarian followers. You cool.) It doesn’t matter. They jump down my throat and belittle me, often sharing my words with others.
What matters here is the action. They invade a space I hold special, indeed a “safe space.” When you get down to it, that’s exactly what happened to me as a child. I considered school somewhere I was supposed to be happy and it rarely was. During recess, I couldn’t enjoy my freedom because people came at me screaming. Honestly the only difference now is I’m actually being attacked for what I think and feel. And often I do have to delete my words because otherwise I get flooded with this. That’s the goal of people like this: to silence me.
So why can’t I ignore it? Because that violation hurts. It’s a sudden, very unpleasant experience. A reminder that even when I’m trying to be social, I can be attacked. And for what it’s worth, online harassment has started to have real consequences.People have had their entire lives ruined by it. That only makes it worse.
And at the core of this is a fact nobody wants to admit: telling someone to ignore it is a form of gaslighting. Gaslighting is telling someone what they think and feel is invalid. It is a form of evil. It puts all the blame on the victim. It tells them they need to change. It ignores that what’s being done is the far greater wrong.
I experienced this throughout my childhood. And I’m done taking it. No, it is NOT ok to tell someone how to think and feel. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you but it does to the person going through it. If you must speak up on this, try to find out why we think and feel what we do. I almost guarantee that by doing so, you’ll come to a much greater understanding of why this bothers us.