What’s a lady to do about haters, especially on the Internet? Like the common cold or traffic, it’s one of those intractable problems that feels like it should have a fix by now, and yet doesn’t. And like those problems, the ubiquity and predictability of haters somehow doesn’t reduce our stress, even as we keep telling ourselves to “let it go” or “don’t look at the comments.” For women in particular, writing on the web is like an open invitation to be swarmed by jackasses. And there really are no good options: Giving the trolls what they want (for you/me to shut up) is cowardly and harms the cause of getting more women’s voices into the mix. Pretending it doesn’t bother you doesn’t work, because who are you kidding? Fighting back is considered “feeding” and used as evidence that women are too emotional to do this writing stuff anyway. So what can be done?
Ann Friedman, who has been doing this being-female-on-the-Internet thing for awhile and often gets requests from newbies for advice on how to deal, has some well-considered thoughts at The Cut. She points to the new, hip hop-inspired trend of identifying the haters for what they are and taking pride in having them.
Rather than starving them, savvy people now brag about their trolls, and even use the haterade to their advantage. While the term “hater” has been around as long as hip-hop, it’s become so commonplace for rappers to decry their haters (or thank them, if you’re Kanye) that last year Complex named it one of the biggest clichés in the genre. Haters have also morphed into a meme of their own. You’ve seen the reality TV clips and the GIFs: Haters gonna hate. Hi, haters! Haters to the left. Keep hatin’. The lesson? Haters aren’t something to be feared. They’re validation that you’re a big deal. And they’re fuel to do better. Now you’re inspired to prove that their jealousy is warranted.
Friedman quotes Jessica Valenti’s earlier advice to women to let go of the desire to be liked by everyone. Obviously, as Friedman points out, there’s a difference between people whose opinions have value and haters, but giving yourself permission to be disliked—or even to relish it in some cases—can be a huge relief for women who like to share their opinions.
I’d like to add to this something I’ve observed over the years: Never forget that this is 2013 and everyone has a computer. That includes the creeps, the weirdoes, the bug-eyed nutters, and the sleazeballs in fedoras. When some leering dude rubs his crotch at you on the subway or a paranoia-steeped loony rants about the “new world order” in a bank line, it’s gross or annoying but not particularly hurtful. So why does it sting on the Internet? Often it’s because we subtly assume that the skeeve on the L train can’t be the same guy who shows up in blog comments to complain that women are too touchy when it comes to sexual harassment. Reminding yourself that it’s perfectly possible and in fact highly likely that they’re the same guy can go a long way towards bringing down the stress levels. “Everyone has a computer these days.” Memorize it and repeat it like a mantra before you decide to look at how the world is reacting to your writing this lovely day.