How Not to Be a Reply Guy

Listen to this episode

M1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.

M2: Hi Eamon. Hey Ruth.

F7: What’s up. What’s your lunch. Just thinking about reply guys.

M21: Oh good. I’m. So do you know the reply guy is.

M8: If you’re a woman with any kind of following on the Internet chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is something that virtually every female writer I work with at Slate is familiar with. Like my colleague Ingo basically a woman being on Twitter thinks stuff and then essentially guys coming over on thing like actually or wrong. Or Shannon.

F6: They’re just kind of there. They show up and they say something. And it’s just like a little like Hi I exist. I have like a little opinion about this.

F1: Or Ruth. I generally think of them as men who I don’t follow back but who are like in my mentions a lot. Just sort of trying to like get in on the conversation without necessarily having a ton to add. I know that you said Cameron this link to this Twitter user who has been.

M6: In your mentions a lot of kids through to see if you’ve responded to any of them and doesn’t seem like him don’t. Oh yeah. But it goes back all the way to 2016. We’re in 2018.

F4: For a while Yeah it’s interesting the obliviousness and the confidence is really something like a reply a guy like a nap right.

F5: Like they have a thing that they want to like put on you and you can either like shake it off or whatever.

F6: It’s maybe like a harassment on the level of like a gnat or something where it’s like it is pretty annoying way it’s annoying. Yeah.

F1: There are black guy is more like this little gnat buzzing around That’s harmless. You know it stays around much longer but is is just not. Scary in that same way.

M10: They all use the word gnat which is pretty amazing. I used to host a Slate Web series about American Muslims and stereotypes. So I’ve had my share of angry Twitter mentions and commenters who believed they had a thing or two to teach me an actual American Muslim.

M17: But I’m learning that reply guys are a totally unique breed and to give you a sense of what I mean by that you’re going to hear from one guy who now admits he used to be one.

M15: I’m aiming to smile and you’re listening to man up on this show every week we tell honest stories about our lives and investigate where we get our ideas about what it means to be a man.

M10: So a few weeks ago one of my producers showed me this Twitter account called Nine reply guys. It was started in July 2018 by two scientists. One is a neuroscientist and psychologist who goes by the name SRU online and the other is Scott Barrow Rolo a biology professor and graduate program director at the University of Michigan Medical School.

M1: Did you ever catch yourself maybe at one point being a reply guy yourself.

M20: Oh absolutely yes. And I have been called out on Twitter for four mansplaining and for kind of I suppose for generally sticking my nose into a conversation where where I wasn’t welcome. I’m a pretty privileged person in most situations that I find myself in all situations that I find myself in and I’ve never really been fully held accountable for what I do and what I say to be honest you know because of I mean Lord knows I’m trying.

M10: That was shrew who was in the same interview on her Twitter profile. She uses the hashtag science which she and Scott worked together on studying the phenomenon that is reply guys with one admittedly a bit of a reply guy and the other seasoned in dealing with them. Together they created nine reply guys which introduced a taxonomy of reply guys separating them into nine categories with distinct characteristics pinned to the top of their account is a long Twitter thread explaining it all with some very useful and funny gifts. The thread is funny sad and in a few cases a little scary. Not surprisingly reply guys absolutely hate it.

F2: So the account was not something that we planned on starting and even now you know. A year later from sort of starting the account in the thread of a reply guy reply types we can sort of tell when a wave of sexual harassment stories or people trying to share stories of a of a bad environment are cropping up because they start to share the thread a lot. So it’s a kind of bellwether of different groups of people discovering that reply guys are coming out and they come out in full force when people are trying to share stories of having been marginalized.

M1: So these guys aren’t organized. It’s not like a concerted effort. There’s no base of reply guys all working together and deciding OK ready and now like that’s not happening.

F2: What what is how do you if they were you think they’d come up with something new. I’ll let Scott talk for a while.

M3: I think you’re you’re right. I mean there’s no there’s no central base that is sending out orders but. I think that men who are raised in a. Patriarchal society are trained in how to behave in certain ways and we. We model our behavior on other on other men and different people are trying to do different things. But one thing we’re trying to do is feel comfortable and feel like we’re good people. And I think that motivates a lot of bad behavior on the Internet.

M20: What kinds of things do you end up mansplaining if I feel that I have a piece of information that wasn’t fully explained in a conversation to my satisfaction then. I do have an urge to jump in and say oh by the way you forgot this important fact or this one detail even though it’s not critical to what you’re trying to say which just then converts the conversation from being about whatever was about into being about how much I know it doesn’t go quite so well for women when they do that.

M4: Yeah I can relate. This happened like literally three days ago.

M11: I was traveling with my wife and she wanted to go one way and I and I saw a sign that said Oh well I think it’s where she should go this way and I started walking as if I was entitled to just decide where we were both going and I ended up being wrong.

M4: And I felt stupid and she was like Yeah well see see we’re like relying on your instincts got you.

M20: And I was like Yeah well you’re kind of right Yeah we’re kind of I think we’re rewarded for doing things like that you know stepping in even if we’re not quite sure what we’re talking about stepping in and saying I know what to do.

M4: Yeah yeah it’s.

M20: So are you more careful now what is coming to this realization rewarded you with I am more careful when I want to say something. I do interrogate myself a little bit more now. Not always and not always successfully but I do interrogate myself a little and say Why do you have the urge to say this right now. Is this just about you or are you really bringing something to the table. You know most of the time I am sure I can tell you most of the time I am not bringing something to the table. And so you know more frequently now I will lay back and just let it go. Yes.

M1: So shrew I imagine you’ve had to call out a reply guy here are there maybe once or twice. Can you tell me that story could you describe maybe posting something and then having replied to by one of these typical reply guys.

F2: Well I’ve been thinking about this a little bit and I realized that the persona of shrew is itself a shield against reply guys that I employed I think with long before you know starting that account years before I had even heard the term reply guys I quite literally have the identity of using a word that means bitch. Right. You know in not quite so many words with a cute animal Avatar but I have other Twitter accounts and the one that I run through my real life identity I get a reply got there all the time.

M1: I really I so badly want to just open up your Twitter real quick and just points are stolen.

F10: Let’s see I’m you did somebody from earlier today telling me that a thread that I posted as true about the idea of competition as the primary motivation for why we do things in the world you know and how toxic that can be some. It’s a man hopefully wanted to let us know that that’s a false dichotomy and that fostering collaborative homogeneity assumes a system with perfect knowledge to impart. Thank you sir.

F3: So I the kind of reply that I that I get off of those kinds of threads are real eager to show me how smart they are and also that they thought of something that I didn’t which I don’t think of all sorts of things but leading with false dichotomy is I don’t care what you think.

M1: One thing I noticed about the reply a guy Twitter account is that not all reply guys are kind of cut of the same cloth. There’s there’s various array of different types of reply guys from the graphic that I’ve seen them I’ll let you guys explain it but there are the first tier that the well meaning reply guy is and there’s also the ones who are focused on the quote unquote real problems. And then we have the final tier the ones who don’t mean well can you talk to me about where this graphic came from. It’s kind of funny to me to see this kind of phenomena get categorized in this way. First describe to me why this happened and also where it kind of came from.

M3: I guess the idea came from just the observation that women were mostly women we’re making on Twitter that we’re seeing the same obnoxious responses over and over again every time we try to say something and it could be a story of sexual harassment it could. It could just be a woman expert on Twitter talking about something that she is an expert in and a guy chiming in and saying no you’re wrong but whatever it is these things just seem to fall into a certain. Small number of stereotype behaviors and. They’ve been noticed by many other people before us for sure and some of them already had names and had for a long time like mansplaining and gaslighting tone policing those sorts of things have been talked about for a long time.

M4: One of my favorite examples of this is can I see her name Gail Simmons.

M1: She’s she’s the author of a comic book The Punisher and she was being a little sarcastic on Twitter.

M4: She wrote The Punisher would be a lot prettier if he smiled more like a fan came in some random guy was like I don’t know about that but that doesn’t really work for his backstory and I could really smile and he like sent him back. Actually I. I’m an author for the punisher. I know what I’m writing about. Exactly that kind of feels like the perfect example.

M5: It is and and that’s that’s one species of this kind of behavior and there are a few that we noticed and so our idea was to try to bend them into a certain number of categories we thought maybe that would be at least interesting and maybe even useful because one thing that almost all of these guys have in common is that they think they are master debaters and true original thought leaders. So they were the one thing they hate more than anything else is to be told that what they’re doing is some weak tired tactic that’s been used hundreds of thousands of times before right.

F2: It’s true they really it. They really loathe it. It’s the most effective way of addressing reply guy behavior that I’ve seen so far. No that is there’s a lot of ways to address it but they do not like to be told that their ideas are not original or or informative or important. This comes up when reply guys are not necessarily just guys. So this this will come up in a lot of other contexts too but particularly when it’s men replying to women that there’s just an assumption of a lack of knowledge that they’re that they’re there to to help solve it’s really. So we should be so much more grateful than we are and yet we’re not.

M8: So this is how it works. There are nine types of reply guys separated into three categories and the first category are the ones who meanwhile first up there is a life coach life coach is giving advice but it’s particularly advice for a person for what they should do to be better.

F3: Whatever you did whether it was saying something why didn’t you ignore him if it was ignoring him Why didn’t you say something.

M9: Either way it’s your fault you didn’t do the right thing and then there’s the Cookie Monster Cookie Monster is someone who is centering themselves in the conversation trying to make it about what a great ally they are and hoping for praise and gratitude.

F3: And you may have heard of this one the man’s planner it’s chiming in to make sure that whoever you’re talking to has the important background information that only you can provide truly provide at this moment in the next category. Ah the reply guys who are focused on the real problems whatever that means starting with the tone police.

M5: Told police is very often a tactic that people will switch to once they’ve been called on their behavior so if you few tried to life coach somebody they turn around and say How dare you. You can respond by getting offended clutching your pearls and getting upset about the lack of civility.

F3: Then there’s empathy. Empathy is not a term that we made up. It came from Kate Mann’s book down girl and it’s this idea that in situation that our sympathy our concern is for the man. The more empowered person in this situation. So thinking about you know what what’s going to happen to his career. He’s got a bright future in front of him.

M5: And then there’s something called the prestige the prestige is a power play where the Red My guy will question the woman’s credentials or try to cite a higher authority trying to Big Dog somebody into being silent.

M8: And in the last category are in my opinion the worst ones. These reply guys don’t mean well at all. First up there is the gas later.

F3: This is a classic one. It wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t probably didn’t happen that way. And if it did happen that way it probably didn’t happen. It is not as as not as concerning as you think it is.

M5: And then there’s the sea lion the sea lion is based on a webcomic by wonder Mark where there’s an obnoxious sea lion who was following following a woman around and and harassing her under the guise of just wanting a good healthy rigorous debate. So it’s always asking more questions always asking for more evidence than disputing that evidence. And the only goal really is to keep the argument going and try to get more attention from the person you’re fighting with.

M10: And finally the worst of the worst the trolls creeps and fools.

F2: That’s just when it stops being covert and starts being overt you know and I’m no longer trying to hide the fact that I don’t see you as a person. Yeah. Fuck those guys with and that’s sort of what people have thought. Like the original reply guy meaning was sort of that kind of guy but all these other behaviors it turns out are just leading up to you know it’s all part of a continuum leading into this eventual not even trying to hide it stage.

M11: So that’s what I thought was most surprising about this whole chart was I made that exact same assumption where OK. The reply guy. This is a person who is only replying to women so that he can troll them and mess with them and distract them. So that’s why I was so surprised to see that there there’s ones that actually mean well like how could you be a reply guy that also has good intentions. How does that work.

M7: Intentions are a really tricky thing to talk about when we’re analyzing somebody else’s behavior. You don’t know what’s going on in their head and I think based on how people react when they get called out for bad behavior on the Internet. Very often they think their intentions are very very good. If a man mansplaining to a woman expert in her area of expertise and gets called out on it he doesn’t usually apologize for trying to derail the conversation or insert himself into a conversation he doesn’t know anything about. He usually says I was trying to help. There are some trolls who are obviously just out to cause trouble but I think most of these people think they’re well intentioned and one that will actually one an interesting thing about Twitter is that there’s a record of the conversation so you can’t just deny what you said. True although some people do try but it’s written right there and so you can’t say I didn’t say that. So then when someone confronts you and says well why did you insert yourself into the conversation at that point and say that exact thing you have a number of options you can apologize. You can just put down the shovel and walk away. That almost never happens. You can really try to interrogate your own motivations for why you did it. Or you can say you know you have a number of other options too and those are basically I think those are mainly the reply guy categories you can say I was just trying to give you helpful advice. Even though that advice wasn’t asked for. You can say I don’t think this is really a gender problem. These kinds of things happen to men too right. You can gaslight and try to minimize the situation there.

M1: You have a certain number of options now that you say that I’m thinking back to all of the times that I might have been a reply guy. I mean seeing it all laid out in categories has certainly gotten me feeling like it’s a buzzfeed quiz and I’m like oh which reply guy. I’m thinking back to one particular instance it was the peak of the Women’s World Cup and it was the knockout round had just started the U.S. women’s team is well funded and well fueled and they’ve been playing forever and they’re playing a team that that is nowhere near the same tier and the score was ridiculous like this. They won by double digits but every time they scored a goal they’d still run up and down the field and celebrate and Ryan and scream and and go crazy and started this. This kind of weird skewed debate where there were a lot of guys particularly men sports commentators going on their TV shows or online saying you know these girls are taking it too far and I was kind of on that that’s that side but then I’ll talking with or the friend of mine and she was like Yo this is the World Cup. Like they have been training their whole lives to get here and you’re going to tell them when to slow down or when to not celebrate.

M4: Yeah. I don’t know what category would fit in there and that in that case that’s a clear term police to me.

M9: Yeah it’s unseen. It’s unseemly to see a woman just demonstrate total dominance like that right.

F2: It’s an example of the sort of increased moral burden that is put on women that women have to be better.

F8: They have to reflect more sportsmanship than than we would accept from a man. It’s like Okay fine. They’re being a dick from. But from a woman like oh there can’t I can’t fundamentally I come from a I come from a scientific background.

F9: I believe in behavioral change. I believe in it. It’s something I’m interested in as a as a scientist and as a woman on Twitter. Both of these things both of these identities make me equally interested in believing that men can change this behavior. And so in that sense having it all outlined has been a shield for people who are getting harassed and a.

F2: You know full frontal depiction of what men are doing for men and in both cases it’s been a little bit a lot of wows that we’ve heard from women being like oh my god wow it’s all here or from you know other marginalized groups you like oh it’s all here I see everyday I recognize all of these I don’t have to take this seriously anymore. And from the men being like Oh wow. Oh boy oh jeez I done a lot of this and some reckoning there and that.

M14: Not that that’s an instantaneous process Bozeman super encouraging and just more gratifying than I could have ever thought I never would’ve thought that would’ve been possible so say you’re a guy and you realize you’ve crossed over into this territory online.

M15: Scott’s done it. I know I have. As men we can either build a wall. Dig in and try and defend what’s left of our egos or we can do what Scott did. And own it and use it to end bad habits that we’ve all been learning culturally our whole lives. When you put those two options next to each other that ego thing just sounds so exhausting. Besides hearing from through has made me realize how much of her freakin neuroscientist brain space was needed to devote to this phenomenon just to keep her sanity as a woman online. That should be enough to make you think twice about the next time you instantly hit reply.

M16: Here it Man up. We love getting emails and voicemails and we’d love to hear from you too. Got your own reply guy story. Or maybe you’ve caught yourself being one. Leave a message at 8 0 5 6 2 6 8 7 0 7 that’s 8 0 5 men up 0 7. Or you can email us at men up at Slate dot com. Let us know if you’ve got topics for future episodes too. If you’d like this episode. Consider supporting the kid and leave a review and Apple podcasts or whatever you’d like to listen. But more importantly we need you to subscribe. We’ve got new shows every week and I’d hate for you to miss it. Man up is hosted and written by me a minute tonight. Producers are Danielle Hewett and Cameron Drews are executive producers are Jeffrey Bloomer and and Lew Gabriel Roth is editorial director Slate podcasts.

M15: In June Thomas is a senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. We’ll be back next week with more man up.