Keep your mouth shut.

Do you argue with people online who you’ve never met? If you do, are those arguments mud-fests with names flying? If not, why not?

Most people I know who are on facebook have at least one I-shouldn’t-have-made-that-comment experience. If not that, then a I-can’t-believe-X-left that-comment experience. Haven’t you?

If you decide to pick a fight or take the bait for one, why? What triggers your I’ll-show-’em response?

Maybe you’ve never given in to the impulse–but haven’t you wanted to? Don’t some people deserve a good telling off?

I’m a diplomat by nature. Confrontation makes me tremble, literally. Nonetheless, every once in a while, I argue. Is that always wrong?

Just yesterday I ended up in a shouting match of sorts on Facebook on a friend’s thread. Part of me says that’s like going to a friend’s house and picking a fight with a fellow party guest. Rude. Unnecessary.

But another part of me–the part that won out in this case–thought that certain people will keep making sexist remarks if no one ever calls them on it. I decided to call him on it. I might not have said anything, but my fb friend had told him to “shut up” and he still made another comment. So. I told him he was being sexist.

He told me I had no sense of humor.

I told him that was the defense of a bully.

Now, maybe I don’t have a sense of humor. Maybe I’m the most unfunny woman on the planet. But I know that you-don’t-have-sense-of-humor is what people say when they make an unfunny, hurtful, or rude remark. Throw the blame on someone. I didn’t say anything wrong. You just don’t get it. As if the person’s unhappy response can be explained only in this way.

I explained clearly why I thought his comment was sexist. He said nothing about any of the points I made. Not one thing. He said he bet that I get called a shrew and a b*tch a lot.

I think it has been 20 years since anyone has called me a b*tch. No one has ever before called me a shrew. Not so as I heard anyway.

I told him that name-calling wasn’t much of a defense.

Someone else on the thread said that this guy wasn’t really that bad. He just said crazy things when he was bored.

Then I sent a message to my fb friend apologizing for the scene in her thread. She told me he’d been asked many times not to say certain rude things, but he always just replied that she didn’t have a sense of humor. She couldn’t unfriend him because he was the husband of a good friend. She understood how I felt, but I was wasting my time.

She deleted the post, which was probably for the best.

I’m sure I didn’t get this guy to change his mind. So why bother to say anything?

But why not call him out? Why not let him know that not everyone thinks he’s funny. If the other women in the post had stood up to him, maybe at the very least he’d have slunk away.

People have the right to say obnoxious things. Other people have the right to say, Hey, what you said was obnoxious.

The gist of his comment that irritated me had to do with women needing Oprah to tell them what to read while men could make decisions for themselves. And the original facebook post my friend made was about a mutual friend getting her novel chosen for Oprah’s book list. (That’s another post.)

So, do you argue or do you let things go?

19 thoughts on “Keep your mouth shut.

  1. You have to weigh the consequences, Marta. By that, I mean you have to compare how you’d have felt had you not acted with the way you feel now–frustrated, irritated, helpless. There are times and circumstances where you step up to call out something offensive, even though you reckon it will make no difference. On balance, you feel better for having acted.

    This is the first time since 1980 I am not leading the late-night fiction workshop at the SB Writers’ conference because the new owner, a pampered son of a famous and remarkable father (who no doubt influenced you) picked the wrong person (me) at whom to have a temper tantrum. Many of the individuals who attend and teach there are longtime friends. I should be with them, but on balance, I was in effect only doing what the father asked me to do: “Keep an eye on the kid, will you?”

    Sounds as though what you did will not have an effect on the bully, but you took him on and whether you can see it or not, drew some blood.

    What you did is a good thing to remember for your writing and your art. Niceness is a quality that needs to be earned. Writing and art that allow themselves to be constrained by niceness are the things that get thrown out the day after Christmas.

    1. One reason I said something was to avoid that feeling of not saying something, and if I can’t speak my mind now, when? Wasn’t it Audre Lorde who said, “Your silence will not protect you.”

      The SB’s writers’ conference must not be the same.

  2. It’s a tricky one isn’t it. I’m a bit like you, I tend to avoid confrontation and err on the side of being diplomatic, and I give people the benefit of the doubt a lot. But sometimes you just have to say something, even if it causes a bit of an upset, because not saying anything will end up bugging you for ages! It’s about picking your battles isn’t it, some things aren’t worth it and some things are.

    You don’t know, you could have made a difference to that person, if enough people say things like that him, then eventually he might think twice about making comments like that.

    1. Yes, pick the battles. When I was in school, I tried to get my classmates to stand up to a bullying teacher. In the end, no one but my step-sister would stand with me–everyone was afraid, didn’t see the point, or didn’t care. I said something anyway. And that teacher didn’t exactly stop bullying, but he did stop bullying me.

      I think more people like him would stop if more people said something, but instead they shrug an say it doesn’t make any difference. Bullies know this, I think.

  3. Brianna Soloski

    I will always let things go in a public forum, whether online or off. I will stew about it and rant about it in my journal, though. Most people don’t approve of my beliefs, which are not so far out there as to be considered odd. They just know it pisses me off when they judge me, so obviously that’s what they’ll do. Especially among family, I have learned it’s better to keep my mouth shut. They’re the type that will argue about the color of the sky.

    1. Family is certain another situation. This guy was not family nor a friend. But as I get older I get tired of keeping quiet, swallowing my beliefs, playing nice. When do I get to speak? When do you? Every person has to decide that for his or herself.

  4. I try to avoid confrontation also. But there is a ring-pass-not beyond which I will not let someone go. I love taking on sexists and sharpening my intellect. Sometimes it is just plain good sport when others discover that fairies can have sharp little teeth.

  5. I noticed all of the commenters so far are by women. I’ve also noticed Writer Unboxed is mostly populated by women. I have been told the best target audience for my work will be women. I guess I’m naturally more comfortable among women. Women generally seem more supportive than males. I recently visited a fantasy side (my genre) populated by mostly males (reviews, a blog, etc) and was surprised by how much bravado, competitiveness, and general negativity I felt.

    There was a lot of comparing male authors to other male authors, a bit of mud-slinging, and quite a bit of discussion about what makes for the best “action prose.” (Read: battle/fighting scenes. I have action, and want to learn how to make it better, but the focus seemed out of proportion to what I believe makes a good book great.)

    Anyhoo, just my male vs. female observations. Take from them what you will. I generally don’t argue online, btw.

    1. Thank you for a male pov. Now that I think about it, I’ve never gotten into an online spat with a woman. I don’t know if that says something about me or about women.

      I get tired of the male bravado thing, but I can let that go. It’s the sexist crap that drives me crazy.

  6. Oh, total confrontation-avoider here. To go back to what Shelly said above, I know how I feel when I’ve been in an online battle (and I’ve been online since the ’80s, so I’ve been in a few). I always feel worse, even if I “win” or the other party just throws in the towel. So I’ve made an almost conscious decision never (“Hardly ever!”) to let myself be baited into a fight. Especially with the political atmosphere nowadays: almost no one — well, on one side of the spectrum, anyhow — really wants to discuss anything. They just want to lob cherry bombs. There is no win in such an argument.

    No doubt this marks me as a coward or wimp of the first order. But I’d rather be happy than fearless.

    (Which is NOT — the gods know — a criticism of the fearless.)

    1. I would say that I see a difference between having an argument and calling out a bully. What I mean is–having an argument is getting into a spat over who someone is going to vote for or how someone feels about particular women’s issues is one thing. That sort of thing always makes me feel worse no matter who wins. I hate those arguments.

      But I’m not talking about difference of opinion. I felt that my friend was being belittled and I think I stood up for her. I don’t really feel that bad about that. And like Whitney says below–sometimes it isn’t about who wins or if the bully changes, it’s about other people seeing that not everyone agrees.

      But every situation has to be judge by the people involved. Wow. It’s very complicated!

      1. I’ve continued to think about this, and may or may not post at RAMH about it. It could incite some arguments, y’know? (Ha.)

        Part of the difficulty with my stance is that it sounds like I wouldn’t defend a friend battling one or more ninnies. That’s not true. But when I do chime in, it’s almost always after thinking, mulling, tinkering with wordage, and so on. Anger is easily my least favorite emotion, and I’ve made sooooo many mistakes when angry — and ultimately, on almost every single issue, I’ve come to accept that I have absolutely no idea what the best answer is. I may recognize some answers as flat-out WRONG, but I just don’t have confidence in the rightness of my own answers.

      2. This is a TED Talk about being wrong. She makes some great points–I really like when she discusses how being wrong feels just like being right.

      3. Btw, there’s a very interesting (and peripherally related) article in this week’s New Yorker, with the provocative title “Why Smart People Are Stupid.”

      4. Oh. Kahneman has a good TED Talk too. I’ve used it in class. Thanks or the link. When it mentions the bias blind spot, I was reminded of the TED Talk I linked to in the previous comment. She talks about the three assumptions we make when people disagree with us or come to different conclusions.

        The main problem now is that when I think about what I should do or what I did and if I did or didn’t do the right thing and how I should or shouldn’t feel, I throw this information into the mix and then freeze up my brain. So, really, I don’t know anything.

  7. WhitneyCarter

    Sometimes a different point of view needs to be presented, whether its arguing or not. You might not change that guy’s view, but you told others who might have happened to see the thread that comments like his are not acceptable.

    1. I am so glad you said that, Whitney. Exactly. I think of it like why I bother to vote in Texas. Hey, I know my guy isn’t going to win. I know I’m voting for the loser and my side isn’t paying that much attention. But I vote anyway because I want the world to see that not all of us here think the same, do the same, vote the same. Some of us have a different wish and do not like the status quo.

      So that seems similar. You say something because other people will realize not everyone thinks the bully is right. Maybe that someone will do something different.

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