When Damon, Liz, and I started VSB back in March of 2008, we only had one real strategy (that morphed into three): respond to people’s comments. At the outset, we posted three times a week and quickly went to posting one new piece per day (strategy two) and very soon after decided to always post at midnight (strategy three), even if midnight was more of a moving target at times. Shouts to Bulleit and gingerale.
But that first one was our bread and butter. It became part our calling card and I believe is today why our comments section is (ego aside) the premier reason people love VSB. If we wrote something stupid, we could be (and often are) called out on it and have a conversation with everybody about it. If it was brilliant, we could say thank you to people directly. That personal touch made all the difference. On my birthday one year, I personally thanked every single person who said “Happy Birthday” to me in the comments. To me, it’s always been humbling to have such a great group of people who feel like they know you or are at least comfortable enough to respond to something we’ve written in a familiar way. Some of you people get a little bit too familiar, but for the most part, folks put respeck on our name.
That’s inside VSB.
The rest of the internets though? Good God. I rarely read comments on any other website because I already know what exists. Racists, misogynists, and trolls leap lavishly all up and through these e-streets, beloved. We’re not impervious to occasional trolling here at VSB, and some of it is our own fault. There have been some truly misguided opinions and dogwhistles. I’ve written things, perhaps irresponsibly, and other people have written their opinions on those irresponsible things then signed off by telling me that they hoped my daughter got raped. Or since I (apparently used to) have such a low opinion of women, they hope some man uses my daughter up and spits her out so I get what I deserve. That actually happened many moons ago. I’ve made mention of it before, but because of VSB, somebody hacked into my Gmail, MySpace, and Yahoo accounts and began impersonating me to other people on MySpace. It was a total shitshow. They deleted my Gmail and Yahoo accounts which I was able to recover because Liz knew somebody at Google. Yahoo was easier. It was also how I found out how easy it was to get somebody’s password through Yahoo.
Point is, people fucking suck. The caveat here is that at VSB, we write things that at times intentionally troll and rile up certain communities. Damon’s written about White Tears so much that we should probably buy a water purifying plant and brand our new bottled water as “White Tears”, with a slogan that says, “These tears have been purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka as certified by Abigail Fisher." Or not. Point is, if you write about white tears enough, annoyed white folks are gon’ come a callin’. I don’t enjoy it when people gun for me, but I’m also fully willing to take on all comers. I just had to tell a dude in my FB messenger that the next time he decides to come for me, he needs to learn how to read first. Real talk. But again, we’re writing things that can at times cause some upheaval.
One place where folks get to live out their best fuckboy and girl fantasies is on Twitter, home of the “your mother should have swallowed you” tribe of people who have HTML-infused courage. On Twitter, you can anonymously say what the fuck you want from your momma’s basement in Billings, Montana, with little to no consequence. Athletes get it a lot after a bad game. Entertainers catch wreck ALLATAHM. If I was a nigga like Tyga, I’d never go on Twitter. Jimmy Kimmel has turned that idea on its head with his “Mean Tweets” segment on his Jimmy Kimmel Live! show. Celebs and athletes come on and read the tweets about them. Typically, they chose tweets that are assholish in nature. Some are hilariously ridiculous, but the point is that they’re all mean or at least intend to be. It is usually funny.
Well recently, the website Just Not Sports took that “mean tweets” thing to a WHOLE new level. Chicago-area writers Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro sat and listened while random men read real mean tweets that were directed at these women. The women had seen them, the men had not. What happened over the course of the video was unsettling as fuck. It started out easy, as the initial tweets were unknowing icebreakers for the men to ease them into reading shit that was ACTUALLY hard to read because how do you sit in front of a woman and read the words, “I hope you get raped again”. Or “I hope your boyfriend beats you.” Clearly, calling a woman a “cunt” is the go to for people intent on saying something negative to a woman. Which I guess is common sense if degrading women is your shit.
Varying levels of disrespectful, violent, and threatening tweets were read and you could see how difficult it was for these men to read these things. Hell, most couldn’t even look the women in the eyes as they read or after they read them. There were apologies from these men who hadn’t written any of the tweets. Shit, EYE felt guilty hearing them. One of the guys looked like he wanted to tear up, and I can’t lie, it hurt me hearing some of that stuff. None of it was directed at me and my own feelings were hurt.
The video is brilliant in its goal of bringing the experience of women on the internet to real life and highlighting a serious issue. These are real things said to these real women, and I’d hope they represent the minority of statements sent their way, but I’ve been on Twitter, and I live in the real world. The things that men say to women are insane. Especially from behind that anonymous veil of the internet. It’s scary. I don’t know if I’ve become hyper-aware because I’m the father to a daughter or not. But when I read stories about things that happen to women it scares the living shit out of me nowadays because I know I can’t be there at all times to protect her. Or my woman. Or my sisters. Or my mother. Or the women that I know and have the fortune of calling friends. Hell, women I don't know. I don't bad things to happen to any women.
Of course, immediately after there were a few people who diminished what we saw on the video as just being a) part of the gig, and b) no worse than what happens to men. The part of the gig shit is terrible. How the hell do you keep people in jobs if that’s part of what happens in the job. It’s also unfortunately true even if it shouldn’t be. That SHOULDN’T have to be the case for anybody. I realize that public figures – reporters and sportscasters are public figures – are prone to catching public commentary, but shit. Nobody should be like, “alright, well, if I want to do this job, I’m going to have to live with being called a cunt or a nigger or have somebody tell me they hope I get raped, etc.” That’s just wrong.
Maybe my patriarchy is showing here, but that second part bothers me the most. When these things get said to women, they seem a lot more…actionable. There is always a hint of “is this crazy person going to really try to see this shit through?” I don’t really think about that as a dude. I ain’t going to Temecula or to drive to beat up Derek Fisher but I’ve definitely told somebody #onhere to see me in the streets. I’d NEVER suggest a woman say that to some lunatic behind the screen. It’s dumb when I say it, but I (stupidly) assume that people are all talk and that if some nut wants to see me out, we can handle it like gentleman or get into some ganstga shit.
Which, again, is stupid. I have something to lose in life. But I never really feel threatened. When I hear that level of vitriol directed towards women I get a bit unnerved and start to worry about their safety. I know women who have been sexually and physically assaulted by men. I have family members that its happened to and the anger and rage I felt is something I can legit feel to this day. Anonymous, crazy people talking that shit into the ether scares me similarly.
Watching those men’s reaction to the words was promising. Those guys are also likely not the type to say shit like that to anybody’s momma or sister. They probably like their wives and mothers and daughters and other women in their lives. Most of the statements read in that video come from the very vocal minority who tweet in violent volume.
All I know is this: watching the video made me feel something real, and even though I’d never say anything like what was said in that video to a woman to her face or anonymously online, I felt an odd pang of guilt. The sad part is that videos like this reach the people who already know better. But there’s nothing wrong with more awareness.
Shouts to Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro for being good sports and allowing themselves to be used in such a fashion. The message got through to some of us, even if it’s a lesson we never had to learn.