When I was a junior in high school, my crowd had something called a Bitch Book. It was a softcovered notebook in which each page was devoted to a girl we knew. We passed the thing around, and wrote our opinion of her on each girl’s page. For some, it was pure hagiography: “She’s the sweetest girl and I love her to pieces.” For others, it was not: “Why is anyone that fat and ugly allowed to live?”
From the vantage point of maturity, I’m appalled that we thought the Bitch Book was a cool, fun thing to do. But we were young then, and the Mean Girl Syndrome is at its acme in high school. We’ve learned, haven’t we? We’ve become our kinder, gentler selves as we’ve moved into adulthood, haven’t we?
For some of us, the answer is no.What is with the hostility we women are showing each other online? There are sites that exist for the sole purpose of acid and cruel putdowns of other bloggers. There are bloggers who devote whole posts to vitriole against other bloggers. Why? What is served by it? Actually, I can think of three possible reasons, but none of them sits well with me.
- Controversy on the web is good for your stats. Everyone knows that. Foment a little dustup and your numbers go up. Then you become a much more desirable entity to the marketing community. Then you start to make some money (or some more money.) That you’re increasing your worth on the back on someone else–well, isn’t that really how capitalism works? To the victor belong the spoils and all that.
- Ya gotta vent somewhere. Life is pissy, your kids drive you crazy and your husband, if you have one, is somewhere out in left field. Or maybe you’re mad at your mother-in-law. Or your boss. Where is all that angry energy supposed to go? If you keep it inside, it will, the psychologists tell us, just blossom into depression. Better to aim all that hostility at someone who can’t actually hurt you, someone you don’t even know. Someone who provided you with the perfect opening by writing something on their blog that you don’t agree with. That you can work yourself up into a proper lather about and show the world that you are a force to be reckoned with. Maybe you can get some other bloggers to join in. Maybe you can start a boycott and show the world (not to mention whoever pissed you off) that you have clout.
- You’re a shit-stirrer. We all know this version of the Diva Mean Girl. She’s a master at manipulation who, whatever the arena she operates in, can foment dissent for reasons #1, #2 or just because she wants to. She’s good at getting a coterie of loyal followers to support and promote her. What she gets out of it is pure power; her followers get the cold comfort of knowing that today maybe, they’re one of the crowd.
It seems to me that what we’re doing when we get involved in #1, #2, or #3, even as a bystander, is a function of how we’re socialized: to express our anger through hostility. Boys, men–they get mad, they hit, and then they go back to whatever they were doing. Girls, women–we don’t have the luxury of dealing with our feelings through physicality. Instead we have learned to throw psychic punches which are, untimately, much more devastating.
It saddens me when I see this hostility playing out among bloggers. We’re not eating our young or, as preying mantises do, our mates; we’re eating each other. Sometimes I want to echo Rodney King–”why can’t we all just get along.” If not get along, then at least be civil, maybe? If we disagree, can we do so without ad hominem attacks? Is it possible to create our own successes, untinged by the failures of others? I hope so, for in the end, then, we’re all weaker for it, whether we’re actively participating or not.