just because they say it doesn’t mean you have to listen

what people say about youSometimes I feel like my most important job as a mother will have been teaching my kids that just because your brother says “no, you didn’t” and you say “yes, I did” and he says “no, you didn’t” again, YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO RESPOND. This is a tough lesson- apparently- because it is what pretty much every face-raking fight in our house is about, and it doesn’t seem to have gotten old yet.

I was reminded of the importance of this life lesson this week when both Gwyneth Paltrow and Charlize Theron stepped in serious social-media doo-doo for basically the same reason.

La Goop had this to say about being trashed on the internet:

“You come across [online comments] about yourself and about your friends, and it’s a very dehumanizing thing. It’s almost like how, in war, you go through this bloody, dehumanizing thing…”

and Charlize Theron, when asked if she ever Googles herself, responded thusly:

I don’t do that, so that’s my saving grace…. When you start living in that world, and doing that, you start feeling raped.

‘K first of all NO. Not war, not rape, and they deserve every bit of blowback they’re getting. But what struck me when I read those two stories was not their lack of clue, but that wait: they READ what’s written about themselves on the internet? (Granted, Charlize claims not to, but her hyperbole suggests otherwise.) Gwyneth Paltrow is actually sitting around reading what people have to say about the latest stupid thing SHE said? Why in the world is that worth her time– particularly because it doesn’t seem to be stopping her from saying the next stupid thing?

Of course, ignoring someone who is trolling you is not so easy when it actually happens. If you wrote any of the million-plus #yesallwomen tweets in the last week (I posted a few dozen myself) you most likely got a few personally-directed and gross responses like this precious missive:

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I started to compose a response, one that in just 140 characters could contain my disagreement with his math, my disgust with his rape imagery, and my befuddlement with what 9/11 had to do with it. But then I stopped. And I turned off my “mentions” altogether. Just because he said it doesn’t mean I had to carry it with me, or respond, or give a crap. Responding to him wouldn’t change his mind– it would only give him an opening to say something worse.

Yes, online harassment can get very real and very personal (check out Halt Abuse for some excellent ways to protect your online privacy). But most comment-thread trolls and Twitter-pot-stirrers are spraying out hate just as fast as they can type, and when ignored, will find other targets more willing to engage them. HeartAttackDon did not succeed in “dehumanizing” anyone but himself. #yesallwomen put some real haters right in the face of anyone brave enough to use her voice, but it was not “rape.” It was not “war.” It wasn’t even heavy breathing on the phone. I am in charge of whether or not I listen, and if you’re coming at me to scare me, or even just to make me feel really bad, I won’t be listening. That feels very powerful indeed.