The following is a message I pieced together directly from emails sent to me THIS week:
You are a narcissist and a neurotic and a bad wife and a bad mother and also a murderer. Additionally, you are going straight to hell and taking your family with you. Also, if you don’t want me to say these awful things to you, if you can’t handle criticism, you never should have “put yourself out there.”
Okay! Hi, Reader! Thank you for this excellent opportunity to discuss cruelty veiled as criticism.
Here’s the difference. Literary criticism is your thoughts about a writer’s writing. Cruelty is your thoughts about a writer’s LIFE.
For example, this is criticism:
G, your writing is over the top and sort of ridiculous. You write about God way too much or way too little. I don’t even get why people like your writing. You sound more like Junie B. Jones than a best-selling author. AND GOOD LORD – WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH ALL THE CAPITAL LETTERS and ITALICS?
But the other stuff. The first stuff. The stuff that judges my worthiness as a parent and wife and human being – that’s cruelty.
I can take it. I am learning to filter all of all it. I’m still here and I think that means I’m not going anywhere.
But I am worried about the next generation of truth-telling sisters who see all the internet cruelty and wonder if truth telling is worth the risk. Anne Lamott once said that the great thing about being a writer is that “they can’t boo you right away.” This was important to her because writers have to make themselves so incredibly vulnerable. It seems crucial to have a buffer between the writer’s offering to the world and the world’s response to that offering. But it’s different now. In the internet generation, our writers are getting booed right away and that changes some things. It really does. Writers tend to be sensitive souls and many of us can’t withstand the barrage of negativity and anonymous pot shots and judgement. So some of us decide to stay quiet. And in turn, the rest of us miss out on hearing some really important, precious, life-giving voices. I know this for a fact, because I know many writers who’ve decided to lay low, to stay out of the internet fray by keeping their writing private. I know brilliant women from whom you need to hear but they can’t stand the idea of laying themselves and their families on the internet chopping block. And I get it.
If we keep up the constant attacks on our writers, I’m worried we won’t have any left.
And about this- “If they put themselves out there, they’re asking for it” argument . . . are you sure?
Is my vulnerability your free pass to be cruel? Is my exposure your free pass to abandon all goodness and decency and self control? Are you sure about that?
Because that excuse sounds dangerously close to the courtroom argument that if a woman shows herself, she deserves whatever comes next. Her skirt was too short- I could see her legs- she was asking for it. Her shirt was cut too low- I could see her breasts- she was asking for it. She wrote too truthfully- I could see her heart- she asked for it.
If a woman decides to reveal a part of herself- that is not an excuse for other people to hurt her. And if you do decide to hurt her where she’s vulnerable- if you see a part of her that’s showing and pounce on that part- if you sink your teeth into her exposed flesh – that shows who YOU are, not who she is.
Revealing the truth about who God made me does not release you from your responsibility to be a decent human being.
Be critical, fine, that’s fair. But don’t be cruel. Every damn one of us knows the difference.
If you are not kind on the internet, then you’re not kind.
Glennon Doyle Melton, truth teller +hope spreader