This piece by Rosemary Donahue originally appeared on The Establishment, a new multimedia site funded and run by women.
If you’re on Twitter, it seems you always find out the same way. You see a new hashtag trending, and a few friends tweet things along with the hashtag that seem vaguely funny but also confusing out of context. Another friend tweets: “I won’t do it. I won’t read the article.” And then you know: Another Terrible Man has gone viral.
These articles by Terrible Men rarely seem to come from any publication with name recognition. They often show up on sites we’ve never heard of. And I’m always left scratching my head: How were they ever found in the first place?
However it happened, we all direct our rage at these men who don’t acknowledge boundaries, men who don’t understand headphones, men who tell women not to wear their engagement rings to interviews, men who would never, ever date feminists, and then we dissect their terrible opinions line by line. Their pieces provide endless content for tweets, rebuttals, and memes. In fact, these writers have already meme’d themselves. We crack our knuckles and begin crafting our own takes; it’s almost an art, at this point, and provides a convenient and understandable outlet for our frustrations. We get a whole flood of reaction articles, wherein awful opinions by Terrible Men from the darkest corners of the internet are posted with additional commentary in order to share and prolong the outrage.
These articles by Terrible Men rarely seem to come from any publication with name recognition.
On the one hand, it makes sense. It’s a necessary unburdening of the weight we carry all the time. We live our lives dealing with these Terrible Men at work and at school and in the grocery store and on the street, and confronting them face-to-face can be dangerous in more ways than one. So it can be cathartic, in a way, to call someone out for perpetuating these toxic ideas from behind our computer screens, especially if we’re lucky enough to have an army of friends and followers on Twitter who have our backs (though, even then, we have to worry about MRA-Twitter attacking back).
There’s also the fact that we’re told all the time how to feel, how to react to things, how to be. Sometimes it just feels damn good to vent our own unfiltered reactions to the vitriolic pieces that somehow made it past an editor. It feels good to let loose on the assholes who try to keep us down with their horrific thinkpieces.
But sometimes, venting about this bullshit online also lends a larger platform for these Terrible Men to spread their terribleness further afield—and it’s not like any Terrible Man ever needed a larger platform. We already know their terrible ideas exist. We’re not learning anything new or especially shocking by reading and sharing articles on manthoughts.org (a website I just made up that would likely house all of these articles if it existed). We are already aware that MRAs don’t find feminists worthy of a Friday night, that many men think sexist thoughts about us based on what we’re wearing, that we can and have and will be flagged while walking down the street wearing headphones. It’s not particularly shocking that men are blogging about this stuff on obscure sites.
It’s not like any Terrible Man ever needed a larger platform. We already know their terrible ideas exist.
If these articles were published somewhere more reputable, it might be worth a bigger callout. But when they are published on a site without any real readership or name recognition, it’s not necessarily worth our energy to draw more attention to them. It might be more productive, in fact, to leave them alone with their small readership, yelling in their tiny echo chamber, than to give them a taste of virality, an ill-deserved moment in the sun. And for many other innocent readers, it will just stir up anger once again and remind them of the Terrible Men they have to contend with out there in the world on a daily basis.
When we help Terrible Men go viral by calling them out, we’re often shedding light on things found in internet hidey-holes where, to be honest, nothing good has ever been produced. We’re giving these Terrible Writers valuable traffic, which is what many of them thrive on. No one can or should ever be blamed for being upset or voicing their opinions about Terrible Men, but it’s also important to remember that these men want something from us—many believe we owe them our attention, desire, or words—and what is internet notoriety (even the negative sort) but attention they have managed to garner through our clicks and hate reads?
While it’s frustrating as all hell to read the bullshit Terrible Men churn out, giving them more attention and clicks is not necessarily the way to change things. This is a problem we’ve been trying to solve forever, and I admit I don’t have the answer. However, the way I see it, we might be better off directing our attention to the women and nonbinary writers who write flawlessly every day. We can focus on finding, praising, and boosting work by writers who write about feminism, sex, emotional boundaries, and relationships in ways we respect (and feel respected by). We can also push editors and publishers to commission work from a diverse group of talented and thoughtful writers who might actually have a chance of elevating and changing the conversation, word by word.
For my part, the next time I read something by a Terrible Man on wordvomit.com and feel the urge to publicly dissect it, I plan to find and share something written by someone worthy instead.
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