I am not a snarky person. I get that snark can be funny. I don't even really dislike snark, at least in moderation- after all, I married a man whom I have christened "Mr. Snarky" on my blog. I laugh at many snarky things. But I do not normally feel inclined to be snarky about people or events, even people with whom I disagree and events that I dislike.
I've never really given much thought to why that is until a couple of recent things got me thinking.
First, Laura Vanderkam had a post about the recent Stephanie Coontz article about gender equality. One of the comments was about how there is a lack of "how" information out there for ambitious young women looking to combine career and motherhood. Long time readers will probably remember that I've written some posts on the topic. But I find myself steering away from such posts these days. As I commented on Laura's post, I find that dealing with the negative comments that these posts occasionally attract is a drain on my energy. I'd rather spend that energy on making my life successful (by my definition), and not on defending my life online. So I just don't write those posts as often as I used to.
I kept thinking about this after I wrote the comment, because it is sort of a contradiction. In real life, I'm pretty passionate about mentoring younger people and helping them navigate from school to career, and on. I am willing to take time off work to do this. I am willing to take some risks to speak out. But here, on my anonymous blog, I'm not willing to put up with a few snarky comments?
And that's when it hit me. I don't really mind the people who write straightforward comments telling me that they disagree with my post, even if those comments are a bit sharp. I've learned things from those comments, and consider the chance to have an honest discussion about topics we usually skirt in conversation one of the advantages of blogging.
But I really, really dislike the snarky comments. I apparently have a hard time being held up to ridicule. And gee, when I put it like that, I guess it is no surprise. So then the bigger question is, why do some commenters feel the need to ridicule me and other women like me? I do not know the answer to that one, but they have succeeded in silencing me on some topics, and now that I've realized that, maybe I am not OK with it.
Around the same time, there was a lot of discussion about the Oscars, and Quvenzhané Wallis and the disgusting tweet someone at The Onion wrote about her. If you have somehow missed that story, here is a good summary. I actually do believe that The Onion staffer was trying to make a fair and useful point about the way our culture- including the man hosting the Oscars- talks about women and girls. But oh my God, this was not the way to do it. That tweet really bothered me, and I couldn't really explain why (beyond the obvious "what a horrible thing to say about a 9 year old girl, even in jest" sort of thing).
Then I read this article on the subject by Sabrina James, and the sick, angry feeling I had about that tweet made more sense to me. I was angry because of the way the snark that is so pervasive in our culture right now was reaching out to touch a child who had done nothing at all to deserve it. And I realized that we're using snark to police people, to put them back in the places we expect them to occupy. I've become enured to it as an adult woman, but seeing this applied to a 9 year old snapped me out of my complaisance.
We should encourage all of our children- boys and girls- to shine in whatever way is right for them. We should applaud their accomplishments and lift them up, not tear them down. We should give them a chance to grow their confidence before we ask them to hold their heads up and face down the uglier aspects of the culture into which they were born. We cannot- and should not- protect them from criticism. But I think that it is fair to expect the adults in the world to pitch that criticism gently, and to aim it at helping our children reach to even greater heights, not at putting them back in whatever place our preconceptions have made for them.
I know that tweet was not actually about Quvenzhané Wallis at all. But by using her for comedic effect, that Onion staffer caught her in the snark. By all means, critique the misogyny in our society, and the cruel way in which female celebrities are discussed. Don't do it by ridiculing a 9 year old girl, though. Let her have her big night unsullied by our grown up issues. In fact, don't do it by ridiculing any female celebrity. They are not to blame for the misogyny, and do not deserve to feel the sting of that ridicule. Aim the ridicule where it belongs. If that is too hard to do, then find a different way to make the statement.
I am not saying that someone writing a snarky comment on the blog of a fairly privileged working mother is in the same league as the person who wrote that tweet. Not by a long shot. But they are playing the same game. They are hiding behind humor while pushing people back into their predefined boxes. Personally, I don't want to be part of that. I think snark and satire have their place in our discourse, but I don't trust myself to come down on the right side of the line between helpful commentary and policing other people's place in society, so I guess I'll stick with my hopelessly unhip earnest style of commentary. And maybe I'll start writing about the "hows" of working motherhood again. I don't like being told my place.