Every day for 874 days I’ve woken up to hateful mean and sometimes threatening messages to me on the internet. Every fucking day. Often, before I even have a cup of coffee or kiss my baby good morning I’m scrubbing my Instagram clean, reporting bigotry, blocking people. In the middle of making Alice a sandwich for her lunch bag just the way she likes it and doing dishes, biking to school and getting a phone call from my banker, I’m responding to concern trolls asking about my “health” on Facebook, because I can’t possibly be fat, happy and left to live my life in peace.
It’s not a good way to start your day.
Often I’m exhausted at the end of the day after homework, laundry, baths, meetings, doctor appointments, baking bread, riding bikes, and driving to piano lessons. I crawl into bed at 11pm to take on nasty comments from women who are supposedly “on my side” or also “body positive” or screenshotting "dick pics" for my safety file. The hostility of the internet is widespread, surprisingly even among groups of like-minded women, people I’ve sometimes considered allies, colleagues and friends. I don’t think we’d speak to each other that way in real life and I don’t think our opinions are as different or as black and white as they may appear on the screen. I think if we sat in the same room we’d take more care, choose kinder words, look one another in the eye.
It’s not a good way to end your day.
But in the middle of my days ordinary things happen – little magical things that remind me of what a joy life is. Some of those things happen via the internet – emails I get from a PRIDE festival and a League of Women Voters asking about the possibility of me speaking at their events, messages from teens with disabilities whose lives I’ve touched with my work, real personal connections I’m making with strangers in another country or the school teacher around the corner. I can find myself down a nerdy rabbit hole of academic research and journal articles on misogyny and performance art and feminism. So much good stuff happens on the internet in the middle of all the bad and has every single day for the last 874 days.
We’ve been talking about this a lot with Lucy, our teenager, lately, too. How to safely navigate ourselves and our mental and physical health on our phones and online. Because my safety and the safety of my family has been threatened on the internet more than once. I’ve notified the necessary authorities, like the police, school administrators, the social media providers. We’ve learned and armed ourselves and taken measures.
I speak often about how what we see on the screen affects us more than we know, which is why diversifying our newsfeed to include people of all shapes, sizes and genders can be so powerful in bettering our body image. Following fierce feminists of color, for example, can empower us in more ways than one. Our consumerist culture is also something to be very aware of, as they try to sell us products often by using shame as a tactic – that we need their item to be happier, thinner, more successful, richer.
Since she got her phone at age 13, we implemented guidelines for the teen in our house about phones and technology that we're always tweaking. Most of them apply to all of us of all ages. No phones after 8pm on weeknights, all devices are charged in the community space of the kitchen, no phones at school, no Snapchat and screenshot anything dangerous, hateful or damaging. We check our daughter’s newsfeed and private messages for anything mean, scary or just off. These things have helped us all spend more time tethered together, sometimes doing mundane things like collecting chicken eggs, folding laundry, making popcorn or walking to the coffee shop. This also means we’re spending more time doing important things like reading books out loud together, talking about what happened in science camp, figuring out how to apologize to a friend whose feelings we’ve hurt or what we should do this weekend.
Earlier this week I came across this post from Rachel Macy Stafford, aka Hands-Free Mama, about the concern of raising kids so attached to their phones and how to balance that with what’s really important in life. I feel like we are raising a generation of kids being used as guinea pigs in a technological world that none of us know how to navigate – no parents have come before us and have written books or can offer advice on what to do or not to do and it feels scary.
Rachel’s piece brought forth some important reminders, for our kids and ourselves:
Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life.
To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.
To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.
To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.
Tether yourself in love.
I think people often forget there are real people out there behind the screen, real humans living complicated lives. I’m choosing more often these days to tether myself to people and love.