THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED
A friend took me to task for writing about someone’s Facebook post on my blog because it was a private conversation on her wall. I disagreed because Facebook is not private. Yes, I have a “private” page and a “public” page but I ultimately know that anything on my “private” wall can be made public by someone taking a screen shot and sharing it. But I think this is the difference:
Her putting her comments on her Facebook page where dozens of friends/mutual acquaintances could read it (take screen shots and send them around): passive aggressive.
Me putting it on my blog: aggressive.
My friend’s comments made me think and realize that I don’t want someone searching her name for reference purposes on Google a few years from now, find her name here and use that as a deciding point to not give her a job. My hope at the end of this post is sincere. I’m not expecting us to be like Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur in the musical Mame, but I hope that we are at least up to talking civilly.
Here’s the post and I’ve changed her name to Wilson’s Phalarope:
I had the strangest experience right before Christmas. On the very same day I had an article published about how Dolly Parton Is My Feminist Role Model on the Lifetime UK network (yep, television for women), unbeknownst to me, I was the subject of a debate on someone’s Facebook wall about what a terrible feminist I am.
Anyone who loves birds and the outdoors knows that you will find yourself entrenched in battles: battles to save habitat, battles to prevent extinction, battles to keep wind farms out of major migratory corridors, the list goes on and on. So, it’s downright depressing when you find yourself in a war with a woman you barely know because you disagreed with her point. And right smack before Christmas—cause there isn’t enough to do around the holidays.
We talked about a blog post by Wilson’s Phalarope published on the ABA’s website about discrimination against women in birding. I didn’t agree with it, but still felt it was a worthwhile article to share and hoped people who weren’t aware of it would read it and maybe generate some discussions elsewhere. She had tried to interview me for the article but I found the questions leading. She asked me why there aren’t more women in the “upper echelon” of birding and the only thing I could think of was all the powerful women I knew of (some of whom who helped pave the way for me): Lillian Stokes, Laura Erickson, Julie Zickefoose, Sophie Webb, Marie Reed—just to name a few (that doesn’t include women who run birding festivals, have edited magazines or lead tours). Wilson’s Phalarope then asked about records committees and I felt that there was some agenda going on and an answer I supposed to give and well, since I don’t care about listing or think of it as the upper echelon, I wondered if the bigger issue was the women don’t care about that end of birding.
Bill and I talked about it on the podcast. I hoped it would generate more conversation, that people would read the article and didn’t think any more about it.
I got a phone call from a friend who alerted me to a discussion the day before Christmas Eve. I found the conversation on Wilson’s Phalarope’s wall with several comments deep already and was immediately overwhelmed, it had been going on for awhile and there were spinoff discussions. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it all, so I scanned specifically for Wilson’s Phalarope’s comments and these were the first two I saw:
“Cause Birdchick is obviously a creation, and a cynical one at that. She plays into some very nasty stereotypes,” and “if nobody can tell where the personality ends and the person begins, maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”
I was incredibly disappointed and knew there was no point in reading any more. This wasn’t a discussion about ideas, this was a discussion about me personally. If there’s anything I’ve learned in writing for over 10 years it’s this:
When someone starts critiquing your body, personality or my private life– that says far more about that person than it does about you or your work. It’s disappointing. It’s sad. It’s divisive. It doesn’t help birds or conservation and it certainly doesn’t help equality.
A postcard my mom sent me…I think this is what she thinks my day to day life is like. Perhaps this is the real Birdchick?
I started to reply to the thread and deleted it (almost forgot my 24 hour rule, don’t post for 24 hours when angry). For the record, I haven’t read any of the rest of the thread or anyone else’s comments that contributed to it, though several people have offered to send me screen shots. I don’t need to know.
I closed my laptop and thought with amusement about my article on Lifetime and asked myself, “What would Dolly Parton do right now?”
Well, she’d write a song, put on one of her spangled dresses and high heels, and say something funny.
So, I put on a Dolly-esque outfit, grabbed some bourbon and decided to cook my way through four batches of cookies (since I can’t write songs). If I was going to be bothered about something, at least cookies for family and friends would be the result.
Don’t get me wrong, I love for people to disagree with me. I learn the most that way. Things I believed and understood 10 years ago are different that what I know and feel today because of it. I hope 10 years from now, I know even more and have opinions changed. I hope to grow.
A classic disagreement might be the Duck Stamp. I think birders should purchase it and that if more did, we’d have a better shot of taking the stamp over as our own and turning it into a better conservation tool. Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds disagrees with me. He’s morally opposed to hunting and cannot in good conscience purchase a Duck Stamp or endorse it. And we’ve disagreed about it publicly. Mike even felt we went too far on the podcast when Non Birding Bill said that “he was whining” and we issued an apology over some of our terminology when he pointed it out. Do Mike and I avoid each other? No. Any birding event that has Mike on it is a pleasure. We embrace, we inquire about each other’s families, we may even discuss the Duck Stamp issue some more over a beer after a meal but it doesn’t interfere with what I think of him as being a terrific person who has contributed a lot to promoting birding on the Internet.
Disagreement on an issue does not have to get personal and ugly. Here are some examples of what I think have been very reasonable things said to me by both men and women either online or in person critiquing what I do:
“Your photo on page x is misidentified”
“Why do you not hire an editor for your blog posts?”
“I think you missed my point in this article, here is something that happened to me and contradicts what you said…” followed by explanation.
“I don’t like your writing style.”
“You misunderstood what I said…” followed by an explanation.
“What you said made me a uncomfortable, here’s why…”
“Why do you think you are funny?”
One of the above was an edited quote that I got from Courtney Love (who knew she would be on the reasonable end of things).
Below are edited comments that I’ve had flung at me over the years (sadly more than once and not just from men). These are examples of unreasonable critiques:
“You only get hired because of your cleavage.”
“You only get attention because you flirt.”
“I don’t like what you wrote, someone needs to teach you a lesson and one day when I see you, I will be that person.”
“You’re not sleeping with (name redacted)? I thought that’s how you got that contract.”
“Well I guess if I can get a company to publish my book, I can be an expert too. Who the hell do you think you are? You need to shut up.”
“Maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”
These are personal attacks and not worth listening to and again, these comments say far more about the people who say them than they do about me.
No one is forcing people to read, listen or watch what I do. When I don’t like someone’s style, I tend to not look at their website, read their articles, I don’t listen to their podcasts and I certainly don’t friend them on Facebook. I avoid them—it’s great! They can do their thing, I can do mine, and the world keeps spinning.
So, Wilson’s Phalarope, I hope if I run into you in person we can have a reasonable conversation. I hope it can be done without accusations of moral character. I am who I am. You are who you are. I’m not a creation, and I’m willing to bet you aren’t either. What you see or hear of me online is what you get. Though in real life there is a lot more profanity.
For the record, I do know about feminism and if I had to pinpoint myself would say that I’m a “third wave feminist” but if you aren’t into the whole wave thing, that’s cool, just call me a “gender equality advocate.”
And from one writer to another, it’s ok to disagree on a point and still chat amicably about other things. If you have written something that someone disagrees with and shares it publicly, you have written something worthwhile.
You could totally tell me, “I think you are dismissive about the discrimination women feel because they do not have the strong personality you do. Let me explain why…” You could send that in an email (sharon at Birdchick dot com), write this on your own website or say to me in person. Heck you could even have a podcast–I wish there were more birding ones out there. I will listen with interest. I can’t say we will agree, but I will listen. What bird festivals will you be at in 2014? Wanna have coffee or a drink? I’m buyin.
Anyway, please stop making enemies of people who have no wish to be one. Let’s work together. Birds will benefit, the next generation of young male and female birders will benefit from seeing us reasonably disagree online rather than turning this into a you vs me thing and criticizing who I am as a person. We all come from life with different perspectives, different tools, different ideas, different experiences and we will accomplish far more working together, rather than tearing each other down. How can women get past discrimination if we are busy making personal attacks about each other and not a discussion of ideas?
I hope 2014 is amazing for you. I hope you publish more articles I can disagree with and maybe even learn something. I hope you and I can both see the day when a woman being hired or published in the birding industry is not a headline because of her gender. I hope we can each be ourselves and appreaciate our differences.
I wish you love, success and good things.