My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Mailbox: "Creepy Guy Narrative" Feedback (Part 1 of 4)

You deleted my comment!  Douche is a sexist pejorative.  I'm not sure, but are you a writer?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  And if you come to my blog and anonymously act horrible, I'm very comfortable mocking you.] 

All of todays mailbox write-ins come from the comments from my article "Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative" or its companion Comment Overflow Post.  While some people wrote thoughtful, civil criticism and questions, many were deplorable examples of "the bottom half of the internet" and why conventional wisdom suggests that you never read the comments (though I think it is good for writers to do so).  I got a lot of comments, private emails, and messages through other social media about each of these, so none of them represents any one commenter.  Chances are if I replied to you, I felt you were being civil enough to be worth replying to.

You deleted my comment!  Clearly you hate disagreement.

[ETA: I have since retired the word "butthurt" from my lexicon as it has been explained to me to be problematic (homophobic and a little rapey). But I have left the original wording here as a record.]

To kick off our butthurt-a-thon, I figured no ordinary butthurt would do.  It couldn’t just be my butthurt, or some commenter’s butthurt.  Only their butthurt at MY butthurt about their butthurt will properly set the tone.

I hate disagreement huh?  Well, I would say: "Have you met me?" in that really sarcastic way, but it occurs to me that that joke is kind of ineffective if you actually haven't actually...ya know...met me. But trust me that if for those who had met me, it would be off-the-hook funny.  

I kind of love a good argument. I love them a little too much. I've looked up and realized I've been arguing on Facebook all day and haven't actually written a productive word more often than I want to admit. 

Yep, if you HAD met me, you would be giggling right now and saying, "Oh Chris!"

If I deleted your comment, it was because you were being a big meanieface pimple squeezing.  I wasn’t, you know....like...kidding around when I added that edit to that post stating that I would cheerfully delete abusive comments.  As they came in--almost all anonymous--I simply clicked to the comments section and removed the content like a cathartic game of whack a mole.  

These folks are the reason we can’t have nice things on the internet.  Learn to disagree without being an unwiped, post-runs anal sphincter about it, okay?  You may only be LOOKING at a box of pixels but there’s another human with feelings on the other end, and if you want to make any impact in their lives at all (beyond maybe entries like this one), try not to conflate the feeling that someone is WRONG with the justification for forgetting every single interpersonal skill you learned since you were roughly two.

I left up comments that disagreed pretty intensely with me, that took umbrage with my actions, that didn’t like my writing, that didn’t like the word douche, that thought I made the whole thing up, and even that claimed I was making it hard for some poor man to get his game on because teh poor menz have it so hard. You can go read the whole 750 reply thread if you want and see how many of them disagreed with me.

I left those comments up.

Trust me when I tell you that it was not what you said, but the fact that you couldn’t say it without acting like an immolating paper sack of human excrement that got your comment deleted.

A few of you really tried.  I could tell you did. You used the word “problematic” and everything. But you just couldn't not be just....horrid, and I knew that actually trying to communicate with you wasn’t even worth the calories from my egg salad sandwich. I'm glad you stopped by the blog, and thanks for taking the time to reply, but no one has to put up with being insulted in their own house.

Then again, if you comment with the same impetus with which taggers spray paint a wall--just to see your existence validated in print or to say you messed with me--don't forget that it’s exactly three clicks to remove all record of your bullshit.  Even a tagger gets to admire their handiwork for at least a day or two.  Something to consider.

I know there's an intersection here with respectability politics, but I don't have to have no boundaries on my own blog to be willing to confront my own fallibility. 

Are you aware of how much of a sexist pejorative douchecanoe is? You should really think about your use of that word.

[Note: since writing this, I have shied away from douche and douche-derivative pejoratives as the trans community has pointed out that its ubiquitous use isn't very intersectional.]

To be honest, I'm pretty sure no one actually knows what a douchecanoe is....at all.  Maybe it's like a boat for rowing crew with little bidets below each rower?  If the captain has a control mechanism, that might even be more effective than saying "Stroke" over and over again.

(Am I the only person who thinks that crew rowers have to work hard not to imagine someone saying "Stroke.....Stroke....Stroke...." while they're having sex?

Though...um...maybe I'm getting off topic.)

The word douche though...yeah I get it.  That one's up in the air right now.  

Actually, I've probably given that word more thought than you might expect (hell, I have given that word more thought than I would expect) including an afternoon of linguistic study and trolling Google  looking for what people I respect think about it (especially feminists from zines and blogs I have come to think highly of).  I turn into a total word nerd like that when there's an issue of a possible systematically harmful slur on the table.

And believe me when I tell you that I have retired words from my lexicon when I find that the voices I respect tend to agree that they are hurtful.  You'd be hard pressed to find the word "bitch" in Writing About Writing outside the comments, and I'm not sure I've ever used "retarded" (or words that end in tard to try and be edgy.) As of this edit (4/5/15) I'm even trying to work the word "stupid" out of my bad habits.

Got to tell you though, unless I want to write blender instruction manuals, my writing is going to offend someone, and it can't always be moralizing Christians.  Words aren't provocative if they don't evoke emotion, and there's only so many times I can fucking use the fucking F word before it becomes fucking inert.  So what I try to do is really listen to the groups I respect on an issue like this.  Not one or two tokenized opinions, but a sort of "critical mass" of people who actually ARE very conscious of social justice.

A lot of feminists I know use "douche" to describe guys who are jerky in a particular way--especially variants like bag, nozzle, canoe, and my personal favorite--aircraft carrier.  I know there's a rift about whether it's a sexist pejorative, and I know my choice won't please everyone, but at least it's not an uninformed decision. 

In a way it's the perfect word: here is a totally unnecessary tool of the patriarchy that is not only useless, but actually harmful to women and primarily makes them feel bad about themselves. And any woman who knows better isn't going to allow it anywhere near their junk.  Sounds about right to me!

You can find a very cogent defense of douche as an insult in this Feministe article.  But there are other defenses of the word, many by feminists.  

Definitely cheerleaders on both sides. 

So I hope you can accept my paradoxical position: that is, I am simultaneously apologetic that I've offended anyone on a personal level (and I would absolutely watch my mouth if I were in your personal company), but also that the word seem to have enough "critical mass" of feminist and progressive voices (who find it deliciously appropriate) that I probably won't stop using it in my work until/unless that changes.

Are you a writer?  Hey are you a writer?  Hey, I'm not quite sure, but are you a writer?  Hey, you should mention a few more times that you're a writer.  I wasn't clear....are you some sort of writer or something?

Yes, yes.  You're all terribly clever.  

You know I used to be a server, and at LEAST once a shift, some middle age guy would answer the question "What can I get for you folks?" with, "How 'bout a million dollars?"  I swear to you that every single one of them, had the same little self-congratulatory half laugh--like they were totally sure they were the first person in the history of full service restaurants to think of that one.

I would stand there in front of those tables, pen and pad in hand, trying to disguise the fact that I wasn't laughing at their joke so much as the way the other people at the table always assumed the EXACT SAME "Oh-my-god,-I-can't-believe-I'm-friends-with-this-guy" pose with their fingers pressed against their forehead--or just their fingertips pressed to the bridge of their nose--and their heads shaking slightly.

Then I would smile sweetly and let them know that gratuity was automatically added to orders over "ten G's," so I would be happy to oblige as I was hoping to buy a house later in the day.  That's when they looked sour and their companions started to smirk.

That story may be a non-sequitur.  I'll let you decide.

But you're right. You are. That part was a little silly.

But before "Are you a writer?" becomes Writing About Writing's version of people asking how Strongbad types with boxing gloves, do me a favor and look at the title of this blog.

Are you looking?  I'm serious.  Look.  Scroll up if you need to.  I'll wait.  

Did you read it?  Good.

This blog is about writing.
So when I came home dying to tell a sort of non-writing, personal story that had just happened to me, I came up with a way to fit that story into the container of the blog.

My hand to god, if I'd known this were going to go so viral, I would have just written it. I totally agree that the meta was a bit stretched, and even painful, at time. More's the pity. It was clunky and ham handed, and suddenly a million people saw THAT as their introduction to my writing. (Let that be a lesson to you....)

If I had even the slightest inkling that it was going to be read by a quarter of a million people in just the first week, I would have written it to a far more general audience. If I left the writing stuff in at all, I would have toned it way, way down. (I also would have drafted it at least two or three more times.) But I didn't know that. And it did go viral. Suddenly I was getting three thousand hits an hour, and it felt dishonest to try and go back and make major edits to it at that point.

So I'm sorry if the interwebs just happened to pick something up that was written to a niche audience. But can I beg for this joke to be over now?  Please?

Now that I've cleared that up, I'm sure this will be the end of it, and everyone will go back to their rational, reasoned, lives. Also, I'm sure middle aged dads will stop asking servers for a million dollars.

I'm just so sure.

Click for Part 2 (This story is fake.  Are you perpetuating homophobia?  Your writing is terrible.)


  1. I for one think you'd make an awesome dragon.

  2. I so enjoyed reading your rant on abusive commenting. I was giggling inside and I expect I will point folk _cheerfully!- there that do experience abusive commenting on their posts. Because it does hurt people, the do become a bit more shy about posting... I have come across at least one discussion in G+ about it.

    And just because I absolutely love the video, I am going to find the URL and post it. Cheers to Will Wheaton, and the Netizens for running with it.

    And "totally unnecessary tool of the patriarchy "... changed my context of the word douche, and now I know if I were to use it, how I would use it!

    And, oh, yes indeed, you are a writer. One whose words I am enjoying.

    1. Thanks so much! It's been a month of mixed feedback as I'm far from everyone's cup of tea. Encouragement is appreciated.

  3. I want to say first that I absolutely love the original article, and consider you a Hero of the Revolution for having done what you did.

    It triggered a couple of further thoughts for me:

    1) I wonder if an unattractive woman could have achieved a similar effect, and what the difference (if any) would be if the gay issue were taken off the table. I am old enough and fat enough to fall into that category (from the POV of such a creep), and I've never been one to flinch from "making a scene in public" in a good cause, so perhaps I'll have a chance to test the hypothesis one day.

    2) You have now been inducted into the club of "men who have found out what it's like to be a woman on the Internet" -- except that I doubt you received rape or death threats, both of which are common responses to women who dare to say anything "controversial". My sympathies.

    1. Yeah, I would like to know if that would work as well.

      I HAVE gotten a threat of violence (one of the comments I deleted). But I can't rightly say I can really imagine how much worse it must be for women. I mean I've read the comment threads on controversial posts, but it's so much more real when comments are landing in your inbox in real time.

  4. One criticism I haven't seen you address about the use of the word douche is that it's transphobic. While douching for cis women is usually completely unnecessary and harmful (mostly. I have a really gross story about bacterial vaginosis) for trans women, it's medically necessary. So you're taking something that is a needed action for a marginalised and discriminated against section of society and using that as an insult.

    This is problematic.

    1. I didn't specifically reply to this because only one comment brought it up in 700 on the blog (and 300ish across other media). Also, my answer would fundamentally be the same as above. That is: I look to large swaths of LGBTQ folks (and allies) I respect for my cues on this sort of thing. The trouble with deconstruction through intentionalist lenses is that we can always "zoom in" to another layer and find new problems. (Any number of intelligence impugning things I've said could be considered ableist, for example. And there is a recent debate within progressive discourse about whether the term "transphobic" is ableist as well.) In a blog with W.A.W.'s timber (and me being all priviligey) I would drive myself crazy trying to second guess what might be offensive. It's much easier to just pay attention to what a critical mass of folks I respect think of a term and go with that.

      But I don't want to be a bad ally. I'll do some more homework about the link between these two things.