Are Activists Turning People
Off to Change?
Last fall, Salon reported on research that found widespread negative stereotypes of activists were limiting their effectiveness, especially environmentalists and feminists: “By aggressively promoting change and advocating unconventional practices, activists become associated with hostile militancy.” The researchers suggest that activists might be more successful adopting “pleasant and approachable” tactics. These recommendations couldn’t be more misguided. These stereotypes exist because they are rooted in truth but being more pleasant and approachable is not the answer.
Activists are commonly drawn to such work by their personal experience with trauma, injustice or abuse. Through their personal vulnerability, they develop a greater capacity for empathy — and seek to channel their energy to help others. Yet, at times, their activism may become tainted by unprocessed feelings from their own experience of trauma and wounding. When this happens, their message becomes intermingled with their own pain and rage — which can trigger and alienate the very people they are trying to recruit to their cause.
Seane Corn, Suzanne Sterling and Hala Khouri formed Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) to train activists to heal and understand themselves through self-study and yoga to make them more effective advocates for change. To be effective, activists must clearly and cleanly channel their energy, fully aware of their psychological motivations and savvy of their impact on others, as invariably they will confront people also impacted by trauma, injustice and wounding.
I began training with OTM in 2011. It’s changed my life and forever changed my approach to activism. It was through this lens that I observed outrage against me for a personal essay I’d published last year about my experience being cut off by an ex-girlfriend, Emma (not her real name).
Now that I’ve taken a few months to reflect on the experience, I’m stepping forward to directly address the criticism of my essay and to share what I’ve learned about Internet rage. While some may consider this a fool’s errand, perhaps it can lead to deeper dialogue within our broader community.
The Outrage Against Me
The outrage against me began when a feminist advice blogger wrote a critique of my piece, labeling me “entitled” and distorting an anecdote I shared.
At the end of my essay, I wrote about encountering Emma while out on a date. My date had suggested a restaurant near her work and I didn’t know that Emma worked there, but that didn’t stop the blogger from speculating: “OR POSSIBLY IT’S ‘CAUSE OF STALKERS. LIKE YOU MIGHT SORTA BE.”
I learned of her post when one of the blogger’s fans tweeted at me to her ten thousand followers:
For a week, my twitter account was overwhelmed with attacks:
Comments on the blogger’s post seemed inspired more by her allegations than what I had written: “She definitely did have reason to fear for her safety,” “Terrifying,” “Creepy as fuck. And dangerous,” and “this is rape culture straight up”.
And, she made stuff up:
A prominent technology columnist called me an “entitled crybaby” and implied that Medium should censor my essay. Other bloggers piled on, mostly echoing the theme of male entitlement. A popular advice columnist for geeks filled his with GIFs, of course. Another wrote “parodies” narrated by a demon.
But as the spotlight grew, I began receiving emails from both men and women who were deeply touched by the essay:
“I was abandoned by my fiancé just two months ago and have been dealing with PTSD/depression and anxiety. I am brought to tears that someone can sympathize with my deep, primal pain and even more comforted since you are a male.”
“I was cutoff over a month ago and am still rattled (what did I miss? how did I not see the end approaching? why am I randomly crying on planes and metro?), going over conversations, and trying to piece together the why of it all”
“I went through an experience of being completely cut off without knowing why, and went through a year of crying every day and with people who were not understanding of my pain or why I felt I couldn’t move on — especially when I didn’t even understand why there was no communication. To see that there is some explanation and that other people have experienced this, was very helpful to me.”
Then, in July, The Guardian, one of the most popular news sites, ran a column which prominently mentioned me alongside the Isla Vista killer, Elliot Rodger, citing us together as examples of male entitlement.
So, what’s going on here? Why did my essay trigger outrage in some and heartfelt appreciation from others? Why did it merit prominence in The Guardian of all places? There isn’t one simple answer but it’s related to the same dynamics that drive cutoff.
One of the things I learned from this experience was the ineffectiveness of public shaming, which researcher Brene Brown condemns. I’ve chosen not to name or link to my critics for this reason. My intent is that even those most enraged by my essay might be open to some of the things I say here.
What Cutoff Culture Was About
I know that my essay deeply angered and hurt many readers and certainly there were paragraphs that were problematic. I am very sorry for this.
On the blogger’s post, reader Marvel commented: “I wonder what this author would think of the fact that issues relating to MY abusive past were triggered in reading his story of boundary-crossing and attempting to manipulate his ex into taking care of his emotional needs.”
My answer is empathy, regret and concern. To those that the essay caught unaware and possibly triggered — including those who expressed anger at me online, I remain open to your reactions. If there is something that you would like me to hear or understand, please reach out.
I also want to apologize for using the phrase “cutoff culture”. Not only is it an incorrect use of the word culture, it never occurred to me (or my editor and reviewers) that it might diminish activism fighting against “rape culture”.
I wrote Shining Light on Cutoff Culture (SLoCC) for two reasons:
- To start a conversation about the prevalence of cutoff as a mode of ending relationships
- To support people on the receiving end of cutoff, especially those who may have trauma in their backgrounds.
Let me say this very clearly: everyone has an absolute right to cut off anyone without explanation.
I do not dispute that right — nor do I believe that anything in my essay disputed this right. Instead, I questioned the typical motivations behind this behavior and advocated for communication and relatedness between the parties.
I wrote SLoCC in response to having experienced a sudden, overnight personality change by my close friend and partner.
The experience was bewildering and deeply painful for me, activating PTSD from my childhood that I had thought had long since healed.
Over time, my journey from cutoff to healing transformed me as a person and I came out the other side with more love, clearer understanding of myself and a desire to help others. So, I wrote about my experience — a personally deep dive into cutoff, trauma and healing.
SLoCC was well reviewed before publication. I hired an editor who worked with me and shared it with friends, other writers, many women, yoga teachers and people with expertise in mental health. I took great care writing it over a period of more than six months.
The resulting outrage and online attacks made clear to me what a difficult issue cutoff is for people, one that warrants further discussion.
One of my yoga teachers, Sarahjoy Marsh, who is also a yoga therapist, commented that it’s easy for readers to examine the experience I described out of context. “You’re writing about your experience from a rich context; that included all the things ‘Emma’ had said and that you had shared.”
Having something I wrote that was intended to be positive be so misinterpreted and misunderstood has made me lightheartedly question whether I’m just a terrible writer. Certainly, parts of my essay might be perceived as flawed and unclear, but I lean more towards what Marsh said, “You have hit a nerve out there — one that I think needs to be touched.”
Why Cutoff Culture Triggered Outrage
There were a number of different reasons the essay erupted into controversy:
It is potentially irresponsible for other bloggers to extrapolate and make assumptions beyond what I shared. Alleging that I had purposely stalked my ex at her workplace reframed SLoCC from a thoughtful essay about relationship cutoff to one focused on acts of domestic violence and extreme boundary violations, neither of which were present in the original piece.
Some of the blogger’s own readers seemed to have been disturbed as a result of her comments:
For example, I wrote, “I believe that most domestic violence is the result of men with trauma histories reacting to powerlessness in response to experiences with their ex, friends, or family. Certainly men are responsible for finding nonviolent ways to respond to feeling powerless, but culturally we need to understand the dynamics driving these kinds of situations if we’re to reduce them.” The blogger called this “a chilling, [Men’s Rights Activism]-style argument that makes violence against women the fault of women”. This reframing upset many of her readers.
I should have made myself more clear. I meant that men with trauma histories are more at risk for domestic violence and that if we don’t talk about this and collectively invest in their healing, then we can’t end the cycle of violence.
Her commenter David got it: “If we could give these people the skills to deal with their emotions in healthy ways we wouldn’t just help them, we would be helping all future romantic partners of the abuser.”
The blogger also wrote, “Trauma/childhood abuse can be a factor in the history of many abusive men, but it’s not the cause of abuse (see all the men who were abused who don’t abuse and who actually empathize and identify with victims because of their histories).” But the men who don’t abuse aren’t the problem.
In fact, a lot of research shows that early trauma and childhood abuse are significant risk factors for men to later commit intimate partner violence (IPV) e.g. a systematic review of ten studies “all…found an association,” another reported, “a statistically significant graded relationship…between the number of violent experiences and the risk of IPV … [up to] 3.8-fold for men, “ et al.
As I shared in SLoCC, I grew up with ritual physical abuse. I am one of those at risk for IPV but I’ve had the resources and support to walk a path of nonviolence.
I also walk this talk. For the past two years, I’ve volunteered teaching yoga and mindfulness to teen boys with trauma in their background.
2. Saying that Cutoff is Violent
Many people took issue with, “Cutoff culture is violent in its own ways. The person cutting ties gets what they want, but the person getting cut off is left in a situation where what they need or want doesn’t matter.”
Marsh first suggested to me that Emma frequently repeating a desire to preserve our friendship and then abruptly reversing herself was itself a kind of boundary violation. Whether or not you agree with this, Emma’s behavior certainly violated the trust in our friendship.
My own therapist said she personally believes that when we invite someone into our lives to become intimate with them, that we take on certain responsibilities and she believes that we owe people an explanation for cutoff.
One of the blogger’s commenters concurred: “if you invest in someone, if you consensually build up a degree of trust and commitment and intimacy, then it’s rude to suddenly disappear without so much as indicating why. Yes, there are many … abusive dudes who will seize on any explanation as an excuse to argue … However, that doesn’t mean that all attempts at explanation are useless or unwarranted.” And another: “suddenly disconnecting from important personal relationships IS violent and confusing and traumatic to the recipient in its own way, especially if the recipient is genuinely well-intentioned and has no idea what’s going on.”
Calling someone entitled is an easy way to invalidate a person’s experience without addressing the content of their arguments.
The week the controversy erupted, I had blogged about Amazon’s impact on Seattle dating. When writer Tricia Romano responded with a very funny, biting essay called “Amazon’s Killing My Sex Life”, she was viciously attacked online by many in the MRA movement. Just as the blogger called me “entitled”, men accused Romano of being entitled as well. One misogynist site even elected her “Entitlement Princess of the Month.”
Later, Romano wrote in “What I Learned About ‘Myself’ from Internet Trolls” that while critics called me a “creepy, abusive stalker”, they called her “dumb, ugly, and old, a totally over-the-hill Jersey girl, [who’s] managed to get laid so much that [her] vagina is a loose gash”.
The contrast is consistent with sexist speech in general: whereas I was the target of words used to shame men culturally (e.g. abusive, stalker), Romano’s trolls focused on her appearance and promiscuity.
Many of the blogger’s readers said I blamed Emma for activating my PTSD and wanting her to fix it. She wrote, “His post is both sad and terrifying at the same time. He seems to be blaming everyone but himself for his problems … He thinks he’s powerless because he’s placing all this responsibility on her and none on him. Because how can he stop this heartache when she won’t fix it for him?”
I don’t think I said any of those things in the essay and I certainly didn’t (and don’t) feel them. I did not expect Emma to solve my problems. I was a proactive advocate for self-care during this time. During the periods of intense PTSD, I consulted with a number of specialists with experience treating trauma and I made use of all of the tips I shared with readers. I left Emma alone for the first year and worked on my healing apart from her.
However, I agree, aspects of SLoCC we’re problematic, such as, “Emma’s last note included the phrase, ‘Apparently, what I want seems irrelevant to you.’ She didn’t realize the irony that what I wanted had long been irrelevant to her.” I can see how this would be misread. I was trying unsuccessfully to speak to the need for mutuality in co-creating post-breakup friendships — one Emma had always said she wanted. And, I can see how, “Rather than face my need for explanation and desire for resolution, she chose to withdraw” and “If we persist in asking for communication from a woman who has cut us off, we may be considered a perpetrator” reflect readers’ concerns about my behavior.
Certainly, I felt entitled to ask Emma for an explanation but nothing more — and I think that’s a reasonable and normal human response when feeling blindsided by abrupt shifts in personality or relationship. I do not think I have a right to an explanation from her nor did I say so.
Commenter Jacuzziant agreed: “I don’t think his behavior before the blog post was problematic. I’d even call it healthy. Cutoff culture IS violent in its own way…he just wanted answers…Reading his entire article, I think he’s reached a better place both for himself and for his future relationships. I don’t see the entitlement in asking for clarification.”
4. Disrespecting Emma’s Boundaries
In SLoCC, I described trying to resolve my experience by contacting Emma twice over nine months after she asked me not to. While I may not be a poster child for ideal boundaries neither did I ever say she didn’t have the “right” to cut me off. Nor do I feel that the behavior I described is at all outside the norm of many of my peers. In fact, the author of The Guardian piece went much further, he “called [his ex] a dozen times after our last tearful goodbye…emailed her a dozen more times after that…had flowers delivered. And … sent a few last text messages.”
I also understand that the prevalence of unwanted contact as a shared experience is problematic in itself because it’s a piece of the broader mosaic in our culture in which women’s boundaries are regularly violated.
Readers seemed to confuse my challenging the motivations and behavior of cutoff with me disputing their right to cut off. I never said people don’t have the right to say no and to have those boundaries respected. Instead, I was asking people to reflect on their motivations and the impact on their former partners.
Apparently, the blogger is pro-cutoff — I had stumbled into someone with exact opposite views: “The thing about ‘cut-off culture’ where a woman says ‘Hey don’t talk to me anymore’ and a man says ‘ok’ and then processes his feelings privately is something I am actively trying to support and create with this blog. Because we live in the opposite kind of culture, and when you’re the one being leeched on by someone who won’t let go it’s terrifying and exhausting.” I empathize with her example.
Writing about breakups is fraught; certainly, both Emma and I could say disparaging things about the other. Instead, I wanted to share my story and my views on cutoff while protecting her privacy as well as my own. People criticized me for making assumptions about her trauma but again context is critical here. I was writing from my experience; readers were jumping to conclusions based more on their own experiences than what I wrote.
The Guardian columnist had once come under the fire of Internet rage himself for an interview with a pedophile in which he repeatedly described rape of a child as sex. Presumably, he knows the pain of being misinterpreted as a writer or being taken out of context.
A close friend and former ex wrote me, “Writing at ALL after someone said NO is not Okay. If it is OK, where is the line?”
But breakups aren’t always this black or white. For example, Emma had committed to sending me my belongings but then didn’t. I left her alone for six months before writing, “I am so sorry that things have turned out this way…You are always welcome to reach out to me for any reason and I wish you well.” That was when she threatened me with the anti-harassment order.
As I wrote in SLoCC, I agree with author Susan Anderson that many people use cutoff as a way to preserve a false sense of personal power and I agree with Pema Chodron that many aren’t comfortable stepping into the vulnerability required to co-create relatively amicable endings.
The overuse of cutoff has become a power center in modern breakups. As my counselor mused, “The one who cuts off, wins.”
My final note to Emma asked “would [you] be willing to leave me with a few paragraphs explaining why you changed your mind about being friends and decided to cut off all communication?” She had always said she wanted to preserve our friendship; I think it was a fair request I was entitled to make. It was her right to choose whether or not to respond.
5. Power, Trauma and Male Vulnerability
For the past several years, I’ve been steeped in studying trauma, both in healing my own PTSD and training to teach yoga to trauma-sensitive populations. I’m quite comfortable talking about trauma and male vulnerability. I took for granted that this is foreign, uncomfortable territory for the average reader. Even after I quoted Brene Brown, “In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust,” some readers recoiled with fear and disgust.
Readers seemed to confuse me describing the experience of cutoff from a trauma survivor’s perspective with me blaming Emma for my struggle.
OTM leader Hala Khouri wrote me: “I’ve pondered with all that you’ve shared … how tricky it can be for a person who politically and historically has more power (you, as a man) can express vulnerability and needs to someone who hasn’t had that power historically (a woman). If gender were reversed in this dynamic, I doubt there would be any backlash but because you’re a man, the unconscious historical context is brought up. I’ve seen this struggle in many other dynamics: people in a power position don’t often get the chance to be seen in their vulnerability, or get any empathy for it.”
My OTM friend, Marianne Elliott, author of Zen Under Fire, suggested I have a blind spot around power: “what kinds of structural, uninvited, unearned and even unwanted power might you have had or be perceived to have had in this relationship? Including the power dynamics in the process of you writing this article — i.e. what is the implication of you telling the story, in terms of power — and how might those dynamics have on how people read it and interpret it?”
Using an ex, even pseudonymously, to drive my narrative exploration of relationship cutoff troubled many readers. Elliott saw that as a man established in the technology sphere, I could turn to the Internet to tell my story and be heard. And, as the storyteller, I had more power. Emma might be perceived as not having such recourse, and this for some readers relegated her to a less powerful, more vulnerable status. I am still reflecting on Elliott’s comments, but in the meantime I would like to clarify that contrary to how many commentators painted her, Emma is one of the brightest, strongest, and most independent women I’ve met.
Others were triggered by the ambiguous age difference between Emma and me, I was significantly older but nothing like feminist Patrick Stewart who married a woman 38 years younger. I’ve not seen people attack his feminism for this.
The geek advice columnist’s commenters took issue with him for attacking me in one essay while acknowledging one of my key points in an earlier essay: “Break ups fade, but the lack of an explanation can haunt people for years afterwards, doing untold damage to their psyche.” One wrote: “Sneering at the guy doesn’t make your case stronger. It just makes you look like a jerk. It also undermines the things you’ve said in the past about needing to define a new kind of masculinity. The guy is expressing his feelings, and explaining a part of his past that is no doubt very painful for him — and you feel perfectly free to ridicule him…That makes you look like both a jerk, AND a hypocrite.”
People mocked me for struggling to get over a four-month relationship for an extended period ignoring our friendship preceded the relationship by a year. I’ve dated a great deal and have had significant relationships. The connection that Emma and I had developed very quickly and was quite intense for each of us; and, her post-breakup personality shift was the most dramatic I’ve experienced. Alanis Morrissette sings in This Grudge of taking fourteen years to get over her anger from a breakup and in Flinch she says, “It still smarts like it was four minutes ago.” Or, listen to the intensity of Daughter: “we were in flames, I needed you to run through my veins, like disease and now we are strangers.”
Marsh wrote me, “How people receive [SLoCC] will greatly depend on their own maturity, their comfort level with their personal vulnerability, and their willingness to be responsible in their interpersonal dynamics.” The people that wrote in appreciation of SLoCC had all experienced the pain and vulnerability of cutoff. For more insight on this topic, I suggest watching Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”
6. Obsession with Sex and the “Friendzone”
The blogger seemed obsessed that I wanted sex from Emma: “his plan is that she’ll see [SLoCC] and feel bad and then call him and they’ll be friends (maybe sexy friends!) again.”
The fact that I left Emma alone for a year after we broke up belies that. Emma was dear to me and her friendship was dear to me; I felt the loss of that most of all. I was bewildered by her change of personality and I was also impacted by trauma. What triggered me was primarily the breaking of trust by an intimate partner.
I didn’t know the definition of “friendzone” mentioned in The Guardian article; I had to look it up. I’ve historically had large numbers of female friends — you could even call me a friendzone advocate.
My essay ended by urging people to be kind to each other, prominently mentioning me alongside the Isla Vista murderer seemed irresponsible to me. Commenter Snowyjon concurred, “We’ve got to draw a line between someone texting their ex out of the blue, or having romantic feelings about a friend, and someone killing a bunch of people because they felt no one would have sex with them.”
Nothing in my article mentioned the friendzone or indicated a desire for sex with Emma, nor did any of my post-breakup communication with her ever relate to rekindling a sexual relationship.
Harassment & The Cycle of Victimization
Recently, I read that the woman on Twitter that led attacks against me is a co-founder of a feminist workspace with strict anti-harassment policies and an outspoken activist against online harassment, including Twitter, efforts which I applaud.
There’s a great handwritten sign at another feminist workspace where she’s an active member: “dedicated to providing a harassment free space for EVERYONE, regardless of gender … WE DO NOT TOLERATE HARASSMENT of people at our events or space in any form.”
She also recently published an essay on how Twitter needs to do more to stop harassment: “Those experiencing harassment online are often admonished to ‘not feed the trolls.’ In addition to blaming the victims of online harassment … their target’s ongoing presence in the harasser’s Twitter stream significantly lowers the barrier to further engagement and harassment.” Having been the target of her harassment on Twitter, I can safely say that she’s right.
Coincidentally, the technology columnist who called me a crybaby also penned a recent essay against harassment on Twitter.
There is a serious epidemic of misogynist harassment of women online. In addition to Romano’s piece, several that deepened my understanding were Race Swap, this by Jessica Valenti and this Jezebel post.
Constantly under attack fighting for women, it’s understandable that these activists are regularly on edge. But, all of these women were also victims.
The blogger acknowledged in the comments being a “rape survivor and a survivor of stalking that never went all the way into violence but still terrified and worried me and sucked up years of my time and attention.”
Recently I went back and looked at some of my critics’ #YesAllWomen tweets, which emerged after the Isla Vista murders:
In some ways, I’m attuned to feminist sensitivities in ways that others aren’t. Earlier this year, a member at my gym repeatedly wore a shirt reading, “My couch pulls out, but I don’t.” When I confronted him, he said I was the first to bring it up. At a trail near my house last year, I was the first to confront a cyclist following and harassing a few teen girls. The girls had been clearly asking him to stop but other people either didn’t sense the dynamic or chose not to act.
As soon as I saw the attacks on Twitter, I reached out to the woman who began them: “the comment policy on your blog asks that commenters be ‘non-discriminatory, friendly, funny, or perspicacious’ … I’m super open to a discussion about this as long as comments are civil and constructive. I would hope you would tweet as you wish others to publicly comment on your blog.” She responded with more attacks and the blogger accused me of “tone policing”:
I didn’t intend to be oppressive, I was sincerely seeking dialogue — an opportunity she rejected. If activists expect everyone to understand their values and vocabulary yet are unwilling to engage in conversation, then how can someone respond? This is one of the side-effects that I wrote about in SLoCC, when we cut people off, “we’re also robbing them of a chance to apologize and make amends.”
The controversy over SLoCC has shown me that there’s a spectrum of violence and everyone in this story is on it somewhere. Prior to our relationship when I dropped out of communication for a day, Emma got anxious and began to email, text, call and later said she’d planned to wait on my porch for me. Later on, compromised by my own personal history and trauma, I sent her emails after she asked me not to. Similarly, the advocates against harassment that harassed me on Twitter likely wouldn’t be granted membership into their own coworking spaces.
The weeklong harassment of me by self-identifying feminists made me suspicious of online feminism, a movement that I’d previously admired. It made me take a closer look and ask: what are the values of this community? It made me emotionally averse to reading material from them or engaging with them in any way. I also felt unwelcome.
If we cast out people who offend us, we’re only weakening ourselves in the fight against injustice. I’ll always remember the shame on the faces of disenfranchised ex-felons resignedly waving me off when I approached to register them to vote out Bush in 2003.
Shortly before the Isla Vista shootings, I wrote an essay which criticized Congress’ failure to enact gun control after the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the Sandy Hook Massacre. While I would previously have been an active reader and retweeter of #YesAllWomen, a man standing up against misogyny and gun violence, I stayed away. At least temporarily, women online lost an ally when they harassed and shamed me.
Leading the belittling and mocking of others isn’t truly empowering anyone. As social entrepreneur Miki Agrawal says, “Leaders don’t talk shit. Face people and you will face your own fears.”
Off the Mat’s leadership training teaches us to know ourselves deeply and especially to understand our trauma and our triggers. When others touch our wounded parts we may act out with anger. Or, we may pursue activism as a way to act out our experience of oppression from a more powerful place and inadvertently assume the role of perpetrator.
This is where the stereotype of angry activists comes from. There are a lot of activists out there who don’t realize that underneath their positive efforts are very tender, unhealed wounds.
In fact, our culture is full of misdirected rage:
The Isla Vista murderer was a severely mentally ill teen with a history of unsuccessfully treated trauma, steeped in misogyny with ready access to guns. While he was unique in some respects, there are multiple-fatality domestic violence shootings almost daily. While it’s instinctual for people to demonize him, it’s harder to more meaningfully direct their rage at Congress, the NRA and corporations promoting misogyny for profit (like this World Cup ad). It’s certainly easier to retweet allegations about me than to demand your state legislature fully fund testing every single rape kit.
People compared me to Donald Sterling, whose racism prompted visceral rage from Snoop Dog. Again, it’s natural to demonize Sterling but much harder to direct rage at our country’s cultural and institutionalized racism e.g. African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population and are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites; black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants.
When we’re name calling, we’re triggered. We’re acting out not taking action. The kind of belittling and name calling by the blogger and people on Twitter reveals how quickly a trigger can move us to act.
In many cases of relationship cutoff, the person doing the cutoff is triggered. They may fear losing the perceived emotional control of the situation. Cutoff says “I can’t manage this situation with civility.” They’re shifting to extreme boundary setting from a lack of capacity.
Similarly, it was easier for people to lash out at me rather than reflect on the emotions the discussion of cutoff and boundaries brought up for them.
It’s important for all of us to recognize when we’re triggered … and take responsibility for managing our own wounds. SLoCC was the story of my own journey with this.
From where I’m standing the misogynists that attacked Romano and the feminists that harassed me share a lot of resemblances. Both misuse the word entitlement to dismiss people that touch their wounds. Both seem to be acting passive-aggressively and name calling. Neither seems to be acknowledging their pain, telling their story or encouraging a broader conversation.
What does it look like when a reader is more open about their wounds? Check out this comment to Romano’s dating piece: “This is the first time in a very long time that I read something and just genuinely felt hurt over someone else’s words so I’m going to share my story.”
If we’re going to build a safer, more supportive and inclusive society, we have to foster understanding, empathy and community — and harassment is the antithesis of this.
The true work of activists is to bring communities together by modeling healthy communication and leadership.
Rather than vilify individuals — we need to critique the specifics of behavior that is problematic and target the power structures of society that are holding us back.
Shaming People Won’t Create
the Change We Need
My friends felt The Guardian columnist vilified me for behaviors which he had also exhibited. We need to have compassion and understanding for everyone to be on their own particular path and learn lessons at their own rate. Neither did he grapple with the particular vulnerabilities presented by trauma as I did in the essay. If he does not have trauma in his history, it’s likely harder for him to empathize with the experience of someone that does.
Without context, he criticized me for judging Emma’s behavior as unhealthy but neither did the behavior of his ex seem healthy; she ended a four year relationship with a two minute phone call on New Year’s Eve and subsequent cutoff. I’m sorry that he had to experience that, it sounded quite painful.
Having been the subject of ongoing personal attacks and public shaming, I can tell you firsthand that it doesn’t get people to change. If anything, the attacks made me defensive and made it literally hard to read what people we’re saying.
We’re all in this together. Shaming men and demonizing perpetrators will not lead to the long term cultural changes that are needed. Instead, we need to do our best to communicate in ways that we can hear each other, taking responsibility for our own behavior and creating a safe space for people holding all points of view.
The ex who is a close friend said with genuine concern, “I’m afraid that you are sealing off your chances to date with anyone who can run a Google search.” Interestingly, women I’ve dated the past few months have not reacted the way my critics predicted — in fact, they’ve reacted to the blogger’s post with the kind of revulsion described in the Salon research.
A woman who had the awkward timing of going on dates with me before and after The Guardian article said that she had commented positively on it when friends shared it on Facebook without realizing it mentioned me. After our second date, she said that everything about her experience of me was the opposite of the article — and it made her question all the times she’s made assumptions about someone she read about online and how wrong she might have been. I hope we can all learn something from her experience.