Taking Down Take-down Culture: On Social Media Responsibility

By: Melissa A. Fabello

Last week, YouTube starlet Jenna Marbles posted a poorly-thought-out video called “Things I Don’t Understand About Girls: Slut Edition.” In a matter of two days, it was viewed 1.8 million times. Million. And following her post, many other YouTubers – thankfully! – posted response videos, calling Jenna out for the slut-shaming and victim-blaming in her video. My three favorite response videos – from Laci Green, Hayley G. Hoover, and Chesca Leigh – did a phenomenal job of not only presenting different viewpoints, but of being class acts: not a single one of them blamed Jenna for her opinion or attacked her personally.

And while they all presented cold, hard facts (and, in Chesca’s case, a heartbreaking story) about rape culture, they all made a point to discuss how important it is, especially for someone like Jenna who has such a large audience, to be responsible in the production and sharing of media. Because when you post a YouTube video that encourages women to judge other women based on their sexuality, you’re not only sharing you opinion; you’re perpetuating a culture that tells women that it’s normal and healthy to tear one another down.

About a year ago, I made a video in which I talk about a concept that I call “girl-eat-girl” culture. Recently, my friend Laci Green made a similar (read: better) video called “Girl-On-Girl Hate” that has the same premise: Our culture is one that tolerates – nay, encourages! – women to be competitive with one another. And we’ve learned that the best way to show our dominance over one another is to be catty – and even downright mean! We’re told through our societal upbringing that it’s perfectly acceptable to put a woman in her place when we believe her to be acting in a way that we don’t think is appropriate or if we perceive her as a threat. Instead of leaving well enough alone, we’re encouraged to voice our opinion about why she isn’t worthy of respect – and it usually (conveniently) places the judger in a position above the judged in worthiness.

Take for example a recent piece of anonymous Tumblr hate mail that I received. In it, I was called out for being “narcissistic” and “not that pretty” and was berated for daring to label myself as a body-positive warrior when I’m “always fishing for compliments based on [my] looks.” The subtext of that message, really, is: “I don’t like it when you post pictures of yourself. I find it annoying and arrogant.” And the underlying message (which is not as easily detectable) is: “I don’t do that because I’m better than you.” By placing us in two different categories (“humble” and “arrogant”) and then placing values on those categories (“good” and “bad”), Anonymous attempted to put me in my place by letting me know that my behavior was unacceptable (on their scale) and needed evaluation, but by doing so anonymously, managed to escape any and all responsibility. But the truth is: if any behavior is unacceptable, it’s sending cutting anonymous hate mail to someone on the Internet.

A place where I see this upsetting, seemingly-innocent girl-eat-girl behavior constantly is on Twitter. Now, as a snob who doesn’t want to waste her social media time on irrelevant, unprovocative fodder (except for on Instagram – I looove pictures of people’s food!), I actually have set up lists on Twitter, so that I can avoid most of the boring or aggravating things that people post (like sports play-by-plays and #foreveralone tweets). But every once in a while, like when I’m scrolling through my time line on my phone, up will pop something to the effect of “if you think leggings are an acceptable replacement for pants, then I have no respect for you” or “what else would I expect from a slut,” and I’ll just want to scream. Post after post after post of women tearing down other women for no other reason except for that they don’t do womanhood the way that they want them to.

And as if this isn’t infuriating enough, the icing on the cake is that these passive-aggressive tweets (for those of you out of the loop, the Twitterverse calls them “subtweets” because they supposedly fly under the radar) are probably being viewed by the exact people that they were written about. Like my beloved anonymous Tumblr hater, what subtweeters want to do is both successfully tear someone down and get away with it scot-free. Because just like you can’t prove who an anonymous message is from, you can’t prove that a tweet is about you. But, in both cases, the point is well-taken and heard loud and clear: the author thinks you fucked up. And you’re supposed to care.

The problem with this behavior – besides the fact that it’s mean – is that it validates and perpetuates cyber-bullying. As tweets about how “no respectable girl wears yoga pants to class” beget retweets, the information becomes widespread – and quickly. There’s no more need for magazines to inform of us who and what is hot or not: the trends are at our fingertips constantly. And with the capacity to reach any number of over 500 million people, these girl-on-girl hate tweets normalize bullying and queen bee culture on an unprecedented scale. And the cycle could be endless. But it doesn’t have to be.

I think it’s about time that we request that everyone – not just famous YouTube stars like Jenna – be more responsible in their use of social media. I think that we need to turn this trend around and, not to be too hippie-dippie, stop spreading negative vibes to one another and into the universe. Let’s make our spaces on the Internet safe spaces and encourage other people to do the same.

And to start, here are five ways that you can help make Twitter less “catty”:

1. Question your tweet’s motive. Whenever I start typing out a tweet in frustration, I pause and ask myself what it’s going to accomplish. If the answer is “to make me look better” “to hurt someone’s feelings,” or “to make someone realize that what they’re doing is inappropriate or annoying,” then I delete it.

2. Evaluate your feelings. Ask yourself why you feel so strongly about making someone else feel bad. Try to figure out where that judgment is coming from and why it’s eating you up inside. Attack your feelings at the source of your insecurity, rather than attacking someone else.

3. Redirect your anger. Your feelings are perfectly valid, and you shouldn’t be ashamed for feeling natural human emotions. Jealousy or annoyance, for instance, is normal. Feel it. Sit with it. And then swallow it and move on. See if you can turn the fire in your belly into a well-directed and well-purposed passion instead of a subtweet.

4. Call other people out. If you see one of your friends tweet out something rude and passive-aggressive, tweet back a simple question: “What did that accomplish?” Let them know that you’re paying attention, and open up the floor to a dialogue on why they feel it’s a good outlet for their negative emotions.

5. Use social media for good. Lead by example. Use your social media time to make a change in the world. Show others how worthwhile social media can be in effecting real change, instead of just hurt feelings. You can start by sharing this article to help others recognize the error in their ways.

Because seriously? We need to take down take-down culture. Join me in revolutionizing the 21st century female experience.

Check out Melissa’s website ToughXCookies.com and follow her on Twitter @fyeahmfabello