Like it or not


In “Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice,” Naomi Wolf suggested that women quit speaking with “vocal fry” — that back of throat rattle that, to some people, makes the speaker sound lazy, whiny, or vapid. (It doesn’t seem to have harmed Bill Clinton, who still “feels your pain.”)

This suggestion set off the Rage of the Internet, which I enjoyed reading. I had to look up several terms used in third-wave feminism, including TERF and SWERF — derogatory acronyms for feminists who don’t think of Caitlyn Jenner as a woman (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), or who don’t think prostitution is an acceptable path toward a woman’s self-actualization (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist).

I don’t care if women speak with vocal fry, for the same reason I don’t care if men gauge their ears to the point where you can slide a roll of quarters through the sagging hole: I believe you should be free to express yourself however you like, and to learn from the consequences.

The weak spot in all the rage: What’s being asked for is not simply freedom of choice (let women speak however they want to speak), but also freedom from criticism — that is, denying the other person’s freedom to disagree, even if she’s an older, successful woman trying to help younger women be successful, too.

On the surface, criticizing Wolf seems like a defense of young women’s self expression. However, I think it’s really an attack on criticism itself, by narcissists who want everything they do to be praised or ignored.

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about — a video of a young woman complaining that no matter what a woman decides to do regarding pregnancy, she’ll be criticized. I can’t embed it here, but you can follow the link (it’s a public posting on Facebook). It’s labeled “#Dowhatyouwanttodo #hatersgonnahate ~ Sarah J,” so I assume her name is Sarah.

I can sympathize, because she’s clearly frustrated, and as a guy raised by a single mom, and the single dad to two girls, I know that parenting decisions are never easy.

However, there’s an aspect of her rage that I found troubling. I had to watch it twice to catch it. At first, I thought she was simply criticizing a collection of social taboos, such as “women over 30 shouldn’t have babies,” but on when I paid closer attention, I realized that what she’s really criticizing is criticism itself.

“Do what you want to do” and “haters gonna hate” are the chants of people who want approval — otherwise, why be upset? — but who cannot handle rejection. It is the philosophical equivalent of Facebook, only allowing Likes. If you disagree, you are a “hater,” and denied value and relevance.

One popular comment on the video reads “No sound, because she’s deaf, puts you in her world. In the tub, because she doesn’t give a flying f-ck what you judgmental f-cks think about her.” This sounds bold and supportive, but it’s not correct. She does care. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t record her commentary and post it on the internet, and, calling people “judgmental f-cks” is something a judgmental f-uck would say. All he’s really saying is, “don’t criticize,” before criticizing the criticizers.

Sarah’s conclusion is, “No matter what you do, people will talk sh-t, so do what is best for you.”

I agree in that you shouldn’t let people’s criticism completely drive your decisions, but I disagree that “do what’s best for you” is a good conclusion to her topic: becoming a parent. “Do what’s best for the kid” is far better.

And yes, that’s a judgment. More specifically, it’s something that can only be said by someone who’s older and wiser, to someone who’s younger and inexperienced.

I was not over my selfish phase when I had my first kid. It caused problems I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So when I say, in counter-point, “What’s best for the kid is two parents who are emotionally and financially stable,” I am not saying “and you’re an idiot for having other ideas.” I’m simply saying, “Please, trust me on this. I’ve been down this path. Some options are indeed better than others. All options are not all equal, or even good. Some should be avoided, when possible, for the benefit of the child, as well as yourself. And, just because I don’t like some of the options you listed, doesn’t mean I don’t like you.”

In a Like-only society, where advice is shouted down en masse, usually by anonymous cursing on the Internet, wisdom is lost. The world becomes a pep rally, where nothing is learned until it’s too late. If you only listen to people who support you, you’re not going to learn anything, because you’re in an echo chamber.

There is no behavior that affects only you, just as there is no child who impacts only himself. We’re connected, whether we Like it or not. So here’s my final judgment: We need to grow up as a culture — to recognize that online is IRL (In Real Life), with the same expectations of honesty and thoughtfulness — and allow people to politely disagree, even on things we’re passionate about.


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