I didn’t take the time to explain why I closed comments at the time I did. This is what I’m going to do now, as I now have a bit more time at hand.
The irony is that what made me take my decision to close comments isn’t directly because of the trolling, threats and MRA hits although it was an absolutely terrifying moment and I almost did close comments as a result; but because comments were beginning to work. I closed comments at a time where conversations were actually becoming very interesting, and the last few ones were the most interesting discussions ever held on this blog so far. Once the threats abated and the trolls decided I wasn’t their pet target any more, I expected to feel relieved and better, but I didn’t. There’s something inherently wrong with modding.
I love writing, and I love discussing with radical feminists. In fact there are few things I like more than being with and discussing with radical feminists, and if I didn’t have to find money to live, I would surely spend most of my time doing this. It’s maybe what brings me most joy in life.
Comments aren’t exactly like discussing with radical feminists in real life. They were making me feel physically and mentally sick. I wanted to run far, far away from modding and never come back to it again. I couldn’t think clearly, all these responses from so many different women were making my head spin and I didn’t know what my own thoughts were any more. I was starting to lose the desire to write, to feel that there wasn’t any point to it. It was intoxicating my entire life and thoughts, I was constantly worrying about the comments, not to mention behind the scenes tensions between this woman or that woman. And the obsessive checking, not knowing when the next message will be, or who it will be from. It might be from a woman you know, but maybe it will be form a complete stranger.
Modding is far too extreme and stressful. In no other situation in life am I to expect at any time of the day or night that someone, anyone might contact me in person, for which I have to check regularly in order to publish that message. Worrying about whether I want this or that message to be published or not. The message in itself might be good, but if you don’t know the commenter it’s stressful not to know whether she’s genuine or not. Or you see there’s a reading comprehension failure, but you don’t want to disappoint or hurt the commenter by trashing the comment because you know her. It is very unlike any form of internet communication such as emails or forums, where you may be in contact with several people but you expect a message only when you’ve sent one to them or because they said they’d write to you, and if you know the person you know more or less her speed of reply, so you’re not going to check every hour of the day to see if she’s sent you a message. And you can sense what they’re going to write about according to the conversation. You know more or what to expect, and who will get in touch with you.
No other writers but bloggers have to deal with such a high amount and scale, scope of constant intrusion, feedback and interaction. I find it insane. I only just realised this recently, as comments before used to be low enough so not to intrude in my life, but this… It’s a full-time job, and worse. I so understand why FCM decided to cut comments to three days a week for a while before she closed her blog, but even three days a week would be unbearable to me.
Paper-published writers spend a considerable amount of time writing on their own. The period before their work is published is usually fairly long, a time during which they choose who gets to read their work for feedback and with whom they want to discuss it. It may be their colleagues, friends, trusted people, etc. And once their work is published, well most writers don’t get a constant flow of letters and emails every single day in their mailboxes to which they have to reply, or republish. Their interaction with the public will be mostly through limited, specific and chosen, agreed-upon times such as gatherings, seminars, talks, conferences, workshops, inerviews etc. There will be a beginning and an end to it.
I’m not saying this is necessarily the best model but I find it so much healthier to have public interaction limited to one-time events, meetings or gatherings, maybe once a month or several times a year (or whatever is suitable), and to otherwise choose the women with whom I want to discuss my work, or thoughts. When I discuss my work with a woman, or discuss the topic of what I’m writing about, I choose her because she’s the appropriate person at this this particular moment. I don’t necessarily want to hear all women’s opinion about it right now, but only hers. Because I value her opinion, first, but also because I know her enough to be able to provide me with the kind of insight I need at this time. Because I know she’ll understand me in the way I need to be understood just now. Because I’m currently seeking one kind of feedback and she’s the person for that.
I found that having too many different unsolicited reactions at the same time made me lose focus, it dispersed my mind to the extent that I lost the meaning of things, even if each contribution, viewed separately, was immensely insightful and valuable. When women comment on my space I have to personally approve each one of their messages, which means somehow that I have to integrate their messages and voice as my own, by agreeing it to be coherent with the political and ethical stance of my blog; this absorption of so many comments at once is what caused the dispersion of my mind and why I had the impression of having 15 different voices jabbering in my head, which really was on the verge of explosion.
By publishing women’s messages on a radfem-only space, I also become responsible for endorsing what other women have said on my blog and for judging this to be radical feminist. The responsibility of judging, approving and publishing what other women say is a heavy responsibility which I find too burdensome, and this is not what I write for. It easily creates tensions and rebuttals about whether or not I should have published or trashed this or that comment. Concessions may be contested, and rightly so, but it’s all just a headache. Sometimes it’s painful even to deal with good comments when I would have enjoyed to only discuss one point further with this or that woman, yet deleting the other radfem comments and allowing only a one-to-one discussion would have been completely inappropriate given the context of semi-public discussion. And it’s painful because just the thought of wanting to discuss with one woman over another on this specific topic makes me feel like I’m a terrible person, yet it’s a perfectly normal thing to do in real life. Besides, unlike normal conversations or meetings, the other woman is dependent on the blogger/modder’s approval for having her message heard and seen, she has to use me as a vehicle to have her message expressed to others. I find that a very unbalanced and unequal form of interaction.
Private discussions with radfems are more equal and go more in depth since privacy allows for far more freedom to go to the end of our thoughts and follow each lead after the other. With public discussions we are always more or less self-contained because of fear of what others will think, fear of reprisals from MRAs, fear of comments not being approved, impossibility to mention relevant anecdotes or thoughts since they might reveal personal information that could compromise anonymity.
Finally, I realise I much prefer writing to an invisible audience rather than a regular, visible one, as I realised that I was increasingly censoring my thoughts or writing according to what I imagined commenters would think of it – fearing their judgment in other words, fearing to be misunderstood, and always dreading those threats if I went too far. I don’t think this fear can be avoided actually, it’s inherent to the comment format, to the possibility of anyone and everyone being able to comment on your writing at any time. Not having to confront myself with people’s unsolicited reactions to what I say is really liberating.
Now at this point I really want to stress that nothing here has anything to do with what a published commenter might have said or done personally, and really the contributions and insights have meant a lot to me in many ways. My thoughts here are about the inherent problems with modding and not with radfem discussions per se. There are few exceptions, but on the whole, spinning conversations is very much hindered by the blog modding format – to which we add the constant fear of receiving threatening comments and having to bear alone the responsibility of reading and deleting the threats and trolls in order to maintain a safe space for other women (which makes the space (moderately) safe for everyone except the modder).
I never had this impression as I was reading comments as an outsider, but being an insider it’s an entirely different story, and it’s interesting to see how it works. However even as an outsider I did experience the stress of obsessive checking and replying, the anxious waiting for my comment to be approved or for new comments to show up. Sometimes it would be excruciatingly frustrating, and it’s very dissociative too, as I could stay for hours in front of my screen without feeling sleepiness or tiredness when I was tired and sleepy. Separation is what causes this – separation in time and space between the emitter and transmitter, deferred sending and receiving. The screen deprives us from the sensual experience of interaction – there is a constant delay or lapse which doesn’t exist in instant / present communication, where each interaction phrase, gesture, tone of voice, touch is communicated and sensed immediately. Interacting with a screen is sense-numbing anyway. Internet and computer communication is probably the bleakest form of human interaction from a sensory point of view, despite all the advantages it has in terms of easily accessible information and fast communication.
Now that I’ve closed comments I feel immensely relieved, freed, and my clarity of mind and desire to write reappeared almost as soon as I closed comments, which is quite funny. Or rather makes perfect sense. I’ve been thinking about the effects of blogging and of the internet on radical feminist writing for a long time and these are certainly my most informed thoughts for now. That short experience in modding was surely a learning experience and I’m glad it allowed me to better understand how it affects writing.
All things considered, I’ve decided for now to try leaving comments open on the most recent article three days a month, every 1st, 2d and 3rd of each month; because these days are easy to remember. I hope I’ll remember them myself! If this is still too much to deal with, I’ll just reduce that to several times a year.