When someone first told me there was a tumblr hate blog about me I didn’t think much of it. I find hate blogs disturbing but they seem to be an unavoidable facet of online life at this juncture. There’s one about pretty much every person and every website, given that they are in any way well known (and even sometimes when they’re not.)
I’ve spent most of my online life believing that you should not respond to hatred publicly. I’ve watched friends targeted by hate blogs do everything they could to appease the hatred, but I’ve never seen it work. I’ve never seen any form of engagement with faceless online hatred work, so I’ve always believed in not engaging.
Three things made me decide to post, even very generally, about it now: The first was an article Robin Wasserman sent me about hate blogs. One of the sentences struck me:
This really resonated with me, not just because saintly composure is difficult, but also because I think hate blogs have a tendency to behave as though the object of their hate isn’t a human being with friends, family and feelings. It concerned me that my not showing that I have them (feelings, friends and family) might just feed into that.
The second thing is that the hate bloggers posted two things that upset my family so much that they advised me to get off the internet (thus the hiatus and I apologixe if that scared/worried you). The first was posting my legal name along with a method of finding my address. The second was the sentence “Cassandra Clare acts like she can say anything because she’s Jewish” which in combination with the hate bloggers’s portrayal of me as someone who has always been rich and had a “millionaire businessman father” and tons of connections in Hollywood and publishing (in reality, my father’s a professor, my mother a social worker and rape crisis counselor) evokes a very specific kind of anti-Semitism that really freaked my parents out.
Jay Smooth encapsulates why I decided, in this instance, to violate the “don’t feed the trolls” approach in this video on ThinkProgress:
“Whenever you feel hatred for somebody else for their perspective or their voice or their existence, you can use those trolling tactics to chase that person down in every space they inhabit online and fill every part of their day to day life on the internet with the worst kinds of hatred and threats and abuse. And when you when you’re dealing with that kind of harassment, the only way you can implement the “don’t feed the trolls” approach is to relinquish your right to be on the Internet at all…That sustained, hyper-aggressive major-label big-budget hatefulness comes in pursuit of shame and silence.”
It’s easy to see why this stuff chases people off the internet. The obsessive, daily attention to my appearance, my interaction with my friends, the very personal hatred and dehumanization of me as a person, is frightening. My friends come in for a battery of insults and abuse, simply for being my friends. The fact that I have decided to dye my hair an odd color of purple is apparently another sign that I am an awful person. (And we all know that criticizing other women’s appearances is a big part of girl-hating — slamming what women look like, and especially the choices they make about how they look. I think women should feel free to dye their hair whatever color they want to. When I am ninety, I intend to have hot pink hair.) The hate mail in my ask box. (Yes, I can block them, but they keep signing up new accounts, so that just works as a stopgap.) The fact that they send fake “fan mail” to my ask box, so I never know if I am writing back to an actual reader or a hate blogger impersonating one. It is tiring.
I am sure that the hate bloggers will say they are not anti-Semitic. I am sure they will say they would never come to my house. I am sure they will say that they would never physically harm me. It might be true. I can’t afford to assume that it is, though. They are protected by anonymity: I am not: it is easy to find out where I will be, and when.
The Cafepress store where they sell merchandise based on their hate (yes, really, here is a cached version of the store (which just came down, interestingly) in which you can see that they were selling merch, and read the “save your friends from rape” in the lower left hand corner) suggests you should buy their merchandise to “save your friends from rape.” Leaving aside the unbelievably tasteless attempt to literally capitalize on rape, the implication would seem to be — that I am a rapist? That would be my takeaway as a stranger to their ways, especially if I had not read The Mortal Instruments, or even if I had. They claim I am a bully, that I commit federal crimes, that I harass minor children, none of which is true. But by putting this kind of hatred up on the internet, by dehumanizing me over and over again, by presenting me as someone against whom revenge needs to be taken for beyond horrific crimes, they open the door for other people, for anyone reading their words, to have not just the motivation but the tools to carry out whatever violent reprisal strikes their fancy. If that ever happens, when it happens, I want there to be a record to hold them accountable.
The third was that I could tell the whole thing was very upsetting for my readers. (Once this post is up, the hate bloggers will say that I am upset because they think my books are bad. Believe me, I would be thrilled if it was a blog about how my books are bad. There is no book out there that someone doesn’t think is bad. I try to write good books, to make them the best they can be, but (like almost all other writers I know) I am sure I suck a lot of the time.You write books, you put them out in the world, and the world forms opinions about them. We all have to remind ourselves that we are works in progress, our writing isn’t perfect, and there is something to be learned even from the harshest criticism. I don’t mind being called racist/sexist, either: I am sure that I am, in the sense that we are all products of our conditioning, and we are conditioned by a racist/sexist society that works on us from the day we’re born. I try to be aware, and fight that conditioning, to remember my privilege, to tell fair and truthful stories but that doesn’t mean I’m not a work in progress myself, that I’m not going to screw up.)
But the thing is, I am not my books. And it is not critical blogging about my books: it is hate blogging about me. My appearance, my hair, my friends, the way I talk, the way I behave with men. None of that has anything to do with the words contained within the pages of the books I’ve written: their quality, their messages, their originality, their anything, which is why none of this post addresses any commentary about my writing.
I get a huge amount of email from young girls and women, who make up the bulk of my readership, who are the target of a very specific kind of online cyberbullying. It is a bullying that crops up in the form of girls receiving messages, usually anonymous or pseudonymous, that tell them that they are ugly, that they are fat, that they are stupid, and that the things they like are stupid, that they are sluts, and that they should hurt or kill themselves. And the hate bloggers use a lot of the hateful gendered attack language that I see so often terrorizing my readers, and I worried that my readers would see me not reacting to it, or seeming to not care, and think that there was something wrong with them for caring, for being hurt — that the fact that this language gets under their skin makes them, as the hate bloggers call me, “whiny little bitches.”
I just want you to know — and I say this, knowing how thrilled it will make the hate bloggers to hear this, but I am saying it anyway because you need to know it — of course, this stuff hurts me too.
These sort of attacks are so shocking/upsetting because they break the social contract we have come to expect decent people to adhere to: that people don’t attack your personal relationships, that they don’t sneer not just at your friends but at the idea that you might have friends, that they don’t attack the way you look or your family or your ethnicity/religion. The thing is, to the hate bloggers, and to the kind of people who send anonymous hateful messages, the object of their hate isn’t a person. To them, I am not a human being. My family are not real people. They have spent a great deal of time trying to convince themselves and others that my friends are not my friends. That Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld and Libba Bray and Sarah Rees Brennan, who came to my wedding, hate me. That Holly Black, who was my bridesmaid, hates me. That John Green, who I also have known for years and who, when my first book hit the New York Times Bestseller list, gave me a hug and said: “That’s how you show haters,” not only “is only polite to me at conventions because he has to be”, but would applaud one of their hate blogs, a blog that calls me “greedy little bitch” and urges people to burn my books. There is a lot of contention that my friends, specifically Maureen and Holly and Sarah, “have hitched their wagon to [me], most likely in hopes of more sales/exposure.” The problem with that is that I’ve known all those people since before I was published. When I met Holly, I was broke, and could not afford sheets, and she was a bestselling author with a movie coming out. To have befriended me in the hopes of PROFIT would make her … PSYCHIC. Also Sarah, who I met at a New Year’s Eve party in 2002, when she was nineteen, and neither of us were professional writers or even planning to be professional writers, apparently can see the future. As for Maureen, I met her before City of Bones ever came out, in Scott Westerfeld’s apartment at a party. How any of these people knew I would ever be a bestseller years before I had a book out is, I guess, one of those mysteries for the ages. (Also I should probably not have mentioned that I ever hugged John, since the hate bloggers likes to portray me as “overly handsy” with my guy friends and will probably find some entertaingly bezonkers way to spin that, but it boils down to calling me a slut, basically, which is pretty much the staple word in the vocabulary of gendered attack language.)
They believe my friends are my friends only because they don’t know “the truth about me.” Meanwhile, my friends (the ones they think aren’t really my friends) are exactly the people monitoring their hate blog to see if they start posting threats, or maps to my house, and keeping track of things like racially motivated insults, so that there is a record. Of course my friends know about them and everything they say about me. Who else do I have to go to about these things but my friends?
So yes, while I know this stuff about my friends is ridiculous — I know it because the stories they tell don’t match up to incontrovertible facts — the “your friends all actually hate you/everyone hates you” rhetoric is stuff that appears over and over in the anonymous hate mail that my readers are always talking to me about. (If you follow the cyberbullying tag on tumblr, you can see lots more examples of this stuff: it is really common, and it all sounds kind of the same.) Girls and young women also tell me that they are told over and over that they either don’t deserve anything good to happen to them, or that they are ungrateful. the hate bloggers’s example of proof that I am ungrateful regarding my fans and readers is that they have a video of me getting on a stage for an event holding a drink, and drinking from it while I was being introduced. That’s true! I did do that! I was on tour, and had been traveling all day: I had not eaten, and I had a wracking cough in the car on the way over. I was a little dizzy, and this — the few moments while I was being introduced — was my only chance to 1) consume anything and 2) hopefully be able to stop coughing before I had to talk for several hours. The thing, I am pretty sure that if I were a man, no one would ever comment on my drinking liquid while being introduced. I am pretty sure if I were a dude, I could give a press conference eating a burger and no one would care. (Hey, it’s adorable when Tony Stark does it in Iron Man.) This is the kind of insidious sexism that really is disturbing because I get so many letters that say “I hurt myself because I don’t deserve good things/because I’m ungrateful/because I should be punished” and they are all from girls. I wish there was a movie about an insouciant lady who gives a press conference while eating a burger. But I digress.
So. The hate bloggers love John Green. There we are in agreement. I also love John. He has hate blogs of his own. Perhaps our hate blogs will get together and go bowling. However, my hate bloggers have also spent a good amount of time talking about how I am arrogant and braggy because I have the words “New York Times Bestselling Series” on my twitter background and website. It’s true. I do. Because my twitter background is my website background, but also because a website is an advertisement for one’s work, and therefore you put on it things that you think will attract new readers. If your books have awards, if they have been bestsellers, you say that. It is pretty standard, and John has it on his tumblr background too. Why do I mention this? Because it is a huge part of the rhetoric of attack language against women, especially any woman who is perceived as successful, to talk about how they are insufficiently humble, insufficiently downgrading of their own achievements, how they need to be taken down a peg or taught a lesson. My readers get it in the form of cyberbullies telling them that “up themselves” they they need to be taught lessons, that they shouldn’t think they’re so great because they make fanart/gifs/cosplay/write book reviews/post pictures of themselves looking pretty.
So why did I make this post? Because you *are* so great because you make fanart/gifs/cosplay/write book reviews/post pictures of yourselves looking pretty. Because it’s hard to put yourself out there, to put any creative work or any part of your personality out where it can be judged (and it will be!) Because it’s hard to tell people how you really feel. Because though I really do believe that cyberbullies strike out because they feel powerless, those faceless/nameless ask box comments telling you that you are ungrateful, should be punished, don’t deserve good things, are scary and awful. Because though it doesn’t mean you’re weak to feel hurt by this stuff, I want you to take away from this that sure, this hurts my feelings, but I’m okay. I’m fine. I have a great life. I have a great marriage (My husband’s comment my deciding to make this post was “I see you have decided to take on the most galactically awful people on the Internet, GOOD IDEA”) I have great friends (who are not actually using me for profit and gain, because that’s not actually how people act, and as I pointed out before, they’d have to be psychic) and I do exactly the job that I want to do: telling stories, and trying to make them good ones. And I have you guys. And I have my own voice, my chance to talk. If you take away one thing from this, it’s that when you are being cyberbullied or harassed, don’t feel that you need to stay silent out of shame or because trolls shouldn’t be fed. Talk about what’s happening to you. Expose what the bullies are saying, because when you write it down in the clear light of day, it looks just as revolting as it is (“Cassandra Clare acts like she can say anything because she’s Jewish” .) And take harassment to the proper authorities to deal with. Many, many people have told me that Tumblr is unresponsive to instances of harassment and threats, but try anyway: if you’re under 18, go to your parents, if you’re over 18, consider legal advice; either way consult any of these sites: www.ncpc.org, Cyberbullying.us, www.stopbullyingnow.com for good information on what to do.
I’ll only add that I don’t want anyone taking on the hate bloggers or arguing with them to defend me, or to defend my books. There’s no point, it actually does encourage them, and your job online is to have fun, not come to my defense. Put down the inner Jace (“I will kill everyone!”) and channel the inner Alec (“I don’t think that’s a good idea, dude.”) Consider how absolutely ridiculous hate blogs look to pretty much anyone who isn’t really familiar with the topic in question. ( I googled “Pioneer Woman hate blog” because it was mentioned in the hate bloggers article I linked to that such blogs existed and I couldn’t think of what anyone could possible hate about a woman who posts lasagna recipes to the internet — and I’m still not exactly sure after reading it, but I have come to understand that to some people, including crushed Oreos in a recipe is a deeply serious crime. I have also come to understand that these are not people I ever want to know.) I know you’re thinking, “But wait, I thought you were saying to speak up and not be silenced!” I do want you to speak up, especially considering that October is Anti-Bullying month — speak up about bullying in general, about your own experiences and friend’s experiences, about the appropriate venues to go to for help with bullying and harassment, and if you are getting hateful messages, don’t feel ashamed: go ahead and publicize them, say “This is what people are saying to me.” But don’t engage with harrassers or lash out at them: they see that as legitimization of their behavior and will claim that they are being victimized by your anger. Be better than them. It’s not a high bar. :-)
Take a deep breath every time you think about engaging (whether lashing out in anger, or trying to “reason” with them), and do something positive instead — post a gif, write about a book you like, reach out to someone who’s been bullied, post a picture of yourself looking pretty/fierce/badass/awesome. If you’re a TMI fan, have fun with the fact that we’re starting to get movie photos and reports, and then there’ll be a teaser, and then a trailer, and basically the next year should be a big jar of candy for Shadowhunters. :)
I have never talked to the hate bloggers, and have no plans to ever talk about them again, but I refuse to be shamed or silenced by them. After taking a hiatus, I decided that I am going to go right on doing what I was doing before : interacting with you guys, posting snippets, and answering your questions. I’ll be onset next week, so expect hands! :-)
[I also encourage people to read TMI Source’s excellent post about cyberbullying which gives specific website and hotlines to reach out to.
ETA: My friend Ivyblossom has a lovely post up about bullying and its effects and knowing people as human beings (full disclosure, we’ve been friends for many years, she and I — “We know that countless teens and pre-teens get bullied like this, too. Bullies push them to the brink and watch them fall over it. It happens all the time. It happens to the fabulous and famous, and it happens to young girls known only to a small circle of people in tiny towns. It happens everywhere.” Worth reading!
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