If you're a social media addict like me, you've probably read the now-notorious blog post by Mrs. Hall, in which she admonishes teenage girls not to post sexually suggestive selfies on Facebook, warning them that once boys (including her own sons) see them as sexual objects, they can't ever see them any other way.
I've read responses to her post by other bloggers that sum up my own objections to her point of view articulately, so I'm not going to rehash them here. But now that the hubbub has died down, there is a perspective I want to add to the Mrs. Hall conversation as a fellow blogger and human being:
Quite simply, I empathize with Mrs. Hall.
I empathize with her not for what she believes, but for the situation she's found herself in now, being relentlessly criticized from all corners, not just in the blogosphere, but in online and print publications here and even overseas.
I know if I wrote a post on my own (fairly obscure) personal blog that got this kind of high-profile criticism I would be miserable. I'd feel guilty and sorry for the unwanted attention I had unintentionally attracted toward my family and, in particular, my children. I would feel hurt and defensive. Maybe I would wish I had made my point a little differently, or -- more likely -- not made it at all. I'd be looking hard for a nice, large rock to crawl under for a good long time.
Yeah, but she wrote a blog post and put it out there, knowing that anyone could see it, the retort goes. She should have been prepared for any criticism she got. Right?
Well... sort of. Anything can go viral. But for us relatively unknown bloggers, it's not a contingency that's top of mind, because the chances are so miniscule. There are literally millions of personal blogs out there. As Mrs. Hall says herself, on the note she recently added to the top of her post, she wrote it "for [her] normal audience, which is usually very small."
In other words, she didn't write her post for the world to weigh in on. She wrote it for her regular readers. And if you read the (modest number of ) comments on her other posts, it's clear that those readers more or less share her world view, values and faith.
Regular readers of small personal blogs typically are a self-selecting group. As a result, there's an intimacy between the blogger and these readers; a feeling of trust. As bloggers, we're willing to write with a candor we probably wouldn't in a larger venue, knowing that while our readers may occasionally disagree with us, they'll probably present their objections in a thoughtful and gentle way. They won't attack us on a personal level. They won't say we're a bad mother or a bad person or a symbol of everything that's wrong with America today. They won't reply with scorn and sarcasm.
Or maybe from time to time someone will, and it will ruin our day. But we get over it. And maybe we engage them in a dialogue; try to understand why they lashed out and remind them: Hey. I'm a flesh and blood person here.
Mrs. Hall is a flesh and blood person -- not a disembodied opinion. And she's not the first person to find herself unexpectedly confronted by the pitchforks and torches of the Internet. Every time I see it happen, as vehemently as I might disagree with the blogger's point of view, I can't help feeling sorry for what they're going through. For what we, the faceless Internet masses, are putting them through.
So, I can't help feeling sorry for Mrs. Hall. Because, like the sexy-selfie-posting girls she criticizes, she wasn't asking for this kind of attention. And while we all have the right to respond to her post, and use it as a springboard for discussion, I think it's also incumbent upon us to show her -- and the next blogger who is thrust unwittingly into the spotlight -- a little mercy.