I Posted a Selfie Online
This Scared Some of the Menfolk
Soon after I started writing a column, in the fall of 2002, I began to accept invitations to give speeches. They were a great way to meet readers and hear what’s on their minds. Twenty years later, I continue to do this when I can. Still listening, still learning.
From the first time I walked in front of an audience, I’ve been answering the same question, always from women: How do I deal with the online haters?
The question is understandable. Readers can see on news sites and on social media how often women endure an avalanche of online abuse. If you regularly share your opinion, the attacks get personal. Share a photo of yourself and you can feel like a target for weeks. If you’re a woman of color, it never ends.
In my first few months of public speaking, whenever a woman asked if this online hate bothered me, I assured her and everyone in the room that I was not fazed.
This was a lie.
I wanted to act like it didn’t bother me because I thought it shouldn’t. I was one of the few women in a high-profile job mostly held by men across the country. You didn’t hear them whining about hate mail. (I soon learned that many of them do whine, a lot. A New York Times columnist once told me he never read his emails because readers made fun of his hair, his face, and his age. “They’re so mean,” he said.)
One evening in late 2005, at an event with more than a thousand women in the audience, a woman in her forties stepped up to the mic and nervously asked the question about online haters. By then, I had perfected my nonchalance: “Do they bother me? Nope.”
She looked stricken.
“Well, I’m not brave like you,” she said softly into the microphone. “I guess I’ll just continue to keep my opinions to myself.”
In that moment, I felt such shame. I had witnessed the potential harm of my indifference. No, my hypocrisy. Pretending you’re different from everyone else emboldens no one. There is no solidarity to be found in the pretense of superiority.
I owed her a better answer. I owed her the truth.
Yes, sometimes I was hurt, I told her. I described how strangers with made-up names insulted my looks, my intelligence, and my gender—and how my employer let them get it away with it, week after week on our web site.
These people claimed to “know for a fact” that my job made me a terrible mother, and they would publicly debate amongst themselves the many reasons I was divorced. Sometimes, I was frightened by the level of hatred directed at me. After I wrote in opposition to Ohio’s new concealed carry law, someone started posting on gun web sites what they thought was my home address and identified me as “a single mother who is unarmed.”
Did the haters bother me?
“Yes,” I said that night, to an audience that had grown so quiet. “ I just don’t let them stop me.”
That’s been my answer ever since, including earlier this week, when a friend sat in my living room and asked how I was handling the latest round of online mockery.
Last Saturday I shared this post across all of my social media accounts--Facebook, Instagram, Threads and X, the site formerly called Twitter--because I wanted to get the word out.
If passed, Ohio’s Issue 1 would restore women’s rights to abortion and reproductive healthcare, which includes contraception, fertility treatment, and miscarriage care.
I understand not everyone reading this agrees with me on this issue. But I’m sure most of you would never respond to my post by tweeting that photo, above, of me with Miss Piggy.
They think I look like Miss Piggy? Where’s the insult?
You wouldn’t post this, either:
I blocked out their online identities because I have more followers than they do and Dad always said only a bully punches down. The borders I made for these tweets are a mess, so if you were looking for further evidence that I’m a person of limited talent, there you go.
I’m sharing these—and there were far worse, in the hundreds--not because I want to solicit compliments on how I look in that original photo. I’m a grandmother of eight and I look like it. I’ve also already lived four years longer than my mother, who died at 62. Every day is a gift, and I need no sympathy. Look what I get to do.
I post these because I want every woman who sees them, including my granddaughters who might stumble upon them many years from now, to know what took me too long to learn. Every time someone stoops to attacking our looks, our age, or our gender, we win. They are unhappy people leading with their injuries, and they want us to feel demoralized and ashamed. When we refuse to fall apart, they unravel. I lost count of how many in this batch of the unhinged bemoaned that my mother didn’t abort me. Nailed it, boys.
As I wrote at the end of Monday’s essay, there will always be people who hate a woman who is willing to share her opinions out loud. Remember this: We outnumber them. I was reminded of this last night in a packed house on Cleveland’s East Side. I stood in front of the room and took in the sight of nearly 80 women and a few good men who showed up on a cold Wednesday night for get-out-the-vote training. It is impossible to feel hopeless in the company of so many women who refuse to be silent in this world that so desperately needs them.
I’m two decades older now. I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with keyboard cowards. Their hate no longer hurts me and it sure won’t stop me. Sometimes, like today, I find it entertaining, which is my secret weapon. Few things are scarier to a man who loathes women than a woman who finds his hatred to be hilarious.
Which reminds me: Every once in a while, an angry reader or online troll will tell me to shut up and “go be a grandmother.” I love when that happens.
This is me being a grandma. Be careful what you wish for.
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