Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From a concerned reader, with love

A lovely email from a (ex!) reader I got this afternoon:

Dear Crystal,

Just FYI: Writers need to be able to accept criticism. If and when you are able to publish, be prepared for editors to second-guess a lot of what you wrote. You deleted my comment because I didn't agree with you. That's your right because it's your blog. But you'd better spend some of your time off from work growing a much thicker skin, or editors will eat you alive. You can't simply tune out (delete) the criticism/editing that doesn't agree with your point of view. You have to answer it -- by defending what you wrote and convincing the editors that it's right. Book publishing is nothing like print or online journalism. Trust me on this.

Deleting comments that get in the way of the accolade buzz generated by your equally snarky readers is lazy and also intellectually dishonest. By pretending that everyone agrees with you, you're stifling discussion and also avoiding defending your point of view.

Again, that's your right -- it's your blog. But allow me to extend a piece of unsolicited advice: Grow up. This isn't a seventh-grade newsletter. It's a blog that could potentially be read by millions of people. That's unlikely -- most blogs are seen by very few readers -- but it could happen. Thus you'd be promoting classism, sexism and veiled hate speech in the form of "humor."

Crystal, you are ridiculing people without the slightest clue of what's going on in their lives. Here's an example: Picture yourself in 20 years as struggling with a serious thyroid problem. You feel awful most of the time and you've packed on 40 extra pounds. Does that mean that you would no longer have any value as a human being? That your friends could laugh at you and your husband could dump you because you no longer are thin and adorable? Nope, I didn't think so.

Additionally, when you make fun of heavier women or women with facial hair or women who simply don't look like you think they should look, then you are participating in the system that has fifth-grade girls going on diets (for God's sake!) and wondering if they're pretty enough. If one day you are lucky enough to have a daughter, do you want her to consider bulimia and plastic surgery as a potential lifestyle because she's been told (explicitly or implicitly) that she's not thin enough or busty enough?

I have relatives who dress "like extras on 'Roseanne'." They dress that way because they are poor, dammit. Some of them are poor because they had to quit school young to help support the family. Some of them had children who are also poor because of the complex socioeconomic system in which they lived: Impoverished area (highest unemployment rate in the state), lousy teachers, no encouragement, no culture, and everything they saw around them pointed to, "Quit school at 16 and get a job at the glass factory because it's a steady paycheck." But the thing is, the glass factory closed some years back and there they were with spouses and kids of their own and rent that had to be paid. So they struggle to find other low-paying jobs just to keep food (not much of it) on the table. No one comes to them and says, "Hey, I know what: I'll put you through college and support your family while you study so that you can get a job as a writer and then quit it to write the Great American Novel and crank out a blog on the side."

Finally: I know two amazing women. One is a PhD and a university professor who has affected many lives both in the classroom and at conferences. Another is a minister at the United Church of Christ (our president's church, you may recall) who works tirelessly for social justice when she isn't counseling struggling parishioners or holding the hands of the dying. Both of these women might have at one time, as you put it, waited for the second coming of Lilith Fair. In other words, they're both gay. If you are one-tenth as intelligent, caring and flat-out wonderful as these women, then you'd be one lucky gal. Chances are you're not fit to shine their shoes -- yet you feel superior enough to criticize lesbians subtly, snarkily, with remarks about shoes and facial hair. (And believe me, if you saw the university professor, you'd want to date her. She's tall and gorgeous and she radiates a kind of intellectual aura that makes people want to follow her around and listen to everything she says.)

Perhaps you're thinking, "It's just satire. It's just humor. It was just a joke." Please remember: Words have power. The words you use can harm. It wasn't that long ago when people could tell coon jokes and Jew jokes and everyone laughed. Now it's not OK to do that, but somehow it's OK to make fun of the poor, the overweight and gay people.

I'm disappointed that you've bought into that kind of hatred. Perhaps one day you'll look back and feel embarrassed that those words ever made it onto your blog. I hope so. I also hope that day is soon.


Donna Freedman


Let me clarify one thing: Rarely do I delete comments. I've received critical comments before, and I appreciated them, leaving them as is. I welcome criticism if it makes me better. But there's a difference between being critical of my writing and personally attacking me in a patronizing tone just because you don't agree with something you've read. You don't know me in the slightest, so yes, in that case your comments will be deleted.

In every humorous piece there will be those who are offended, who somehow fit a stereotype that is being mocked and feel insulted as a result. There are a long list of humorists who employ this tactic for comedy's sake. Ever heard of Dave Chappelle or Russell Peters? In fact, at that very same reading that night, Sedaris made myriad jokes about Muslim women from Afghanistan. In reference to the book Three Cups of Tea, he asked "Really, why do those women need diplomas? What are they going to do, wipe their asses with them?" He continued with the derogatory statements about Muslims and what it must be like to be an Afghan woman. Now I could have gotten offended, as my mother is a Muslim woman from Afghanistan and a university professor at that, but they were jokes and so I laughed along with the whole room. Though he perpetuated stereotypes, he did so for humor's sake, thus I did not suddenly peg him as a Muslim-hating man who was in someway prejudice against middle eastern women.

No, I don't hate "gays, the poor, the overweight or people with thyroid problems" - in fact, I have friends in all these categories. (Shocking, I know!) Ironically, my own husband has stories of growing up with a single mom on welfare that I think give new meaning to the word "poor". Being married to him and hearing about his experiences, I know all too well about the "complex socioeconomic system" in this country. But I'm sorry, if you're a woman and have a mustache, no matter how poor you are -- and my previously-poor husband agrees with this -- it's a detail that can be addressed with a pair of 50-cent tweezers from the dollar store.

A good writer can make light of situations and cull together subtle details that paint the humor and/or irony of a situation. That's all I attempted to do. And to make my job easier, I didn't even need to embellish the details from that night because they were exactly as observed. No, having a mustache does not automatically make you a lesbian nor does it make you poor, and I never wrote that. It simply makes you a woman with a mustache. (Hello Lauren Conrad.) Same with amphibious shoes. No, you're not a lesbian and you're not poor, but you're still wearing ridiculous (and I should also note expensive) footwear. And those "extras from Roseanne?" Probably not that poor as I saw many walk to their Lexus and Mercedes SUVs parked outside.

So please, lighten up, people. And if you're unable to, there are millions of other blogs you could read besides little ol' me. I promise, I won't be offended. ;)


Tami said...

I grew up in a single-parent family, struggling to make ends meet most of my life. And I had a hormonal issue that made my weight fluctuate. YET... I didn't find any offense at Crystal's earlier post. If I was with her at the same event, I'd written the same thing. Someone's got their panties in a bunch. They need to read more Sedaris!!

FB @ said...

Hear hear. I did get a lot of those comments too, about people telling me I should be more PC, more sensitive, bla bla bla..

But this is who I am. Everyone has biases. And anyone who tells me they are NOT biased, are flat out LIARS.

We all have different viewpoints, but some of us take it less seriously than others (you and I included)..

I joke a lot. And it gets taken the wrong way sometimes, but so be it. That's who I am. I write the way I talk, and if I were to set out to please every single person out there with sensitive tendencies, I'd end up pleasing no one, because I'd be censoring my own personality.

Stay true to who you are!

(true story, my word verification says "fackin")

Noodlegirl said...

You know what why do we always have to worry about other's feeling look at what this person wrote to you I am sure she feels great now yakking about what an awful person you are but god forbid you ever say anything bad about others that is not to his or her liking! Just so typical!

I hope you continue to blog whatever you want don't let those people get to you geez since you are "such" a hateful person she should stop coming to your blog!

Hey congrats you are getting popular lol!

Anon said...

(Just a thought... Did you ask this woman if it was okay to post her full name and email address?)

I wasn't offended by your last article, but I was put off by your response to this woman. I don't know what her comment was, as you deleted it, but she wrote a well thought out email and you dismissed her concerns outright.

And she does have a point. As Perez Hilton has recently taught us, just because you don't believe in hateful words or stereotypes, that doesn't give you the right to throw them around. (I'm referring not to your original post, but your defense of it)

Just sayin.

laura said...

I'm with anon - I'm really, really surprised by how you've reacted to this. I thought the original comment wasn't insulting or rude at all, just a well-thought out (and alright, maybe overly sensitive) criticism of a piece of writing you put online. Where was the personal attack? Where was the patronizing tone? I wasn't offended at all by your previous post, but I did agree with a lot of the points that she made about your writing. It seems like you were so quick to feel attacked and go on the defense that you missed her criticism, which is a shame, because I actually really wanted to hear your response to it. I planned on commenting on the post myself, but when I saw that her comment had been deleted, I felt totally uncomfortable asking any questions or posting a response other than "LOL!".

I'm not going to stop reading your blog, because I think you're great and I really look forward to your posts. I feel okay commenting here since you opened it up like this, but I seriously debated doing it anonymously because I didn't want it to turn into something. I'm sure that it wasn't your intention in all of this to make people afraid to comment, but that was definitely a result - which from where I sit really sucks.

Anonymous said...

What gets people in a tizzy about every little thing? Is it because everyone always has to be so damn politically correct all the time? They aren't short, they're "vertically challenged." They aren't stupid, they have "learning problems." They aren't murderers, they had a "tough life." I am more apt to call it like I see it. A spade is a spade, a peach is a peach. If she wants to talk about having a tough skin then she better grow one herself. When she talks about not judging people because of the situation they are in, maybe she didn't take her own words to heart. Rich, poor, middle class, upper middle class, lower middle class, who gives crap if you are an honest worker? Just because someone is in a better position in life doesn't mean you have the right to judge them either. If I make millions of dollars does that mean I'm no good just because I don't have to struggle? Yes, there are people who live a life of leisure that don't give a crap about being honest, working hard, or giving back. There are also plenty of people like Bill and Melinda Gates who have billions of dollars and donate as much as they can to charities. Value as a human being goes both ways. Being overweight does not make you "worthless." Being skinny doesn't either. Taking care of yourself and having pride in your appearance is not shameful. It is truly sad when people can't express themselves for fear of offending someone. Keep on writing and pissing people off, I look forward to your next post!

Anonymous said...

I love it! This woman obviously wanted you to post her e-mail message or she is dumb enough to think that you would go home to "lick your wounds." You need to thank her in a post. Because of this woman and, I will now be following your blog.
You should love everyone, but that doesn't mean you have to agree with how everyone lives their lives.
Keep up the good work!

Jessie said...

Wow, don't you love people who are just offended at everything you say and have no sense of humor? How did she find your blog in the first place? And, as someone who is currently struggling to make ends meet and barely paying the bills...I would NEVER appear in public with bushy eyebrows and B.O.!! Poor does not equal bad hygiene. My mother was dirt poor as a kid and grew up in W. Virginia and her mama prided herself on cleanliness and looking decent. Bad hygiene/dirty clothes/bad manners are all just plain, old-fashioned laziness. Anyway, loved the post, BOTH the original AND your response. I'd hate to see her comments if she read MY stuff! Yikes!

Kim Hansen said...

I've just discovered your blog, right now, this minute - and guess what? I already LOVE it! My take on this situation is simple: If you don't like the blog, don't read it! It really is as simple as that. You are totally free to read, not read, say, don't say, etc etc. Exercise the right and move on. I certainly don't want anyone judging me morally or otherwise when they don't know me personally. A little humor goes a long way these days and if your writing makes one person smile or chuckle to themselves, then good for you! You keep doing what you are doing - like you said, its who you are. Like you or not, it really only matters if you can lay your head down at night and sleep peacefully!

Anonymous said...

I like your blog and will continue reading. I didn't read the comment you deleted but I have to say that I also felt a bit uncomfortable with your Sedaris entry with its 'mean-girl' attack on people's appearances. I appreciate fashion but it was very condescending in that mean-girl sort of way.

Skinny on South Beach said...

I wholeheartedly believe that you had no intentions of hurting others by writing that witty piece. It was funny to me, and like David Sedaris you were pointing out the obvious - that the snobby women who scoff at you should take a good look at themselves before frowning down on a good looking twenty something.

This is YOUR blog and you can write whatever the hell you want. It's surprising to me that people think you should censor yourself just because they may or may not be offended. If they don't like it, they can leave.

Lauren said...

I could totally picture the type of situation you were describing in your last post. I only took it as your opinion and your witty attempt to show how out of place you were at the event. Anyone can take a post and make their comment into a rant. Although I question the intentions of people that actually have the time and drive to sit down and write them. I think the positive comments above pretty much said it all. I will only add that I think the lady is slightly off her rocker and needs to take a serious blogging chill pill. Your next post should be titled, "Take That..Haters."

Joel said...

Consider me hooked! Haha.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to chime in - I agree with most of the points in the email. I didn't like the tone of the post about the book signing, as it's not a style of humor that I find funny. Since I'm not a Sedaris fan and we obviously have different tastes, I'll not be reading anymore.

COL said...

Bottom line... It's YOUR blog and you can write what you want, moderate what comments you want and do whatever you please. If select readers have a problem with it, they can climb down off their soapboxes long enough to find another blog that might be more agreeable to their points of view.

It took me a while to read the e-mail response you posted and it made me wonder how long it actually took to write! Certainly her vent will not change your point of view... you are a bright woman and have a brain of your own! Wouldn't the time spent writing the e-mail have gone to better use elsewhere? Or is her mission to put people in their place (according to her views), and who appointed her to that position?

I love your blog and think it's cute and funny and that's what keeps me coming back!

Abigail said...

Um... You deleted my comment too. It was also negative.

And I'm sorry but hearing stories (even from the man you love and share a life with) about being poor is NOT the same as being poor. So I really cannot understand that as a defense of making fun of these women's clothing as being sub-par.

Also, what - pray tell - "subtle" details did you "cull"? Because all I saw in your post were superficial judgments.

Beyond that, if I defend this woman (who is also my mom) I doubt much of it would be taken seriously.

I'm glad that most people enjoyed your post. Obviously, I disagreed with it. But you know all about that from having read my comment, which you then disposed of.

But I do hope that you take a future editor's criticism with a bit more calm reflection than you did Donna's. (I can only assume you will.) Granted, hers were unsolicited - unless you consider that putting your writing out publicly is, in a way, putting it up for critique.

But just food for thought: Donna was a journalist for over 20 years. She writes for MSN. So she does know a little something about writing. The PC thing will be debated until the end of time, as will the joke/insult portion thereof. Which is probably a good thing, for the sake of free speech.

But, then, if you believe in free speech, why did you delete comments?

FYI, I'm not going to stop reading the blog. I was just, as I said in my comment, disappointed in how quickly you rushed to judgment and what I saw (though apparently others didn't) as ridicule.

Donna Freedman said...

To those who wondered whether I gave permission to have the e-mail and my address posted: No, I did not.
Besswess: I had absolutely NO desire to have this posted. It was (I thought) a private communication to the blog author. Obviously, once a letter/e-mail leaves someone's hands it becomes the property of the recipient but I do not particularly want my e-mail address out there. In fact, I would appreciate its being removed.

BonBon Rose Girls Kristin said...

Wow, the hate that blogs elicit sometimes. It's called a sense of humor. More people need them. Fabulously rational yet put her in her place response!

Anonymous said...

It's a blog people......lighten up.............

sara said...

all this time I thought that a) it was the lighting on the Hills that gave the mustache look, and b) that I was the only one who noticed!

Thankfully I am not alone.

Nice to e-meet you!

Amanda said...

I just discovered your blog and I'm now hooked! And PS those shoes were absolutely foul!

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