I read this harrowing essay about being a woman on the internet at lunch today and it got me thinking (which is a sure sign of a good essay).
It reminded me of this episode of Plain English where he talked to Dan Pink about regret. The host makes a joke about how he’s wasted his time meditating because he was just pushing his emotions down instead of just feeling them. It stuck with me because he’s missed the entire point of mindfulness. The point isn’t to push your emotions back down inside you – it’s to process them so you can make progress. The more you do it, the easier it is to process negative emotions so you’re not carrying them around anymore in a leaky bag just waiting for them all to burst out and ruin your day.
How are these two things related? Being a woman on the internet means being assaulted constantly by angry men. These men seem to be angry about literally everything – that a woman dares to have an opinion, that a woman has an opinion they disagree with, that a woman is either too attractive, not attractive enough, or admits that she thinks she is attractive, or that a woman dares to exist at all.
It’s unacceptable that so many men feel like this is OK, or at least that there will be no consequences for their behavior that they do it anyway.
I also keep coming back to their anger, and how avoidable this all is.
All this anger… we don’t have to keep it. We don’t have to inflict it on other people. It takes work, but we can let it go. We can process it and be happier in the process.
Several years ago, I came to terms with the fact that I had what felt like a bottomless pit of anger that I was dragging around with me, and that it was keeping me from enjoying all of the good things in my life. I would be sitting at dinner, enjoying the company of my family, friends, whatever we were talking about, and some event from my past would jump out of the pit and I’d be right back there, seething. I bet no one could tell. I hid it really well – but I was miserable.
And when those angry visions came, you know what would embrace me, what would let me wallow in that anger? The internet. I could hop over to Twitter and find a whole bunch of fellow rage-filled folks and just inhale the outrage for hours, feeling more and more justified that this thing I hadn’t dealt with was worth being miserable about.
Outrage is so exhilerating, intoxicating… an easy hit of righteous indignation could keep me going for another half our of rage scrolling.
I knew it was a problem, but I had no idea what to do about it. I saw the documentary Happy several years before and the way they talked about meditation stuck in my head. Enough that I did some research, read a couple of books, but it never really felt attainable, or that I knew how to do it.
It finally clicked (yay therapy), and I finally started processing my bottomless pit of anger. I felt better almost instantly. Not all the way better, but it felt like I had a toolkit now for how to handle the rage when it came up like acid reflux. Now, I’m working on weaning myself off Twitter, because I can feel the pull of it
The point of mindful practice isn’t to stop feeling things. It’s to better process our inevitable emotions and put them to work towards making us happier. Anger is super useful in moderation. It can motivate us to be better, to ask to for better treatment. But, it’s poisonous when kept around.
I don’t have a tidy ending for this.
The root cause is anger, and if we could get the Angry Men of the Internet to deal with their anger and process it, then women could finally feel safe online, and in the real world.
If the Angry Men of the Internet can’t deal with their anger, then they should be removed from the conversation because this is a public health crisis. We have enough information now to know that anger, especially among men, is highly contagious. If we can’t cure the disease, we should treat the symptoms.