An Open Letter to xoJane

Dear xoJane:

I think this is it, for us.  I wish I could say that it’s not you, it’s me; but that would be a lie deployed to spare your feelings.  I don’t do that anymore, so you’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.

When we first met, there was a lot about you I just didn’t see.  In the last few months, though, I’ve come to see how mercenary you are.  You present yourself as a fun, real-life forum for women* (and occasionally men*) to share their experiences, tricks for how to get around in the world, and enjoy a good dose of humor.  That content comes from your writers, but you select what gets run, what gets publicized, and what happens next.

And what happens next, is this: Sometimes, nothing.  The articles run, they get some comments.  Some of them are amazing, insightful, and lead to productive and healthy dialogue.  There’s usually some girl in the thread who’s like, “Ew you wore what for that picture” and the rest of us peer over our glasses at her and click our tongues in disapproval.  But sometimes, you run pieces that you know quite well are going to provoke more of a response.  Sometimes, that response is threatening, abusive, or dangerous. Articles about rape, abuse, discrimination, and harassment seem to have picked up some additional unintended cargo lately.  When women* speak about fear or anger lately, they’ve been met with dismissal, condescension, harassment, shame, doxxing, and death threats.

It is my belief that you, xoJane, have a responsibility to the women* who provide your tougher content.  You need moderators.  You need a base-line set of expectations for how people behave when they walk into the party you’re hosting.  You need some standards for how people treat the amazing, incredible, brave women* who write for you, justifying your existence and generating your clickable content, and therefore, revenue.  Giving women* a voice isn’t a gift — we already have voices.  What you provide is a venue for conversation, like a hostess.  But attending your parties is a lot like showing up with a few bottles of wine and your party shoes on, to find out that this house is full of strangers, and a couple of your besties (Hey Esprit de L’Escalier!) and the hostess has left the building.  And there’s someone top decking her toilet in the upstairs bathroom.  Someone may, or may not, be dismantling the garbage disposal.  Some dude just took my wine, drank it all, and brandished a bottle at me, calling me names.  Calling the women with whom I claim solidarity against things like gendered violence, institutional violence, racism, and a culture that is hostile to consent and self-determination, names.  Treating them like things.  Treating them like unloved children.

I think that they, that we, deserve more.  For the fifty bucks you throw at a writer for original content, we deserve your support when we do things like, disclose our status as assault and abuse survivors, and find the courage to write about that.  Not too long ago, it was stated to me in very man-splain-y terms that writing about my assault in a public forum constituted an invitation to be criticized and abused further.  By not providing your writers with support and artful comment moderation, it seems like tacitly, you agree.  At the very least, you don’t object.  And moreover, you profit from it.  Those outrage-shares, those rage-clicks, those comments.  They generate revenue for you.  Yes, we can flag inappropriate comments.  But nowhere on xoJane.com is there a clearly stated policy for what counts, for you, as inappropriate.

I just spent a large portion of two days trying to ad hoc moderate several of your recent offerings.  Keeping an eye out for people disclosing their status as survivors, trying to curtail abusive victim blaming and revictimization.  Trying to be an educator and a champion for the people at your party who are still trying to find their voices, and speak their truths.  And I noticed: I don’t ever feel the need to do that for the other sites for whom I’ve written.  Because those sites Back Our Play.  They’re here for US.  They have teams of moderators, and robust policies governing the conversations they host.  They make explicit their expectations for people at their parties.  They demand better of their readership, and challenge their readers to voice concern, critique, and counter-argument with civility and decorum.

I stopped going to parties like yours when I was nineteen.  I don’t know why I stayed so long at this one.  I keep trying to do your dishes, refill glasses, take out the garbage, and call cabs for the drunk assh*les who can’t seem to stop wrecking everyone’s good time.  And I’m not even doing it for you.  I’m doing it for us.  Because we’re all at this party where we expected to be challenged and  exchange ideas, to be heard, and to listen, and you’re nowhere to be found.

It feels awful, and I’m not going to do it anymore.  I feel sad, because I’ll miss the pockets of awesome people.  It’s just that no one’s company is worth feeling like you’ve thrown my brothers* and sisters* to the wolves.  I trust them.  I trust them to run if the wolves get too fierce, too dangerous.  I trust them to know what is best for them, and to seek support in the appropriate places.  I have to trust them, because I cannot protect them all the time forever.  Because as much as I want to be able to do that, I can’t do it at my own expense.  And it’s pretty clear you’re not going to do it.

So you know.  Don’t call me or anything, okay?

Best,
RD

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An Open Letter to xoJane

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