When you see a friend say something you have a problem with on Facebook or Twitter, do you say something? Or do you keep quiet?
For me, it depends on how much I respect the person. If it's someone I think is an idiot, I won't bother (and I'll generally de-friend them). But if it's someone I respect and I want to engage with, I will say something.
I've just had an argument on a friend's Facebook wall. He is an intelligent person whose comments I really enjoy, so when he posted a caricature of Gina Rhinehart I wanted to say something. The caricature focused on Rhinehart's weight and unattractive appearance. While Rhinehart is a terrible person with despicable political views, I can't help but notice that a lot of the criticism of her has focused on her body and used words like 'fat,' 'greedy,' 'disgusting.' Some media coverage has been truly repugnant, with comments about her vagina as well as her fatness.
Rhinehart's politics disgust me; her body does not. I have a problem with this fat-shaming, not because I care about Rhinehart's feelings, but because I think that every time this kind of thing appears in the media (yes, including my Facebook feed) it adds to a culture of fat-hate that is particularly gendered.
So I said something.
Predictably, I got the usual responses:
- It's just a joke/cartoon. Don't take it so seriously.
- Making fun of people's looks is a time-honoured tradition of caricature.
- People make fun of my chin dimple. This is exactly the same thing.
- The artist posted a funny cartoon and doesn't deserve to be criticised.
- It would be offensive if it was someone good like Dawn French, but it's an evil person.
- She deserves to be criticised and you should pick your battles.
- Wil-E Coyote cartoons show explosives, which are dangerous. Should we ban the cartoons?
Of course, posting a dissenting comment on someone's Facebook wall has consequences. The person's friends will see you criticising their friend, and will jump to defend them. Many of them will be angry that you are being 'serious' or 'too intense' in a forum that they see as exclusively for fun. (To give them credit, this cartoonist's friends were almost all polite and did not attack me.) The thing that drives me crazy about arguing on the internet is that people are so free to ignore what you're saying and not address your actual argument, which they can't do in person because I will yell at them until they answer my question.
So what's the point? I could say that maybe someone will go away and think about it, and my comments will change their mind. Or that speaking up when you see something you disagree with is important in its own right. But the truth is that I'm an argumentative, scrappy person and I can't keep my mouth shut.