#MoreThan Mean, Emotional Labor, and “Victimhood Culture”

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I write all the time about how women and people of color find themselves targeted for online harassment and trolling.  Just in case you missed it, here is the 15674327468th example in the last year, the #MoreThanMean video

in which men were asked to read harassing tweets sent to female sports writers. The catch was that the men had to read the tweets out loud sitting face-to-face with the writers. Some of the men found themselves unable to say aloud what was tweeted. The #MoreThanMean campaign hopes to bring attention to the online harassment of women in sports.



But this isn’t the only issue that women and people of color whose jobs require them to interact with strangers online face disproportionately.

They also have to contend with the increased surveillance that comes with being a member of an under-represented group.

I just published a piece on this topic for The Chronicle of Higher Ed.  I wrote that

female and minority faculty… often have to bear the burden of being the poster children for diversity and inclusiveness on their campuses and so find themselves under increased scrutiny, both in real life and online. These professors are expected to perform additional emotional labor, in this case monitoring and regulating their emotional responses on social media lest they be tagged as a “hysterical” or “overly emotional” woman or an “angry” black man or whatever the case may be.

In other words, their responses to provocation and trolling are not read as the responses of an individual but rather as evidence of the failings of an entire class of people that they supposedly represent.

We even see this in the #MoreThanMean video, where female sports personalities are used as emotional props to teach a lesson about, ironically, the disproportionate harshness of the discourse that they face.  Part of their role in this video is to play the “good sport” (natch), and to model their toughness and their resilience for those who haven’t had to face intense and negative scrutiny like this in their own lives, to emote in what someone else judges to be a proportionate and appropriate way.  And of course, the comments section on the video at YouTube is still full of emotional policing.

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Milo reference = bonus points!

My Chronicle article got some emotional policing, too = extra double bonus!

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Actually, I don’t believe that “the emotional labor of monitoring your responses is less onerous if you’re a straight white male.” However, I do think that the emotional responses of women and people of color are more scrupulously monitored and that these emotional responses are considered to be evidence of the overly emotional nature of entire groups of people, whereas the emotions of white men are considered to be just that: the emotional responses of an individual.

In other words:

Man gets angry: “Wow, something must have really upset him” or “Wow, what an asshole!”

Woman gets angry: “Hah!  See?  Women are such crazy bitches!”

Furthermore, I think that perfectly reasonable and rational responses by women and people of color are often described as “hysterical” or “angry” by those who want to put a speaker down but can’t come up with a good argument against their actual content.

I don’t see my article as an instance of “playing the victim” (a phrase which, itself, is just another flavor of ascribing an overly emotional, irrational disposition to an underprivileged group). Rather, I see it as an article offering advice to everyone who gets sucked into toxic discourse online. I merely point out that some professors (and sports writers and video game critics and…. and… and…) have even more to lose when battling with trolls than others.




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