by Marinka on July 2, 2011

If you are a blogger and a social media enthusiast (which I hope means addicted to Twitter) and you are married to a luddite (which I hope means someone who is not those things) I really recommend testing your marriage by describing a Twitter fight to your spouse. Because if the two of you can survive that, you’re golden. Mazel Tov.

This is what happened to me and Husbandrinka (who I love dearly even though, Sweet Jesus, a few weeks ago he asked me what a bookmark was.)

But this week, I decided to trust him. See, there was a Twitter kerfuffle because Heather Armstrong posted about her trip to Bangladesh, where she visited maternal health clinics, in connection with Every Mother Counts. She is raising awareness, she is giving a voice to so many whose words could not be heard but for her, she is posting gorgeous photographs and she is making people think.

Obviously, she deserves to be mocked.

Oh, under the guise of asking questions, to be sure. But some people questioned whether Heather paid for the trip herself, as she had stated, or whether a sponsor paid for her. Some asked if this was poverty tourism.

Because obviously, it couldn’t be a good thing.

Let me make a disclaimer here so that I’m not accused of duplicity. I am a huge fan of Heather and her website. I think she’s an amazing, smart and funny writer and I can say, without hyperbole, that if it were not for Heather, I would not have a blog. Which would not have been a big loss for the world at large, but it would have been for me. Because having this blog has allowed me to say the things that I didn’t think that anyone wanted to hear and be proven wrong.

And to further disclaim, I wouldn’t care if Heather’s trip had been paid for by a sponsor.

So when she was attacked, Heather stood up for herself. Publicly, on Twitter. Just the way that I like it.

Except some people questioned her right to defend herself against gratuitous attacks. Which, hello mindfuck much?

And then this happened. Sweetney wrote this post. And it made me think. (Which is ouchy.) And it made me wonder why I didn’t publicly stand with Heather when she was attacked.

And I’m not proud of the answer, but here it is.

It’s because I didn’t want to be labeled a sycophant. A fawning parasite.

Because on some level, I feel like the label may fit. I have tons of respect for Heather, I enjoy her writing. Does that make me a fawning parasite?

If it does, I can live with it.

When I finished recounting all this to my husband he looked alarmed.

“You’re worried that someone will think you’re a sycophant because you support a woman who actually did something?” he asked.

Seems so obvious.

One year ago ...

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Friday Links « Victacular
July 8, 2011 at 8:47 am

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

July 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

Okay, so I’m not much of twit, but hear this crap happens all the time. This crap is precisely why I’m not much of a twit. As a loyal Jeff Gordon fan, I stood up for him when his children’s cancer charitable organization decided to do outreach in, wait for it, Africa. He got trashed in the media for trying to make a difference.

There are some mighty big idjits taking up space in the internests.


Truthful Mommy
July 2, 2011 at 11:13 am

I saw part of the Twitter war go on . I missed the beginning but I too am a supporter of Heather. She inspires me with her blog because she does it! Plus, se will always have a place in my bloggy heart because once as a green blogger I emailed her and asked for guidance or advice and she responded ..gracious and kindly to a complete stranger. She’s tits in my book. I was pissed off about the Guardian article and stated as much in my Throat Punch Thursday post (http://www.motherhoodthetruth.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4891&action=edit).

But I was shocked by what went down with Viele. I don;t really know Viele but I have read her site a couple times. She actually had a photo of her and Heather on one of her pages and even said how nice she was in person. So,I was shocked when she was being flippant and condescending. I was so proud of JOn and Heather for sticking up for themselves. But I do hate that the whole situation had to take place. I feel like the blogging community should support one another and not attack one another. What could Viele possibly have gained by siding with the Guardian article? And really, who the hell cares who paid for it? Her poses are hers, her words are bringing light to this cause that needs attention in Bangladesh. I know it sounds corny as hell but Heather is being the change she wants to see in the world and that counts for something. I think Viele just dug herself a hole by picking a fight that she wasn’t equipped to participate in:(


maddie July 2, 2011 at 11:36 am

Thank you for taking a stand. I’m a big fan of dooce and it just seems so wrong for you-know-who to go after someone with as many followers as Dooce for bringing awareness. She has a lot of social influence. Just because you are famous doesn’t mean that you stop being a nice person.

I’m just one person but I can make the pledge to never go to you-know-who’s website. She shouldn’t be rewarded with traffic for being mean. She could have written an article that said wonderful things about bloggers trying to make a difference but she chose to denigrate instead.

Oh yeah, I’m a Dooce and Marinka fawning parasite. I think you guys are great!


anymommy July 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

Matt and husbandrinka might like each other. Or they might have actual fistfights over politics, but they could drink a beer afterward.

I know a fabulous writer on the internet whose opinion I respect multitudes and often look for in these situations before I state a snap opinion. YOU. You put your finger on what frustrates me so much – the minute a few people start to speak up and say “wait a minute, mocking criticism without foundation or thoughtful points is easy and also not helpful to larger discussion” the accusations of “flying monkeys” start well, flying. And then it’s hard for others to join in and lend support because the discourse has degraded to jeering.

On the other hand, I have seen cases where honest – and passionate – dissent has been bombarded with rotten bananas and cries of troll.

So. Critical thinking in each situation. It’s possible and I see it happen all the time in comment sections, despite AV’s constant sneering to the contrary. While I’ve seen her raise good points, this was empty mocking. And in my opinion, she can’t tell the difference.


July 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm

And I look to Marinka’s blog for the post before leaping to judgment, then Stacey’s comment on that post for a succinct method of agreeing intelligently.

(That was so funny in my head. Sigh.)

I, too, have agreed with AV in the past, and had been undecided about her intentions before this incident. I would tend to side with her argument, but cringe somewhat at her methods. And again, in this instance, it was hard to watch. It felt like she was taking an argument about something valid and important and applying it to something…completely unrelated. I wish she would raise her questions as a dialogue, not an attack. Part of me wonders that if, without that judgment and condescension, there could be some actual learning going on. (But now I sound like a dreamer and I hate dreamers.)

Also, speaking of “learning”, I’m of to Google “sycophant”.


Mwa (Lost in Translation) July 2, 2011 at 11:59 am

It’s only sycophantic if you write a blog post about it. 😉


Mwa (Lost in Translation) July 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm

But I agree with you. And am a sycophant myself.


Lynn MacDonald (All Fooked Up)
July 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I completely agree with you and, in fact, wrote a post about it myself calling bullshit.


hope you don’t mind me including the post here…


July 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I have never understood the need some people have to build themselves up by running other people down. I’m astonished, although I probably shouldn’t be, by how much of this goes on in the blogging world. There are women out there who have developed huge sites completely dedicated to making fun of, calling BS, or just being mean in general to other bloggers.

It all just seems to be such a waste of time and energy. If you don’t like Dooce or Pioneer Woman or whoever, don’t read their blogs. Simple as that. Maybe if those people took all that time and energy and did something positive with it, they’d have more readers or followers, if that’s what their goal is, and it seems to be.


Megan July 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I know exactly how you feel. I didn’t see any of the dust-up, just the aftermath. But I do notice that anyone who sticks up for Heather gets accused of being a sycophant, and I find myself wondering if this is true.

But you know what? I’m tired of that crap.


July 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Must admit I do not follow Heather or read her blog. But your post made me read everything you linked.
I have been to Dhaka many times and it is a fascinating place to visit, but it cannot be considered a tourist destination. I say this with kindness and good intentions. Anyone who takes their time to educate theimselves and consequently spread the world on any problems troubling human beings should be recognised. Regardless if it envolves traveling to Africa or hoping on the bus to visit homeless shelter.
But also many of us have experienced that while we mean well, sometimes our help is not needed. I set out to vaccinate in a little corner of Africa once and learned children needed fresh water to survive long enough to catch any of the diseases my government spend money on buying vaccines for. I felt ashamed there was nothing to do but hike for miles to fetch water from a polluted well. The money spend on each vaccine could buy so many purifying tablets. The bottom line was, I met wonderful people and learned from them. Frankly I felt like my help was appreciated but not needed.
Not saying this was the case with Heather. Just wanted to admit that sometimes us 1st world citizens have rosy eyes on how or what we should do and how much we can make a difference.
Same with MOM101 article. I got shivers reading her experience in Sarajevo. She has a story to tell. Then again my family is Serbian. All accounts of the war I know of are from the “other side”. So a tiny part if me will always be sad reading most Americans encounters in the Balkans because they always point out the damage Serbs have done. Not that they have not, but so have the other two sides.
Suppose what I am trying to say is it takes courage to get involved in someone else’s problems. I applaud Heather and all others who do. I am so happy she is a blogger and had all these social media outlets to reach out and educate her cause through. I am glad she stood up for herself. And I hope she travels to Bangladesh again and again. I also hope somebody pays for her trips because it is so much more expensive to fly out Dhaka then it is to Maldives. Trust me.
As long as we all understand who we are and no matter how well we mean, help does go a long way, but it will take a very long time to change the world. Perhaps that is where the disillusioned feel that trips like this are useless. But if not for them, where else should we begin?


Marinka July 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I loved your comment, Stasha, and I can’t wait to read more about your experiences.

Writings like yours, and Liz’s and Heather’s opens up the world for us. And the idea some experiences shouldn’t be had, shouldn’t be written about, shouldn’t be shared is repugnant to me.

Because no, maybe Heather’s trip won’t change the world. But at the end of the day, despite her fame and fortune, Heather is a working mom who not only paid for her own trip (that part is not important to me) but tore herself away from her the comforts of her home and family and traveled to meet people who live very different lives and is now telling her readers about what she saw.

And who knows what reach her readers have? Maybe there is someone who will made a kazillion dollar donation to Every Mother Counts. Or maybe some mother, like you or me, will tell her children about what she read on Heather’s site and maybe that child will grow up and devote herself to combating infant mortality.

And maybe none of that will happen. Who knows. But to not even try is terrible and to mock those who do is even worse.


July 2, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I had to do my research on this after I heard about what happened…because I followed neither of the people involved. So, from the viewpoint of someone who was completely neutral from the start…I agree with your husband. And with your decision to write this post.

Whether the attack was inspired by jealousy or just to generate attention by creating controversy, I don’t know. But I do know it was wrong. And I’m glad you wrote about it.


Amelia July 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm

What a smart Husbandrinka. And you too. I enjoyed reading this.


Heather July 2, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Who the hell is Viele?


annie July 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm

That’s what I was wondering – thanks for asking.


nic @mybottlesup July 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

::nodding:: well said.


July 3, 2011 at 8:22 am

I work in downtown L.A. Could I qualify as a “poverty tourist”? If so, where may I acquire my credentials? Also, may I mock those I see volunteering at the Mission, because while I would like to help, I really need to get to the gym to work on my abs. Please advise immediately if not sooner. Thx!


July 3, 2011 at 11:23 am

Doing nothing is always easy. Saying nothing is even easier. What you wrote here, I know that’s hard. Especially in a community where agreement with someone of Heather’s stature can open you up to taunts of “minion” or “flying monkey” by those with an axe to grind and no compelling arguments to make.

Which…fuck that. Seriously. You are intellectually honest Marinka, and I’ve never known you to speak anything other than your own truth, no matter where that may fall. I don’t always agree with you, but I’ve always respected that you’ve had sound rationale for your opinions.

So here I am, fawning over you.


Nina July 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I am so so so so so bored with Twitter fights and Twitter in general, that I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole thing. So if there were things I missed, then my bad and apologies in advance.

But what was insulting? In what ways was Heather attacked?
Is anything that’s not applause criticism? Is asking questions an attack?

I read the Guardian article and didn’t think it was offensive. I thought it was fairly balanced and that the questions it raised were good ones. Important ones.

The reason I rarely take sides is because I think it discourages critical thinking and that more critical thinking is needed not only in the momblogosphere but also in questions about actions, involvement, awareness and privilege.

I am made uncomfortable by poverty tourism, having been on the receiving end of it. I’m not saying that’s what Heather was doing, simply that it’s a known phenomenon and that witnessing it left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a case of cynicism. Perhaps the thing that gets to me is how quickly discomfort seems quelled when what I’d like to see is more discomfort. I’d like to see people be able to tolerate discomfort enough to be able to go beyond ‘I clicked on Yahoo and made a difference’ to ‘How is my lifestyle and the comforts I have related to the discomforts of other people? Is the help I am offering the help that people truly need? Is my help effective or is it a well-intentioned token gesture?’

My belief is that all of us, and particularly when we are trying to do good things, need to learn how to tolerate being asked probing questions about our thoughts and actions. That ideally we should be asking those questions ourselves, and that instead of diminishing the work, the questions add value to it because they say “what I am doing can stand up to scrutiny.” I am a fan of transparency and expect to be held accountable for my work – perhaps this is why I didn’t see things that were out of order and was surprised by the emotion in Heather’s tweets.

I’m not mocking when I ask what the attack was, I’m genuinely curious.


maddie July 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Part of critical thinking involves seeking all of the information and not failing to read the entire post. There’s more to the story than the guardian article.


Nina July 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Fair enough. Where?
What would you say are things I didn’t take into account?


maddie July 3, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Start at Viele’s post. Look at the ways she goes after other bloggers. Actually read Dooce’s accounts of her trip. go back and actually read the twitter feeds. This blowup was so big that there are news articles about it. All of these things are readily available with a simple google search.

If you have an argument about Heather Armstrong’s actions, support it. Because of shoddy journalism on the guardian’s part, failing to get all of the facts before going to print, it made an opening for Viele to attack Dooce which she (Viele) seems to take delight in. Shoddy journalism would mean that the guardian could write without facts.

To say that Armstrong does not have the right to defend herself takes away the basic principles of freedom. Regardless of fame, Armstrong has the right to defend herself from libelous accusations.


maddie July 3, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I meant to say look at Viele’s tweets not posts.

Nina July 4, 2011 at 5:50 am

That’s just the thing Maddie, when I read Heather’s Bangladesh posts then the instant the whole rehashing of skirmishes starts up, the post loses me. I personally think it also does a disservice to the cause it is meant to be promoting because it takes the focus away from the women she met and puts it onto internet dramaz.

I’ve looked at the twitter streams and i still feel confused because (to me) Heather’s response seems really disproportionate to what was said. Perhaps I am dense, perhaps I am missing something, perhaps it’s down to cultural difference.

Mostly I feel genuinely confused about the whole thing. Anna Viele is sarcastic, but I don’t see her as some enormous threat that needs to be stopped. Why does her opinion need to matter? Why is it personal if a journalist questions various ethics of charity-blogging? Ultimately whether Heather’s expenses were reimbursed or not is irrelevant to me. But looking more closely at the way that charities and NGOs are financed is deeply important, because I know from experience that money given to one cause can disperse by the time it reaches its destination. So to me, accountability and transparency are always important but they are absolutely CORE when we are dealing with charity work.
Heather certainly has a right to defend herself, I just don’t think she needs to be defended by other people because that sort of thing discourages rational evaluation of the pros and cons of an issue which is ultimately a disservice to the work and the reputation of bloggers. I’m not sure the women of Bangladesh are better off for her words, and surely looking at the impact this is (or isn’t) having on the original cause is what should be important?

There are also ways to tackle issues or defend oneself without all-caps. You can say “Just to clarify, I was not paid.” without going on a rant. It would be different if it was an expose on Heather Armstrong, but the article was an opinion piece on bloggers and charities generic and she was mentioned in passing.

Perhaps I’m destined to be in a minority because I am neither for Heather nor against her. I think she’s funny online and probably very kind and lovely in person. She has a good eye for design and posts interesting links sometimes. I enjoy reading her accounts of motherhood, but she is not the reason I began blogging, nor why I blog (even though I belong to the same niche now) – so there’s no sense of personal attachment. Only a lingering sense of bafflement and aversion to internet disputes and unprofessional behaviour.

maddie July 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Okay, fine. I didn’t want to send you to Viele’s site but you should go and look at the weird obsessions she has with Dooce. And look at all the posts she has not just one or two.

It’s IMO snarky and if you can get past the fact that she doesn’t make her site easily searchable, (raising page views?) to what she actually writes about other bloggers, you’ll see that she goes out of her way to snipe other bloggers that are bigger than her.

It’s like sitting in a room with someone who goes out of her way and keeps kicking the back of your chair. Pretty annoying.

Dooce held her tongue for a long time but probably felt that going after her charity work was just too far.

A blogger that makes it her business to talk bad about people so that she can say how morally superior she herself is, will eventually get a response.

Now she gets to call Dooce a bully when Viele’s the one picking the fight. Poor Viele.

When’s the last time you’ve seen Dooce go after anyone else? She politely ignores trolls. Can you imagine being as big as Dooce and not having trolls? When Dooce finally fights back, I say it’s about time!

People who say mean and/or controversial things to get attention are like bullies on the net. Trolls.

One might ask why Viele goes after headline bloggers? And why she is so obsessed with Dooce. Oh right, no one is reading her blog according to her tweet. Envy is a very bad thing.

If you want attention, say something funny, entertaining, or useful. People will like you for who you are and not what controversy you can stir up. Negative people get boring really fast.

Blogging shows who you are as a person. When you start trolling sites to get attention, you might get a reader or two for a day but you won’t be very likable.

With all the blogs out there, I’m certain that there are blogs you can relate to. Hang out with like minded people and if you get people who come to your blog from there, you get genuine readers.

Blogging isn’t about increasing traffic at all costs. Sure, a small handful make money at it but that’s equivalent to winning the lottery. Trolls just don’t want to hear this because they think otherwise.

Blogging is about finding people who like you for who you are. You don’t get paid except with friendship and community.

I hang out on blogs I like to read – not to get attention for myself. I want to be included in that community and find friends. If I wanted to make money, I’d go work at Mc Donalds. You make more money at that and you don’t put your heart into it for people to judge you.

‘You want to super size that?’
‘OMG. You’re a horrible person for saying that!’

sorry everyone for such a long comment.

Marinka July 4, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I have absolutely no problem with questions and I have a lot of respect for critical thinking.

But heckling and belittling are not critical thinking. Attacking Heather under the bullshit guise of ‘asking questions’ is not critical thinking.

I’m sure you saw the Twitter stream that Heather responded to last week, and others have written better than I can about the history of some people constantly pouncing on Heather for reasons at which I can only guess.

To me, it was clear that those questions were not critical thinking, but were, in fact ad hominem attacks, meant to belittle Heather’s efforts, bring into question her motivation, cast doubt on her statement that she paid for her trip to Bangladesh herself.

That, to me, is not critical thinking. As a matter of fact, it has very little to do with any kind of thinking– it’s lazy and it’s outrageous.

So, yes, questions are a good thing–that is how many of us learn. But I do think that we need to consider the context of the questions and the source. So if someone has been attacked online by another writer, then it would be ridiculous to assume that the intentions are good and that the questions come from a productive place.


Nina July 5, 2011 at 5:52 am

I think there needs to be a divide between the personal and the professional. This whole brouhahahaha, has taken away from the cause that she is trying to promote, because people end up thinking Heather vs. Viele – who is right and who is the bully? and they don’t think about the original causes this was meant to be helping. The fight is much juicier news than the women of Bangladesh.

Like I said before, I have a lot of personal experiences with volunteering, activism, charity and NGOs on the doing and the receiving end and it makes me cautious and skeptical. And maybe that’s not the majority experience, nor the way the majority think and that’s fine. But if awareness is being raised about charities, then awareness also needs to be raised about the fact that not all ways that people try to help are actually helpful and that there can be a sinister side to the whole thing. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be involved in them. But it means we (all) need to be mindful. Before I get involved as a reader I would absolutely want to know in what capacity is Yahoo involved, and how does what they sponsor translate to what gets done on the ground? And does that translate into safe and sustainable and appropriate things? Are people going to be better off for the intervention or are they going to be worse off differently? I don’t think it’s only Heather who needs to be asked those things, I think it needs to be asked of EVERY person who wants to deliver activism or aid.

I did a project on women’s experiences of postnatal depression and believe me, I had to get approval from multiple ethics committees before I was permitted near it (as is only right). They wanted to know how what I was doing was likely to affect the people and what safeguards i would put into place to look after them. And yes, certainly, the ethics committee had no negative feelings towards me, nor I towards them so it does not translate into the Viele/Heather thing. One might wonder what empowers Viele to ask those kinds of questions and stops other bloggers/people from asking them but the issue remains whether we will see who is asking the questions and how as more important than what is the question being asked, and vice versa.

I think in the blogosphere people react more often from a “friend is saying this, so I guess it’s good” and “detractor saying that, so I guess it’s bad” which is only natural because we are human and people who like the idea of community in blogging also like the idea that we should all talk nicely together. On the other hand, I’m trying to find a space in the no man’s land of the shades of grey in which things are not either/or but both/and. (So E.g. it’s true that because she’s Dooce she got those kinds of questions aimed at her and her trip, but just because she’s Dooce does it mean she should be immune from addressing the issue (which is bigger than her, and a valid one?))

To me, the only responsible thing is to acknowledge it and have conversations about it calmly because it settles the issue. That’s the professional thing to do.

I think sometimes behaving like a professional means developing a thicker skin. Sometimes it means looking away from what you know will vex you. Sometimes it means venting in a private space, in your private life. I’ve had to employ all of them, repeatedly. I’d wager everyone has. It might seem unfair and ridiculous, but that’s just the way things are when you are working. And if your professional and blog persona are the same, then I think you no longer have the luxury of venting in the same way. There are new limits imposed upon you, and new expectations of you and not doing it reflects very badly on you.

If I was a big charity looking for awareness-raising bloggers, then the whole thing would make me very hesitant to use Heather because I’d think she was a bit touchy and a loose cannon. Happily for us all, I don’t have piles of money to donate or an NGO, so my opinion remains moot. But it is likely to be shared by more than one organisation in the wake of the whole thing. (Unless of course, it somehow ends up benefitting the organisations, which would also be valuable information to have.)

I work as a therapist with highly traumatised people. Part of my job is to hear the story they are telling me, and to hold it for them a while. Sometimes the stories twang my own personal nerves and if I was reading it online or listening to it at home I would dissolve into a flood of tears. But that’s not helpful at work most of all because it doesn’t help the person I’m meant to be helping. Sure, there is a place for emotion. There is a place for letting them know how much what they are telling me has moved and touched me, because it is authentic and because it helps validate the story. But if I were to break down sobbing? Then that would be really bad of me, because they would end up trying to comfort me. By letting my emotions out in that way and in that context, I would have nicked their story and made it all about me. That is neither good nor helpful. One might even say it would be disrespectful and a breach of trust. It would very likely make colleagues lose respect for me.

This is why I keep coming back to the divide between the personal and the professional. Heather said “when it was about me, then I let it go, but when the women of Bangladesh became involved, then I had to react and end it once and for all”, and I disagree with that. I think the exact opposite in fact. That when you are acting in a professional capacity you do not have the luxury of reacting emotionally. You may feel emotional but you need to be mindful, polite and restrained if you care about your cause at all.

People spoke highly of how courteous Rowan Davies was in her responses. Maybe she went “that f%%^%& Dooce” to a friend or a loved one, and felt angry about being misunderstood and misrepresented in the blogosphere as ‘that shoddy journalist’ but we will never know. It’s not juicy and enticing, but it is correct and professional of her.

Power is also an issue. If a powerful blogger starts gunning for a less powerful one, then the powerful will come across as a bully. I have a 1 year old and a 3.5 half year old. The baby constantly bothers her brother. She pulls his hair and his ears. She pokes at him and tries to pullout his eyelashes when he’s sleeping. She’s doing it because she’s curious, and even though it’s really irritating for him, there’s not a way to stop her. She will keep doing it whenever he comes within reach until the day it’s not interesting anymore. 99% of the time he just ignores it, and then one day he really pulled at her ear and we stopped him and told him off because he can’t do the same things that she does since he is so much bigger and stronger. If he carried on, then he would absolutely be a bully, regardless of the fact that he was provoked. In a similar way when he starts bothering children who are bigger then him, if they don’t like what he’s doing they respond by not engaging and moving away, because if a 10 year old hits a 4 year old, then the 10 year old is the bully even if the 4 year old was being a shit.

Anyway. Sorry for the long comments. It’s been an interesting issue to think about.


Marinka July 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

I really appreciate your comments, and I’m worried already that I won’t be able to respond to them comprehensively and just pick and choose the parts that jump out at me.

But I have to say that the analogy of a well-known blogger and a less-known one to toddlers aged a few years apart doesn’t work. Because before we are bloggers, we are all human beings. And adults at that. To me, that means that there are certain expectations of behavior. And consequences. So the fact that Heather is famous doesn’t mean that she’s not a human being and that she has to take the buckets of crap poured onto her.

I’d also argue that Heather’s success attributable to her style,and did not occur despite of it. If she were all corporate spokesperson-y, she wouldn’t be true to her voice and it would disengage her readers. As someone who has read her blog forever (I may be exaggerating), I want to read Heather’s voice, not a sanitized version thereof.

On the topic of thicker skin– again, I don’t agree. Everyone has a tipping point. Heather has put up with more crap from haters than probably anyone else in the blogosphere (again, I’m definitely not an expert). I’ve personally seen her attacked for her mental health, her relationship with her husband, her parenting, her writing- nothing is off limits. I’d also heard about a hate site about one of her daughters. Which is, frankly, more than many of us could put up with.

Being on the receiving end of trolling like Heather has been for years would have been enough to silence many. I’m glad that it hasn’t silenced her. I’m glad that she pushed back.

As to the “a friend is saying this so this is good/a detractor is saying it, so it is bad” point– to a degree, yes. Heather is not my friend, although from reading her for years I feel like I know the place that she’s coming from. I do trust her and I’ve never known her to be disingenuous. I can’t say the same for everyone. So, it’s not so much “my friend = good, detractor = bad” as it is “my experience with these people and the messages that they put out”.


Nina July 6, 2011 at 2:58 am

I want to say sorry for still talking about this because you might be getting tired of it (please tell me to be quiet if so) but I’m really enjoying the discussion and the thinking that it’s making me do.

I guess where I was going with my clumsily worded ‘children of different ages’ analogy is that bloggers of different size/power/popularity have affordances and constraints (things they can and cannot do) that are respective to their size/sphere of influence.

E.g. Nobody cares about what I have to say, so it allows me to say all kinds of things (few constraints) but it also means I don’t get offered opportunities through my blog and my sphere of influence is confined to my husband when he is feeling too tired to put up a fight.

With Dooce the game is different. Not because she doesn’t have the RIGHT to defend herself as she sees fit, but because in an action/consequences sort of way she will appear as a bully when she guns for those whose size/power/influence is much smaller than her own. (To me) it looks like shooting at someone with an AK47 when they have been shooting at you with a water pistol. They might have been acting badly, but now you look like a bad guy.

And perhaps it is not fair, but I think it just is. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether my visceral response to this is a cultural thing. I’ve been living in Britain the last 20 years and I’ve absorbed a lot of the British social laws which go something like this:

*You will wait in queues in an orderly manner
*You will never take yourselves too seriously
*You will value fair play and good sportsmanship
*You will sympathise with the underdog
*For bonus British points, you will apologise if someone steps on your foot.

The fair play/underdog rule are pretty key actually and have been known to sway the hearts of an entire nation. So when Heather turns ire on Anna, Anna becomes the underdog and the sympathy vote goes to her. Now perhaps there’s not the same social edict and mass reaction in America (in which case Heather doesn’t have a problem) or perhaps there’s enough people who are loyal fans that it doesn’t matter.

I think the issue is complicated further by these claims of trolling.

1) Almost everyone has had some painful and personal experience in the blogosphere with being sent hate mail on their site and so on. Sometimes the hate mail is truly gut wrenching and people carry some wounds and negative associations with trolls. So when someone is called a troll… emotion and negativity tend to run quite high towards that person.

2) Anna Viele is not someone I would consider a troll. She’s certainly sarcastic and provocative. She pushes a lot of people’s buttons with the ‘unveiling the business of blogging thing’ and she certainly takes the mick out of lot of things but I think it’s a stretch too far to say that she perpetuates messages of hate. Furthermore, Anna’s mockery is confined to her site and twitter stream. She doesn’t send Heather emails or hound her comments.

I mean I wouldn’t like it if someone was regularly analysing my public statements and business moves. I really do not like focused attention and it would be very uncomfortable so I totally get why people wouldn’t like it (or Anna). I just think it comes under the whole affordance/constraint thing.

3) The weighting of affordance/constraint changes all the time. Like if Anna’s site was devoted to talking crap about Heather’s parenting, or her mental health issues I think there would be significantly fewer constraints against Heather’s responses because she would be the underdog by embodying the issue of vulnerable people who are themselves underdogs.

But when dissent on a twitter stream becomes construed as an attack, the same does not hold (at least for the British in the audience). This also relates to the whole thcker skin vs. putting up with the toxic hate thing. I think if I was on the receiving end of so much toxicity and negativity as Heather has been I would probably stop writing online so it’s a comment on both her strength and resilience that she keeps going. It’s just that in this particular case the mixup of the personal/professional again alters the affordance/constrain thing for me. Standing up for yourself in a personal fight seems more just than saying that you are doing it for the women of Bangladesh in a way that at best doesn’t help but at worst actually harms. Whether or not it’s what’s intended, it seems disingenious, at least to me.

It’s true that she has got to where she is with her voice and that it’s what made her blog interesting to read initially. It’s probably why my polite and censored blog is unlikely to entice the imagination or the involvement of the masses. But I also think that it’s great to be able to adapt your responses to the situation and that I would argue that if you want to be perceived as an authentic spokesperson for a cause you haven’t been naturally aligned with before, then it would be appropriate to show more restraint in that context. (Because the highest context should be what is most effective for the cause, rather than you).

It’s interesting to think about our emotional responses and interpretations through the lens of trust capital. As you say you’ve been reading her, you like her and you trust her. I’ve also been reading her for a long time and neither like her nor dislike her which means that my trust relationship is completely different. So you see someone standing up for something in an admirable way. I see someone trying hard to objectively justify their feelings of personal anger in a way that actually weakens their personal position the more they elaborate. I thought the same about the whole Maytag fiasco actually – when she was just on the receiving end of apalling customer service I was apalled for her and very sympathetic, but when I read the recap and there was that whole “and then we lived in a basement full of crappy carpet and dirty baby clothes until we thought we were all going to die” I walk away thinking “I don’t understand how two adults who have family nearby and an assistant cannot organise themselves to go to the laundrette” and the sympathy is worn away.

Perhaps I’m a freak and my responses are not shared by many others. I certainly don’t think everyone should agree with my point of view. I don’t even think I’m necessarily right, because family therapists have had it drilled into them for years that there is no objective truth but many truths.

So I’m just trying to introduce some shades of grey into an issue that I’ve been seeing stripped of its natural complexity. Please forgive me for another possibly overwrought, almost certainly overlong comment and shall pledge to do my best in the future not to make your poor comments section a martyr of my thinking processes. 🙂

eevie July 5, 2011 at 10:40 am

Oh, but I don’t think that Dooce is right that the women of Bangladesh would want her to stick up for herself. I mean, maybe some would, but I don’t think that it’s right to exploit what she saw in order to win an internet argument. It’s fine for her to stand up for herself, sure, but don’t pretend like you’re doing it for anybody else but you. I think women of Bangladesh would care first about many things that are more important than a blogger argument.


eevie July 5, 2011 at 10:40 am

I’m sorry, this was meant to be an independent comment, not a reply. I can’t internet, apparently.

From Belgium July 4, 2011 at 7:11 am

Can I be your sycophant?


July 4, 2011 at 8:53 am

Two things:


2) I like Heather’s writing, but I’m not a big fan of her trip because, really, what did she do except take pictures of a bunch of poor people that she thought were very photogenic and touching? As she says in her post, she couldn’t help the man whose wife couldn’t go to a hospital, she could only publicize it, and even then, the money goes to a charity and maybe it helps these people, maybe it doesn’t.

It’s really hard to tell if your money goes directly to charities, as I wrote in my debate with Akhila a couple weeks ago on my blog. I think what’s frustrating is that Heather waltzes in, spreads her bloggy glitter, and then leaves. Some people make lifelong careers out of eradicating poverty in third-world countries and they can tell the story with much better nuance and actually do make a difference. Also, why didn’t she explore poverty in America? She knows America. Her readers know America. She knows nothing about Southeast Asia, and I say this kindly because she’s a smart woman. Everything she writes makes me cringe because even though she probably didn’t mean to, it sounds falsely humble and demure and lacking cultural context.

Happy 4th!


maddie July 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Dooce is raising awareness. She’s using her fan base to bring attention to those women. Would you rather she only bring awareness for some super cupcake recipe?


July 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm

My question is, what does awareness do? Ok, so now I know about these women? So what? Not like I can take a plane and help them. If she were raising awareness about poverty in the U.S. and how people can volunteer at shelters, now that’s action.


Marinka July 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm

The fact that you and I can’t (or won’t) take a plane to help the women in Bangladesh, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The great thing about awareness is that we just don’t know its reach, or its inspiration.

But we do know what doing nothing accomplishes.

(And we are pretty aware about poverty in the United States, and yet most of us have restrained ourselves from rushing out to help in shelters. Except for my husband, who does and still has time to polish his halo. Also I don’t know why this sentence is parenthetical, but I’m too lazy to go and delete the parentheses at the beginning.)

It’s easy to throw up our hands and say “it’s all hopeless, I might as well do nothing.” Which I totally get. But it’s another thing to get in the way of those who are trying to make a difference.


July 8, 2011 at 9:54 am

So: This is what I want to know. Forget the twitter argument. Was what Heather doing really helping? I think the fact that she donated $10,000 to Save the Children is doing a lot more good (hopefully) than her trip.

And here’s why: It’s possible that maybe her trip and pictures will inspire one person to get on the plane, join Peace Corps, etc. But given that her audience is 98% female, 98% in the 18-50 age demographic, and I’d venture to say, at least 75% have kids, at least 75% are somewhere in Middle Class America, I don’t know that her readers are the right demographic to approach to give a lot of time and money to Bangladesh.

The reason I say this is that, when you are busy with kids and life and Target trips and the beach, it is very hard to understand poverty the way people who have been poor (or immigrants from second and third-world countries) understand poverty, and it’s very hard to understand what you can do other than feel overwhelmed and “white man’s burden” guilty about it. And then when that happens, you brush it aside, especially when Dooce writes that there’s nothing she can do to help other than raise awareness. So you’ll tell someone about her blog at your next dinner party. Ok?

It’s very hard for me to see her write about birthing facilities in Bangladesh and how the climate changed her hair, and to see pictures of women with cameras that cost more than $1000 standing next to women who will never see them again and won’t feel any change. Again, I may be overly sensitive, but it feels very kind-of-colonialist to me.

I guess the reason that Dooce coming in, recording her observations, and then reporting them back to her readers without context, and asking them to donate to something we are not sure ever gets to Bangladesh makes me angry because I have so many friends that are Bangladeshi and have been talking about the issues of poverty their entire lives (one of them even did an internship that invovled making a documentary about how BRAC and other organizations are bringing solar energy to Bangladeshi islands) and the fact that she can just do it out of context, maybe solicit a few donations, and go back to talking about her suburban life, makes me mad. She’s not a poverty expert.

What’s the right way to effectively handle this situation? How should Heather have taken this trip so that it made a difference? How should she have done it in a way that didn’t scream, “I’m upper Middle Class American and I’ll observe you for a few weeks, then go back to luxury” And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know if she should have done it at all. The same way I don’t think Bono should go to Africa, Clooney should go to Africa, etc. They are getting in the way of people who really help the causes, AND they spread misinformation.

What could Heather have done? I really think she shouldn’t have taken the trip. Or now, what she can do? Her $10,000 donation to Save the Children is a good start because it shows her concretely taking action and taking the time to thoroughly research a charity (something that her readers could actually learn from) Why not let a couple of people already involved in the Bangladeshi blogosphere or poverty relief post? There are many excellent blogs that cover aid and development in-depth, and yet at a level that people can understand. Why not include a couple of links, as she did, to Charity Navigator, relief blogs, and other ways to take direct action instead of having a click-through to her Yahoo page?

It’s obviously a complicated issue, and the analogy I have of bloggers (myself included) who delve into these issues from time to time as little preschoolers who want to help mom cook but instead end up getting the kitchen all messy and as a result, mom has to do more work. Well-intentioned, but annoying to the actual aid community.

Here are some links: http://mashable.com/2011/06/29/celebrities-social-good/ http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/06/do-celebrities-help-or-hinder-when-they-hijack-serious-issues.html

July 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Wow Vicki. Your comments make me really, really sad. The idea that nothing is better than…something? That some people are not worthy of raising awareness and moving others to action? That Bono does more harm than good? That there is some “minimum” level of action that one should take, or it’s better to do nothing?

It’s a level of cynicism that is devastating to me, as I wrote last week. It’s counter-productive and keeps good, honest people from taking action. And in the spirit of Marinka’s original post, I need to say so out loud.

July 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I didn’t say she shouldn’t have done nothing; in fact, I cited a couple of things that she specifically could have done and did that were more helpful than just blogging about it.

Again, my beef is with people who help charities with ignorance; or, in her case, never having been involved with Bangladesh in the first place, then going in, mass-covering it on her blog for two weeks, and talking about it seldom again. Or people like Wyclef Jean, who people thought was helping Haiti at first, but then it turned out that his organization was spending more than it was bringing in.

If you are going to get involved in something at a serious level (i.e. not handing out water at a Cancer 5k or walking dogs at the ASPCA but, like $10,000 worth of involvement and blog posts that millions view worth of involvement and flying to other countries,) the burden is on you to research it and ask how you can help in a way that will benefit the organization most as opposed to having them just be grateful that you can help.

I know it sounds elitist and it’s not easy to do the research sometimes, but I don’t think we should pretend that anyone can send a few dollars somewhere and have it impact the place positively all the time.

July 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm

We may just disagree on this. Again, respectfully…

I come from the perspective that an individual with good intentions going to a country (any country) to learn more about the world is an acceptable thing to do.

It’s more acceptable when it’s someone with a good heart who’s visiting a country in need that she might be able to help in some way.

It’s even more acceptable than that when she comes back and writes about it, because whether she has one reader or a million, those people may be moved to action.

And then on top of that, I believe it’s even suuuper more acceptable if that person now comes back home, bringing her knowledge/compassion/newfound understanding into her life in greater ways–fundraising, getting involved with helpful NGOs, starting a foundation—who knows. Even at bare minimum, raising the next generation of compassionate human beings to help create a more compassionate, caring world.

We’ll just disagree here, but starting from ignorance isn’t bad. It is, by definition, a start.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Melissa A. July 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

You had me at “kerfuffle”. Oh, you wrote other stuff and I rather enjoyed it, but “kerfuffle” was tickling my brain and giving me that come-hither-winky-shoulder-shruggy look…I think I need to write a blog about it…the word, not the look (which, in reality is kind of creepy). Great post & thanks from your newest follower.


July 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Yes. Exactly. & i’ll need another 2 hours to get through all th!e information in your comments


eevie July 5, 2011 at 10:27 am

that’s okay, sometimes I restrain myself from commenting on your entries if nobody has commented yet, because I don’t want to appear like a sycophant. Whatever.

I also read dooce, and while I think in certain cases, there are issues with poverty tourism, I think that Anna started this to generate traffic for her blog. I noticed that she heavily features a picture of her and dooce everywhere on her blog. Otherwise, it makes no sense.


July 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Oh how I adore this post. Truly friend, it’s phenomenal.

I get so tired of the, if you agree with a “popular blogger” you are just a sheep. If I agree with you, I’m just agreeing with you. So how is it that Heather stopped being a person I’m allowed to agree with, without being called names?


July 6, 2011 at 9:57 pm

I have to admit I’m one of the few people that doesn’t read Dooce, but I do follow her on twitter and I pieced together the whole conversation and since I read Mom 101 I had read the rebuttal to the Guardian article so I had vague ideas of what was going on.

Simply put it wasn’t remotely okay to attack someone publicly on twitter the way Anna did. If she had a problem with her they should have taken it offline much sooner than they did. I think its great that Heather and her husband stood up for each other and such an important organization like Every Mother Counts. I had heard of the organization prior to the twitter war and its too bad that it took such an unfortunate situation to give the organization the publicity it deserves.

I think its great that you stood up for what you believe in just like Heather did. I applaud both of you for that.


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