A funny thing happens when you start an activist blog that’s also a safe space: you learn to profile commenters. Over time, you notice that commenters who eventually ended up needing moderation or banning started out leaving comments of a certain type. Those early comments may seem absolutely harmless, but you learn to recognize certain behaviors as red flags. One of those red flag behaviors is nitpicking.
Let’s say a blogger you love has just made a typo, or misused a word, or committed a grammatical sin. What do you do? You post a comment with absolutely no content relative to the above post, stating, “That’s not what Word X means” or “It’s ‘its’, not ‘it’s’ – God, that irritates me when people do that!”
If that doesn’t sound rude to you, imagine going to a seminar and standing up during the Q&A session. When the microphone comes to you, you have nothing to say about the topic of the seminar. You just want to point out that the speaker misused a word. The entire rest of the audience now gives you the what an asshole glare.
Small blogs like Hathor are viewed by 25k people a month, minimum. Would you correct someone’s grammar in front of an audience that big if that audience was visible to you? Maybe not… but on the other hand, I’m pretty sure some of the commenters we refer to as “nitpickers” would – because I’m pretty sure nitpicking was just the beginning of their actual agenda. When we created the rule a year or so ago against leaving such comments (advising readers to instead put it in an email), that fixed the problem superficially. But the nitpickers just found other methods of making their feelings known. They would:
- Only comment to tell us how wrong we are. Now, if they were MRAs, this would be expected. But these were our alleged feminist allies, and they apparently never saw a need to let us know when they liked what we were saying. As far as we know, they never did.
- Create strawman arguments or derail to a topic upon which they consider themselves an expert, so they can show off how educated and/or experienced they are.
- Often times, they are far less expert on their chosen topics than most of the other commenters and staffers here, ironically, and this is rather narcissistic. When you tell someone they’re wrong, and then back up your assertion with “facts” that can be disproven by a ten second trip to Wikipedia, you are overestimating yourself way beyond the pale. If you continue to insist in the face of all contrary proof that you’re right, you may be suffering from genuine “delusions of grandeur.”
- Start arguments and refuse to back down no matter what. No matter how many people tell them they’re being offensive, hurtful or inaccurate, they just figure we’re all out to get them, and no way are they gonna let us bastards grind them down.
- Dogpile on any new writer, twisting their words until they have something to take offense at, and yelling things like “Tone argument!” if anyone points out their tactics are those of oppressors, not allies. As I mentioned in a previous article, this is why we haven’t taken any new writers on board (other than people known to us – sorry) in a while. Writing this post is actually part of the process of getting back to that. We’ve banned all known “dog pilers”, but cannot guarantee that some of our currently approved commenters won’t suddenly show us a whole new side once you post.
These behaviors are so not what we’re looking for in a safe space activist blog. There’s a reason nitpicking isn’t considered nice, and it’s because nitpicking is a way of:
- Making someone feel insecure about speaking or writing publicly.
- Making someone feel like all their hard work is worthless because of a typo or similarly petty mistake.
- Distracting others from the valid points someone has made.
- Calling attention to yourself and how smart you (think you) are. It’s interesting that most people who engage in the “You’re wrong – I’m so smart, let me correct you!” behavior are actually not all that well-informed or bright. This is probably because genuinely smart kids learn early that everyone else would like to beat the snot out of them for revealing their intelligence in any way at all.
And who would be great to use these tactics on? People you want to oppress. Don’t want to hear someone’s uncomfortable points about your privilege? Find a typo and point it out publicly in front of thousands! Twist their words into something that sounds offensive or inaccurate! Correct them with facts you pulled out of your ass, or out of the least reputable source on the topic. And for heaven’s sake, please use and abuse their blog to publicize yourself and make it all about you!
We do realize that not all “grammar cops” have ugly intentions – in fact, some of our staffers can’t help being deeply annoyed when they read its/it’s and then/than mistakes (and it makes them awesome editors!). But they address these mistakes via email because they don’t have any urge or motive to divert attention from what the post is about to how it’s constructed. We do appreciate corrections and even mini-lessons on fine and obscure points of English, when they’re delivered privately with no apparent ulterior motive.
But we consider public nitpicking not just rude and demoralizing, but actually an oppression tactic. Like the way this society nitpicks women’s appearances, it’s a way to keep a group focused on its own insecurities (and feeling unnecessarily insecure in the first place) instead of focusing on the ass it should be kicking.