A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night, after a couple of drinks and some nostalgic feelings, I Instagrammed the below photo and caption:
“Tired on a Saturday night. Remembering a man who actually cared about the future of women. This man. [heart emoji] (I don’t know if his T-shirt is photoshopped but I know, believe and love his general feminist message that can not be faked. Double tap if you agree with it).”
Over the course of the next 18 hours, I engaged in a lot of comment wars and lost FOUR THOUSAND followers. FOUR THOUSAND. I’ve never experienced that immediate of a response or loss. Sure there have been times when I’ve lost followers in large numbers in the past, and when I have, it’s been because I said something slightly political or, you know, encouraged people to vote. But FOUR THOUSAND OVER ONE NIGHT???
That was unique and I had to ask myself a million questions. Most importantly: Why would I post that? followed by Why would four thousand people unfollow because of that? To be fair, it also got 38k likes, so I don’t want to overshadow the positive support here either. Full disclaimer: This was a photoshopped photo by Kidd Bell, which is the shop that makes the shirt. It was a meme, floating around that I saw via The Wing and, well, I responded to it emotionally.
The next few days, I reflected on that stupid number loss and thought about what I would have done differently, if anything. I learned some things about myself and you (my readers) after I posted that. That’s what this post is about, but let me preface this by saying that many people want me to “stick to design,” and if you are one of those people, I’d say head to the new Rooms Section to read some robust older design-heavy posts OR click away and come back Monday for a design post. For those of you interested in hearing me discuss some political and feminists discomforts in regards to social media…keep reading, because here’s are the seven things I learned from this experience:
***Update: this is not an apology post. This is an analysis, a reflection and a discussion – I do not regret the message, just the way it was sent.
1. I need to execute any “off brand” non-design moments in a more “on brand” way, with more thought, strategy, intention and positivity.
A 10pm-Saturday night, after 2 drinks, FINE THREE, re-gram of something that ignited me emotionally but is actually kinda negative may not be the way to do it. Just because I was in that mood did not mean that everyone else was. What I did was not “wrong,” but it wasn’t “right,” either. The funny thing is I don’t really even like that quote. Women have a lot to be angry about, but I don’t feel like that quote’s aggressive or negative tone helps anyone (aka men) feel more receptive. Generally, I want to promote positivity and less in-your-face aggression.
So why did I do it? My response to seeing it was first nostalgia for Barack Obama as a leader, then excited by seeing him younger and imagining what he was like, and then lastly I was fueled by the quote on his shirt, excited by imagining that a powerful, well-respected man of grace, would be upset enough to actually wear that shirt. Even if it was photoshopped. But if I wanted to promote this general message, I could have found a less aggressive and polarizing way to do it. Keep reading.
2. Many people want me and others online to be a certain plastic version of ourselves.
I know this by the amount of “stick to design” comments I got (I’m not exactly sure how many, but from the almost 2,500 comments this post received, it was enough to stand out). They want us to set aside our humanity, our humanness and not broach hot-button topics. They like it when I talk pillows, not politics. They prefer sofas, not social issues. I get it, but I’m not Crate & Barrel. I’m a company, but I’m also a person full of seriously imperfect, irrational, last-minute, well-thought-out (or not thought-out) ideas and opinions. And just like you, I feel compelled to share them, and yes sometimes, I forget to edit or stop myself. Usually, it takes me days to write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit a social or politically driven post (like this one I wrote after the 2016 presidential election). Tone is everything and the tone of that photo was off-brand for me. Not what I said, but what was on his shirt. I don’t plan to “stick to design,” but how I diversify should be better intended and have more of a positive message, not an aggressive one. But I’m approaching the age where I care more about what I want to say than I do about the reactions to it. More opinions, less apologies. But I would like to be able to share my opinions in a way that allows engagement and conversation rather than making people feel attacked or unapproachable.
3. People REALLY don’t like Barack Obama.
Honestly, this is hard for me to understand. People HATE him. Politically, I get it—many people didn’t enjoy his time as a president. We all see the world differently and we live in bubbles that inform this perception and skew it drastically. But socially, emotionally and culturally, I thought that most of us at least respected the person that is Barack Obama. I felt confident in this knowledge based on a TON of one-on-one research with conservatives both close to me and strangers I came in contact with. They didn’t love him as a president but respected him as a person and family man. When it comes to family values and general morals, respecting others, living a life of community service/intention/love, I really thought that most of us liked the persona that is Obama, despite the controversy of his political successes or failures. I’m depressed with the knowledge that where we all place value in the world is wildly different than what I thought. I’m aghast at how someone could actually hate him and prefer the values, speech and behavior of our current president. Mostly, I really wish that our bubbles weren’t so solid.
4. A lot of people don’t like curse words.
I get it. I’m extremely conservative at home and spell things like H.A.T.E. even when talking about Birdie’s feelings on broccoli. So advertising the word “shit” turned people off. I get that and I’m sorry for the offense. I will be more careful moving forward and honestly do regret that. A lot of my friends in social media refuse to give up the curse words because it’s just semantics, but because I have kids, it’s just easier to not curse than it is to explain to them why they can’t but I can.
5. Social media is dangerous to your mental health.
I knew this, of course. But I didn’t join social media ’til I was almost 30, with a fully formed frontal lobe. This isn’t just fancy speak for “being mature.” It literally means that a part of your brain doesn’t fully form until you are in your early twenties and that part of the brain is in charge of consequence and rational reasoning, which of course affects your emotional and mental health. As I saw the numbers dropping that morning, I started to have anxiety. Sure, I like to be well “liked” but it’s more than that—it’s my business and one that supports 10 employees and four family members. If/when I mess up on social media, it can affect my business (potentially). I was with Orlando at the flea market that morning and he was all proud of me and at first, reminded me that, in his words, “You are allying yourself more with those that like you and your thoughts, and those that unfollowed because of that were probably not that aligned with you anyway.” This was what I had been telling myself for hours but man, as the numbers dropped and dropped, I realized it was ruining my day. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and my heart was beating with worst-case scenarios playing out in my brain. After a few hours, he said, “I don’t know if this anxiety is worth it to you.” I agreed and archived the post (which isn’t deleting it, but basically). I did that with some shame, which created its own kind of anxiety, but reduced it in general. I also now have really bad scalp psoriasis. Don’t feel bad for me, it’s my own fault but it’s not awesome. (For anyone wondering, no our kids won’t have social media on their cell phones until the last second possible. Hopefully, there will be a backlash and culturally they will think it’s uncool because, despite my career needing it, social media can be VERY UNCOOL.)
6. We are in a political civil war where even an innocuous comment picturing our former president ignites a battle.
I’m not just saying this—I think we are in America’s first post-military civil war. The level of polarization is so extreme. It’s like a daily game of “what color is the dress?” Remember when that happened and so many people thought it was black and blue and others thought white and gold and it was SO hard to comprehend how someone else could see a completely different color? That’s how we are. And listen, I truly am someone who tries to understand every side to every situation. It’s actually extremely annoying to my friends because I’ll defend things and play devil’s advocate to situations that most people feel only has one real side. I challenge issues like immigration, social services like SNAP, charter schools, etc. I try to be so open because there is almost always another side and listening brings information = education. But I feel so often alone because the world is not full of people trying to understand or accept the views of others. And ANY mention of Obama or Trump ignites this insane emotion in both ways. I’m seriously worried about the polarization and feeling pretty depressed about what to do about it. Frankly, I often just hopelessly wish California would secede (which of course isn’t a solution for the nation as a whole).
7. Just because your audience is 80% women does not mean they’ll like a so-called “feminist” post.
Obama is a feminist. He stands for gender equality, and if the word “feminist” strikes a nerve, then know that it just means someone who wants equal rights for women and men. That’s it. Why, oh why would 4,000 WOMEN unfollow me for that comment??
And then I realized this: I think the movement has avalanched and the original simple message of equality is being buried. We just want to be paid, treated, spoken to, and respected the same as men, but that message isn’t being heard the same by all. It’s getting muddied.
I think that we have devalued what’s so great about women because we value “success” in a completely male-made construct. The job of caretaker and mother still isn’t valued as an equal career outside of the home. We want women to “lean in” instead of men “leaning out.” It’s like we have established how women should be treated in the workplace, and recognize that women should be considered “powerful,” but the movement has left behind all the women who are doing, by choice or not, the very important CAREER of —taking care of other people, their families. THAT is the failure of it all and I wonder if that is what so many women are also responding to negatively. The fact that being a good parent, mom or dad, is still perceived as a secondary job is the biggest failure of the feminist movement, in my opinion.
The most frustrating part is that the only people who can properly relay this message to the world is in fact MEN. Women can’t tell the world how important we are, we need men to do it because until women are actually IN positions of power, men are the ones that will make change.
So I think I projected that desire onto this photo. I’m desperate for a well-known, well-respected MAN to tell the world the extreme value to society of being a woman. This shirt didn’t do that at all; it was just wishful thinking on my part and it was a failed wish. So far, all we have is Mark Zuckerberg. Say what you want about Facebook but a man who gives his company four months PAID parental leave (yes, for moms AND dads), is telling the world how much he values the day-to-day work that was typically a “woman’s” role.
Culturally right now, we are doing a great job of telling men how to talk (or not) to us and educating women on how to lean into, and garner and leverage power, but when it’s done aggressively—like this shirt—I think it negates a lot of what many of us value in women: our ability to communicate in a rational, caring, non-violent, smart and confident way. It feels to me like the jerk frat boy version, not something I myself would say. We all know that women are just as, if not, more capable than men in everything we do, but where we excel, where we are undeniably better is expressing our emotions in a way that can be heard, understood and provoke change. Me sharing that image with the language on the shirt did not send that message. And I know that I’ll get criticism for saying that when women can’t assert themselves the same ways as men without being perceived as shouting but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: trying to be more like men should not be our goal. Men should try to be more like US, so we need to set that example on a day-to-day basis. You can be pissed off at how men treat us, yes, though a better response is not to join them in an aggressive word battle. Instead, shut them down by showing them intellect, assertion and power. It’s like dealing with a toddler, yelling back and matching their tantrum is not the answer and in fact actually reduces our power.
Yes, we should demand equality, but I think that the stance and angle of this shirt (and message) is actually alienating and negates our power.
So I guess that’s how I feel about the feminist movement. And really who I should have been Instagramming is Michelle Obama because SHE is a strong, smart, woman who uses her power for good and places value on the right things in the world. She is a good example to us all. But I suppose HER wearing this shirt would feel angry and somehow putting that meme on a man felt less “angry feminist” and more “awesome guy who thinks that women have and deserve their own thoughts.” And that’s not equal.
It’s like I had a dream where I woke up in the future and asked my 90-year-old self what I should actually care about in life and the answer my future self gave was “Use your voice. Be brave. Say what you want to say in a way that will make people hear by listening and reacting… even if they react against you.”
She also told me to make more soup.
Check and check.
So, after 2,500+ words on my feelings, I want to hear from you. What do you think? As loyal followers, do you think this post was off-brand and I was right to take it down when I did? Or no? I also ask, pretty please, that we keep it civil in the comments today. These are hot-button topics, and I know people can get passionate on both sides (rightfully so), but I’d rather this be more of a safe place than an ignited place. Okay, now that I’ve said my piece…tag, you’re it. xx