Before the end of 2015, there was a post on qz.com entitled “We’re the reason we can’t have nice things on the internet“. The article was about internet bullying and antagonistic behavior online. The phenomenon has grown beyond “trolling”, and seems to be a permanent part of culture.
As the internet has grown from a place academics exchanged ideas, to a place where computer nerds toiled (when I came in), to a place where everyone has the same platform for expression, it’s become a very harsh landscape. And while the bullies that get the most attention are the ones that use the most coarse language, there is one category of terms that I think requires discussion.
- “Don’t be a pussy/wimp/bitch/girl, etc.”
- “Grow a pair.”
- “Tough it out.”
- “Get out of your safe zone.”
This is a common refrain. Putting aside the sexist undertones of “bitch/pussy/girl/etc”, let’s dissect these phrases from a systematic approach.
These phrases assume “the complainer” should comply with the system as is. The complainer shouldn’t complain about the system because the system is correct in how it works. It is the complainer’s fault he or she is having a tough time in the system. The system is the best way it is and the best way it can be.
These phrases also implies the bully is dishing out “tough love” to the complainer so the complainer can survive in the system. Of course, the bully is at home in the system, or else the bully would be complaining as well. So the system is fine for the bully. The bully doesn’t want the system upset because the bully exists in that system and the bully has power in that system. Rearrange the system and the bully might not have power anymore.
So it is in the bully’s best interest that the “complainer” learn how to survive in the system in which the bully has power. The complainer may survive and be fine in the bully’s system, or they may not. The complainer may even get power in the bully’s system. Good for them, but it doesn’t diminish the bully’s power.
But the bully will always have power in the bully’s system. And the bully wants to keep that power. The bully wants to conserve power, not cede it. The bully wants to conserve the status quo, not progress to another system in which the rules of power are different. Losing power would mean the bully can no longer be a master of the system. The bully can no longer determine the rules of the system or give people advice on how to survive in the system.
That’s not good for the bully. A new system would mean the bully needs to understand new rules and new norms. The bully might not be tough there. The bully might cry. The bully would become a wimp. People might pick on the former bully as the bully struggles in the new power structure. Someone might tell the bully to grow a pair, stop being a wimp, or to tough it out.
And the bully can’t have that.