Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brazen hater

I get Penelope Trunk's updates from Brazen Careerist on an RSS feed normally, and one yesterday caught me off guard. RSS subscriptions have a way of being de-contextualized and somehow sapped of their emotional overlay at times, and without the context of the usual background colors and imagery it is easy to slide from one perspective to another. Yesterday as I was stepping through my updates, moving from my Daily Lit subscription to Dracula to Voices on Project Management and then to Penelope's post, I was blindsided by the - how shall I put this? - brazenness of Penelope's post "I hate David Dellifield. The one from Ada, Ohio". But what else should one expect from the brazen careerist I suppose? It isn't like she didn't warn me who she was when I subscribed.

I found her writing to be insightful, and to speak truths that some are uncomfortable hearing. (No one wants to admit that their own mother may have been bored with her job, after all.) I'm not an apologist for Trunk nor do I feel she needs one; but some of the backlash criticism of her is unfounded.

First off, some took umbrage with the author's method of handling the criticism by attempting to reach Dellifield by phone. There was much discussion about the privacy of phone information vs. the public nature of twitter (see, for example, Brazen Faith). But I assert that this notion of privacy is faulty. Neither your twitter feed nor your phone number are private; get used to it. Privacy in this minute and hour (let's not even consider longer archives such as day and age) are expensive; and if you haven't gone through the expense of scrubbing your number out of the directories and hiring someone to be your front to the DMV and the utility companies your contact info is not just public it is very public. So this response by Trunk to the critic isn't unmerited; instead it calls attention to the fact that our lives have, while most weren't paying attention, become increasingly networked and interlinked and accessible in a very public way. And if you aren't prepared to live that way, you need to be very considered of who you chose to engage with online. Which really shouldn't be news to anyone; we've been hearing how dangerous it is to talk to strangers online since AOL chat room days.

Some critics wondered what will happen when the kids find out what Trunk has written - "If her kids knew she thought they were boring, what would they think of their mother?" Again, I doubt Trunk has an unreasonable expectation of privacy online. Her kids will find out someday, hopefully they find out before she's a grandmother and can thus partake of some of her wisdom. But to ask what would happen if the kids found out - well, that's as silly as wondering what Leta will think of Heather Armstrong someday - of course the kids will find out, and these mothers both write with that foreknowledge. The kids will find out what you have done online, if they care to look. Your kids will find out, and your bosses and your clients. Count on it.

I did look askance at the use of a strong term as 'hate' in response to the criticism that was offered. Upon first glance, Dellifield's comment seems a very mild if backhanded insult - the reader's inference is that Trunk doesn't love her children for who they are - and as Dellifield doesn't seem to be a repeat-offender troll I personally might have let that slide. But upon reflection, I can see why the complaint engenders such a strong response from Trunk - her modus operandi on her blog is to address gender inequality where she finds it, and Dellifield's tweet wasn't something she had to go out and look for, it was sent right @ her. The comment does represent a subtle form of a gender inequality perspective that is grating to live with, day in and day out. I think most of the structural barriers to gender equality have been addressed nowadays - the best colleges are open to women, there is no restriction for women to practice as attorneys or doctors any longer, women can serve in all combat positions in the military, etc. But there still exist many other cultural barriers, for example a sense that all women should be delighted to stay home with their children when that only suits a few women. People like Trunk don't hesitate to call them out and I for one am glad for that.

Finally, let's consider Dellifield. Again, from what I'm reading online he's not necessarily a bad guy. But we don't know, because he's locked down his twitter account under the apparent assumption that this will make his tweets private (which isn't correct by the way: even locked twitter accounts tweets will show up in search). It seems like Dellifield just started tweeting last month so I'm willing to cut him some slack. But I need to hear his side of things, and understand some context to his comments before I would judge. And that's the wonderful thing about the transparency and interconnectedness of the internet: the opportunity is there to respond to your critics. I look forward to hearing your side, Mr. Dellifield.


Nan, mom of 2 (bless their little hearts, I try hard to appreciate them!) said...

So David Dellifield of Ada, Ohio thinks we should "appreciate" our kids more? To me, that word "appreciate" suggests something like a piece of art, like a nice painting or a well-composed song. You stand in front of it and admire it, and then move on, or you sit back and listen to it, then the song ends, you smile, and then you go on with your life. Like artwork, it's easier to "appreicate" your kids when your interactions with them are limited. So you sit at the breakfast table, sit back and admire (oops, I mean appreciate) them as they stuff cheerios up their nose and then blow really hard so the cheerios stick to the wall on the opposite side of the room. Then you finish reading the morning paper, thank your lovely wife for packing your lunch (these are hard economic times, you've got to save money where you can), and head out the door to your office. And you pat yourself on the back for doing such a good job of appreciating your kids.

I've never read Penelope Trunk's blog before, but found this one entertaining. Yes, I do feel a tad sorry for David Dellafield. I doubt Trunk's wrath is directed solely at him. But it's his turn to take one for the team. What strikes me the most about the twitter exchange is that it was mostly (all?) men who responded with criticism. I know that the proportion of stay-at-home dads has been growing exponentially the past few years, but that's easy to do when you start with only one and then a couple of years later there are 100 of you. Something makes me think the men who responded to Trunk's tweet didn't number among those 100-or-so stay at home dads, but instead are among the millions of work-outside-the-home dads. Although for all I know, they might not even be dads. Why did so many men, and so few women, criticize Trunk's truly banal entry? Are they really that concerned about the care (and feeding, don't ever forget the feeding) of young children, or were they driven by a desire to keep women in their place?

Anonymous said...

"My mother loved children - she would have given anything if I had been one." So said Groucho Marx and in there is much wisdom. People who "love children" as a general rule will still have times when a particular child gets on their nerves. This is particularly true when the child behaves just the same way that you did at that age. All the usual hooha about loving children, sacrificing for them, being patient, etc., is valid so far as it goes. However, we parents are human beings, more or less, and there are times that we want a little quiet, we want a break from the nonstop laundry, we want to have a conversation that doesn't center around cartoon characters, ... in short, a chance to be an adult. Personally, I respect the heck out of stay-at-home moms, because I could never do that. On the other hand, most stay-at-home moms are not folks with whom I can hold an adult conversation. Let Dellafield walk a mile in his mocassins, as the old saying goes. But at the same time, Trunk had the kids, and we need to live with our choices, conscious or not.

Drea said...

Eva, you are awesome. Thanks for bringing this up and for analyzing it so cogently and articulately.

rikin said...

I'm not really sure my post, 'Brazen Faith', argued about the privacy of our lives or information available in this modern age. Me finding this post shows how easy it is to track things down on the internet.

But, if the argument is that if something is available we shouldn't necessarily abuse it. Penelope was "attacked" on twitter but took it a step further by calling someone by phone. She also made an attempt to reach out to his wife who had nothing to do with the whole spat.

But, with all that said I do like the spirit of your post. The transparency and interconnectedness offered by this digital age is actually a great thing that we can really have fun with if used properly. However, sometimes Penelope and many others have a way with making it quite ugly.