It became an awkward question for me. I would see people out in the community and constantly get asked why I had stopped blogging. As the founder of SheInTheCLE – a blogging platform site for women – it was a bit strange. I had been an active blogger on LinkedIn and She In The CLE, and it helped shape my personal brand.
But then June 1, 2016 rolled around and I published a blog on LinkedIn– and my world shifted. I wrote the blog quickly after attending an event about gender equity at the City Club of Cleveland. It was an important discussion around the pay gap issue, but I was a bit disheartened at the turnout – it was basically all women. So, I quickly drafted a blog when I got back to work restating the obvious – that we need to engage more men in these conversations if we really want to change anything.
About two hours went by before my phone started blowing up and my emails were pinging uncontrollably. Finally, a colleague of mine popped her head into a meeting and said that I should check my LinkedIn and that my husband was trying to reach me.
If you know me, you know I don’t back down easily, and I certainly don’t scare often. It takes quite a bit to shock me. But what happened on LinkedIn that day – a platform for business professionals – shook me. And I am still not the same because of it.
Here are some excerpts of the comments that clogged my feed (all of which I assume have been deleted by the authors):
“I have never hit a woman – but if I ever saw you I would punch you right in the face.”
“Domestic violence is typically wrong but women like you deserve to be beaten. Regularly.”
“I hope you get gang raped in a side alley.”
Deep breaths. That’s what I told myself. My boss at the time strolled in and asked if I was doing okay and I nodded and said nonchalantly, “It comes with the territory.” I didn’t entertain much conversation about it. I hadn’t had time to process it.
I wanted to absorb the sexual and physical assault threats that were just blatantly thrown out on a public channel, attached to real names and real companies. People who were so furious with me about a short blog that they cavalierly posted something that could easily be attributed and could potentially be prosecuted in a court of law.
The next morning – without telling anyone what I was planning to do – I replied to each of those three men with the same comment.
“Thank you very much for your insight. It’s important that we hear from all sides on topics of gender equality. Because you serve as a representative of your company, I have tagged individuals from your company’s HR department in this reply so they can use your comments in future recruiting and marketing materials.”
And with that – I tagged as many people as I could find from each person’s HR department. One gentleman worked at a very large public company, and I was able to find more than 22 people with the title of HR from his company.
I felt better. I smiled and thought “That will show them.” I re-entered my daily work schedule of meetings. And then I saw one notification pop up on my phone screen from LinkedIn – and it read, “You vindictive bitch. You will pay for this.”
By the time I got back to my desk to see which one of the gentlemen had replied, all of the comments were taken down by the authors – and so were my replies. All traces of the threats were gone. Just like that.
I wasn’t surprised. I figured the men either got spooked quickly or their companies had stepped in. I smirked.
Then the comments came from the people in my life. My husband called to remind me that one of those men lived one state over, a short two-hour drive from our house and that another lived less than four hours away. He asked if I thought about what someone was capable of if they lost their job over this, and if I had worried about my own safety or the safety of my daughter – who was often alone in the house after school.
I also had two other men ask me if I had thought someone deserved to lose their job over a quip they wrote on a social channel.
The outrage I felt right then and there was hard to explain. I remember going into the bathroom stall at work and letting silent tears stream down my face. It wasn’t sadness. It was flat out anger. And not at my husband or the others. But at the world.
Why did I have to be careful about my response? Why did I have to worry about my safety? Why did I have to be quiet out of fear that someone would harm my daughter? What kind of messed up world did we live in where MY ACTIONS were being questioned – not those who threatened to beat me or hoped that I was raped in public?
I stopped talking about it. Wouldn’t entertain the conversation. I did call two of the businesses later that week and found that two of the men were fired. But at that point – there was no satisfaction. Because somehow, I started to feel like the villain.
And just like that, unknowingly – I became less vocal. Less me.
One year quickly passed where I didn’t really write anything – except a quick announcement about a venture fund aimed at helping small businesses. I kept my opinions out of the public domain. I grew more and more silenced. I started entertaining quiet comments in my head like “It’s not worth it. Keep it to yourself.”
Fast forward to today. I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a friend post an image that made a joke about rape. And with that, the comments starting building highlighting other known sexual or violent predators like Bill Clinton, R. Kelley, Chris Brown, Bill Cosby and more. The likes and laughing emojis were running rampant, and I quickly remembered that rape, sexual assault and violence against women are often still seen as laughing matters.
My stomach dropped. Where was the old me that would never have been okay with this? What had happened to her?
The real me knows we all have a role to play in changing this narrative. We all have to join and expand the conversations until these sentiments about women no longer exist. And I had willingly left that conversation because my safe, little bubble of a life had popped open and a threat was tossed my way. As a founder of a blog platform that was created to give women more of a voice and a platform – I had become a hypocrite. I have sat so many times with women encouraging them to find their voice and somewhere along the way, I had lost my own.
So today was a game changer. I made a promise to myself that I will no longer be silent. I will no longer scroll and ignore. I will talk about what happened to me on LinkedIn (which is nothing compared to what I have seen so many other women experience online). And I will continue to engage in important conversations on and offline about equality and other social issues.
Sorry I was gone for a bit. It won’t happen again.