When I started Twitter, I chose to be anonymous. Gradually, as I made friends there, some details of my life slipped out – in particular, that I’m a woman, a mother. But my name still wasn’t out, and I felt free to reply to or ignore, mute or block whomever I pleased. I was a nobody, and I wanted it that way.
It was while writing my first book that my Twitter account became attached to my real name. Since we self-published that book and did our own marketing, it was necessary. It had always been my personal account, for my life, and learning Haskell was part of my life, so I didn’t immediately see anything wrong with blending the two.
Increasingly, this presents health problems for me. Part of the problem is undoubtedly that … I don’t seem to be a nobody anymore, and I was unprepared for it and don’t … really like it. It seems to be a truism that if a Twitter account is getting popular, they must be enjoying it and want it to be that way. Maybe it’s true in general, but it’s not true of me. I am no longer free to ignore, mute, or block whomever I please; it upsets people, they complain, they use it against me in the Reddit rumor mills once in a while, “evidence” of my unreasonableness. I have to fact-check jokes before I make them (obviously, I do not mean by this that I am literally being forced). Replying to anyone means that roughly 7200 people will potentially see it and think that I also have the time and energy to argue with them about it, when they (probably? hopefully?) wouldn’t think so if they overheard me and a friend talking at a coffee shop or whatever.
Also, since 2016, when my former business broke up, I have gone out of my way to give talks, lead workshops, and write publicly so that people could have a sense of my voice when I’m on my own, of what I know and don’t know, of my capabilities. For much of that time, I’ve been a single mother. When someone is on IRC or Reddit saying I don’t do my own work, I guess once in a while I think that someone will speak up for me and say, “naw she’s put out a ton of work of her own, given lots of solo talks and so forth,” because the evidence is out there. But people tend not to, and the people who are inclined to stereotyped views of women won’t go looking for evidence that contradicts their biases. Now, how many people you think they are and how much of an impact it has on me is debatable; it arguably has less now than it used to, but the couple of years I spent directly fighting that perception were exhausting, and part of my health problem now is from that burnout and fatigue.
Furthermore, and this is difficult to explain to people, because few have ever been in a situation like this, but my story and my willingness to learn Haskell in public while writing a monumental book about it was the main marketing strategy of that book. But I no longer have any part of that book; I do not gain from the book being well-marketed. To the extent that some of my current writing could be seen to be in competition with it, it could be said that I am being used against myself. At any rate, when my personal Twitter account became inextricably linked with that book, some part of me was lost; I no longer own that part of myself. As I say, it’s difficult to explain. Many people have started businesses with a partner and then had a bitter falling out and broken up the company, and it sucks; however, I would say that it is atypical to have that company to continue using your personal story to promote itself. It’s gotten somewhat better now, but for a while it felt a bit like when people in the Golden Compass books are separated from their daemons.
And then the last episode was just too much.1
If charity and assumptions of good faith are owed to participants in a conversation, then they are owed to all equally; if the word sexism sets you off in such a way that you can no longer exercise charity and assume good faith, then you need to remove yourself from the conversation. Use of that word (or ‘racism’ or any similar word that upsets you) does not suddenly render an argument invalid – it may be a bad argument for other reasons, but that ain’t it. “It’s inflammatory!” is a statement about how it makes you feel; I’m not invalidating those feelings, because grappling with the ways in which we fall short of ideals as a fair and reasonable meritocracy of sorts is hard and upsetting, but it’s not really a counter-argument. Also you should consider reading about what Liam Kofi Bright calls the Informal Omega Inconsistency because some of you are doing that. In a conversation on Twitter, the awesome Jon Purdy and I tried to formalize it, if you are interested.
My struggles with depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation have been part of my personal story on Twitter for a very long time, and it is beyond inappropriate to dogpile me for calling out behavior you admit was bad because the man who did it “has mental illness.” Give some thought to whom you have sympathy for and why; I am no less deserving of it than he is.
“Virtue signaling” may be a real thing, but the term is overused. If I tweet a complaint about mistreatment that had a material impact on me personally, what exactly is the peer group or tribe that I am allegedly signaling to? If a man tweets a complaint about a former employer who took something of value from him (say, his time or his IP), he is not typically accused of virtue signaling (nor, as I have been, of ruining his reputation by harping on it). Entertain the idea that, yes, sexist comments and malicious rumors that reinforce stereotypes do have material impacts on people. The idea that I gain any kind of support or well-being or material benefit from tweeting about sexism is, excuse my language, fucking ludicrous. And furthermore you did not complain about this back when you thought I was on “your side” whatever that is. I’m in the rare position of having the public perception of my beliefs flip so dramatically. Note, I did not say my beliefs have flipped, though a few have changed, as they should if you are listening to people outside your bubble – it’s mostly your perception based on what group you think I belong to.
It is OK to admit you do not understand a topic and seek to learn about it, even on Twitter, though not everyone will have the time or patience or ability to teach. It is less OK to start arguing with someone about a topic you do not understand, rather than seeking to understand it. This is just as true of a topic like misogyny as it is of algebra or category theory.
These things were just too much, when we are already marinating in a culture where rape “jokes” are avidly defended but “racism against Germans” (reported by men, of course) is treated as a breach requiring an apology.
No, a lot of things have just been too much, but I’ve found ways to cope and carry on, and I won’t anymore. Lots of days on Twitter were fun and I learned things, and then the bad times would come and they were truly bad. I have a private Twitter account and have invited a few people to it, but I speak much more freely there, to friends or at least people I think will treat me reasonably if I engage with them, and I will continue to keep it very limited (though the fact that I haven’t invited you yet doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be welcome, so please do not take it personally – I feel sort of intrusive asking people to follow a second account). From time to time I will use my main Twitter account to post things of interest to the Haskell and math communities, primarily, but I will check notifications and DMs and the like infrequently. Twitter isn’t worth my health; it’s not even really worth sacrificing the time with my kids. As for traveling to speak at Haskell conferences and all that, I don’t know yet. I just don’t know. We’ll see how recovery goes.
At any rate, I am gradually recovering and I continue to write about Haskell and sometimes mathy things and linguistic things and I should start blogging more, while probably keeping my interactions on social media somewhat limited, at least for a while longer.
With a bit of luck and rest, I hope to be at Zurihac next year; Jasper and the crew are doing wonderful things for Haskell, in my view, and I have always loved being there.
Incidentally that last episode started because there was a thread that kept popping up in my timeline of some Australian Haskellers – all men – discussing why there aren’t more women in functional programming and what steps might be taken to make it more welcoming for women who might want to be included. Chris Martin has been one of the few people who has forced himself to look at everything I see on Twitter or wherever as part of my day-to-day interactions with the Haskell community. He has forced himself to not look away, and furthermore to hear me out about how it isn’t one thing or one person, it’s a whole systemic problem for me and I’m not alone. Despite the fact that some women – obviously including me for the past several years – are in the community, many others who would like to be are not.↩