How did I come to write one the strangest paragraphs of my life to one of the most unexpected recipients—the senior booker on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight—on Wednesday?
If I weren’t getting death threats and felt safe to go on the show, I would have asked that people consider a third part of this conversation about the mass killings of the past month—is there a gendered component that we should be talking about? My answer is yes, not because I think men are evil but that I think the rigid, linear path to personal agency solely being paved with a value put on violence is bad: for men. And when these particular men have felt a lack of agency, there has been a vacuum created in their lives, a vacuum that can be filled by ISIS or gun violence or any other promise of restored agency that those parties wrongly equate with being a man.
Let me walk you through the timeline. It is an extraordinary story in my world, but an ordinary one in the land of social media and political thought.
Sunday night, bereft at watching the news of another attack on innocent people at the hands of a gunman, I was looking for answers.
I have always been drawn to figuring out public violence (see my dissertation and most of everything I have ever written) because I want it to stop. My brain is always working the problem of violence like a puzzle, trying to look at it from all angles in a desperate attempt to ask more questions, find the angle we have missed. I want this violence to become less ordinary. I want us to no longer be inured to violence, so my brain looks for patterns, clues, signals.
So I went to Twitter, a place where I rarely write my own thoughts but where I share articles and amplify other voices, and tweeted:
Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT.
Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT.
Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT.
I liked the crispness of the post, that it fit perfectly to read in three neat lines. And I meant it, just like I have meant every bit of what I have been writing, teaching, and—yes—tweeting, for the past decade. There was nothing new in what I was saying.
In fact, those who listen to what I say probably clicked right past it.
But I desperately wanted to be heard because I believe if we start talking about “toxic” masculinity, maybe we can stop this violence. To me, the tweet was a plea for humanity.
And I tweeted this BEFORE we found out the Texas shooter had abused his wife and a child. Before we found out that he mowed down all those people because he may have been targeting his mother-in-law. But I knew those stories would come. BECAUSE THEY ALWAYS COME. Hence my desperation.
So I wrote a tweet. 140 characters.
Then a prominent writer, a friend, retweeted it. Because he also cares about how to have conversations about violence.
And then it got retweeted. Over a hundred times. No biggie. That is how Twitter works.
Monday we learned the stories about the shooter. My office phone rang. I answered it.
“This is Rachel Frommer from the Washington Free Beacon. I saw your tweets about toxic masculinity. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.” I wrote down her name and the press, sat down, and said “Sure!”
I do not regret this decision.
I knew by the name of the press that it was probably with a slant to the right. But I don’t mind talking with anyone that wants to talk. I heard in the back of my mind: “The only way to make change is to engage with those from the other side.” So I did.
We had a great talk. I was generous with my time and spent almost 45 minutes on the phone with Rachel. It is my job to answer questions. I am a public intellectual. IT IS MY JOB TO ANSWER QUESTIONS. Remember that. It becomes really important a few hours later in the timeline.
As soon as we hung up, I looked up the press. I thought there would be a little backlash.
The article came out later that night. It was about our conversation. She did a good job of representing my argument, and other than the strange, tacked-on paragraph at the end that required some really deep digging into my twitter feed, I thought it was ok. I even wrote to Rachel and thanked her for representing my views fairly. She wrote back and said she was glad I liked the piece.
That night I got a few negative comments on Twitter. Nothing that I didn’t expect.
“OK, if this is the small price to pay in order to have a dialogue, I can handle it,” I thought. I knew the landscape, that some people will just immediately attack without engaging with the ideas.
And then the next day the Daily Wire did a “story” about the article. You have to read the whole thing to see where this turn happens. The story was now about me, not about my ideas.
Everyone knows that today’s institutions of higher learning are nothing more than bastions of liberality, where professors with socialist ideologies coddle precious snowflakes with safe zones lest they be triggered. But it’s even worse than we thought. Colleen Clemens, who is the director of women’s and gender studies at the Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, said “toxic masculinity” is responsible for the spate of mass shootings and terror attacks in America.
Suddenly, by Tuesday, I was the problem. When I got to work, my department chair told me about this “weird” email about me he received that said I am divisive. I told him that I was a little blip on the radar of some angry alt-right people. He encouraged me to be strong. Their little ploy didn’t work.
I get it, people don’t really always know what it means to teach about Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS). That is why I want to spend my time talking with people that have questions.
The hateful response began quickly.
By noon, I got an email from Tucker Carlson’s show.
They wanted me on that night, but I had teaching obligations. Plus, I was not sure I wanted to go on a platform that would engage more with me than with my ideas.
I stopped looking at Twitter. My podcast partner began documenting the tweets and kept me apprised of only what I needed to know: that people were now threatening my life by saying they bought guns “for” me or that I should take a gun to my head.
I taught a WGS seminar that night and went to bed, tired from a long day of work and trying to deal with the information coming at me from social media. Before I went to sleep, I emailed Tucker Carlson Tonight and said I would be happy to talk with them in the morning about their idea of me being on the show. I felt like I had to, that even though I would probably be mocked. What I had to say feels of such great importance that I need to say yes to all venues. I kept hearing, “We have to engage with the other side.”
The hate online grew all night.
I started my workday on Wednesday emailing the president and administration of my university, alerting them to the fact that they may get emails disparaging me and my work. I offered to come and talk with them anytime about what I do in and out of the classroom. I needed to be ahead of the hate before it jeopardized my work.
Then I emailed Tucker Carlson Tonight and said thanks, but no thanks.
I tried to teach like normal that day, but I couldn’t. I tried to explain to my students what was happening as they watched me get dragged through social media, watched people calling me a bitch for ruining the minds of my tender students (all taken from tweets about me).
Meanwhile, the show wanted to get a comment from me because they were going to do the show anyway.
So I sent them a definition of “toxic masculinity” and ended with the paragraph that starts this narrative.
I offered to send more if they wanted clarity.
BECAUSE I AM A TEACHER AND THAT IS MY JOB.
When, on Wednesday night, there was no mention of me (several allies watched the program for me), I felt relief.
Thursday I spent the day at home, off social media, napping and hiding because I needed to.
Friday, I thought maybe it was all over. Allies had been reporting the trolls. I got to teach.
Friday night, I lay in bed and thought, what a weird week. The weight in my chest had lifted a bit.
Then a Facebook message came through:
I thought, “Huh. That’s weird. Why now?”
Then a former student sent me a breathless message:
Tucker had posted my tweet on his show and talked about it.
Friday night at 9 PM. I am in bed. And now had to find my computer to deactivate my twitter account. I was shutting down the cesspool before it could grow worse. God knows what people would have written on there. God knows what the over 800 comments on the Facebook feed say. I cannot bear to look.
But don’t worry, my Saturday morning has been filled with the overachievers who sought me out via my work email address.
Clive offered this thoughtful commentary:
No dear, the toxic stupidity of university professors is killing people, destroying society and creating conflict.
The crop of mindless “safe-space” snowflakes pouring out of colleges like diarrhoea and into the world is clear evidence of that.
The lack of logic, reason and critical thinking skills should disqualify anyone from being able to poison the minds of children, yet it seems to be a prerequisite.
Perhaps you would like to kick off the white genocide with yourself, as you quite obviously have no useful purpose.
Billy really took the time to engage with my ideas:
You have got to be the dumbest bitch to ever breath.I love how you stupid fuck liberals just make up phrases and think it has merit your a clueless brain dead bitch grow the fuck up cunt.