Or: Whose ox is being gored here, anyway?
Have you ever had a FaceBook friend or Twitter follower who seemed to share your values, speak your “language”, and agree on the nefariousness and malice aforethought of some particular subsets of humanity…?
You think they’re cool. You think they’re on the same wavelength. You think they “get” you…
Right up until the moment you make a passing, mildly amusing generalization about some other subset – moms, or men, or deciduous trees – and all of a sudden, they are mortally offended and taking it all personally and serious, as if you had called out their mom, their husband, or the maple tree in their front yard: explicitly and by name.
It happens to me about once a month. I’ve tried to sum up a general economic problem like the foreclosure debacle of 2008, calling attention to the ways in which many people contributed to the bubble that inevitably burst by acquiring property with the full intention of doing cosmetic renos and then flipping that property just to make a few bucks…
And wham! Someone I respect and love goes ballistic about how *they* went under and were bankrupted and lost their home because of trusting the real estate agents and the banks and how dare I imply that their misfortune was in any way their fault?!?
I lost longtime and valued friends because I once used the @yesallwomen hash-tag to discuss the many, many ways in which women in western European cultures are dishonoured and robbed of their essential agency as human beings, every day, in small but significant ways that open the door wide open to the more egregious and frequently violent actions that destroy them.
A wardrobe-mistress of a ballet company, someone I had been close friends with for nearly two decades, unfriended me almost immediately, because apparently, according to her parting DM, she had never once been disrespected by anyone identifying as male in her entire life, and that was proof positive that I was a hatemongering feminazi.
Because #notallmen, right?
The woman who loved my memes and snarky comments about “husbands” went ballistic on me when I made a similarly generalized comment about stereotypical toddler behaviors and the over-the-stratosphere reactions that their mothers frequently resort to.
“Not my child” and “How can I possibly understand how hard it is to raise a child in this world?” was the least of it.
It’s totally human and it’s everywhere, all the time, and I’m willing to bet that even a lot of people who pride themselves on being uniformly positive, empathetic, and kind 100% of the time have still, occasionally, met this reaction to what they thought, sincerely, was a mild and affirmative post or tweet.
As writers, we’re taught to use our knowledge, understanding, and experience of the world and its inhabitants to bring realism and believability to our work.
But if we had a character that did this in a novel, the editors and the readers would flag it IN NEON LETTERS A MILE HIGH as completely inconsistent, unbelievable, and wrong.