Er, I’m not taking about political bloggers here: they should obviously talk about politics, let’s just take that as read.
What about the rest of us, though? The fashion/beauty/lifestyle/whatever bloggers: the ones who are best known for keeping things light, but who also have opinions on current events, just like everyone else? Is it ever appropriate for those bloggers to stick their heads above the parapet, and voice a political opinion? Or should they just stick to what many people think they do best, and remain sealed in their little blogging bubbles, no matter what happens?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot over the past few years, but particularly this week, in light of the recent US election – the fallout from which is still being felt all over the world. In the wake of that election, emotions were, understandably, high: there was really only one topic of conversation for a lot of people last week, and bloggers were obviously not exempt from that – with some being sufficiently motivated to deviate a little from their usual fashion/beauty/lifestyle content, and write heartfelt posts about the election, either on their blogs or on social media.
I’ve seen a lot of different responses to this, but I think the one which bests sums it up was GOMI’s homepage post, ‘Bloggers Voted and You Need to Know About It’, which managed to simultaneously criticise the bloggers who publicised their vote (or just the fact that they voted ), and ALSO those who didn’t. The bloggers who wrote about voting were overly smug, and doing it just to brag, implied the article. Those who DIDN’T mention the election, meanwhile – well, they probably didn’t vote AT ALL, did they?
While GOMI is obviously pretty unique in the level of vitriol displayed towards bloggers, I think this “dammed if you do/dammed if you don’t” response is actually pretty typical of the internet as a whole. You don’t need to be a “hater” to think that it’s unwise for a blogger to voice political opinions, or to want a fashion blog to remain solely about fashion, after all: at the same time, though, when people assume that those who DON’T mention current affairs online just don’t CARE about them, it’s not hard to see why bloggers (and anyone else, really) might feel under pressure to say SOMETHING – even although they know it might backfire on them spectacularly.
And backfire it does. Last week Emily of Cupcakes and Cashmere published an “I voted!” photo on her blog’s Facebook page. The only indication as to HOW she voted was the #imwithher hashtag which accompanied the photo – and still she got several comments from people letting her know they were unfollowing her for daring to express a political view. Either those people were unwilling to tolerate an opinion which was different from their own, or they were unwilling to tolerate ANY political opinion at all from someone running a lifestyle blog. Either way, I’m 100% sure that had Emily said nothing at all, people would have been speculating (Whether publicly or privately) on whether she’d actually voted, and probably making comments along the lines of, “Wow, can you believe that with everything that’s going on in the word, all this blogger can think about is her shoes? How tone-deaf can you get?!”
And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it? No one wants to be THAT blogger: the one who’s still happily tweeting about fashion and makeup while the world around them crumbles. God knows, it’s hard enough for us fashion/lifestyle bloggers to be taken seriously without us going out of our way to add to the perception that we’re all frivolous, empty-headed little idiots, who don’t really care about anything other than where our next lipstick’s coming from.
“No one wants to be that blogger: the one who’s still happily tweeting about fashion and makeup while the world around them crumbles. “
At the same time, though, voicing an opinion is scary. It loses you followers. It causes arguments in your comments section. If you’re very unlucky, it might even get you well and truly flamed, or be the reason you end up being featured on a hate site, or pick up a troll who just won’t quit. This is true even when the opinion is a harmless one: I’ve written before about the online hate (and yes, I do mean ‘hate’ – I’m talking here about people telling me I don’t deserve to live, not just people politely disagreeing with my point of view…) I’ve received in the past just for venturing an opinion on a dress, or a pair of shoes: can you imagine how much worse that could be if the opinions I were expressing were actually important ones?
I can: which is why, for the most part, I try to keep my blog a largely politics-free zone. During the Scottish referendum on independence, for instance, I said absolutely nothing up until the day of the referendum itself – at which point I published a vague blog post in which I wrung my hands over the importance of the whole thing, but stopped short of saying how I’d actually voted. Why? Because I was scared. Because not only did I know that my non-Scottish readers (who make up the vast majority of my readership) likely wouldn’t be interested in posts about a referendum that wouldn’t affect them, I was scared that those who WERE interested would judge me – and possibly unfollow me – for my viewpoint.
Although ‘my side’ did end up winning that vote (I voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, for the record: I’m still scared to write that, but it seems silly not to, given the context of this post…), in the run-up to the referendum, mine certainly didn’t feel like the popular opinion. Most of the Scottish bloggers I follow were vehemently pro-independence – as were THEIR followers, judging by their comments sections. Those of us who wanted to remain united, meanwhile, were being branded “traitors” and subjected to abuse: some even had their homes and cars vandalised because of it. (In the interests of balance, I’ll just quickly add here that I’m sure those who voted ‘yes’ experienced much the same thing – I was just less exposed to that, because I live in an area which voted ‘No’, but which is still plastered in ‘YES’ stickers, two years later…) It was an ugly, depressing time – and honestly quite a frightening one at times.
“Voicing an opinion is scary. It loses you followers. It causes arguments in your comments section. If you’re very unlucky, it might even get you well and truly flamed, or be the reason you end up being featured on a hate site, or pick up a troll who just won’t quit.”
I felt very strongly about that vote: in fact, it dominated conversation in our house for at least a year leading up to it, and it’s something that’s still frequently discussed by my family and friends (even more so now that we live with the very real threat of having to go through it all again!). I didn’t write about those feelings, though, not just because I’m predominantly a fashion/beauty blogger, but because I worried about the backlash I might receive for it. Feelings here in Scotland ran SO strong during that referendum that I was genuinely scared to voice (other than on my personal Facebook page, where I knew I’d get discussion, but not hate…) an opinion which seemed at the time to be a minority one. I was scared of alienating readers, of being judged by other bloggers – perhaps not openly, but certainly in that subtle way in which people realise you’re not on their side, and feel disappointed, and even angry with you because of it.
Above all, I worried about the appropriateness of a fashion and lifestyle blogger voicing any kind of political opinion AT ALL. Because that’s still very much frowned upon by some people, believe me. I’ve read comment after comment this week from people talking about how disappointed they were to see bloggers address their feelings about the election, or publicly support a particular candidate. I’ve also seen people praise those who remained silent on the topic. The argument always seems to be that, well, they’re BUSINESS OWNERS, these bloggers. Their blogs are their JOBS , so they’re effectively AT WORK when they voice their opinions – which reflect, not only on the bloggers themselves, but on their businesses and brands.
“If I said something political at MY job, I’d be in SO much trouble!” the critics always seem to say. Or “if that blogger had A NORMAL job, she’d NEVER have said that!”
And you know, that’s probably true. When I worked in journalism or PR, for instance, I wouldn’t have dreamt of using my employer’s social media accounts to voice a personal opinion: if I had, it would have been so unquestionably inappropriate, I’d likely have been fired for it. The fact is, though, I DON’T work for a newspaper, a PR firm, or a local government agency. I DON’T have a ‘normal’ job. I have a job which didn’t even exist a few years ago: a job which is so different from what people might consider “normal” that I frequently find myself having to explain just what it is I actually DO for a living – and still being met with bank stares.
Why do people insist on comparing self-employed bloggers to people with ‘normal’ jobs: ones that require them to answer to, and represent, other people? They don’t just do it in a political context, either: I frequently see people complaining that THEY have to be at work by 8:30am every morning, but X blogger is still in her PJs at noon, according to her SnapChat – and how unfair is THAT?! I mean, congratulations on noticing that not all jobs are the same, I guess? My school teacher friends all get 6 weeks holiday during the summer, but I don’t sit around complaining that if I have to work every day, THEY should too: because I know perfectly well that my job is not like their job – and that if I really wanted to have 6 weeks off every summer, I should probably look into becoming a teacher, rather than expecting teachers to change their working hours to be more like mine,
Mine is a job which basically revolves around personal stories and personal opinion. Like many other bloggers, I’ve build this site on a platform of openness and transparency: I’ve spent years building a business which DOESN’T require me to start work at 8:30 on the dot, record every movement on a time sheet, or answer to other people. My brand is a personal one: but sometimes I wonder why I’m willing to share so much about my life, but will try my best to remain neutral on the issues that really matter to me. It’s not like other business owners do this, after all: or not all of them. Actually, many businesses, both large and small, will choose to endorse a certain candidate, or make their views known on the issues they feel will affect them and their workforce: celebrities do, too. So why are bloggers expected to remain quiet?
That’s mostly a rhetorical question, by the way: I know perfectly well why many bloggers choose not to get involved in political debates: or I know why I do, anyway: it’s plain ol’ fear. Fear, combined with the knowledge that we might like to think that we’re a civilised, tolerant society, which is willing to accept other opinions, but we’re also a society which uses free speech as an excuse to spout vitriol about other people, and which thinks you’re only entitled to an opinion if it’s the RIGHT opinion, and if every single person who reads it wholeheartedly agrees with it. We’re a society which criticises people for speaking up AND for remaining silent: and which is very quick to resort to name-calling and worse in order to “win” an argument.
“We might like to think that we’re a civilised, tolerant society, which is willing to accept other opinions, but we’re also a society which uses free speech as an excuse to spout vitriol about other people, and which thinks you’re only entitled to an opinion if it’s the right opinion…”
In the run-up to the Scottish referendum, I wrote maybe half a dozen blog posts, which I didn’t dare to publish. I ended up regretting it, because while I knew staying silent was the sensible, and maybe even the “safe” thing to do, it didn’t ever feel like the RIGHT thing to do: not over something so important. Ultimately, I know that I would almost certainly have lost followers, and maybe even had some unpleasant messages in my inbox because of it, and I allowed that knowledge to keep me quiet.
The thing is, though, if I have followers who genuinely believe that I’m not entitled to an opinion – or who will unfollow me because the opinion I voice is not exactly the same as theirs – then they’re probably not really followers worth having, are they? They’re followers who are holding me to an impossible standard: and one I’m pretty sure they don’t uphold themselves. (There’s often a feeling, in blog comments sections, that commenters are allowed to say anything they like to/about the blogger – because FREE SPEECH! – but the blogger has no such right to reply. So people will deliberately try to provoke you, and then be absolutely astonished when their actions have the desired effect, and you end up being, well, provoked.) They are, in other words, the kind of readers who, if they don’t unfollow me for my politics, will likely find some other fault with me sooner or later: because if you won’t tolerate the idea of other people having opinions, you’re probably going to spend a lot of time being offended, aren’t you?
So I salute those bloggers who spoke up this week – on both sides of the fence – and I hope they’ll continue to do so: because being open, being honest, and continuing to engage with each other on the issues that really, really matter (even when we don’t agree)… well, it’s really all we have, isn’t it?