EP 06 – Social Media Conversations Lack Empathy and Compassion, a Convo With Sarah Potter

Social media has taught us to be outraged when something hurts or offends us. Social media highlights us–raises us up, when we express outrage. Social media has conditioned us to be outrageous in whatever format suits the algorithm. 

Topics covered in this episode: 

  • The word “womxn”
  • Words used for gender classification and identification
  • Outrage on social media
  • Sensationalism in society 
  • How social media has taught us to behave

By Sarah Potter

March 17, 2021

I’m frustrated about the word “Womxn.” I’m frustrated that some people in my IG community assumed I did not know what I was talking about. 


I’m frustrated that they assumed I was being exclusionary of trans women and non-binary persons. I don’t broadcast that I’m a bi-sexual woman. I don’t broadcast that because the last time I did I was told, “You’re not allowed to be bi-sexual if you’re married to a man.” “You’re not allowed to be bi-sexual because you’re choosing a gender.” 


When it’s the opposite. I am physically a woman, yes, but I have often struggled with choosing my gender and rarely talk about it because I fear comments like the above ones each time I bring it up. I’m also now a pregnant bi-sexual woman married to a man and I feel with the conversations that have been happening around gender lately that I have no place in the conversation because I am a pregnant bi-sexual woman married to a man. 


First, I didn’t choose my husband based on gender; I chose him and the love and care we have for one another. Were he a woman, I would still choose the same. 


This whole conversation about “womxn” vs “woman” honestly hurts because I felt like using the term “womxn” was more inclusionary for others who may have been struggling like I have my whole life with this conversation around gender. 


The backlash that has been expressed by straight women (and others) to me for using/discussing/talking about the word “womxn” has really made me feel like it isn’t safe for me to speak up and use my voice. 


I’m frustrated because I feel excluded from using a term that makes me feel included. I’m frustrated because this month should be about the exceptional females/femmes/trans women/cis women/womxn/questioning/nonbinary peoples that inspire the world. But we’re fixating on a word. 


I hope that for everyone who is straight and LGBTIA be more inclusive of those who are questioning and focus on the achievements of people rather than the words people identify with. If we’re inclusive, we don’t harp on people who use “womxn” and are inclusive as a whole. 


This is of course all dependent upon the global population of humans to incorporate an inclusive and accepting mindset. 


We were not all raised together. We have not had the same experiences as one another. Each of us is different in so many ways. In life we may find similarities between one another that bonds us. To assume everyone knows as much as you do and if they don’t, they’re ignorant/exclusionary/racist/wrong creates a toxic society. 


In the first episode of Social Media Therapy Alli and I talked about toxic positivity. And there’s More than just toxic positivity out on social media. There’s also toxic outrage. 


Social media has taught us to be outraged when something hurts or offends us. Social media highlights us–raises us up, when we express outrage. Social media has conditioned us to be outrageous in whatever format suits the algorithm. This isn’t me trying to stop you from sharing your outrage. This is encouragement to think about how you express your frustration and outrage on social media toward the person you are upset with. So often we focus on our own feelings with no compassion or understanding for others. 


Social media has also taught us that when we express our outrage, there are no consequences that immediately affect us as the outraged. We are not a society of Neapolitan ice cream; we are a society of Harry Potter jelly beans full of flavors that will shock, surprise, delight, and warm us. And it is on every single one of us to carry that mindset with us when we discuss inclusion, equality, and acceptance. 


To be someone who preaches and teaches inclusion, acceptance, and equality, to only be exclusionary in the way we talk about inclusion and how we discuss things to those we are trying to help understand gender inclusion is hypocritical. 


If someone cannot tell you what your gender is, you cannot say to them they can’t use certain words (obviously racist and hateful words excluded here). We cannot start the conversation by telling people they are problematic and exclusionary and wrong. That is outrage talking. That is our personal hurt talking. It is not the same level of tolerance we expect from others when we talk about things. 


When we demand tolerance, we must also be tolerant of the other side in their journey to understand and seek a mindset that works for them (again, this does not mean we need to be tolerant of hate speech, hateful acts, racism, etc). We also need to understand that although we are burnt out on talking about inclusive language and tolerance, the other side is also burnt out trying to keep up with the many ways in which we must classify/call/address/accept others. The goal post has been constantly moving for the past 30 years. And it’s only been in the past 30 years where the global population has become more accepting of our LGBTQIA community. 


We still face hate on all fronts–including from within our own community. Why? 


Sometimes inclusion is masked as “education” and often the inclusive educator approaches a conversation centered on how problematic and wrong the other person is. Like, we just got out of a 4 year toxic relationship with the US government where so many of us were fighting for equality, justice, and inclusion every day. We’re all burnt out here. 


So bringing up, on the very first day of Women’s History month, that the word “womxn” should not a catch all term is just to cause outrage. Now, there were a handful of posts I saw that were more centered on genuine acceptance and understanding when describing the accurate history of the word “womxn,” but there were MORE posts telling us how problematic this fucking word is. 


We focus so much on words and telling people they need to use the right words in order to talk about or describe someone without really being accepting of what the person understands and how to help them in a positive, non-outraged way. 


It is easier to be outraged and angry than it is to be understanding and gentle. When we approach people with our anger and outrage, they will meet us with their own anger and outrage. Nothing is ever going to be solved if we’re constantly upset with the world around us. 


Being outraged over every little trigger is exhausting. Aren’t you tired of feeling this way? I know I’m tired of feeling outraged over the atrocities occurring in various communities like LGBTQIA, BLM, BIPOC, and the Asian community. 


Let’s talk about the people pleasing aspect of this. 


We see influencers and celebrities as massive audience pleasers because of their following and platform on which they speak on. Social media has taught us we must EXPECT these influencers and celebrities to appease our personal needs, preferred language, address our gender correctly, not appropriate anything that could be possibly seen as cultural appropriation, etc. If we as the audience then see one small misstep by an influencer or celebrity, we are very quick to jump down their throats and tell them how wrong they are and what they’re supposed to be doing. 


How would you react to a massive number of people telling you you’re wrong and hateful because you made a small misstep? If you’re sitting there telling yourself, “well, I wouldn’t be offended I would do whatever that group of people are telling me I should be doing and I won’t be angry about it,” then you’re fooling yourself. We are emotional beings. We are self-preserving beings, no matter how much we say we aren’t. We are always going to jump to fight-or-flight mode when put on the spot. We can teach ourselves how to respond over time, but if you’re someone who is constantly told “you’re wrong” or is someone telling people or an individual “you’re wrong.” You’re more likely to have adrenal glands kick into fight mode and throw punches wherever you can. 


I am not saying you can’t express your frustration or disappointment to someone. What I’m saying is we need to be more mindful regarding the ways in which we approach major social, gender, and race issues across the board. Outrage has become the way, the truth, the light for so many people. So much so that there are TikTok channels dedicated to speaking on outrage in flying monkey fashion and taking down any profile that stands in their way. Now, I am all for calling out hateful, dangerous speech and holding people accountable, but this flying monkey (Wizard of Oz reference to be clear) way in which some people are doing this is just as hateful and dangerous as the comment that may have been made. 


To expect, in this growing society of 7 billion people, to know what words to use all the time and to bend over and say thank you to us for calling them out isn’t acceptable. What is acceptable is approaching people with education, kindly and gently and then adjusting your course of action with that person thereafter. 


It has only been within the last 30 years that society has begun to more fully accept the LGBTQIA community and since then the goal post for being inclusive has been in constant motion. As a member of this community it has been difficult and exhausting for me to keep up with as well. Like many people, I have a breaking point. I have a point where I become so burnt out of the constant new information and updates coming out of wherever that I get frustrated and toss my arms up in the air. I’m sure there are certain breaking points for you too. 


Gender is a sensitive topic. And while it may be incredibly grey for so many, there are also so many more that still see gender as a black and white/yes and no/this or that issue.  We don’t know what we don’t know and we cannot be a community or society that expects straight people to address our gender properly when we are burnt out on teaching people or helping people understand how to talk to us about it. 


A lot of people are uncomfortable with asking us. Do you know why that is? Because we’re so outraged that they have to ask. We’re outraged that yet again we’re expected to provide all the answers to those who are asking. Yet…our solution for the discussion on gender is to ask us. 


Do you see the frustration here? 


As someone who is burnt out on talking about gender and the right or wrong words to be using, I still think that it is important to ask as many questions as possible and have those answers be backed up with solutions. AND work with people who don’t understand or have some sort of anxiety around our given solution of “just ask us.”  


“Just ask people what they want or what their preferences are” is not a full blown solution. I know this because this is what people I know, myself included, in the LGBTQIA community have said, and so many straight people have also expressed that “just ask me/them” isn’t enough of a solution for them to understand. 


Personally, I think it is totally acceptable for people to communicate that and as the perceived tolerant and understanding community we communicate as being to the world, we also need to accept that “just ask me/them/us” isn’t the solution that is going to solve all the issues surrounding conversations on gender and the correct terminology we should be using. 


It is impossible to please everyone and that shouldn’t be our goal. But when those outside our LGBTQIA community are more loudly expressing “this isn’t enough of a solution for me and I still don’t understand” we need to respect that and be understanding of that. If we continue to be intolerant and empower call out culture and cancel culture in their true forms, we are no more tolerant than those we are asking for tolerance from. 


Something that is valuable for all of us to learn is that we need to give people the opportunity to understand, ask their questions, digest the information we give them, and start to change their own habits-which is no easy feat. We shouldn’t be catching people on the first word that comes out of their mouth, it should be the second action they take or say to make something right. We are all so quick to jump to conclusions the minute someone says a word wrong or gets a fact wrong and we gotta leave space for others to recognize and correct on their own or they will never learn. 


Think of it like this: Your mom gets angry with you for wearing ripped jeans and rather than allowing you to explore that choice, she takes all your ripped jeans, forces you to wear khakis and tells you how you’re supposed to behave. You are going to rebel against that and start wearing ripped jeans in secret or going the next step and ripping up those khakis in rebellion so you can ensure your voice is heard and your choice is preserved and not silenced. 


When we refuse those who ally themselves with us the chance to voice their opinion and personal thoughts and experiences we are in essence telling them “you can’t have those ripped jeans because this is the way you have to behave now and I will call you out every time you dare to wear those ripped jeans.”


We need to stop calling people out. We need to communicate caring and kindly with them. 


Unity, true unity, is about coming together WITH others not for or in place of others. WITH.


Sarah Potter & Alli Paolone

Meet Sarah and Alli, two social media marketing consultants and digital experts who've been foraging their way since the early 2010's. This dynamic duo sasses the social media industry and sets some unspoken rules straight in this podcast on marketing, life, and all the therapy social media marketer workers need. 

"We’re not here to tell you how to do your job, we’re here to validate the shit out of what you’re doing and reinforce the unspoken ground rules of social media workers everywhere," says Sarah–known for her bold and brash approach to social content. 

This podcast is for more than just social media workers too. Social Media therapy is here for everyone worn out and burned by the ever-changing algorithms and forced sense of care about social platforms, and the social media rat race.

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