Last week, I was told I sounded “angry” - and being misunderstood made me… angry.
I follow a Facebook group for AI art. Mostly, it is tedious images of men trying to create buxom, scantily-clad fictional women, but occasionally, there are interesting updates on the software, and as a photographer, it is not in my interests to ignore the way AI is racing ahead of us.
In this group someone posed a question asking how they get larger-size looking women “but not overweight ones”. Many people responded with “do this” type answers and I replied suggesting he think about how people would describe themselves, rather than how other people would describe them. And boy oh boy did it kick off.
The internet loves a firefight, and apparently, men who demand their right to create imaginary women REALLY don't want to learn the basics of feminism in a Facebook group. Who knew?
I'm normally good at keeping things coming back to the point when they get personal (and they did, often), but I noticed myself reacting strongly when someone accused me of sounding angry. Quite simply because I wasn't, I mean, for sure, the patriarchy can burn itself to the ground, but in this instance, I had been trying to help someone get the results they wanted more often, rather than just solve this one issue for them. And, of course, there are wider implications to what I was suggesting.
I have always been interested in my response to being called angry when I am not. Because it pushes all of my buttons. On the surface, I think most of us would say someone accusing me of being something I am not MADE me angry. But it was not them that made me angry. It was my thoughts. And my thoughts were a barrage of “Oh, FFS, can we stick to the point?" “I was actually trying to be helpful.” “Why are you making this about me?” “How fucking dare you” etc. And strangely enough - all of those thoughts made me really agitated.
Someone else smash-typing words into their phone in a different continent does not have the power to generate emotions in my body - my thoughts do. I get to choose what I think. Not always in the moment, but it is a practice.
I have done enough coaching that I can stop and pause and go, “Why have I let pixels appearing on a screen increase my heart rate?”. From there, I can quickly strip it back to realising I think I am being misunderstood. I am being misrepresented about something I really care about. Am I angry at the patriarchy? I can go for hours. But not in an AI Facebook group. I had shared a different perspective on problem resolution and been shot down for it. I thought the response I got was indicative of the problem (women being called hysterical, anyone…?). This is what made me angry.
I notice when someone says something to me, which alerts me to the fact that they have misinterpreted my intentions, I want to correct them. I want to over-explain myself. I want to pick apart the minutiae to let them know why they are wrong. And that often leads me to feel riled up and uncomfortable.
I have learned that actually, more often than not, I am ok with people misrepresenting me through their eyes if they wish to. They are allowed their opinions, just as I am allowed mine.
So why do I feel the need to defend myself? To let me feel safe. To let myself feel like people like me. To let myself feel like people are not rejecting me. Is what the survival part of my brain urges. But the truth is these are hollow wins if I am not giving them to myself. And once I can spot that, I can also notice that trying to convince some random person on the internet “that was not my intention” makes me feel the opposite of safe. It makes me feel like I am walking into a bin fire.
I've learnt to pick my battles, on and offline. Mostly. But most importantly, I've learned who to joust with. If it is someone I care about, I am always willing to come back and try to keep bringing things back to peace and keep bridge-building.
And sometimes, perhaps I should just let people make their rubbish AI versions of every fantasy woman they have ever had on their home computer. At least it keeps them off the streets.
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