However, it wasn't long before the costs outweighed the benefits. There were a lot of things that led to my leaving the network, but what I'm here to talk about are the ones that not just made the network a poor fit for me, but that actually grated on me personally and created a situation where I could not, in good conscience, continue working in the network. I might burn a bridge or two by posting this, but it's nothing I don't think they set torch to first. I'm posting this because I'm not going to let go of the way they treated some of their bloggers, myself included.
The biggest reason I left the network was the culture of silence. Conflicts tend to arise within a group of 500+ individual, free thinking people. These conflicts were almost never mediated by moderators and instead were shut down, and whomever seemed the "angriest" was deemed wrong. There was no trying to see both sides. There was just "the polite girls" and "the girls ganging up on her" for not immediately siding with the polite one.
There is a difference between being "polite" and being "good" or "right" which is something the network had a hard time understanding. There were misunderstandings for which no one was to blame, and there were conflicts that arose from passive-aggressiveness, or even straight up criminality where the girls who didn't speak sweetly were villified and the other girl painted as the damsel in distress. Instead of actually trying to resolve the conflict, most of the mods and community members resorted to pointing fingers at "the bitch" and declaring that she was "ruining the community."
Silence ruins communities. Making girls afraid to speak ruins communities.
The HCBN criminalized anger and criticism. Girls who had every right to be angry were told that they were disturbing the peace, and that they should keep their opinions to themselves if they didn't match that of the rest of the community.
At one point, I called another blogger out for stealing content of other bloggers. She was stealing images, not linking back properly, and not getting permission. She was doing something illegal. Her counter basically amounted to "if no one catches me, and they haven't yet, I must not actually be doing anything wrong." I tried to impress upon her the gravity of the situation. I busted out blog posts and legal pages, citing how badly she had been mistaken. It was like saying shoplifting isn't illegal if you never get caught. Suddenly, girls were telling me to back off and leave her alone-- I made her upset. They were telling me I was bullying her-- for telling her not to steal from the rest of us. How on Earth did this happen? I was getting told by other bloggers to let a thief continue stealing, because I was "upsetting" her.
Meanwhile, over facebook message, I received a flood of messages from other bloggers in the network, thanking me for refusing to back down, and for protecting their rights. They told me I was doing the right thing-- yet none of them would come to my aid on the thread. No one else wanted to be labeled a "bitch" for siding with me. I was doing the right thing but it didn't matter-- I wasn't playing nice. I didn't gently suggest she respect other bloggers and the law while offering a smile and a lollipop, so I got put in the doghouse.
The moderators, for the most part, do not understand how to handle conflict. There are a few who do, but they aren't always online-- they can't be-- and it's appalling to me that the HCBN didn't train their moderators in how to mediate a disagreement and even a full-blown fight. The party line is just to pick the person whose voice is raised and say "you're ruining the community" as if conflict is in and of itself outlawed. People delete threads, rather than managing conflict, which leads to hearsay, ultimately leading to a select few people deciding who was most sympathetic, and by default, who was playing the villain. My attempts to mediate conflicts were met with derision, since I didn't default to defending the person who spoke most softly. My attempts to de-escalate situations were deemed as siding with the villain-- most everyone else was content to continue to antagonize her. That's what sounds like "ganging up on someone" to me.
The heads of the network describe the importance of "professionalism" within the network, which is code for "don't make trouble"-- but that's awfully hard when you ask 500+ bloggers to all act and think and feel the same. They have created an environment in which the most active members have no problem turning off their critical thinking skills and just labeling any dissenter as a "community-ruiner"-- It is an absolute tragedy. It's making intelligent women afraid to speak out when they feel like something is wrong.
It's Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
It's easy to make a community seem Stepford-perfect when you have scared anyone who might think differently from speaking out. It's easy to discredit perfectly valid claims if, instead of actually listening to someone, you decide they're not being "nice" enough to be listened to. Any sign of conflict leads to a witch-hunt, and as any one acquainted with Western history knows, it's awfully easy to find a witch when you want to.
I wrote a thoughtful email of resignation explaining why I quit to the heads of the HCBN, and in return I received a cookie-cutter, almost passive-aggressive reply. It was as though they did not hear a thing I said. From friends still in the network, I hear nothing has changed. Some girls claim nothing is wrong, and that's because they happen to naturally fall in line with the expectations set by the network-- for the rest of us, it's not as easy.
I want so much better from the network. It's full of amazing women. It's run by amazing women. It has so much potential, and yet I've seen the community fail time and time again, because even the women who want to mediate conflict get characterized as mean for not immediately siding with a damsel in distress.
I quit the network because I refused to continue to partner with an organization that was stepping on the dignity of intelligent women, by fostering a community of silence. I had brought up my concerns time and time again, and yet nothing changed. I left because, despite having a small blog, I didn't want to grow it by aligning myself with what I considered to be dystopian thought-police, enforcing "niceness," punishing dissent, and ostracizing outliers.
I'm not going to be intimidated into not expressing my opinions regarding how poorly this was handled. I'm not going to be told to shut my mouth because the people at the top don't like what I have to say-- my experiences in the network were real, and my opinions are valid, and if they don't want to change it while I am in it, maybe I can put pressure on them from the outside to do better for their girls. I'm not of the opinion that I shouldn't say anything if I can't say something nice-- things were not nice for me, nor for the other girls in the network who refused to surrender their critical thought or their voices, despite not falling in line with the norms set by the group.
So that, dear friends, is why I left the HCBN, and I wasn't the only one who left. I've been encouraged by other bloggers, both in and out of the network, to write this post and explain why how the network is being run is not okay with me. I hope either the network changes, or at least some women will avoid joining if the way it is will make them unhappy and will not serve their interests.
Thanks for reading.