Why I Left The HCBN

I've been involved with Her Campus throughout the years, and when they launched their blogger network, it seemed like an obvious choice to join up. They afforded me a lot of opportunities and I made a lot of great friends.

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.

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Extrovert to Introvert: The draining divide between me and the Quiet Ones

Whenever I take personality inventories, I always rank high in Extraversion. I'm a very talkative person, and I process much of the world externally. I think that the world has gotten into the habit of saying extroverts have a social advantage over introverts, but I don't think that's true at all. When things bounce around in my head, I typically have to talk through them in order to get them to settle-- this sometimes leads to my repeating stories to people over and over. I'm loud, open-book, and I'm very upfront about myself which in many cases is good, but in others is extremely inappropriate. I'm even confrontational about... well, most anything. In addition to all of that, my relationships with introverts can get kind of messy, because a lot gets lost in translation between what an introvert thinks they are expressing to me, and what I actually understand. And vice versa.

This post is actually being spurred at the request of a fellow blogger, Lizzie from October June, who thought I should expand on some thoughts I shared on twitter, because she usually hears about introverts complaining about the difficulty of maintaining relationships with extroverts.

Back in August I had a dream I had a huge fight with one of my introverted friends about the fact that I was exhausted with our friendship. I was constantly trying to text her or talk to her or make plans to hang out, to which she would either not reply (often because she was trying to craft the exact right response, then ran out of time to do so at the moment because real life was happening, then she forgot and never responded), give me a non-commital response like "that sounds cool" or "okay", or just generally not be down for whatever reason, usually something vague and borderline dismissive like "I'm in the middle of something" or "I'm busy." It's hard for someone like me to constantly get sloughed off like that from someone I actually want to make time for.

On top of being an extrovert, I hate people. Not in a "all humanity will burn" sort of way, but I really hate the normal social situations that people my age tend to put themselves in. I hate parties. I hate bars. I hate being around people who assume we are tight when we are not, typically predicating this notion on the fact that we are the same age and that we probably both like beer (nope) or that maybe I might be interested in hooking up with them (also nope). I hate social interactions built off of insincerity-- or more colloquially, bullshit-- so I don't like most large social gatherings. You typically don't imagine an extrovert to be so anti-social by the standards of their peers. This all goes to say that I love my friends dearly and choose them carefully, for they are of a sweet and darling few whom I actually enjoy spending time with. 

As an extrovert, I'm very affectionate with my friends. I love writing them letters, sending them texts, hugging them, and even smooshing their adorable faces whenever I see them. With introverts, these things are not often reciprocated, and that's kind of exhausting. I'm constantly trapeze-ing myself into interactions with people I care about, and it's draining to put myself forward like that and know that not only is there no guarantee that the other person will catch me, but that they are likely still on the opposite platform and the best they can do is give me a thumbs up. 

Granted, I know which of my friends are introverts, and as such, I understand that smaller gestures are a big deal for them. I'm really touched when one of my introverted friends tells me they are having fun with me, because most of the time, they won't tell me-- they'll just expect me to understand that by the subtle way the telegraph their feelings-- so when they actually tell me they are having a great time (without my asking), that means that they are either having such a great time that they needed to verbalize it or that they are really trying hard to bridge that gap between how they see the world and how I see the world-- and that means a lot. Even though I study psychology and personality, and I know, intellectually, the components that make up the different lenses through which we see the world, I can't fully bridge that gap by myself. 

And this gap can be a minefield, because as I tweeted half a month ago, to me, an introvert that cares about me often looks like an introvert that doesn't care about me at all. Behavior that is pretty normal for my introverted friends is typically almost exactly what I would do if I was avoiding someone. For example, with many of my introverted friends, I have to text them first. I always have to initiate conversations for them to talk to me. For the most part, I'm used to this. I'm the girl whose family makes jokes about how talkative she was from the first moment she could speak, my first word being the bi-syllabic "hello" as if I was itching to begin introducing myself to the world. (My father also jokes that this was the result of my mother always being on the phone.) But on the other hand, there is only so long I can go before I start to question whether or not one of my introverted friends actually wants to talk to me. As an extrovert, I regularly worry about whether or not I am unwittingly trampling through someone else's garden. I begin to doubt whether or not I am wanted, or whether or not my presence is ruining someone else's peace. I have been called too loud, too talkative, and too brazen so often that it is not uncommon for me to worry that I am being myself at the expense of others. In which case, the best solution is to remove myself from those others.

I tend to be a very polarizing person. People typically love me or hate me, as the traits some people find totally charming (my silliness, my whimsy, my staunch sociopolitical leanings) are the same ones that piss other people off to no end. I don't like to waste my lifetime on people who don't appreciate me. The problem is, introverts are nowhere near as upfront about this as extroverts are, so sometimes I waste emotional energy trying to connect with people who really don't want to connect with me. This is a lose-lose situation. I wish people who disliked me were just generally more up front with me about not wanting me around, because quite frankly, ain't nobody got time for that. My self-esteem and self worth are not dependent upon being liked by everyone, nor do I believe the world is made up of the good people who like me and the bad people who don't. There are awesome, amazing people who don't like me and there are really terrible people who do (that is yet another awkward situation that I may expand upon in a future post). All that said, I wish the introverted people in my life understood that about me and were more upfront about their feelings-- I almost always am, unless making my feelings known would make the situations worse, rather than better. (For example, with group projects, in which case, there is no extricating yourself from the situation.)

Then again, it's selfish of me to want people to express themselves in the way I see fit. Heaven knows that in total, about zero attempts to make me a quieter, "nicer," "more pleasant young lady" have paid off. And I often find that I do not have the tools to decode my introverted friends the way I wish I could. I wish I could appreciate simple coexistence with them the way they do with me. I wish long lulls in conversation didn't feel as heavy to me-- and sometimes they don't, and when that happens I realize I've reached a deeper, uncommon level of connection with someone, but I rarely get there with anyone. How is it fair to ask my friends to bridge a gap that I can't?

But then again, maybe I can be selfish in this respect. My relationships weigh heavily on my happiness and well-being-- as is the case for most humans. At a certain point, I need to evaluate my relationships based on how good they are for my well-being. Freshman year, a similarly extroverted and affectionate friend and I caught up after we began attending different universities and she and I both discussed how we had each formed a deep friendship with someone at our new schools too quickly, and it ultimately resulted in our being emotionally burned out, hurt, and resentful of our new friends. The girls that we had befriended simply could not reciprocate the amount of platonic affection and outward caring that we were so willing to bestow. It wasn't their fault, of course. It's just the way it was.

My friend and I each learned, at different colleges, that as well-intentioned as everyone might be, we couldn't be so reckless in choosing our friends and how much of ourselves we shared with them. We simply couldn't expect everyone to be able to give as much as we were. We realized our wells of caring run very deep, but we cannot empty them into those who will not, in turn, be able to replenish us. Just as I try to be understanding of my introverted friends' need for space, silence, and an understanding of their quieter expression, I need them to understand that at times, their distance and silence feel like rejection, their lack of messages says they have become bored of my company, and the openness I have towards most people does not mean that my attempts to communicate with them are trivial or meaningless to me. In actuality, because they are so introverted, my attempts at interaction are more deliberate, because I know I might set myself up for another unanswered text and yet I persist. I am reaching across a much more intimidating divide to a friend on the other side who might not be able to reach back, still hopeful that today will be one of those days when they are up for conversation. 

I am of the opinion that you should love everything you can as deeply as you can. Maybe it's my extraversion talking, but I think that there is so much happiness lost in words unspoken. And that's why it's harder for me to be friends with people who exist in so many unspoken words, and whose subtle gestures are lost in the tumult of the raucous world I live in. Still though, I love my friends deeply, and for as long as I can, I will continue to try to hold them close, even when it is daunting and even demoralizing to try to do so.

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