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Who’s the Bully? The Anchorwoman or the Critic?

Lest this post decay into a collection of essays about who most deserves pineapple fuckings and why, an interesting phenomenon will be sweeping the nation tomorrow (as she did today, since television programs are lining up to interview her as I write this) in the form of an overweight TV anchorwoman from La Crosse, Wisconsin. She has become a celebrity overnight by standing up to a “bully” who wrote her a very diplomatic and eloquent letter that used no expletives, but merely pointed out something that was dickish to say: that she’s fat, obesity is bad, and that together they don’t exactly spell “role model.”

After receiving the email, her husband posted it on Facebook, she got an outpouring of public (local) support, and then this morning she used 4 minutes of her TV station’s air time to say even meaner things about the guy who sent her the email. While she tours the circuit because it’s fashionable for the craven and backslapping Media Machine to promote one of their own and being a bully is the worst thing imaginable these days (particularly if you listen to the way her people are talking), I have to wonder if the picture would be any different if she weren’t an anchorwoman and the person sending her the letter wasn’t male.

Yes, the guy pointed out three things to her she was probably painfully aware of, but he did this in a private email. She then let it be posted publicly on Facebook, and then spent 4 minutes attacking his character on TV because she had a channel. (Is it overwhelming to use a crane to crush a fly?) While the letter criticizes her weight, she criticizes his whole persona. On TV. For the entire (small) town of La Crosse to see. Yes, he was being a dick, but if he really wanted to be a dick, the only thing required would have been a pee squirt of effort. He used a keyboard and a few electrons; she is in the process of using all the TV cameras in the country to tell her story about how mean he is. After all, he didn’t really say anything that wasn’t true, and western Wisconsin is one of the places where the obesity epidemic has hit particularly hard. (If you read his letter, it’s actually possible to spot some convoluted good intentions.)

But I insist that the only reason why Jennifer Livingston is getting away with calling the dude who sent her the email the “bully,” is because he’s a big, bad man. The real media story here involves an honest discussion of the pervasive anti-male sexism that is now acceptable in our culture when words like “bullying” and “intimidation” are being used and that has been commonplace in our schools for a decade (hence the sky-high and increasing dropout rates of male students compared to female students). Little ladies don’t have these labels pinned to them very much. How can a woman with a TV station get away with calling a man a bully when she’s the one bullying him, in an environment bereft of the sexism mentioned above? Is it somehow not bullying to take a shit inside someone’s heart (in the parlance of Louis C.K.) simply because we don’t have a single word in our language that describes it?

There’s a difference between being a dick and being a bully. Bullying either involves an element of repetition after the bully has been asked to stop, or intimidation, or both, so by definition, sending one diplomatic and nonthreatening email can’t make a person into a bully. Considering how damaging to one’s reputation being labeled a “bully” can become, it is actually slanderous to falsely accuse someone of bullying, and this appears to look a lot more like bullying behavior than anything the email conveyed.

Livingston also said during her impassioned plea that we should be teaching children “kindness instead of criticism.” Bullshit. We have to teach them both to properly do our jobs, and since when did criticism become a dirty word? The last I heard was that when someone gives you advice, since many people will pay lavishly for it, consider yourself lucky to be getting it. People actually have to care to bother to criticize. An uncritical mind is a vacant and disintegrated one. It’s criticism that lets us stand up to people like Nazis and Hedge Fund Managers, but it’s also criticism that makes us better at our jobs and nicer to our spouses. It’s criticism that helped Gandhi be the change he wanted to see in the world. If you teach only kindness, you might successfully raise a bonobo chimpanzee, but add in a smidgeon of criticism here and there and you can actually develop in that child a finely tuned sense of right and wrong.

So, I’m sorry that Livingston is overweight and that someone had to point that out to her, but I can scarcely see her as the victim in this equation. People need to start feeling sorry for the guy in La Crosse who is now being socially ostracized or fired from his job because his town is too small for the kind of shit she’s already put him through.


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