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Dear Daughter, Please Don't Write for the Internet

Recently, my 3-year-old has started writing me stories. She scribbles lines on a piece of paper and then stands before me, “reading” incredible tales of dragons who live on Mars and steal entire houses because there are no houses on Mars. Sometimes, she hands the paper to me and demands that I read the story. When I start extemporizing, she gets mad. “No mom, it not a story ‘bout how bananas cry, it a story ‘bout princesses!”

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I’ve even begun to find bits of rolled up paper with her scribbles on them on my nightstand. She explained to me that they are my bedtime stories that I can read to help me fall asleep.

I love my daughter’s active mind. I love her tall tales and vivid imagination. I love that she thinks she knows what my copies of Nabokov say. (Hint: It’s about princesses.)

I think it’s time for “The Talk,” which in my house translates to, “Don’t grow up and write for the Internet like mommy does.”

As a general disclaimer, of course, I want my children to be happy. I want them to pursue their passions and I will support them no matter what. But all things being equal, I’d rather not have my daughter write for the Internet.

I started blogging when I was 17. Blogger was in beta and I was an opinionated teenager with delusions of grandeur. I needed an outlet, and my Geocities site of quotes from Faulkner just wasn’t cutting it. I began blogging for a site called BlogCritics and picked a fight with a blogger, who at the time, was big on the Internet. I criticized his plea for donations—and that’s when things got crazy.

I once had someone email me every month for six months telling me they were calling CPS on me to take my children. I’m often told I’m stupid, ugly and fat.

Before then, I had just been writing political opinions and book reviews. I didn’t have much traffic. But my fight with that blogger brought things to a whole new level. He responded with a vitriolic post about “dumb girls who think they know things.” My email was on my site and I began to get bombarded with hate mail telling me to die, get a clue and shut up.

By some Internet comment standards, the hate mail was relatively tame. And it didn’t bother me too much. By then, I was writing a satire column for my college newspaper and students would regularly hunt me down on campus and yell at me for mocking their fraternity, sorority or their group they organized specifically to live off of the food leftovers in the cafeteria.

Those were more frightening, to be honest. I deleted most of the hate mail. What got me was the stalker email that showed up right after the hate mail dissipated. One writer in particular was convinced we were soul mates and that I should move to Utah to marry him. The persistence of his emails caused me to shut the entire site down. The next time I resurfaced on the Internet, two years later, I was anonymous.

Since then, I’ve made a career out of writing online. My career came more out of chance than any concerted effort. But here I am. Most days, I like what I do. I feel lucky to be able to have a voice and to use that voice. I enjoy the connections, the community and the perspectives I come into on a daily basis. I enjoy getting paid to think deeply about topics that interest and excite me, from how my toddler is like a psychopath to things people find hidden in walls.

But it also comes at a price: Hate and rejection.

As a rough percentage, my writing is rejected 70 percent more than it is accepted, and that is up drastically from even two years ago. It wears on you after a while. I’ve learned not to take it personally, but the hate is another story. Of course there is a line between hate and honest criticism. I’ve had people critique my writing and some of my arguments. Even going so far as to send me long emails with a works cited. That’s not hate.

Hate is the emails I get telling me that my kids would be better off orphans than with me as their mother. I once had someone email me every month for six months telling me they were calling CPS on me to take my children. I’m often told I’m stupid, ugly and fat. Comment sections are the worst. With the exception of my own site, I rarely read comments anymore, especially on social media. I used to do a regular video segment for a love and relationships site, and the video editor was so disturbed by the YouTube comments that he begged the editors to turn them off. Once, I made the mistake of peeking at the comments of an article of mine that was shared on Facebook by a major news outlet. Some of the comments were too vile to repeat. But they mostly involved me being forced to eat things that were not tasty doughnuts.

I suppose you could argue that harassment is part of the female experience...and I should just teach her to deal. But I don’t want her to deal.

And I’m comparatively lucky. Many female writers receive death threats and rape threats. Writing for The Daily Beast, Annie Gaus describes the rape and death threats she received on her phone. And she is not alone.

In Pacific Standard, Amanda Hess, writes about her own slew of daily hate—which includes vile rape and death threats. Hess explains, “A woman doesn’t even need to occupy a professional writing perch at a prominent platform to become a target. According to a 2005 report by the Pew Research Center, which has been tracking the online lives of Americans for more than a decade, women and men have been logging on in equal numbers since 2000, but the vilest communications are still disproportionately lobbed at women. We are more likely to report being stalked and harassed on the Internet—of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012 to the volunteer organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, 72.5 percent were female. Sometimes, the abuse can get physical: A Pew survey reported that 5 percent of women who used the Internet said 'something happened online' that led them into 'physical danger.'”

To say that things are grim, is well, to put it mildly. Of course, women have been harassed and treated as second-class citizens for centuries. I want it to get better, but honestly, I have my doubts.

I suppose you could argue that harassment is part of the female experience. That simply by creating a girl, I’ve brought someone into an entirely sexist world and I should just teach her to deal. But I don’t want her to deal. I don’t want her to accept harassment. I don’t want her to just block and delete. By teaching her to just “ignore it” I would be teaching her to be complicit in her own harassment. And yet, as I’ve learned, if you fight the hate, it just comes back to you tenfold.

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So, what then? I don’t know. I do know that not all careers are as vitriolic as writing. Sure, there is discrimination everywhere, but studies show that engineering has the lowest gender pay gap. And that’s what my husband does for a living. So, until we have things sorted over here online, Take Your Daughter To Work day will be with dad.

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