Gabriel Morris in India

Gabriel Morris in India
A mysterious cave in south India.

Monday, May 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Arden Leigh

First I want to say here that I'm sorry Arden and I had an unpleasant discussion online that resulted in our parting ways, after having been friends on Facebook for three years. And I regret that she was left with a negative opinion of me, as a result of our trying to tackle some difficult issues. I never meant to cause her distress, and never said anything with the intent to disrespect or offend her. And I won't be saying anything negative about her in this article. But I will be speaking my truth as I see it. Because there's a lot to unpack here and a lot of core issues came up in the course of this discussion. So I'm going to dive deep into it.

The first thing I want to address right away is Arden's accusation that I demonstrated "reprehensible behavior" in the course of our online discussion over the course of a couple of days, that finally resulted in my unfriending her (and wishing her well), and her blocking me (and not wishing me well, shall we say).


That's a really strong word. So what exactly was my reprehensible behavior?

My reprehensible behavior was that after Arden posted on Facebook about being harassed by men in comments below a Youtube video she had recently uploaded to her channel, I mentioned the possibility of disabling comments under her videos, to avoid being harassed.

That's it. That's my "reprehensible behavior".

There's a lot more to the discussion that ensued, but that is what Arden referred to as "reprehensible". To be clear, I didn't suggest that she do this. I in no way intended to tell her what she should do with her own Youtube channel. I simply mentioned disabling comments as one possible solution to the problem, since it is a relevant way of dealing with the situation. And I also included in the comment an acknowledgment that disabling comments might not be what she would want to do, since discussion by viewers is such an important part of posting videos. It was a casual remark in which I was simply saying "hey, this could be a solution, up to you of course".

Arden then replied to my comment with a lengthy and highly charged reply listing multiple reasons why my suggestion was incredibly insulting and out of line. Although it was apparent she had taken the comment far more personally than it was intended, I apologized for offending her, since that certainly wasn't my intention. There aren't many options for dealing with harassing comments on Youtube, and I was simply bringing up one possible solution to the problem that she had posted about.

And yet even after apologizing, she would bring this up over and over again, bashing me repeatedly for this one comment in the course of a discussion that, as you will see (if you feel so called to read further), went on for days.

So there you go, my reprehensible behavior. Arden posted about a problem, I brought up a relevant and practical solution. 

I should mention that I'm a professional Youtuber, and know that it's the only truly foolproof way to stop harassing comments. I've known others who decided to do it, particularly women, because it wasn't worth reading through the barrage of unwanted male sexual energy and worse (in Arden's case the comments in response to her video had been outright threatening).

In case you're left wondering what exactly was so objectionable to what I said, here's how Arden explained it to me: it was reprehensible because I was suggesting that she should change her behavior, when her harassers were the ones who were wrong and they are the ones who should change. Basically, she implied that I was taking a "blaming the victim" approach.

This is kind of like if someone was attacking you with a sword, and a friend handed you a shield to protect yourself, and you then turned around and criticized your friend for suggesting that you should change your behavior.

That's all that I was doing, offering a possible way for her to shield herself from unwanted online harassers. Arden is absolutely right: the harassers are wrong, they are the problem. Arden was innocent of any wrongdoing and they were out of line to be attacking her. They should change and stop being jerks.

But just because they are wrong, doesn't mean they're going to stop.

You don't get to change other people's behavior, especially strangers online. And so taking actions to protect yourself is what you're going to need to do. This is not a matter of blaming. This is not suggesting that the person being attacked is at fault. It's simply about finding a solution to the problem.

I can understand if Arden had been a little annoyed that I brought up something she already knew. She's been on Youtube for a while and probably knew already about disabling comments. But I didn't know for sure, and that's why I mentioned it. I figured no harm in simply bringing it up as a possibility, since it was directly related to the subject at hand and unfortunately is the only truly effective solution.

After posting the comment, I then went for a hike. During the hike I was thinking about it and thought to myself "Hmmm, I hope Arden doesn't take offense at my mentioning that." She was in a very sensitive place and I realized she might not appreciate any suggestions right then.

And so when I got back and saw her angry reply, I apologized for bringing it up. I truly didn't mean to offend. It was a casual comment that seemed quite appropriate to the subject at hand. And yet, even after apologizing, she would then bring it up over and over again.

Reprehensible. Unforgivable apparently. Really, Arden?

Sorry, but no. It was perfectly appropriate. If you're going to post about problems online, then it's inevitable that some people are going to reply with solutions. And yes, sometimes that can be annoying.

I understand now that you just wanted support and perspective and weren't asking for ideas. But I didn't know that then. I was coming from a place of trying to be helpful. And I really don't appreciate being judged in the harshest of terms for a comment that was so benign. I meant no offense in the slightest. If you're comfortable with judging someone so intensely for that then quite frankly, that's your problem, not mine.

There's much more to what transpired, which I will discuss below.

So who is Arden Leigh? I first learned about Arden about three years ago, when I randomly came across an interview with her on Youtube. I thought she was really interesting and unique and decided I wanted to interview her for my own Youtube channel. I contacted her, and she agreed to be interviewed. Later we became friends on Facebook, and interacted online sporadically in the three years since then.

Arden is a pretty amazing person. She is an advocate for women's rights, sexual empowerment and self-growth, she's wicked smart and perceptive, author of The New Rules of Attraction (a female response to Neil Strauss's book The Game), she has her own Youtube channel, a blog and various other social media platforms. She's also a musician and lead singer of her band Arden and the Wolves. Check out their new music video:

I've always enjoyed Arden's fiercely expressive posts on Facebook and been super supportive of her mission as a woman and awakening person hell-bent on changing the world and taking down the patriarchy. Despite an aversion to labels, I'm fine with being considered a feminist myself.

So I was pretty saddened, to say the least, when our online relationship was rather spectacularly torpedoed due to an online discussion turned heated argument that ended in my being unfriended and blocked with a brutal parting message.

And that's what this article is about. I thought this could be a revealing analysis of how things can get confusing and confrontational with online discussions, even between two people who have the right intentions and aren't generally jerks, due to misunderstandings as a result of not fully seeing other's perspectives and situations.

So here's what happened (her posts on Facebook are public, so I'm assuming and hoping it's okay to talk about this):

As I said, the discussion started when Arden posted on her Facebook page about a traumatic experience in which she was being threatened online because of a video she had posted, this one:

Whereas most of her videos have a couple hundred views at most, this one has more than 3,000 currently, and a lot of thumbs down as well as critical comments (I'm assuming that the worst comments were removed). This is relevant. The video was being seen by a lot of people beyond her subscribers, which draws in different feedback from people who already know who you are.

The video is addressing the "Incel" community. I hadn't heard of the term, but an Incel is an "involuntary celibate". In short, it refers to sexually frustrated dudes. And taken to the extreme, it can refer to men who take out their rejection from women and sexual frustration in harassing or even violent ways, including sexual assault and worse. Apparently the man who perpetrated the recent deadly Toronto van attack (which targeted mostly women) wrote a chilling Facebook post right before the attack, lamenting his rejection from women and declaring an "Incel rebellion".

I didn't know about any of this. Arden didn't explain explicitly the whole situation with the video in her post on Facebook. Instead, she posted a series of several screen shots of the threats that she was getting from men because of her video. I looked through the screenshots and got the general idea that she was getting some hateful remarks on one of her videos. I hadn't watched the video itself.

But as someone with two Youtube channels, including a pretty popular one, I get critical comments all day long and I've seen my share of particularly hateful ones. I've been threatened with violence and pretty much everything else you can imagine.

So I posted the following off-hand remark under her post:

There really needs to be a "stupid-jerk" filter on Youtube, lol.

And she responded (paraphrasing):

Yeah, but the problem is that they would still exist.

Now, here's what came to mind when she wrote that:

Yes, but unfortunately, jerks will always exist.

I didn't write that though. Instead, I replied to her comment with a short paragraph talking about how in my experience online and especially as a Youtube, I've learned that it's not worth giving the jerks much of my time, because it's generally a waste of my time. Something along those lines. I wasn't preaching, telling her what she should do or anything, just sharing my own experience with online criticism and harassment.

Now, at this point, Arden could have said something that clued me in a little better to her present time situation, which was that she was freaked out about the level of threats she had gotten as a result of posting this video. She could have said, just as an example:

Gabriel, I hear what you're saying about your situation. But my situation is different. I'm in a sensitive place right now and am not really looking for any suggestions or advice on how to deal with this. Just asking for some support.

And I would have absolutely heard that. But that isn't what she said, or anything close to that.

Instead, she replied to my comment about avoiding confrontations with online harassers, with a highly charged paragraph accusing me of ignoring the problem, being part of the problem as a result and overall judging me as the sort of person who doesn't deal with the negative shit but just wants to avoid anything difficult.

This comment of hers was so far out of line, it's hard to figure out where to begin. And this is where the argument began. So it's worth looking into why an argument happened here.

I'm going to approach this from a perspective of logic. Because logic matters, even when it comes to emotional discussions. Especially when it comes to emotional discussions. Because emotional discussions are where relationships live or die. And logic is what forms our conclusions, which leads to how we feel.

Following are the logical steps that one would likely go through (even if subconsciously, in a split second) to be able to leap from what I wrote, to what Arden concluded and then shot back at me in her reply:

1. There are jerks in the world.
2. They are harassing people on the internet.
3. The best way to deal with a harasser is to confront them.
4. Therefore, if you are advocating for not confronting harassers on the internet, you are in favor of ignoring the problem, and thus are part of the problem.

This sounds logical enough. It's not. It's a wholly incorrect conclusion.

First, I'll mention that I regularly respond to critics when it comes to comments under my Youtube videos. Often I ignore them. I get hundreds of comments every day, and can't respond to them all by any means. Mostly I respond to supportive comments to show appreciation for their support. Sometimes I respond to constructive criticism, especially if it's helpful criticism. Sometimes I respond to the haters, maybe with a forceful pushback, maybe with a light, joking comment. If the comment is especially negative, irrelevant, dumb, unnecessary, etc. then I might delete it. If it's particularly extreme, then I'l block them. It just depends on the nature of the comment. I'm making quick decisions as I scroll through hundreds of comments, trying to be fair but also not put up with stupid crap.

But the important thing to keep in mind here is that I don't have time to engage in lengthy discussions with haters. I barely have time to respond to my supporters and regular viewers. I can spend an hour or more just scanning through my comments for the day and responding to a few here and there.

So is it logical then to conclude that someone who suggests ignoring haters on the internet is therefore complicit in the problem of online harassment? No, of course not. This is absurd. And yet this is exactly what Arden said to me.

And it's especially disappointing and frustrating to read something like that from someone you've interacted with for several years, who you've been super supportive of in her pursuit of healing and female empowerment, and even conducted interviews with on these subjects. Despite being a straight white male who hasn't experienced the gender inequality that women face on a daily basis, I've been a vocal advocate of women and equality, making lots of videos on these subjects and even writing a book about understanding women better. And no, it's not a book of me mansplaining about women. It includes articles by dozens of authors, mostly women.

So perhaps with all this as part of the context, you might understand why I didn't appreciate Arden leaping at me with a sweeping judgment of "you're part of the problem because you don't want to deal with the issue of harassment". Just because someone mentions that they try to avoid using up their valuable time in online arguments with haters, does not therefore mean they are advocating for ignoring the problem of sexual harassment, incels, male aggression and violence and everything else wrapped up in this subject. This is an utterly false conclusion. And this false conclusion by Arden is what led to an argument, plain and simple.

At one point she even made the analogy that my position on the issue was like being opposed to recycling. In other words, what she had heard from me in my comment was that I was saying "don't do anything about sexual harassment".

I never said anything of the sort. That's a completely and utter misunderstanding of my point. That is not what I believe. And based on this misunderstanding, Arden got angry, blasted me and made sweeping judgments about my own opinions that were incorrect.

I didn't appreciate this. It was uncalled for. Again, if Arden had communicated to me at that point that she wasn't in the mood for an argument, then I would have understood. Instead, she started an argument. And so I felt called to respond and try to clear up the misunderstanding.

I replied to her comment, calmly and respectfully, and tried to explain what I'd actually meant, that I wasn't talking about ignoring harassment of women whatsoever. I was simply sharing my perspective and experience that for the sake of mental peace and not wasting one's time, it's a good idea, for me at least, to not get too caught up in what the haters say, no matter how extreme. And also to keep in mind that one factor in avoiding some of the hateful comments is to be conscious of what sort of videos you post and who they are likely to attract.

For example, if it's a video with the word "Incel" in the title, then it's likely going to get viewed by self-described Incels. And if it contains critical commentary of those who call themselves Incels, then they probably aren't going to like it and are going to respond with some pretty harsh comments. And considering that some of them support acts of violence against women, they might go to that extreme in their comments, which is precisely what was happening and the reason Arden had posted the screenshots that I ended up commenting on.

Arden and I had discussed the MGTOW movement critically in one of our interviews three years ago, and the comments under that video had been brutal and relentless. I involved myself in battling it out with some of them for a day or two, and finally disabled comments under that particular video. The discussions weren't going anywhere fruitful, and I was tired of seeing the steady stream of anger and outright hatred in my comments feed. So it's worth considering what you post on the internet and weighing whether it's really worth the blowback you might end up getting from it.

The thing was, Arden wasn't asking for advice. That wasn't the point of her post. She was seriously freaked out by the harassing and threatening comments (I didn't realize how extreme it was based on what she had originally posted). She was genuinely worried about her safety in that moment and was expressing what was going on and simply seeking some support and perspective. So my giving advice wasn't helping her in the middle of what she was going through and, quite simply, I was coming across to her like an insensitive jerk by basically saying "don't worry about it, it's just haters on the internet".

She posted a couple videos on the thread (on the subthread under my comment, where this discussion was taking place) directly addressed to me, and imploring me to stop with my line of arguing because it was only making her feel worse. Finally, I got the point that she was trying to get across. I acknowledged that I'd messed up in how I was approaching the situation and apologized for my mistake...even though she never, in the course of this debate, acknowledged her own mistake I outlined above, that had started the whole argument to begin with

Meanwhile, two other women had jumped into the discussion between Arden and myself. Things got a bit confusing, especially with multiple people involved, and the thread was bringing up a lot of issues for the other two women. I did my sincere best to listen and respond to what was being said. But the reality for me was that it was a lot to try to process and dissect and respond to properly. And quite frankly, I had other things I needed to do in my real world life and didn't have the time to properly devote to this discussion that was getting increasingly involved, demanding and complex. I just wanted to clear things up with Arden and then get off Facebook and get other things done. But I ended up focusing on reading and responding to this thread for a good chunk of the day, and into the evening.

Finally we seemed to come to some sort of relative mutual understanding later that night, and I went to sleep thinking that the discussion was resolved (as much as it could be) and over.

The next morning, however, I got up and there was a comment from one of the other women, criticizing me for my comments in the first part of the thread...the ones that I had already apologized to Arden for because it wasn't helpful to her. (Again, even though I was simply responding to her judgmental accusation.)

So I responded to the other woman and tried to explain that yes, I had been off in my first comments due to my lack of full understanding of the situation and was sincerely sorry that I'd been unhelpful in the discussion, but that I'd gotten the message from Arden eventually and thought we had straightened things out. Something like that.

My attempt at addressing the woman's criticism wasn't acknowledged or responded to. Instead the discussion continued from all three women on multiple subjects that had been touched on the previous day. I owned up to all sorts of stuff in the course of this discussion. I acknowledged male privilege. I acknowledged that harassers, on the internet or elsewhere, are more often men than women. I acknowledged the difficulty that women have to deal with as a result of male insensitivity and narcissistic behavior towards them. I expressed my support for Arden as far as the situation she was dealing with that she had originally posted about. And I was sincere in all that. I was genuinely trying to approach the discussion from a place of being supportive. But those words on my part were largely overlooked and whatever I said was never enough to bring the discussion to a satisfactory conclusion. Frankly, it began to feel as if what Arden wanted was for me to atone for all the men who had ever wronged her. This wasn't really about me, it was about men, and I had become the target of her frustration towards men. And my unwillingness to accept being that target only made her more angry and convinced that I was evading taking responsibility.

Meanwhile, I had things to do. A friend was visiting later that day and staying at my place for the next couple days. I had things I wanted to get done before he showed up. Online discussions can take hours and hours. The discussion at that point was essentially covering all three women's resentments towards and bad experiences with men. I just didn't have the time or energy or focus to devote to trying to solve or address or fully understand and properly respond to everything that was coming up. Despite this, I ended up engaged in the discussion off and on throughout another day, and it kept me distracted from focusing on other things.

Later that evening my friend showed up. I'd just posted a reply on the thread when he knocked on the door. I posted the comment and then closed my laptop, and he and I hung out for the evening.

Late that night when I was about to go to sleep, I opened up my computer to check if there were any replies. Although it had been several hours, one of the women had liked my final comment, but no one else had responded to it. That was a relief, since I wasn't in the mood to try to write anything further on the issue.

I really didn't want to wake up the next morning to more replies to the thread and being tagged in comments that I would feel obligated to respond to, and go through a third day involved in the discussion. As important of a topic as it was, I really, really needed to move on. I was traveling to Hawaii the next week and had a long list of things to do beforehand. The conversation seemed to have wrapped up for now. And so I decided to remove my original comment on Arden's post, which would then remove everyone's replies to it and remove that subthread. Of course Arden's original post would remain, but the way it works with Facebook is you can delete your own comments on someone else's post, and all replies to your comment will be deleted as a result.

The next morning I woke up, expecting a quick check of the general online situation and then getting on with my day. My friend was still at my house, it was a gorgeous sunny day in northern California and we wanted to get out there and enjoy it.

But when I checked Facebook, I saw that I'd been tagged by Arden in a comment under the same post where this whole discussion had started.

Gabriel, did you delete your thread?

I got the general sense that she was pissed about it. So I wrote her a private message, explaining that yes I'd deleted the post, and offering a succinct explanation why. I thought the discussion had wound down, I had other things to do, I had a friend over, etc. and didn't have time to continue that particular conversation through a third day. No offense to anyone involved intended. But my time is valuable and I'd spent far more time on this issue than I'd ever planned on.

My friend and I then headed out for a hike. But the whole afternoon, in the back of my mind I was thinking about the fact that there would likely be a reply from Arden when I got back, and I sensed that it wasn't going to be very understanding.

It wasn't. She was pissed off about my deleting my comment and all the replies along with, and so were the other two women. They took it personally and felt that it was a sign of disrespect of the entire discussion and their efforts in communicating important issues. This wasn't intended on my part in the slightest.

But Arden clearly wasn't interested in listening to me at that point. We exchanged a few messages, in which she delivered an ultimatum that I'd better not delete another comment from one of her threads. I wasn't going to agree to that. People have the right to delete their own comments on Facebook. It's just the way the internet works that if you remove your own comment on a thread, then all the replies to it get removed as well. It's not something I do very often, hardly at all. But I felt perfectly justified in deciding to remove myself and my comment from that discussion, and still do. I had other things to do. I understand that it might be frustrating for your own words to be removed by someone else. But that does not mean that I had an obligation to leave my own comments on a thread and a discussion that I decided I wanted to withdraw from. People have the right to leave a conversation. And just because the conversation was removed, doesn't mean that it was for nothing. Most conversations are never recorded or written down, and yet they're still important, valuable, worthy conversations. My deleting the thread was not an action of disrespect towards those involved. That is how they chose to interpret it. That was not what I intended. I meant no disrespect of them or the subject we discussed.

So I told her that I couldn't agree to never delete a comment in the future, unfriended her and sincerely wished her well. I was really disappointed and sad to part ways, because I like her a lot as a person. And I still supported what she was doing and enjoyed seeing her posts come up. But I couldn't see wanting to engage in discussions with her at that point with things left as they were, with so many misunderstandings, and with an ultimatum that I couldn't agree to.

She replied to my message with a scathing response in which she accused me of treating women terribly, called my behavior reprehensible, among other things, and then she blocked me.

The ultimate lesson for me in this is to be more conscious in responding to people's Facebook posts. There's a lot of random stuff in your Facebook feed, a lot of it pretty superficial. And so when something serious comes up then you aren't always in the right frame of mind to respond to it appropriately. To the person on the other end who might be going through something difficult, a flippant response (such as I gave that started all this) isn't appreciated. I own up to that. I made a mistake. That's the main mistake that I made in the course of this, my initial comment which Arden understandably didn't appreciate.

And to Arden, I hope this might help to shed the entire interaction in a different light. There were never any intentions on my part to be disrespectful in any way. I'd love to be able to straighten things out with you if you feel that's possible.

Have a lovely day, Gabriel

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