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The Fangirl

Long time geek, fangirl, mother, and reader. I've got a lot to say, you might not like it all, but it will be honest and hopefully helpful.

What is Difference Between Legitimate Criticism and Harassment?

I recently saw someone talking about how harassment, and criticism are "part of the parcel of being in the public eye." I've seen this said not only in reference to authors, but celebrities and political figures, especially if they are women.


This is not new, many people believe it to be true. The idea that negative attention is an inherent part of getting any attention is deeply ingrained in our culture. We've learned to accept it, often without question, even when we are the victims of it.


Part of the problem with this is the confusion that all criticism is the same. While it is reasonable for someone to not only expect criticism of one's work, but also encourage it in the interest of improvement. After all, how do we expect to get better if we don’t even know what’s wrong, much less how to fix it? 


However, personal criticism and abuse are NOT critique. It should not be considered legitimate or deserved merely because the recipient is in the public eye. 


Lumping legitimate criticism in with harassment opens up every aspect of a person, from what they do to how they look, to be the target for scrutiny and judgement. Worse yet, it feed the idea that they are responsible for their own abuse/harassment (aka they're "asking for it") by merely doing a job that gets them attention, i.e. victim blaming. 


It's really important for us to draw a very distinct line between criticism of someone's work, or even their professional choices verses aggression, abuse, or harassment of them personally. 


For example: I do not like E.L. James. My opinions of her work, and my issues with her personal ethics are legitimate criticism. If I were to criticize her appearance, perceived intelligence or worse criticize her family via email, snail mail, or social media that would be harassment. Even if I tweet that she is a "self serving bitch" it is an aggressive act. 


Just because E.L. James is a exploitative, opportunist who can’t write her way out of a wet paper sack, doesn’t magically turn harassment or even the most seemingly benign insult into legitimate criticism. 


Too often I see criticism and harassment lumped together to either cry wolf (claiming legitimate criticism is abuse), or to try to get a free pass to abuse/harass someone under the guise of them being “fair game.” This is wrong either way. If your criticism is legitimate it never needs to be connection to a persons appearance, gender, sexual orientation or any personal detail. 


Criticism of art isn’t about the artist as a person, but their ability to adequacy do their job. 


Sure, any criticism is difficult to deal with, and it can mess with someone’s self esteem, but it is important for all artist to understand the distinction between themselves and their work. There is a huge difference between writing a bad book, or even being a bad writer, and being a bad person. Likewise, writing a bad book, or even making poor ethical choices doesn’t justify harassment or abuse.  


That's my take on this issue, but let's hear what you have to say.


What do you think?

Where do you think the line is between legitimate criticism and harassment? 

What do we do when someone cries wolf, claiming legitimate critique is harassment?

What do we do when someone is legitimately being harassed under the guise of critique?