On Criticism

Criticism of someone’s work is totally fair game, in public or private.


It is also probably obvious that I have no problem with publishing and promoting one’s criticism, if you wish.  Academics are probably familiar with this phenomena .

Criticism of the person is petty. As a debate tactic, when someone starts in on the person I tend to discount their statements. In dealing with people I know, yes, whether it’s “news” or “gossip” depends on one’s point of view.


  • “[Person] assumes that everyone can and should reach normal weight according to BMI, however, the CDC does not consider this a reasonable expectation in their guide for physicians.” — Criticism of the work.
  • “The author is stupid, fat, and blonde.” — Criticism of the person.
  • “Necessary clues to whodunit were known to the viewpoint character but not disclosed to the reader until much later. I felt this wasn’t playing fair.” — Criticism of a mystery novel, aka, the work.
  • “The narrative implies that gay and lesbian people are untrustworthy and suicidal. This is upsetting, and it’s a recurring motif in the author’s work. I am therefore not going to read (or otherwise support) this author’s work.” — Criticism of the work.

Some feel I crossed the line to criticizing the person in this post.  I consider a TED talk to be a performance and thus subject to critique, and that I was very angry at his performed public repentance. Probably some pettiness there, yes!

Parody of a person works best when it is punching up and disclosed.  My favorite twitter parody account, Queen_UK, is (to my mind) cheeky but not mean-spirited — which is a big part of why it’s my favorite.  (I also follow LOLGOP, which is more snarky — but again, punching up and disclosed.)

Harassment of a person (not just criticism) is criminal in many, if not most, jurisdictions. This includes impersonation.  I don’t know why someone would go to this extent; I do know that it is, or should be, illegal.

And if you haven’t already guessed what led to me writing this:



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4 responses to “On Criticism”

  1. miri Avatar

    For what it’s worth: I’ve hung around both Shakesville and ShakesvilleKoolAid (mostly as a lurker) for quite some time, and it’s pretty much entirely unclear to me what McEwan is talking about. Her description of “what’s been happening” seems (to me, can’t speak for anyone else) to be kind of bizarrely out of step with what the koolaid site is actually about. It’s mostly just a bunch of people, many if not most ex-Shakers, posting stuff they don’t like about McEwan’s writing or (primarily) her way of engaging commenters. That’s really it.

    If someone made a tumblr criticizing me or my writing, I think I’d be devastated; my ego gets badly bruised with much less. But the dramatic description of the site’s “harassment” or threats to people’s safety seems seems VERY much off the mark, and a bit…insane, actually. Which isn’t to say that the koolaid blog couldn’t still be considered annoying, or petty, or whatever, particularly if someone really respected McEwan’s writing. But unless harassment etc mean something very different than what I understand them to me, that’s simply not what’s going on here.

    One last thing: my impression is that one thing some people have appreciated about SV is its focus on fat issues. I’m a currently non-fat (skim?) person who’s been fat, and whose sense of self has been massively affected by that, and will likely remain so throughout my life. And while I don’t think much of McEwan’s writing or analysis myself, that particular focus is something that I appreciate as well – both from her, and, of course, from you. Thanks for what you do.

    1. Living 400lbs Avatar

      In talking about harassment, I meant the threatening phone calls, emails, tweet replies, and so on that Liss and her friends receive that are quoting or referencing information posted to the KoolAid site. That doesn’t mean that everyone (or even anyone – ed) on that site is taking part in the harassment; however, it does certainly help make harassment easier to have that information.

      I also referenced Kath aka Fat Heffalump, who receives threatening emails and phone calls in response to her fat activism, and has also been impersonated in an attempt to defame her. I use photos from Kath’s Stocky Bodies project on this site and I’m glad they are available. I also realize that being in some of those photos exposes Kath to more people, helps them recognize her, and thus makes it easier to abuse her. That, at least, is her choice.

      If you don’t know, Seanan McGuire is an author and blogger who has also had threats made against her, her cats, and her friends. Blogging, cons and book signings help Seanan build an audience, but it doesn’t also attracts harassers — and as noted by David Perry, she gets different reactions than, say, Charles Stross. I wonder why that is (don’t worry, I know.)

      1. miri Avatar

        So…not to belabor the point, but there’s almost no “information” posted to the koolaid site which isn’t straight from SV – it’s just quotes and links and such. It functions just like any other smallish blog on the internet. I guess I’m not able to see how this facilitates any harassment – even of the micro sort – at all.

        I know well what female bloggers go through, and I can imagine it’s much, much worse for fat women; anyone who’s willing to “blog while fat” seems pretty brave to me. And I don’t doubt that McEwan has come in for that kind of abuse as well (though, I have to say, her sense of her own importance in the blogosphere these days seems wildly overinflated). But a blog of people commenting on her own words seems miles removed from any of that. Particularly when so many of the koolaid people are themselves people who felt really damaged by SV and are looking for a place to vent. (I don’t mean to suggest that this “justifies” any actual harassment that McEwan has experienced, just that I really think we’re talking about very different constituencies).

        Oh, well, so it goes. Thanks for responding, anyway, and thanks again for your own willingness to write for an audience.

      2. Geek Girl What Rules (@GeekGirlsRule) Avatar

        The mod at SKA has asked MM repeatedly to tell her who from SKA is threatening her, and she will ban them. SKA explicitly does not approve of harassment or threatening. It’s a bunch of people who used to be Shakers (me included), who got fed up with the hypocrisy and double standards towards commenters and mods, and left. Many of those people who left WERE mods and contributors.

        Yes, there is a months old thread about body-shaming MM, and the mod and most of the site’s commenters came down on the side of NO, NOT OK.

        SKA isn’t harassing MM. I have no doubt that there are people harassing her, that whole woman on the internet with an opinion thing. But criticism is not harassment.

        *I* would not stay somewhere that advocated harassment. I’ve been subjected to it often enough myself.

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