A couple of months ago, I wrote about my delight at finding a good groomer for Zinnia, my three-year-old Yellow Lab and Therapy Dog. Kiley, a young and bold entrepreneur who learned to love animals while growing up on a nearby farm, had rented a tiny space off the same road our farm is on.
I liked everything about her.
She started a dog grooming salon called Ruff Around The Edges. There are only one or two other grooming places around here for dogs; they are all hard-to-find appointments.
Kiley had very little funding and no money for advertising but is strong and resourceful. Her salon is spare, only the basics, a tub, and a ramp. No frills, no crates, no decorations, or cute photos. No fancy brushes or equipment.
I was pleased to find her. I can’t bend over anymore low enough to brush Zinnia the way she needs and deserves, and she is so often in vile muck and swamp and manure-coated pasture that she needs regular cleaning and maintenance.
Because she is rarely on concrete, her nails grow to paws, which is unsuitable for therapy work.
I’m big on being a proper steward for my dogs; it’s my job to see them get the care they deserve. I took to Kiley immediately; I like her affectionate, businesslike, but not sappy way of dealing with the dogs. She knows how to talk to animals.
Kiley had no room in her first salon to keep dogs when the grooming was over, so she texted the dog owners when they were done, and we picked up the dogs after learning they were ready.
Zinnia, the Queen of Chill, was nervous.
She had never been groomed before, and the Covid epidemic kept me from socializing her as broadly as I usually would have beyond the Mansion residents and the refugee children she grew up with and loves.
Kiley did an excellent job with her, she was calm and soothing, and Zinnia settled down and did what was asked. Kiley is not sappy; she talked to Zinnia firmly and respectfully, as I’ve seen farm kids do with cows. No baby talk or loud cooing. She and Zinnia were a good fit – no drama with either of them.
When I picked her up an hour later, Zinnia looked cleaner than I remember seeing her, and I very much appreciated the brushing, nail clipping, and bath she got. She looked great. All the swamp and dirt were gone. Her nails were clipped correctly; her ears were clean.
I was impressed with Kiley that first time and wanted to spread the word about her.
I like to use the blog for good when I can, and since Kiley was starting, I thought she could use the attention. We have almost no media here, and the blog can sometimes help people get noticed. I look to bring attention to the many good people I meet.
I wrote a piece about her that I felt was sincere and accomplished what I hoped it would. She got a bunch of new customers and now can’t take any more. I have to make my Zinnia appointments two months ahead, and Kiley is moving to a bigger space next week.
Good for her; she deserved it and would have succeeded independently. I was pleased to give her a push.
At first, I got many compliments from women all over the country and dog lovers.
I was amazed when my post about Kiley, which I was pretty proud of, became one of the uglier episodes in my rich and often tumultuous blog life.
It also did a lot of good, and Kiley thanked me for it and said she loved every word. But this is Facebook America in 2022, and sincerity is a crime waiting to be condemned.
When I asked Kiley how she came to love animals, she said she grew up as a farm girl and was always around animals. I quoted her as saying that.
I was almost instantly attacked on my blog posts and e-mail by two distinct groups.
On the right, some macho men from the west ridiculed me for taking Zinnia to a groomer, saying I was an elitist, lazy, and a sissy.
At the same time, a group of women called themselves feminists accused me of being sexist, insensitive, and yet another clueless example of white male privilege.
I was charged with what one called a “micro-aggression” (and what another said was pure “white male privilege.” And yes, sexism, of course. I am, after all, a privileged white man, one of the least popular things to be in many quarters.
The term “farm girl,” they said, was offensive. I replied that I never referred to the adult Kiley as a “girl,” which she is not. It was how she described herself. They didn’t believe me. They said I was a liar.
I mixed up my terms. I said “macro” aggression and should have said “micro-aggression.” That mistake has been corrected in this piece.
(Microaggression is a term used for daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental slights, intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups.”
I will ask Kiley when I next see her. Still, I would be amazed if Kiley considers herself a marginalized group, especially when labeled by people who call themselves feminists but seem to care little or nothing about women.
I imagine that would make her furious. Kiley is not afraid of me or of speaking her mind, as is true of strong women.
If you know academics (I was one once), then you know one of their favorite tricks is inventing, expanding, or sanitizing language to meet their passions and prejudices at the moment. Anything to make things more complex or obscure.
Another popular new term coined by academics to mangle the language is macroaggression: (A macroaggression is an act of racism towards every one of a race, gender, or group. An example of a macroaggression would be individuals spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and placing blame on Asia.”)
Or labeling white men, perhaps.
I was being accused of microaggression, but the critics seem to me to be a perfect match for the people criticizing me, targeting me because I am a “privileged white male,” even though none of them have ever seen me spoken to me, or know anything about me.
That’s called macro-aggression.
The left and the right do it all the time. Labeling people is one of our national diseases.
A “progressive” might jump on the term “micro-aggression” to label something they disagree with, and an extremist on the right might prefer “woke.”
The mixup was patronizing, perhaps, but offensive to a marginalized person. Really?
How sexist is that?
The language suffers from this perversion of words, and so does truth, perspective, and productive dialogue.
I said “farm girl” was Kiley’s term, not mine, but it was the right one. She mentioned it again when I saw her yesterday.
She was a girl during the period she was talking about, and women on the farms around here often proudly refer to themselves as “farm wives,” and when they are young, “farm girls.”
I don’t look to other people to tell me what to call myself.
At no time did Kiley or I refer to her adult self as a “girl.” I sometimes call Maria “My Girl,” which is a term of endearment she does not object to; I have never referred to any other adult woman as a “girl.” I would have to be stupid to do that, and it’s now how I see mature women (and I’m not stupid.)
The righteous posse that suddenly appeared online started calling me a liar and said it was my language, not hers. (I didn’t see anyone else in the room, and Zinnia doesn’t talk.).
They said I was distorting the truth, which they could tell by investigating and poring over my posts.
They insisted I was a sexist and insensitive symbol of “white privilege” and “micro-aggressive,” two of the new missiles being deployed by the angry academic warriors of the left.
Extremists reveal themselves by never accepting anyone else’s truth and branding all disagreement as lies.
This is Donald Trump’s true legacy, legitimizing denial and lies as a substitute for truth and discussion. Both sides seem to love it and have adopted it, turning our national dialogue into poison, just like the piece about Kiley.
Aggression is too direct and straightforward an idea for the new ideologues, “micro-and-macro – aggression” broadened the number of targets since people who commit “macro” aggressions are targets too. You only have to be insensitive, confused, or out of date to be a “micro-aggressor.”
The idea that every white male (as opposed to any white person) has experienced a privileged existence in many ways is undoubtedly true, making them instant bigots or stupid people who never get it.
I encountered this thinking when I began writing about my Amish friend Moise and was denounced for enabling and supporting (and excusing) the Patriarchy. Anything less than condemning him was a crime.
I believe white privilege to be a genuine social phenomenon, but whether that makes all of us racists, bigots, and insensitive morons is open to discussion, at least to me. But it doesn’t get much discussion.
My simple tribute to a new dog groomer had become one of those intense and disturbing online brawls. Instead of stroking my ego with praise, I was under attack. And much worse, Kiley’s impressive achievement was being completely ignored.
On the right, I was being labeled a “pussy,” a “faggot,” and a “woke elitist” for arguing that it was important for big hunting dogs like Zinnia (she jumps into every foul puddle or swamp she can find or any dog to be brushed and groomed from time to time.
I pointed out to one of the dissatisfied macho men that it’s no different for a dog than getting a haircut. That shut one of them up.
I’m a big boy, a five-time best-selling author, and a veteran of decades of online writing. I can take care of myself. Kiley is much more vulnerable.
I had an appointment to bring Zinnia to see Kiley this morning; I did not have a chance to speak with her since I wrote the piece, and I wanted to hear her thoughts.
I said I’d like to photograph her and Zinnia again, as I like to do in my daily writings about my life.
She looked uncomfortable and asked if it was all right if we skipped the photo today. She was distressed.
She said the comments she read about me made her angry, and she didn’t trust herself to stay out of trouble if she talked about it. She went to some trouble to say the problem wasn’t me or what I wrote.
She’s just a businesswoman starting a new business, she said.
When she was young, she was a farm girl and had no apologies to make for it. That was the truth. She saw openness as dangerous; she saw her anger as unhealthy.
She said she loved the piece I wrote and appreciated it; she said I should feel free to write whatever I wanted about it.
Still, the atmosphere online was so hostile, intrusive, and unreasoning that she thought she needed to stay away from it. It just made her furious and sometimes frightened.
What, after all, is a young woman who grew up on a farm and is starting a business to make of all this cruelty and hatefulness? What am I?
She said he might change her mind about talking about it. She is busy, working hard on her business, and she isn’t looking for distractions. Those people have absolutely nothing to say to her, I thought. Why should she respond to them? She may be much wiser than I am.
I told her I respected her honesty and feelings and would not pressure her for a photograph or provide details about where she was moving.
I have no idea what Kiley’s politics are; they are not my business. I suspect we would disagree on many things. So what?
I hoped she would feel free to talk about this one day; she should be praised, not silenced. They should be free to speak their minds.
I said the country’s atmosphere is poisonous, but I felt compelled to challenge people like the trolls who came after me when I could, so long as it didn’t dominate my blog or my life or turn me into a raging lunatic just like them.
That has happened more than once.
Ignoring them is a reasonable alternative, but I sometimes feel I should make a case for free and civil speech.
I was sorry, I said, that she thought it was dangerous for her to speak up. That is a sad commentary on the land of the free and the brave.
I was afraid at first that Kiley didn’t like what I wrote or was upset with me, but it was much worse.
She feared that saying what she thought could hurt or endanger her or unleash her anger. She said she didn’t feel free to speak her mind in America in 2022.
For me, this episode illustrated the sickness raging in our country.
I wrote a nice, affirmative, and supportive piece about a young woman working hard and sticking her neck out to start a new small business in a small town in upstate New York, one of the most challenging things a young businesswoman could do.
A true feminist would be pleased to support a woman like that. Maria was.
What should have been a pleasant interaction between a writer and a worthy young woman sticking her neck out – a happy success story all around – was turned into just another shitstorm, another irrational name-calling collision that accomplishes nothing and obscures something quite worthy. I remembered what it was I hated about Middle School.
That is what political extremism does to free speech. It kills it.
None of the women who called themselves feminists praised Kiley or talked about her impressive achievement, especially when small businesses fought for their lives. None even mentioned her. She was the whole point of the piece.
Their only interest was in assaulting a man as one more cretinous result of white privilege.
I think it makes them feel good.
These cruel people are pimples on the ass of life to me, and so are the testosterone-stuffed lug-heads on the other end of the spectrum. Some people think it’s a sign of weakness and elitism to take proper care of your dog.
Sometimes I think my life comes right out of a Monty Python skit. There is no left or right, only broken and hallow people who increasingly mirror one another and shout and whine.
I am proud to be calling them out. That’s the side I want to be on. But more and more, I delete them and, like Kiley, get on with my business. They are not worth it.
“These are people who need to find something to do,” she said.
This would be funny if it weren’t so sad and outrageous. A young woman tough enough to start a business all by herself is afraid to speak out about her identity and values. I didn’t want to laugh; I wanted to cry.
The macho men and the name-calling women would be shocked to come to terms with the fact that they are both doing the same thing, which is wrecking the sacred tradition in any democracy of tolerating people who might be different.
That’s the key to any democracy.
Zinnia and I are seeing Kiley in two months, and I told her I am here to help her with her business in any way that I can and that she is comfortable with. On the one hand, I hope she wants to speak up; on the other; I hope she doesn’t.
She has her priorities right.
She is the feminist hero in this story for me.
I respect her all the more.