Margaret Donovan Bauer :: Well, Bless Your Heart ::


Southern legitimacy statement–As I tell my students, I am from as far South as you can get: Franklin, Louisiana is at the bottom of the state. I grew up on the Bayou Teche there, in a plantation house my parents restored. I now call eastern North Carolina home, where I live part-time on the Pamlico River.

Well, Bless Your Heart

“What are you writing?” someone asked in response to your posting on Facebook.

“A novel,” you replied.

So I try to convince myself that this “new you,” this right-wing, anti-choice, anti-trans, anti-vax, fanatical you is not you. You’ve gone into a deep dive for research. To get to know these COVID-denying anti-maskers, gain their trust, find out how (if) their minds work. For your novel.

How else to explain your rants against academics, feminists, liberals? You used to wear these labels proudly when we were colleagues in a university humanities department. Your (former) friends here still do. Your social media postings have been unapologetically insulting to those friends—people you actually know, in person, as you pander to “followers” you’ve never met.

And by the way, although you “unfriended” most of us on Facebook, blocked many of us on Twitter, several of your liberal, feminist, academic former friends can still see what you’re posting. I don’t know how, but they’re sharing. 

Sometimes it feels a bit too high school to me, your former colleagues and friends sending around screenshots of your posts. I cringe at the insecurity of adolescence that prompted tearing each other down. Is that what we’re doing? I ask myself. Ironically, I remember you calling to my attention the fact that I could not hear a negative comment to a friend without jumping in with a counter point. 

But as you’ve blocked us from trying to ask you, “WTAF?” We need to ask each other, “WTF happened to her?” Some of us are hurt by your postings. We are all perplexed. We commiserate—and, yes, punch back, frustrated that we can’t reach you to ask you, “W.T.F. is going on?”

I remember a time you saw in my facial expression that you’d hurt my feelings. “Wait,” you said. “What did I say?” And then you told me not to try to bluff at poker. I loved that about you: you saw my hurt. You spoke your mind, but when you saw your words wounded, you asked why. 

How do I reconcile that person with the persona who posts insulting generalizations about “humanities professors” on Twitter?

Early in your transition to a social media conservative pundit, I was surprised when you didn’t unfriend me after I responded to one of your fallacious Facebook posts with a “Bless your heart.” I’m the one who explained that phrase to you when you were new to the South. But then I dared to challenge one of your tweets rhetorically and found myself blocked by your Twitter persona. I would have expected the opposite: unfriending me for being “unfriendly,” but engaging my more professionally expressed inquiry.

So after someone sends me a screenshot of something you posted that is antithetical to the politics of the person we knew when you lived here, I propose my theory about your novel research: “Maybe this is all just a ruse to infiltrate the other side,” I suggest. “For research. She says she’s writing a novel.” I knew they wouldn’t believe that any more than I did.

R. reminds me: “She was a bitchy liberal, too.”

A. puts it bluntly: “She hasn’t changed. This is who she has always been.”

How can that be? We laughed together, you and I, the morning of November 8, 2016, when we met in the hallway outside our offices, recognized each other’s makeshift pantsuit in homage to Hillary Clinton. Neither of us owned a pantsuit, so we had both donned blazers and slacks that morning as we dressed for work.

We both wore black on November 9th.

But A. isn’t talking about your new conservative ideology when he says you haven’t really changed. He is talking about your narcissism.

Don’t get him started on telling the story of that time you invited yourself to join us and another couple for dinner at a new restaurant; embarrassed us with your rude, loud complaints about the service; and even sent your food back.

It wasn’t great food, but the place was new, and the evening was (supposed to have been) about going out with friends. 

It was not supposed to be about comparing small-town, eastern North Carolina dining with dining in New York City.

I gave up on our friendship a long time ago, I admit. I didn’t think you’d notice or care. We ultimately had little in common beyond our feminism (at that time, you were more hard-core feminist than I ever was). You certainly had your hands full, with three children, one baby after the other. Perhaps, though, it hurt that I stopped reaching out to see if you could fit me in. I’d made a pact with myself in my forties: no more forced friendships. But, for a while, I’d broken that with you, so happy to have a female colleague closer to my age. We didn’t have much else in common beyond our profession and feminism—and both being single when we met. But like so many women I’ve known, as soon as you met your guy, friendship took a back burner, and then, when children came, it was for when you needed a break. That was okay. I was used to our couple-centric culture.

Then, during those rare times you joined your women friends, we got tired of your complaints about how academia doesn’t support women. Not that you are wrong about that. But it sure supported you. As our non-academic (also conservative) friend pointed out to you one girls-night evening, the maternity leave you got—a whole (paid) semester of parental leave for each of your children—was not something experienced in the business world she worked in. She noted, too, that while women in academia could stop their tenure clock, women in law, for example, risked never making partner if they did not keep up billable hours during and after pregnancy. 

When the university started paring down parental leave to be more comparable to the non-academic (American) workplace, we could have used your voice and experience to help us fight back. Several of us who were arguing to maintain the full semester leaves that you had benefited from don’t even have kids. But maternity leave no longer related to you, pregnancies all done by then; you could not be bothered. Or rather, you weren’t around: you were taking an unpaid leave to write (health benefits intact), hiring a nanny to take care of the children while you did so.

I know you were surprised by my lack of sympathy when you complained that our department chair had denied you a third suchleave without pay. Deciding to model you in my forthrightness, I reminded you, “M. has three small children too, and as her family’s primary earner, she can’t afford to take a leave without pay to write.” Like you, as a female literature professor, she was among the lowest paid tenure-stream faculty in our department; unlike you, she did not have a higher-salaried husband.

I also pointed out that when you took those leaves without pay, as well as during your paid maternity leaves—for three children—you missed taking your turn to serve on committees that M. (or I or another of your female colleagues) had to then serve on to assure a gender balance.

“It’s time to decide,” I urged. Do you want to be a professor or not? (I was hoping not, I admit.)

And eventually, you did decide to quit.

But then, when they (we) did not beg you to stay, offer you some work whenever you want but please don’t leave deal, you left in a huff, spouting on social media about the lack of support for mothers.

Again, you aren’t wrong. The US in general does not support working mothers. 

But our university did support you. And to you, it seems, that’s all that matters: when they no longer supported you to the level you desired, you quit.

That’s when I unfollowed your social media. I kept wanting to correct the skewed postings about how you’d been mistreated, so I unfollowed to avoid seeing them—and thus missed much of the drama that followed.

Bless my heart, it would have been rude to unfriend you, so I just unfollowed, maintaining collegiality, if not friendship, pretty much over by then.

Every now and then, though, someone who knew we’d been friends would mention one of your outrageous expressions of outrage during a social gathering, wondering if I knew “what happened to her?” 

You didn’t get your way, is all I could think to answer. So you quit. “I don’t know,” I would say (at first), in loyalty to our past.

You’d moved away by this time, and from what we can tell, to a conservative community (in the Northeast—more irony to find the South you were so appalled by when you first moved here is less conservative than, well, anywhere). There, you have metamorphosed into a Karen.

And now you seem to be performing for the likes and retweets. Your new career goal is to be an influencer? (Or a novelist? I wish I could believe my own far-fetched theory.)

You’re definitely not interested in intellectual debate: as each of us has dared to question a post or tweet, you’ve dropped us, quietly at first, as you blocked me on Twitter. But then most of the rest of us in a single wipe, as you announced on Facebook that you were merely cleaning out your Friends list, paring down to just those you interact with.

By interact, you mean those who agree with you or at least remain silent, I wanted to respond. But I couldn’t, as I had not made the cut.

Via your Twitter persona, you report to your followers that your friends dumped you because we disagree with your views. Blocked, we cannot correct you, point out you dumped us—and that this new persona is just that—a persona—no more real, apparently, than the liberal feminist we thought we knew.

And here’s my real theory about what pushed you into your current Karen persona (I don’t buy the writing a novel theory either, even if it is mine):

During COVID, you were trapped in the house with three children while your doctor husband worked long hours at the hospital. (You had quit your job for this move northeast, but your kids were school age. You had not expected to be taking care of them all day. Maybe you had planned to spend your days writing a novel.)

You were not as subtle as you thought you were in your social media venting: you simply wanted the schools to open back up and get your kids out of your space

The bother of your school-age kids home all day came through loud and clear as you fought back against those of your “friends” who reminded you that, as teachers, “our lives are in danger.” (This was pre-vaccine; healthy people were dying from COVID.)

“Are you teaching in person?” one of your former colleagues asked as you demanded that schools reopen. She was among the first people you blocked.

It’s not dangerous, you insisted, more and more hysterically, as the months went on, rejecting the expertise of even your former university colleague who is a virologist, later a vaccination specialist. Both were also among those you voted off your island in the earliest round of unfriending and blocking. 

You are an award-winning teacher, and you are unemployed, by your own choice. An ideal situation for pandemic living—and uninterrupted learning—for your children. Unlike so many other parents, you could help your children not fall behind scholastically, as many children would. 

I could understand you worrying about your doctor husband bringing the virus home with him—but you never expressed anxiety about that in your online ranting. Getting your children back to school seemed your only issue of concern. Were they threatening the Martha Stewart décor in your Instagram?(I simply do not get an all-white/beige living area when you have three children. Are they allowed in there? I wonder.)

I wonder, too, what Dr. Husband thought about your posts questioning the medical establishment that was encouraging schools to remain closed. You even said in more than one post that doctors are not that bright (though this was via your new pseudonymous persona, so perhaps he is unaware).

When schools did reopen, you did not want to give up the attention your Twitter alias was getting, so you became an anti-masker, harping on mask mandates long past their being in effect. Then you, doctor’s wife and daughter of two doctors, became a vaccine-by-choice-only anti-vaxer. I noticed in one post (people are still sharing your posts, as I say) that you indicate that at least your youngest child is not vaccinated. And again, I want to ask, WTF?

My theory is that Dr. Husband promised her that horse in your Instagram photos if she promised in turn not to tell you he took her to get vaccinated. (This is me again hoping for the best—in this case, that even if you did put your new persona ahead of your child’s health, your husband has not lost his scruples, too.)

Or maybe you just lied, and the child is vaccinated. We have noted, after all, that when you post something that gets any negative feedback, you subtly walk your point back until the “likes” return.

Yes, I know this sounds like we are stalking you. Chalk that up for our struggle to figure out, what has happened to you?

As you know, I have been heartsick over the past several years, as I discovered that my conservative friends and relatives from the Deep South support political candidates whose behavior goes against every moral value we were raised on. And as I do when I think about them, I wonder what you tell yourself as you type each outlandish tweet. Your use of a handle rather than your name suggests you know it’s all a façade. 

Which would explain your resistance to the mask. People whose smiles are only lip-deep fear the mask: their eyes will betray their soullessness.

And of course, too, masks are not comfortable. And you will not be discomforted.

Also, you need to convince your children that nothing is really wrong out there, or they might wonder why you were in such a hurry to send them back to school. Start to realize their cuteness is only for social media photos, but in the real world they, like everyone else, are in your way if they are not doing exactly what you want them to do, for your comfort and gratification. 

I want to text you, “You’ve been hacked. Some right-wing nut has taken over your Twitter feed.” And every tweet seems to be challenging a core value you once claimed.

Or, “you’re writing a novel, right?” It must be that. 

Or, bless your heart.