The most online among us have heard the adage. “Don’t feed the trolls,” people say. When someone attacks you online, don’t respond. Don’t engage. That’s what they want.
This is not Shelby Lorman’s approach. The writer and artist, who runs the delightful Instagram account Awards for Good Boys and has a book forthcoming from Penguin Random House, frequently reposts and riffs on DMs from people — usually white men — who feel compelled to weigh in on her work.
Lorman, 24, started the Awards for Good Boys account in 2017. Since then, she’s been posting regular cartoons skewering the “good boy”: the ostensibly “progressive” dude whose shitty treatment of actual people doesn’t dovetail with his performative feminist politics.
Considering the immense pile of filth that makes up so much of the internet, it’s not surprising that Lorman’s DMs are full of harassment. Her work, after all, critiques the men who do the absolute minimum, the self-proclaimed “woke” dudes who are all talk at best. As one might expect, the “good boys” aren’t the best at fielding criticism — and their entitled commentary has fueled much of Lorman’s recent work.
“A lot of people will be like, ‘I used to like your stuff, but this comic about emotional labor just paints women as nitpicky cunts, and you’re doing a disservice to everyone,'” Lorman says. “Like, ‘why are you so angry? Why are you so bitter?’ A lot of that happens around stuff that’s nuanced.”
She points to a post about catcalling as an example. “People [in her DMs] were like, ‘You’re advocating for a world in which no one gives compliments!’ No, I’m just saying street harassment is not cool,” she says. “People are ready to skip the nuance and make some humongous claim about my work.”
In most cases, skipping the nuance involves re-centering blame — for a disagreement in the comments section or on society’s ills — on anyone but men. “[People] blame women for choosing the bad men,” she explains, “or our anger, or the culture right now. The immediate urge to blame anyone but the obvious population I’m talking about is really intense.”
So Lorman turns the tables on her trolls. Instead of ignoring them, she posts their DMs on her own Instagram account. Sometimes, readers will even send her their own text conversations, with messages so clearly written by “good boy” types that she’ll post them alongside her own illustrations: a hilarious IRL example alongside the concept.
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Humor is a big part of Lorman’s approach to creativity in a hostile online space. “I think that in some cases, humor can be really effective in pointing out the irony of someone’s argument … or why it was absurd,” Lorman says. “I’m never trying to shoot down what someone is saying for the content of it. It’s about the way someone chooses to deliver it.”
But Lorman also sees the grain of truth within the “don’t feed the trolls” argument, particularly when someone is coming from a place of bad faith. “It’s a mixed bag, because humor is really essential for me to be able to cope with what people are saying,” she says. “But I also know it feeds their narrative.”
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🌹REAL TEXT SUBMITTED BY A FOLLOWER 🌹Hypothetical White Dude Troll™️: but what if Google cAnt answer things like this? Also like don’t you WANT us to get it Me: your assumption that everyone should teach you things so that you never have to wade too deep in your own unknowing and ignorance (and thus be vulnerable) is tragíc. Yeah I want you to get it, but I also want y’all to stop thinking free education / unpaid time and energy is an anticipated sacrifice others should/will make to help u feel secure (ahem, white ppl, this is a good one for us to remember)
She’s also aware of how difficult it is to communicate effectively on Instagram, particularly about an issue as huge and fraught as harassment. For example, Lorman says that while her trolls aren’t 100 percent men, she doesn’t post as much about the women who are angry about her work. It boils down to caution: On a platform where engagement is brief, she doesn’t want to dilute her message. “I have such a small window to let people understand how fucked up our heteronormative relationships are,” she says. “I’m wary to be like, ‘Oh, no. Women do this shit, too.'”
That’s partially why Lorman is so excited about her book. She’ll have space to explore her experience online with far more nuance — and without the constant back-and-forth inherent to social media.
“For some people, Instagram debates get confusing,” she says. “Someone told me recently that I was just creating drama, and that’s not what they came to my page to see. So I’m very excited to have the space to explain why perpetual harassment is not drama, and why calling it out is also not drama. It’s that I don’t want to hear people’s feedback — I genuinely do — but it is nice to think about a book space where [critics] will have to decide to deliberately contact me. They can’t just shoot off a comment into the void.”
“Perpetual harassment is not drama, and calling it out is also not drama.”
Lorman realizes that, despite the harassment she faces, she’s in a pretty good spot compared to some of her peers. “I don’t know any woman who has any modicum of visibility online who isn’t constantly dealing with either people being like ‘this sucks’ or violent harassment,” she says. She’s also aware that she has the space and security to discuss her experiences in a way that others do not.
“I have a friend who is an activist and educator, and if she posts something about harassment, [the comments] get violent,” she says. “She’s a black woman. And this stuff just perpetuates violence offline.”
Lorman does think there is hope for the internet. What she’s less sure about is what all of us are less sure about — how to actually make it better.
“The entire space of the internet is so complicated and fucked up,” she says. “We have to do a lot of thinking about what that means and how to fix it. I certainly don’t know.”
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In the meantime, though, she has a deep community of fans who enjoy and are comforted by her work. The support is sometimes so affecting that it brings her to tears: “[The community] is really intuitive around harassment itself,” she says. “I’ll get messages like, ‘Hey, you’re getting so much hate today, and I just want to tell you what this page and this work means to me’ and I just sit in my DMs and cry.”
“There’s so much support [from] people who are like, ‘Yeah, this has happened to me a hundred million times,'” she adds. “It’s really validating to meet so many people, even in the space of a comments section, who can relate. I wish there could be an Awards for Good Boys convention.”
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