"I'm weird for being normal": the reverse discrimination fallacy

Updated Oct 12 2015
arielmstallings

i-feel-weirdI've written about "othering," and how in an online community where many people define themselves by their non-normativeness, it can be really weird to suddenly be part of the majority.

However, I've never dedicated a post to what I call the reverse discrimination fallacy… where community members allow themselves to feel marginalized because they're in the majority.

This comes up a LOT on Offbeat Bride with less-weird brides feeling like they need to defend their more traditional wedding choices. As I originally wrote in 2011:

Then there's what I call the reverse discrimination fallacy, where brides on the more traditional end of the spectrum complain that they feel excluded or demonized for being "too normal." We've edited wedding profiles to exclude lines like, "I didn't want a stuffy traditional wedding," knowing that somewhere an Offbeat Lite bride was going to think to herself, "Oh, so now my wedding is STUFFY!? Fuck you, offbeater-than-thou bride."

This issue comes up so often that we have an archive dedicated to brides wrestling with this offbeat/traditional friction, as well as the odd sensation of not being "unique enough."

The reader sensation comes on the other sites as well, though — Offbeat Homies talk a LOT about feeling weird because they live in "boring" houses in "boring" towns, as if the majority of readers were dwelling in treehouses, industrial live/work lofts, and shipping containers. (Spoiler alert: they're not.) One Homie recently noted that they felt like one of the few Offbeat Empire readers who actually likes Facebook, which I know from my web traffic is the opposite of the reality. Sometimes, when we provide a platform for a vocal minority, it can make folks feel like that minority is suddenly the majority.

The Offbeat Empire is all about sharing perspectives from lifestyles that aren't as well-known or served by the mainstream media, and it's always interesting to see how one of the results of that focus is folks who ARE more represented by the mainstream media feeling disoriented or alienated. We get weekly submissions from people who feel the need to defend or justify their more traditional choices. (Who are you convincing? We've always supported more traditional couples!) As I've written about in my post about the term "Offbeat Lite," I think this gentle discomfort can be an awesome opportunity for personal growth… but as a community manager, I have to carefully balance that discomfort with making readers feel ostracized or pushed away.

It's a weird balance… giving a voice to the minority while also ensuring the majority feels respected and included. It's a balance I'm continuing to work toward trying to find. For me, the sweet spot with the Empire happens when we lean across the digital aisles and shake hands with folks living lives outside our own personal experiences.

Because you know what experience we ALL share? Feeling weird sometimes. Every last one of us.

  1. I know I'm sometimes guilty of this when reading Offbeat Home & Life – I catch myself thinking "oh man, everyone's cooler than me, doing such cool things and living in such cool spaces, with more disposable income and neater experiences." Then I take a deep breath and go – a) is that something that reflects my spouse and I anyway? b) is it something I'd actually take the time to do right? c) do I have the time and/or energy to do that?

    Much like "your wedding is not a contest," the corollary is "your life isn't a contest, either, so chill the heck out." My spouse and I have a couple things we Martha Stewart the heck out of, and other things that just don't speak to us, so we don't bother with. That's okay. 🙂 I love being able to look at the Empire content and see things that I wouldn't do or have or say or otherwise think about – experience them, and then let them be. Not every post has to be about me, and I need to chill out about feeling judged for not _(insert activity here)_ing. You guys don't judge! It's a rainbow party of (positive) weirdness, with every hue, saturation, and brightness welcome. Thanks for creating such a positive and inclusive space that caters to a great many niches and welcomes them all!

  2. I had a moment of that! When I read through the epic thread about offbeat hobbies, I couldn't help thinking, "huh, my hobbies aren't offbeat at all!" But you know what? I like them, and I like my life, and I'm sure to someone out there I seem pretty offbeat. And when the internet shows me something super cool and out there, I can try it if I like, or just appreciate the glimpse into a world I didn't know before and be glad that there are other people out there doing things they love.

    • It's always interesting for me… exploring the line for readers between "inspiration" and "intimidation." Of course it's different for different people, but at what point does an idea go from "Oh wow, cool: inspiring!" to "Oh wow, jeez, I suck because I'm not already doing that/couldn't ever do that/am not cool enough to do that/etc"?

      And what can I do as a publisher to help even the most out-there content stay on the side of inspiring?

      • Ooh, tough question. It's probably meant rhetorically, but I'll take a crack at it. For me as a reader, I have to remind myself a lot that what I'm seeing is just a summary–and if someone is sharing, it's because they want to celebrate something good. It can apply to wedding profiles, the Where Are They Now series, home tours, "check out my awesome hobby" posts, and so on. But the posts I find most inspiring are the ones that touch on the hard parts and the challenges that get overcome. Knowing that it's not all sunshine and roses keeps me from glamorizing someone else's life too much, but the fact that ___ is still worth it to them keeps it inspiring.

        I also think it's good that you guys maintain balance with posts that are geared towards beginners–like, the posts on Offbeat Home on how to get into running, where to start with loose-leaf tea, how to grow a container garden, Megan-simple recipes with variations, etc. Showcasing a really cool thing out of context can be inspiring and I don't want that to go away entirely, but it's also on readers a little bit to realize a single picture can't capture years of work on a house/hobby/garden/marriage. But at the same time there are ways to get started on those awesome things if a reader wants to put in the effort, and you guys at the empire have a great archive to draw on if you want to point people there.

        • But the posts I find most inspiring are the ones that touch on the hard parts and the challenges that get overcome.

          Yes, totally! I love these, too. The tough part with this kind of content is making sure that it stays constructive and focused on overcoming the challenges… otherwise it's real easy for content to slide into co-rumination mode, which is highly contagious and not at all good for the kind of community I want to build.

          I will say that at times Offbeat Families slipped too far over the edge. Readers loved it, but it started to feel like schadenfreude at a certain point: "Oh, well my life might suck, but at least it doesn't suck as hard as THAT poor lady's…" It was an odd dynamic, and one I definitely want to avoid on Offbeat Home & Life.

  3. I am a proud offbeat-light-er. I think it's a bit of personal responsibility on the part of the reader to stay true to yourself. I do have Offbeat Envy once in a while, be it someone's personal style, their house, their life of travel, whatever. But I just have to keep reminding myself that I have to spend my energy wisely. It would be great to pick up and live in Europe, but it's not feasible at this time. I can sit in self-pity, I can come up with a plan to move to Europe, or I can live vicariously through other people while I focus on other goals. You provide the articles on living in Europe, I have to be the one to ingest it as I see fit. I think the site already has a good balance of "look at this cool stuff I'm doing!" and "if you want to do this cool stuff, here's how!" I've never really felt like I wasn't offbeat enough to be part of this community.

    • I'm an OBB Tribesmaid and I agree that a reader needs to take responsibility in how content is taken. When I first came across OBB, I had mega envy. I wanted to be quirky, geek chic, amazeballs goth… Something that would make me interesting. And then I started reading and commenting, and I realised I AM interesting! Sometimes I'm Offbeat, sometimes I'm Offbeat Lite and sometimes I'm traditional. I realised this because I identified with parts of all kinds of weddings. I read about these amazing people who had the guts and courage to be honest about who they were, and who owned themselves regardless of whether the wider community 'got' them or not. I learned how to love and admire something that someone else was doing without the inherent NEED to do it myself! OBB helped me to avoid having a wedding full of unnecessary stuff, and to really hone in on what was true to me and mine. And I am now getting into other Offbeat areas and hope to apply that same principle to the rest of our lives.

      In particular, I love how its not just THINGS that are emphasised in the Offbeat community. Its dealing with situations and circumstances, and its offering up personal experience for the sake of letting others know they're not the only ones going through it!

  4. Maybe it's just me, but I always assumed the "Offbeat" in OBB and OBH&L (and OBF) was a reference to the BLOGS and their practices, not the featured people or readers.

    edit: That is… your approach to publishing and communicating with your readership isn't what I expect from traditional magazines and blogs. You feature a wider pool of lifestyles. You share business and industry information with us. Ariel & Co are the Offbeat, it's otherwise just blogs about weddings, homes, and families.

  5. "It's a weird balance… giving a voice to the minority while also ensuring the majority feels respected and included."</block

    I say this as a definite Offbeat-lite reader who, in most aspects of her life, is in the majority and not the minority:
    I'm not entirely sure you necessarily have a responsibility to ensure that the majority feels included. Respected, of course, but included? There are plenty of places to express majority viewpoints.

    Besides, all of you make it clear that anybody can join the party, in their own (RESPECTFUL) way, at any time.

  6. Oh girl I feel ya! I manage the exhibitions at a non-profit art center, and I have a few different balances to deal with.
    1. The balance between artists and viewers. A lot of local artists want us to show more of their work more often. We would love to, but how would that be different from the ten other places in town doing that? Why would viewers come to our space? Showing out-of town artists that viewers haven't seen before makes them come to the center where they will still see the work of locals (we have four galleries in the building. yay for flexibility in exhibition spaces).
    2. The balance between the "serious artist" and the "Sunday painter." Many of the local artists are closer to the Sunday end of the spectrum, and therefore don't care about trying to make a living from selling their art (and sometimes price their work really high in order to NOT sell it), but they still want to show it to the world. So, that takes space away from another artist who is more on the serious end. How do I justify this? We're a community center, here for artists of all skill levels and talents.
    3. And of course, there's the almighty budget balancing. 🙂
    Ultimately, I only experience the envy when it's about some thing that I DO want to do, like gardening, cooking, etc. These are things that I have neither the time nor the space for and as soon as the envy comes it goes because I'm like "Oh yeah, but where would I grow my corn?" Problem solved. Being self-aware is really the only way out, cause I think you guys are doing an awesome job. But I am decidedly 3/4 of the way between total offbeat and offbeat lite, so yeah.

  7. Oddly enough, I find myself wrestling with this now that I'm transitioning from tribesmaid to homie. I had no problem thinking of myself as an Offbeat bride, despite the fact that my wedding was in many respects pretty normal, and I will even admit I wrote more than one blog post thinking, "I'm gonna get this bitch mainpaged!" Yet because I rent a tiny crappy apartment and decorate with cheap shit from A. C. Moore, I feel really weird thinking I can write for OBH. I suppose it's easy to think and analyze and sink your teeth into the mitigated authenticity of ONE DAY, which is mostly performance anyway, but for OBH I would effectively be writing about my day to day life, which I (like most people) am way more insecure about.

  8. That picture is hilarious! Good job on the googly eyes. That really sums up how I feel sometimes.

  9. When I read posts about people whose interests or lifestyles are more offbeat than my own, I really do feel inspired.

    I think of the OBB post about the three women in Massachusetts who got married, or the OBH post about the woman who lives with her husband and her ex-husband. I cannot imagine myself in situations like either of those (but you never know!), but rather than feeling offbeat-envy, I simply feel inspired by the way that the individuals in these posts are so capable of looking beyond societal boundaries to find what works for them. I don't need to be like these people, but their stories help remind me to keep what is really important in sight and not to get too caught up in whatever boundaries I might imagine in my own life.

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