The terrible date between Aziz Ansari and "Grace" made the internet go crazy and opened up all kinds of debate over the #metoo movement. The story's author, Katie Way, though, has made herself a topic of news over her completely inappropriate email to HLN anchor Ashleigh Banfield after someone from Banfield's staff contacted Way and invited her to come on the show.
It's an unequivocal no from me. The way your colleague Ashleigh (?), someone I'm certain no one under the age of 45 has ever heard of, by the way, ripped into my source directly was one of the lowest, most despicable things I've ever seen in my entire life. Shame on her. Shame on HLN. Ashleigh could have "talked" to me. She could have "talked" to my editor or my publication. But instead, she targeted a 23-year-old woman in one of the most vulnerable moments of her life, someone she's never f---ing met before, for a little attention. I hope the ratings were worth it! I hope the ~500 RTs on the single news write-up made that burgundy lipstick bad highlights second-wave feminist has-been feel really relevant for a little while. She DISGUSTS me, and I hope when she has more distance from the moment she has enough of a conscience left to feel remotely ashamed -- doubt it, but still. Must be nice to piggyback off of the fact that another woman was brave enough to speak up and add another dimension to the societal conversation about sexual assault. Grace wouldn't know how that feels, because she struck out into this alone, because she's the bravest person I've ever met. I would NEVER go on your network. I would never even watch your network. No woman my age would ever watch your network. I will remember this for the rest of my career -- I'm 22 and so far, not too shabby! And I will laugh the day you fold. If you could let Ashleigh know I said this, and that she is no-holds-barred the reason, it'd be a real treat for me.
So, what would I say to other 22-year-olds?
I know that Katie Way doesn't represent the vast majority of you. When I asked my 20-something nieces what I should say to you all, Shauna Rasband, a college graduate doing a prestigious internship, and Katie Adams, who's working on a master's in accounting, replied that I should remember that most 20-somethings aren't spoiled and entitled. Most are hard working and concentrating on building careers in an economy where entry-level jobs are few and far between. Katie Way, they say, is an abberration, not the norm.
My nieces are right, of course. Most of you are trying very hard, and a few rotten apples spoil the barrel. and they shouldn't. But, if you can't quite place your finger on what Way did wrong in her email, I'm going to spell it out for you.
No Is a Complete Sentence
Ironically, Way wouldn't have gone viral if her subject, Grace, knew this principle. If you don't want to do something, just say no. Or, even better, no, thank you. The request to be on any television show, radio program, or podcast can be answered with a simple "No, thank you," and then you're done. You don't risk making a fool of yourself.
You don't owe any stranger an explanation of why you are saying no. You can just say it and go on with your life.
Just Because You Don't Think Something or Someone Is Important, It Doesn't Mean They Aren't
I get it, you don't watch HLN so you don't know who Ashleigh Banfield is. That's fine. I learn lots of new things all the time. And, frankly, while lots of people do want to attract Millennials and Gen Z to their television programming, lots of people know that we old folks (and by old I mean over 40) have the actual money to buy the products advertisers want to sell. So, no one, including Ashleigh Banfield, is offended by the idea that 22-year-olds don't know who she is. The people her advertisers are targeting do, and that's good enough. Don't think that things that are important to you are the only important things. They aren't.
Insults Always Make You Look Foolish
Way chose to not attack the substance of what Banfield had said on air previously She chose to attack her appearance. This type of insult makes you look foolish and self-centered. If you want to attack substance, please do. Makeup? Nope.
That Bridge Is Now on Fire
Attacking someone burns a bridge. You may think that is OK; you never wanted to go back that way anyway. But you're 22. You may change your mind. Don't burn any bridges unnecessarily.
And, like all fires, sometimes they get out of control. Way didn't just burn a bridge with HLN, but with many other people. And the internet is forever. She doesn't get to escape this.
We old fogies get to leave our 20s in the dust--there's no record of our stupid blowups or bad dates unless we wrote them down in a journal. But 22-year-olds today do things online. You can try to delete, but once you hit send on an email or publish on a tweet, that's forever. Say something horrible and someone will take a screenshot.
Emails to Business Contacts Need to Be Formal
An email to someone you don't know personally should be considered a business email. Use proper grammar, and avoid all caps. Something Way didn't do, but I see a lot of, is text-speak. Yes, you can do this with your friends, and if it's appropriate in your office, go ahead. But to someone you don't know? Formal writing, please.
You Have a Lot of Life Ahead of You
Twenty-two and not so shabby? Excellent. Let's talk when you're 45. A bad viral email at 22 probably won't kill your career, but don't assume that life will always be headed on an upward path. Life happens, and bad things happen. Being self-confident can help you succeed, but being snobby hurts you. Learn the difference.
As I said, most 22-year-olds are awesome and working hard, but for the few who aren't hopefully these things will help you as you enter the grownup world.
Special thanks to Jamie Brennan, Dianna Hall, Kerry Scott, Erin JL, Patricia Dixon, Aubrey Daly, and Jac Madsen for helping me flesh out these ideas.