Kindness Wins: An Interview with Galit Breen
Galit Breen is a writer who works to combat body-shaming and create safe conversation spaces on the Internet. We chatted about cyberbullying, her new book, and how Judaism informs her activism.
Hi Galit! Thank you so much for talking to JWA’s blog about your book, Kindness Wins. The book addresses online behaviors and cyberbullying, which you learned about firsthand last year. Can you tell us about your own experience with cyberbullying?
Thank you so much for chatting with me—I’m so happy to “be” here with you!
This part of my story began last summer when I wrote an article about marriage on The Huffington Post and the comments that came in on it were about my weight and how fat I looked in my wedding dress. I went to a very sad place at first but a few months later, when I had moved past the sadness, I wrote a second article for xoJane calling out my cyberbullies and saying two simple things: we can do and be better than talking about people's bodies at first contact and let's be kinder to each other online. That article went viral—which I think says so many good things about our society—and was featured on TIME, the TODAY show, and Inside Edition.
What was life like after the Huffington Post article? You wrote for xojane.com and went on the Today show—what else changed?
When my xoJane article got the attention that it did, people began coming out of the woodwork in support of body positivity and kindness. People also began asking me what can we do about all of this and I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t sure at the time! But then something interesting happened: my daughter and her friends began wanting to use social media. And that’s where my story changed. I knew that I could use what I knew from my MA in Education and decade of being a mom and a teacher combined with what I’d learned from working with social media for six years as a freelance writer to change the conversation around social media use. I landed a book deal for Kindness Wins, a simple guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online, and a job with VProudTV, a troll-free conversation space for women.
Women’s bodies are at the forefront of political and cultural conversations today. How do you feel we as a society are failing in addressing body issues and women’s self-image, and where are we getting it right?
There are so many things that we’re doing right today—the body positivity movement is gaining power and voice. Women, from celebrities to everyday people like me, are feeling empowered to stand up for themselves and call out people who say cruel things to them about their bodies. We’re creating a language to name the pervasive, underlying beliefs people have about women. Most importantly, the conversation is live. Where we’re getting it “wrong” is the same as it has been for a long time now—there’s a misplaced sense of entitlement to talk about and make decisions for women and their bodies. There are so many problems that would be solved if we all realized that we’re only in charge of our own bodies.
“Fat shaming” isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s one that has taken on new power with the ubiquity of the Internet. And yet, the Internet has also given rise to a body positivity. What’s your take on this?
I absolutely see the Internet as being and creating more good than bad. It’s where we can connect, be creative with our work, share slices of our lives, tell our story, and have a voice. We’re on the cusp of so much change. The body positivity movement is getting louder and stronger and women from different places are banding together in this message. The next step is for others outside of the movement to more universally step in and speak up when they see and hear fat shaming. This is already happening and it’s a huge part of why we’re seeing change. Incidentally, when Kindness Wins first came out, people would send me articles of bad things that were happening online—cyberbullying, fat shaming, mob mentalities. Today, more often than not, people send me the good stories when voice and goodness and kindness are winning, when people are standing up for each other. I can’t quite express how much seeing this goodness means to me!
Your book focuses on kids being cyberbullied—why did you make that choice, rather than writing a book on the subjects for adults?
I believe that change happens via dialogue. So, of course, I wanted to take a look at how we’re teaching our next generation to interact online. We’re the first generation of parents and teachers raising digital kids without having been digital kids—this is new terrain for all of us and we have a chance to be a part of what that terrain can look and feel like. I definitely want to be a part of that. But each chapter in Kindness Wins also includes a peer-to-peer component because you’re spot on here: for real change to occur, we need to create a culture of kindness where we all believe in watching out for each other and each other’s children online. This means having uncomfortable conversations with our in real life and online friends about what we’re posting, sharing, and commenting. And it also means being open to feedback when someone tells us we’ve done something hurtful online. It means re-teaching ourselves to disagree with each other and to think twice before posting. In order for kindness to win we as adults all have to agree to do the work to make sure that it does.
Do your Jewish values play a role in Kindness Wins?
Yes. Tikkun olam, leaving the world better than how we found it, was so very well taught when I was in Hebrew School. But I was also absolutely raised to fight issues not people and I think that this is in my Israeli roots. My parents’ group of Israeli and Russian friends was incredibly eclectic religiously and politically, and they were all (loudly!) opinionated about topics, not about each other. I had the same experience when I traveled and studied in Israel. Israelis argue a lot—but it’s issue-based rather than personal which I think is a goal here in the States.
Who are your role models?
Strong women are everywhere and I absolutely seek them and their words out. I’m currently smitten with so many—Maya Angelou, Emma Watson, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Alice Walker. Jennifer Weiner, Natalie Portman, and Nora Ephron. I also truly admire millennial feminists—these women are change makers, want to land on the right side of history, and they’re not afraid to use their voices for good. I’m so happy my own daughters have role models like these!
How to cite this page
Metal, Tara. "Kindness Wins: An Interview with Galit Breen ." 3 September 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 25, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/kindness-wins-interview-with-galit-breen>.