PittGirl: A Lesson in Anonymity, Paranoia and What’s Wrong With America

Lately, I’ve been discontent with the state and quality of social media.  I’ve lamented the lack of trailblazers, questioned the purpose of an audience and even called for an outright rebellion.  And now, amid all this white noise that passes for communication, we have yet another sign that independence in America is more discouraged than ever:

PittGirl just got fired.

If you’re not from Pittsburgh, you may not be familiar with PittGirl, the blogger who (until this week) posted anonymously hysterical rants and bittersweet observations about Pittsburgh for three years on her old site, The Burgh Blog.  Due to the increasing difficulty of maintaining her anonymity, PittGirl finally outed herself this week.  It turns out her name is actually Virginia Montanez, she’s 35, happily married and a mother of two.  She’d blogged anonymously because she was concerned that her comedic evisceration of local targets like mayor Luke Ravenstahl, UPMC, and Steelers Ben “Duke of Fug” Roethlisberger and Jeff “Skippy Skeeve” Reed might get her in trouble at work.

Turns out she was right.  One day after going public, Montanez was fired from her job as the Director of Marketing and Communications for NEED, a Pittsburgh-based scholarship program for minority students, where she’d served for the past 6 years.  (Amusingly, Montanez is still listed on NEED’s employee page at the time of this post.)

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Montanez’s story so closely resembles that of Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce), who was also fired after posting sarcastic and unflattering anecdotes about her day job.*  (In fact, Montanez was technically “dooced,” according to popular web parlance.)  In the aftermath of her dismissal, Armstrong parlayed her considerable writing skills into a full-time career. PittGirl’s fans undoubtedly expect her to do the same; it’s not Montanez’s career options that worry me.

It’s that the paranoiacs were right.

Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that Armstrong and Montanez are each strong-willed, sharp-tongued women who were fired for daring to detail the idiosyncracies and idiocies of their daily lives.  Let’s also kid ourselves into believing that a man who’d done the exact same thing would have also been fired by his face-saving male superiors.  (Sexism would only muddy these waters, so let’s keep our paranoia clean.)

For me, the bigger issue is this: since when did America become a nation where holding a contrarian opinion is a fireable offense?

I understand the politics of always needing to appear positive, and I find them wearying and fraudulent.  That’s one of the many reasons I’m a freelancer; this way, I only have to kiss my own ass.  And yet, even my own sarcastic opinions and unpulled punches have allegedly cost me work, so I can only imagine how many people are lining up to not hire someone like Montanez for fear that she might eventually point out their flaws, or otherwise challenge their obsessively bubble-wrapped self-image.

When Montanez temporarily pulled the plug on PittGirl last year for fear that someone else might out her, I lamented the need for her anonymity in the first place.  When she decided to go public this week, I gave her credit for being resilient enough to withstand the impending slings and arrows she’d been fearing these three long years.  But now, realizing just how right she was to be paranoid, my respect for her has doubled, even as my respect for society in general continues to plummet ever downward.

* Correction: I originally wrote that Heather Armstrong blogged anonymously at Dooce.  I was wrong; she blogged in her own name.