Everyone wants to know what Rayne Fisher-Quann has to say. That much is clear given that her blog, Internet Princess, recently hit 50,000 subscribers and she has just hosted her first lecture at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, an event so oversubscribed most people who showed up had to be turned away. With thousands of views on both her TikToks and her long-form essays, it is only natural to wonder: what is it about her that has not just the Internet, but traditional institutions, so intrigued?
Describing her work as “writing to make you feel crazier and writing to make you feel sane”, Fisher-Quann approaches topics such as girlhood, Internet culture, and commodification with equal parts vulnerability and profound insight. She manages to offer a fresh perspective on elements that are fundamental within our society as well as helping us, as young women, to feel seen and, therefore, less alone in our experiences. An advocate for the intellectual value of girls online everywhere, Fisher-Quann talks to us about being emotional, getting taken too seriously, and the importance of critically engaging with what you consume online.
Could you start by introducing yourself and what you do?
I’m Rayne. I’m a writer. I have a blog, Internet Princess, where I write essays about womanhood and mental illness and internet culture and lots of other things, too. I’m a very emotional girl - I say that all the time to my friends, so I’ll say it here too. I’m a very emotional girl.
You are known for a variety of things online but I wanted to ask first about your hugely successful Substack newsletter Internet Princess! Could you talk a bit about what Internet Princess is and why you chose Substack as the platform through which to publish it?
Internet Princess is my baby and my world and the most special thing that’s ever happened to me. It started as just kind of a dumping ground for the things that rattled around in my brain. Like, I would sometimes just have nights where I couldn’t sleep unless I got up and banged out a 3000-word essay just to empty out my head, and that was how I wrote most of my earliest essays on there. I never really expected it to be anything much more than a personal project, but I got so lucky and it found a big audience really quickly.
When I started the Substack, I’d been posting short-form video essays on TikTok for about a year and had built a pretty big audience from that. I found myself getting really frustrated with the limitations of the form — I felt constantly misunderstood and misinterpreted in everything I tried to say, and it felt like the platform was basically designed to discourage productive conversation or earnest expression. And my account kept getting banned for making jokes about men or whatever (“hate speech”). When I started using Substack essays as my medium, it felt like I had total control. And I’m a control freak!
Much of your work, it seems to me, encourages people, particularly young women, to critically engage with and question cultural processes and the assumptions that are made about them. Do you think there is an evolving problem of perceiving these cultural issues as black and white matters and a lack of appreciation for nuance and or complexities?
I think it’s a problem that’s always existed in some form, but I do think the Internet has definitely offered a unique environment for fostering inflammatory, one-note takes on the topics we feel strongly about. And I think it’s really important to be aware that the online environment has been designed by tech oligarchs to make them as much money as possible, basically. They are not on our side, and they’re never going to be trying to build a space for productive leftist discourse.
When I’m feeling too nihilistic about the Internet, I just try to read a book or talk to someone in real life. I also love when I write an essay and I see someone leave a comment that’s like 600 words long reflecting and expanding on what I’ve written. Or I’ve even seen girls write whole new essays in response to my essays, which is the best feeling in the world. It gives me a lot of hope. Having big, long, expansive conversations feels so good, and it’s nice to be reminded that we can still have them.
I love what you said in your interview with Vanity Fair about Joan Didion being a big inspiration for you because “she typically had a lot of care for the things she criticised.” However, some people might suppose that a removed objectivity is important to critically assess something. So, could you talk a bit more about why you think criticising the things that you love and care about is where your best work is rooted?
I’ve never understood the idea that you should be sort of detached or impartial when it comes to your writing. It makes no sense to me. Why would I ever want to waste my time writing about something that I didn’t care about? What would be the point?
I’ve always felt, for myself at least, that I have to love something to really criticise it well. To me, criticising something means treating it like it’s important. I think the things that young women do on the internet are fascinating and culturally essential, and I think they’re worthy of the same kind of discourse that’s been given for hundreds of years to politicians and public intellectuals and great cultural figures. That’s why I write about it.
And I’m not saying that you should never be snarky, or that all your criticism should be warm and fuzzy. Harsh criticism is also even better when it’s aimed at something you really care for. Like, insults always hurt the most when they’re from someone you love, because you know they must really be fucking disappointed in you. It can be really powerful when writing feels the same way.
I think you are proving to be instrumental in encouraging a shift away from the intellectual elitism of only valuing traditionally published criticism as well as disproving the assumption that being a young woman online and providing and engaging with valuable critical discourse are mutually exclusive. Regardless, do you still feel limited in any way by these cultural biases? If so, do you think they can ever be eliminated?
That’s very kind, thank you. I really hope that’s true. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to accomplish what I have as someone who’s not traditionally educated, and I definitely still feel that inferiority complex sometimes. But I think there’s so much great writing and critical thought being produced on the Internet from non-traditional sources, and it feels like the culture has really started to shift - now, a lot of prestigious traditional publications are seeking out those voices specifically because they’ve been able to do so many interesting things on their own. It’s really wonderful to watch and I hope it empowers even more people, especially young girls, to start putting their ideas out there.
Given that you are known for your more intellectual and critical content, do you feel a pressure for everything you say online to be a well-crafted take?
Yeah, definitely. It’s sort of frustrating sometimes because the majority of what I casually post online is sort of sarcastic, or meant to be at least a little funny, or written in character as a kind of satirical caricature of myself. Even when I’m making a real point, it’s rare that I’m not at least playing it up a little bit for laughs. And it definitely gets kind of frustrating when I bang out a tweet on the toilet and people start criticising it like a Masters thesis - I’m like, this was a joke about my pussy! I keep telling myself it’s better to be taken too seriously than to not be taken seriously at all, but I’d love to see how the other side lives. You give women much more complexity and lend them much more humanity when you allow them to be imperfect.
As an influencer-essayist, you and your character are a big part of your inevitable brand, if you will. In relation to this, you wrote an opinion piece for i-D last year about the apparent importance of authenticity when it comes to influencers and the ever-blurring barriers between performance and reality. How do you feel these issues impact the content that you post yourself?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t know if I think it’s possible for any person to be truly quote unquote authentic online, and I don’t think anyone would really want that anyway. Everyone is basically playing a character that’s sort of loosely based on their real-life selves, and the whole online experience becomes a lot better — for me at least — when you start being aware of that. I think I just try to be pretty clear about that as it pertains to myself: I want to encourage my audience to think critically about everything, including me. I also really value the separation of my real internal self from the self that people see online, which usually just means I keep a lot of stuff to myself. I don’t know what I’d do if every part of who I am was available for consumption. I also really try not to lean into the parasocial relationship, even though I know they’re kind of inevitable.
Following on from this, you’ve talked before about wanting to talk openly about your genuine experiences with mental illness whilst also making it clear that you still have compassion for yourself, which I think is really important. Do you have any advice for others in terms of how you work to show yourself this compassion and not give yourself a hard time?
Yeah. I always say that one of my biggest goals with my Internet presence is to show that you can be seriously, severely mentally ill, and have made a lot of mistakes or got to a really bad point, and still keep trying to get better. I think there’s never a point where someone is beyond being able to get better. I’ve had to believe that. I think it’s really easy to fall into nihilism about the world or especially about yourself — and it feels good to do that, in a weird way. It feels really good to think about yourself as a lost cause. It’s genuinely harder to admit that you give a shit about your life and want to feel okay sometimes, or want to be better to yourself and the people around you. But I think it’s worth it. And the only way to get there, I think, is to try to give yourself the love and attention that you have probably been denied.
You also just gave your first lecture, Girl Online: Aesthetics, Womanhood, and Selling the Self at McGill University in Montreal. I saw that the event was so popular that the venue was unable to admit the amount of people who wanted to attend! How do you feel about the response to the lecture? Do you think you’ll do more live events in the future?
It felt so amazing. I’d never been able to host a live event before, so I had no way of knowing what the numbers would look like — I spent the weeks leading up to it freaking out that literally nobody would come, and then like 400 plus people showed up to a 175-capacity event. It was really surreal and really emotional for me. I write stuff that is often really emotionally vulnerable and it can often feel like I’m shouting into the void a bit, so it hit me in a really visceral way to engage with people in real life who read what I write. There were 14-year-olds there and there were 60-year-olds there. It was just the most special feeling in the world.
I really want to do a lot more live stuff in the future — it’s hard because live events aren’t really baked into writing as a medium the way they are with something like music or comedy. But I’m trying to figure out a way to put a show together in a way that feels natural to me. I want to be able to make a reading feel like a concert. I’d love to do a tour someday soon.
Your content, whether in the form of TikToks, essays, or lectures, is always delivered in a way that is both distinct to you and accessible! How have you worked to develop your writing style as well as feeling confident in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it?
I’ve never had any formal writing training, and I used to be sort of insecure about that, but when I got hired for my first writing job (I used to be a music journalist at a Canadian magazine) it turned out to be something my editor really loved about my work. I think especially in this era of online content, having a very distinctive voice is a huge advantage, and I think coming to writing as a total amateur and figuring out for myself what I like and dislike really helped me with that. I also feel really lucky that I got that music journalism job when I was 19 because it forced me to just write all the time. I had to write almost every day. And I didn’t love a lot of what I put out, in part because I had to produce so much stuff, but it’s just really good to stretch that muscle. So that’s my advice, I guess — write all the time, keep a lot of it to yourself, and figure out along the way which of your imperfections you want to keep.
I also read you’re in the process of writing a book! Is there anything you can tell us about it, content-wise?
Nothing is confirmed, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to release the details really soon — I’m a total perfectionist so I keep writing and rewriting my proposal. My agent is about to put a gun to my head. Without revealing too much, it’s going to be a book of essays that expands on the themes I explore in my existing work — womanhood, performance, authenticity, commodification, the Internet.
Finally, is there anything else that you have got coming up that you are looking forward to?
Too many things to list, and I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about most of them!! I’m really excited to eventually publish the book. I want to do more live events. I’m scheming up an event I want to host in New York right now, actually. I’m working on dipping my toes into fashion and film and screenwriting. People keep asking me what my goals are and I keep having to say that I want to do literally everything. My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach.
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