Even as I type this, I’m not sure it’s a story I need to share, should share, or has any value.
But the more I stew on it (a lovely stew made up of annoyance, feminism, and sass), the more I want to share it.
We live in a very interesting age of connectivity – the internet has brought me a lot of friends that I would have otherwise never met. Some of my greatest friends are purely through the internet and our shared interests, and in fact I recently met one of my dearest writing friends while vacationing in the same place. I can keep an eye on whats going on with my friends, despite being bad at keeping in touch through normal means. I can see what’s going on around the world right now, and learn what people care about in a heartbeat.
But that same connectivity is a portal for harassment, embarrassment, ridicule, and a myriad of terrible things.
As a woman, I’ve endured versions of these things. From the unsolicited dick pic and a social-media stalking ex-boyfriend, to of course all of the self-proclaimed “nice guys” who think I owe them a conversation because they’re “nice” and thus get proclaimed to be a “whore” when I refuse to give them the time of day. It’s a story many women (all women?) are used to and have experienced. It’s the same as being told to “Smile” when we’re minding our damn business, or acting gracious when a stranger tells us how attractive we are in their eyes.
It’s not unique.
I can’t even remember all of the times I’ve had to block someone because they stepped out of line and disrespected my boundaries.
But it hasn’t happened in a while, and I guess I forgot what it was like.
I’ve been having a sort of existential, quarter-life crisis about who I am in the world. Am I writer? Am I an artist? Am I good person? Do I have value? A lot of things that have been happening in my personal life have made me doubt myself a lot, and I’ve vowed to stop holding myself back in 2019. Because boy – I sure did hold myself back a lot.
It’s simple to see if I reflect on just the last few years.
I refused to go into veterinary medicine for years, thinking I didn’t have the emotional stability to handle losing patients – but here I am, over a year into working in the veterinary field, and I love my job. I’m good at my job. I went from receptionist to a technician, and found that I enjoy veterinary medicine – it stimulates my brain to learn about it.
I told myself my entire life that I am not a physical person – I’ve never particularly enjoyed sports, and have never worked out for more than a few weeks before remembering how much I hate it. But then I trained for a 10k in 4 weeks – FOUR WEEKS! And I thought “I can at least run part of the way.” And do you know what I did? I ran the entire 6.2 miles (with encouragement from my partner’s sister), even after falling flat on my face halfway through. I just walked it off for a few moments and then kept on running. My body can take more than I’ve ever given it credit for and I may actually like running now.
Looking back at my life, I realize I’ve always held myself back and have been afraid of…success? Or maybe failing? I don’t know what the fear is, and will probably see if my therapist can help me understand this epiphany.
But the one place I’ve held myself back the absolute most on is with my writing. And I see that, now.
Coming into the new year, I knew I needed to kick myself into gear, and have also felt the tremendous guilt of not doing it. But with a vacation planned and lots to do before leaving, I hadn’t had time to really sit and work on things.
So it came as a “sign from the universe” when a stranger messaged me on my personal Facebook account and said “Just wanted to let you know I came across a few of your writings and you seem gifted! Keep it up!”
I was absolutely thrilled. See, Briari – you’re a great writer!” I told myself. “You kick ass! Let’s do this!
I was pumped. I stared at the message for a few moments, wondering whether I should respond – I felt as a writer, I had a duty to respond to any sort of “fan” of my work.
But I hesitated. Not only was I wary because (see above about social-media stalking ex), but what if this was just some dude trying to flirt? After all, he could have posted on my author’s page, or here on my website.
I shook off the thought, realizing that was a vain assumption. He was talking about my writing after all.
So I accepted the message, and replied:
Here I was, being a legit writer, talking about my writing and connecting with a reader. This was good. This was exciting. I made a post about it on Instagram in my excitement, for Tolkien’s sake!
I was ready to get back into the groove of being a writer and embrace my true self – cue a montage of my fantasies of sitting in a coffee shop, typing away, going to writer events, and really just kickin’ ass this year.
And then he sent me this:
I’m familiar with the “casual” comment about my looks and asking about my ethnicity. I’m familiar with the “?” coming when I didn’t reply back quickly enough to someone who wanted my attention.
Mostly on dating sites, where technically this type of behavior isn’t unsolicited. Because…it’s a dating site.
But here? On my personal Facebook page?
I opened up the conversation because it was about writing, and nothing more. Because I felt that, as a writer, I should respond to feedback on my work. My passion. Hopefully, my one-day career.
I did not open up this conversation for a stranger to comment on me as a person. On my appearance or otherwise. We had exchanged just five messages and were by no means friendly.
I thought to myself, “If I was a handsome man, or an ethnically ambiguous man, would this stranger be making this comment?”
The answer is “no.”
I chopped this up to friendliness, and pushed on in the conversation, feeling that I still owed someone a conversation. I didn’t even acknowledge the comment on my appearance, assuming that would be enough to hint that I didn’t want to go down that road.
I thought about my response.
I looked to the message for substance. I tried to gauge if he was serious about talking about writing.
I reread his words over and over, panicking. Should I reply, “Yeah, my partner sure thinks so too”? Should I joke and say “My boyfriend considers me more a talking nightmare”? What “cute” comment can I say back to deter his comments about me, as a sexual woman? Because at this point, that is what I am. I not a “writer” to this person.
I am an attractive woman, who writes. I am a “Dream Girl.”
So I blocked him.
Without word. Without explanation.
If you’re the kind of person who reads this and thinks “What?! You’re overreacting! He’s being nice! He’s flattering you!” then kindly fuck off.
I have had this conversation a million times.
I have had the conversations where it starts with simple “friendly” comments on my appearance.
Then I’m asked if I’ve seen this porn star that I look like. Or if I know of this sexy character in a novel. Or if I write erotica. Or that they write erotica and they’d love to base a character off of me.
I have been told that I look just like someone’s favorite porn star. I have been asked, while at work, if I have piercings on my nipples since I had piercings on my lips. I have been told by strangers on the train that I look “gothic” and then proceeded to ask if I’m a dominatrix. I have been cornered at a literary event where I was one of the readers by a man who refused to let me end the conversation without giving me his email, causing the staff of the cafe to swoop in and apologize after the man walked away.
And while this person did not advance to such extremes (although seriously, we’re talking about writing and your response is “sci-fi and erotic lol”? I know plenty of erotic writers who don’t make me feel objectified when they talk about their work, and part of that is actually talking about their work), I had a feeling that a simple chastise wouldn’t work. Because as a woman in this society, I am expected to tolerate this. To “gently” brush him off. To give him a “chance” to correct his behavior. To smile, and learn to take a compliment.
I know how to take a compliment. Strangers have told me they like my hair, or my makeup, or my dress. Older gentlemen on the street have told me, in a grandfatherly manner, “You look lovely today, young lady” and given me an old-school tip of the hat and moved on. I’ve had compliments on everything from my aura to my “style” to my ability to help clients. Compliments I can take.
These didn’t feel like compliments. This felt like a segway to something more uncomfortable. And not because he was “unattractive” – such an original argument from people who don’t understand that not everyone is comfortable with flattery and advances. He was an attractive guy by all common standards – that doesn’t make these comments any more wanted or acceptable and quite frankly.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it was an honest mistake. And you’re right if you’re thinking “but he didn’t resort to being vulgar or direct.”
But I don’t owe a stranger on the internet a chance to make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t owe them a chance to correct their behavior. I don’t owe them an explanation.
The only person I owe anything to is myself, and I owe it to myself to remove myself from a conversation that makes me uncomfortable.
I say all of this, of course, only after turning to my writing group for insight on the situation. Only after I was reassured by dozens of writers who agreed that this conversation was inappropriate from someone who is supposedly approaching a writer whose work they enjoy.
And while of course this happens when you’re in the public eye (although my public is like…five people), that does not make it okay.
The blocking happened while I was lying next to my partner as we prepared to sleep. He noticed my silence, and saw the look on my face. I showed him what had happened. I cried.
Not because someone made me uncomfortable.
But because by commenting on my physical appearance, it made me wonder if this person was genuinely interested in my work. Would he have gone through the trouble of finding my personal account and passing on a compliment if he thought I was unattractive? If I were a man?
I felt defeated – is this the feeling women get when they’re trying to break into their career and someone comments on their looks? Is this the feeling that started the #timesup movement? Wondering if their worth in their career is gauged by their ability to accept comments about them as anything other than a career person?
I’ve taken a cue from females in the public eye that I look up to who have shot down interviewers who wanted to talk about their appearance, dress, diet, lingerie under their badass superhero outfits (looking at you, ScarJo), how they balance being a mom and successful. Because for the most part this doesn’t happen as frequently to men. And for the most part, men are not expected to tolerate it.
There is a time and a place for certain conversations.
And taking a conversation about someone’s work and turning it into a conversation about them as a sexual being is absolutely not okay.
The person whom I had this conversation with can still see my site. He could, theoretically, be reading this now. Maybe you’re wondering why I blocked you. Maybe you’re genuinely wondering why our conversation ended so abruptly because you thought we were getting along. Maybe you’re thinking I’m a stuck up bitch.
The fact is, if you approach someone about their work, keep things about their work. My work, and comments on my work, are not an opening to comment on me on a personal level. All I should be to you are words on a screen – stories, and essays. I am not a dream girl. I am not “really cute”. I’m a writer. I gave you access to me as a reader to a writer, not as a man to a woman.
Learn to respect those boundaries. Learn to see those boundaries.
I have sat on this post since January 22nd, wary to speak harshly and out of anger. But coming back and rereading what I wrote in the heat of the moment, I still absolutely resonate with my words.
I understand that if I want to “make it” as a writer, I will likely be subjected to this behavior many a time over, and possibly worse. This was fairly innocent, and just extremely frustrating as someone who just wanted to talk about my writing with a fan/another writer. I didn’t want to talk about my worth as a partner, as a “dream girl.” Because I refute the idea of a “Dream Girl” just as much as I am repulsed by the idea of a “man of my dreams”.
So, moving forward, unless it is someone directly connecting from a conversation from a writing group I will now direct all private messages to my author’s accounts. This will help set a boundary that I am making myself available as a professional and not on a personal level.