One of my favorite male writers posted on Twitter recently about learning how his behavior towards women has made them extremely uncomfortable. He was completely chagrined. His apology and promise to do better seemed heartfelt. I only know this author through his books and his presence on Twitter. It does not come as a surprise that he was unaware of what his behavior towards women really was.
He shared a post he’d written on his blog about owning his mistakes. This post is not about that.
This post is about what someone said in the comments:
but it’s outright demoralizing for newbie writers who come to a convention to try to network, and they see that the male pros are bro-ing it up as colleagues, and they’re talking to the pretty women (who then have to fend off unwanted advances) … but the women they see as plain are entirely shut out of conversations.
Story. of. My. Life.
Shit like this brings me to my knees. Someone’s saying the thing I’ve been struggling to explain for years. I have been ghosted, over looked, looked over, looked through, gaslighted, etc. because as Kameron Hurley said, “My body isn’t coded correctly.”
I can’t tell you how many people, especially men, have told me my experience is “not that bad,” or “didn’t happen.”
I’m done with all that. This behavior has taught me to keep to myself and not seek advice or attention. Those who chose to treat us like that can just suck eggs right about now.
Once at a holiday party, a male co-worker sat next to me and we had an interesting talk about something. We talked until he got a better offer from a pretty, vivacious woman across the room. He would have denied that’s what happened, but I knew.
Another time, a friend and I had just finished dinner. She was thin and pretty with long curly hair. A drunk Asian man walked right past me to talk to her. When he wobbled off, I asked if she knew what had just happened. She didn’t see it and thought I was being too hard on myself.
No. There was a time when I once thought there was something wrong with me to be treated that way. For decades, I fought for recognition as someone who existed and took up space in her own right. It was exhausting, and led to some really embarrassing and truly terrible events. I berated myself for being so sensitive and crying over “every little thing.”
Guess what? Those things weren’t little and they hurt like hell. My heart was so battered and bruised I couldn’t see it wasn’t my fault. I was doing nothing to be treated that way. Nothing.
So men, take a look at your actions around women. Do you drink a lot and then flirt mercilessly, thinking her many replies of “no” and “go away” are a game? Stop that.
Do you stand in the hall at conventions having an interesting conversation with a woman who is less attractive, and then abandon her the second a prettier woman walks past? Knock it off.
Do you stand at the bar with your male compatriots yucking it up, refusing to acknowledge the woman standing there wanting to ask for you advice about a writing problem or to tell you how much she loves your work? Seriously, knock that shit off.
Do you hit it off with someone and she doesn’t return your calls? Ask yourself why. She’s not the bitch, you probably are.
There are so many other stories to tell about this. A lifetime of stories. Doesn’t matter to me if you believe them or not. My lived experience trumps your expectation of a skewed truth.
Bitter, resentful, angry, desperate, etc. I’ve been called them all, and more. So what? Maybe you could look at your own behavior and think about what might have made me, or a woman of your acquaintance feel that way.
The lowest setting on the privilege scale is cishet white male. Maybe the reason no one’s telling you about your behavior is because she’s scared to. A lot of men don’t handle it well and they lash out.
There are moments of agonizing pain because, damn it, that scar just got opened for the 700th time, and someone should pay for the pain they’re causing. Society trains women to be docile and submissive and then wonders why we’re angry. Dude, have you met you?
There was a time I didn’t want to identify as feminist because they just seemed so strident. Then I started reading and listening and learned feminism is about equality. It’s about my right to exist in my own space and not be hassled by some man who thinks he can, and should.
On a group trip to Canada, I was insulted over my weight. Aghast, I walked away. Next morning at breakfast, the very same man walked up behind my chair and put his hands on me. It took both my friend and I to convince him he needed to leave. I had no room to maneuver or I would have gotten up and left. He put his hands on me and he thought it was okay. Not only that, when I asked him to stop, he wouldn’t.
This is not anomalous behavior. It happens every day. Probably to someone you know. Men, before you get yourself twisted up over some man putting his hands on a woman friend of yours without permission, take a good long hard look at yourself. Do you walk up next to/behind a woman you vaguely know and touch her? You may think it’s just an innocent, friendly gesture and you’ll probably never know she flinched when you did it. We’ve been trained not to let you see us flinch. But we do. If you have ever put your hand in the small of her back and she is not a very good friend you have just committed assault.
She knows she’ll get laughed at for even complaining or asking you politely not to do that. She knows you probably won’t understand because you’re a good guy and you treat women with the utmost respect. No, you don’t. You don’t. And you need to look at your interactions before you pass judgement on women who refuse to be in your presence, or to get close enough for you to touch.
A writer friend completely objectified a woman to me based on her author picture. The red-headed lass was to his liking. Sat there, looked right at me as we’d been talking about feminism in speculative fiction and objectified her. The pain ripped right through me, both because it was obvious he didn’t hear what he was doing, and because he’d just made me feel small and unworthy because I wasn’t a red-headed lass. I got over the small and unworthy part fast because fuck him. He’s not the first to look right through me and compliment another, prettier woman. He probably won’t be the last.
If you don’t know whether you do this, ask your friends. Especially ask your women friends. Be prepared for some hard truth. And then be prepared to do the work to do better.
Don’t treat women like that. Don’t do it. We’re not a glass of your favorite whiskey to be sipped at. We’re not your favorite cigar bought and paid for. We are people. We are your mothers, sisters, aunties, daughters, wives, writing partners, and comrades in arms.
Do not make the mistake of thinking we like how you treat us. And do not make the mistake of thinking that our silence makes your behavior okay. Knock that shit off and evolve. To truly be the man you think you are takes honesty and work. Do that and see how much better all your friendships are. Do the work.