So I’m a woman. I don’t always point that out but part of why I started this blog was so that when I wanted to talk about issues relevant to that fact, I could. And today is one of those days.
Two things are prompting this post. First is a thread that’s been blowing up on one of the writing forums the last couple days that is probably soon to be locked. It wasn’t the main point of the thread, but it came up during that discussion that there is at least one top-100-ranking male romance author (and possibly far more) using a female pen name, representing themselves to their fans as a woman, and interacting with their fans as a woman. Sometimes it seems as a black woman (although it wasn’t clear to me whether that was also in romance or not).
This male author said that they had gone so far as to have conversations with their readers on Facebook about their book boyfriends, etc. So it wasn’t simply a matter of using a female pen name and a stock photo or photo of the author’s wife. This also involves back and forth conversations with fans creating a space where they can talk to their favorite author about the interests they share. All the while knowing that on their side it’s complete bullshit.
The second thing that prompted this post is a thread over on Twitter where a woman was talking about being approached while walking her dog by a man who was at first friendly but then started asking uncomfortable questions about where she lived and if she lived alone and actually followed her and hugged her against her will.
Part of that thread was full of the well-meaning but completely lacking in understanding men who had to provide their perspectives on what she should’ve done. You know. The usual. Maybe the guy was just socially clueless. Or she should report him to the police. Or carry mace or a taser or…
Or why can’t you just be nice to guys instead of assuming they’re all creepers. If you just smiled at men and said hi this wouldn’t happen
(Oh, and this post is prompted by a third thing. On Seth Godin’s blog the other day he included a comment that “…you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you’ll have a good interaction” and I laughed out loud when I read that because that was so clearly written by a man.)
So here is my PSA to men. And I’m not saying that any of the men who read this blog even need it, but this is my little place on the internet to share my experiences, so this is where it’s going:
You don’t see what I see.
You do not experience the world the way I experience it.
A man like Seth Godin can smile at a stranger and have them smile back and it’s a good interaction. I smile at a strange man, he follows me for four blocks trying to chat me up because he thinks that smile must mean I want to have sex with him. Right now. In that alley.
And before anyone jumps in with not every man or that’s doesn’t happen often, let me tell you…If it was just once that I had made eye contact with a man I didn’t know or smiled at a man I didn’t know and had an awkward experience, I would still make eye contact with men I don’t know or smile at them. I don’t.
I reached a point between working in big cities (Washington, DC and New York) and traveling in countries where men are very forward (France, Greece, etc.) that I found my best strategy was to (1) not react to any sound in my immediate vicinity because it was more often than not a man trying to get my attention, (2) not look directly at anyone because if I made eye contact with a man about nine times out of ten that would result in him seeing it as an opening and trying to chat me up, (3) not smile in public because see #2 (also see number 1 for how the “you should smile more” thing misses with me–I just don’t hear it).
Because of how I now am (no reaction to sounds, no eye contact, no smile), I sometimes get called a standoffish bitch. Or cold. Or frigid. (Thanks for that one, Jimmy.)
Men don’t understand. They don’t experience what I experience. They don’t get in taxi cabs and have the driver ask them if they’re single and then have to suffer through a twenty minute conversation about how they should find a man or (when they lie and say they’re in a relationship) questions about where their man is because clearly he shouldn’t let his woman out in public alone.
Men don’t get followed down the street by a guy who’s “just being persistent.” They don’t get stuck on a register at work with a guy who won’t leave and have to be polite to him because he’s a customer. They don’t walk out to their car after a late shift and see that same guy lingering around outside waiting for a chance to ask them out.
Men don’t get it because they don’t experience the world the way women do. So when these situations come up, they don’t put themselves in a woman’s shoes and try to see the world from her perspective. They look at it from theirs. They don’t see how a woman couldn’t look up from her book while riding the bus for fear of being stuck in an unwanted conversation with a guy who might follow her to her car. They think instead of that attractive girl who was sitting across from them on the bus last week who would’ve been perfect for them if only she’d looked up. (Not realizing they stared at her for five minutes straight like a true creeper.)
Men don’t get it. They’ve never tried to politely tell a man they aren’t interested and have the man go from “Hey, sexy, what’s up?” to “Fuck you, bitch. You’re not that hot anyway” in less than a minute.
So all that helpful advice about how being nice works? Bullshit.
Of course, I haven’t talked yet about the other advice women get. The advice that says call the cops. Or take the guy’s photo. Or carry mace. Or a taser. Or…
The girl who started that Twitter thread said what I was thinking: If I called the cops on every guy who was a creeper towards me I’d never leave the courtroom.
And if I took photos of every guy who was a creeper, my phone would be full of dudes. (Not to mention that would escalate the situation.)
Now, I’m fortunate. I’m not petite. So I don’t get physically grabbed by men. They hover, they follow, they lean in, they linger, but they don’t grab. They just annoy. And cuss when I ignore them. So I don’t have it as bad as some women.
As for carrying a weapon…This shit goes down fast. With a true predator–a man who is going to try to harm you rather than cajole you–I’m not convinced that I could adequately use a weapon against him in the timeframe I’d need to use it.
It’s like using bear spray. By the time the bear is standing there in front of you, do you really think you can dig it out of your pack, get the safety off, and spray it before the bear attacks?
It’s not like a woman can walk home with mace in her hand and wave it at every man who gets within five feet. (Even if some days it feels like that’s the only safe option.)
Plus, most women learn that the average guy can be ignored or awkwardly avoided until he gives up. Pulling a taser or mace is likely to escalate a situation that could’ve been kept to awkward and uncomfortable.
So when this shit happens and a woman shares her experience, if you’re a guy maybe stop yourself before you reply.
You don’t need to tell a woman how to navigate this world. We get trained in it every fucking day. If a woman is in her thirties and not horribly scarred by terrible events, chances are she’s figured out how to handle all but the psycho predators. You don’t see it, because you don’t have to do it, but every woman around you has ways of handling her interactions with men (including you) to keep herself as safe as she can. She doesn’t need your suggestions.
If you do need to respond, a “That sucks. I’m sorry that happened to you,” will work just fine.
And as for that male author who is pretending to be a woman with his fans? I don’t care if a male author uses a female pen name. Or a fake bio. Or a fake photo. (I don’t like it, because I don’t think it’s honest, but I get that it happens.)
But when you engage in conversation with women, pretending to be a woman, talking to them about their lives? In order to make a little extra money off of them? (Because, really, if you write the right book you don’t need social media to sell it.) That’s just fucking predatory.
That’s using someone’s openness and desire to connect with others against them. It makes the world a worse place. And it’s an all too familiar violation for women who have had men lie about who they are to get close.
Remember, you don’t see the world women see. You don’t understand how doing that is right up there with the worst kind of crap that men pull. Don’t do it. Find a better way.