What do you do when you get a Facebook message from a man you don’t know who is 51 years old (which is 24 years older than you are) and it says “You seem interesting ….. and a little damaged. I think I’d like that” ?
I thought I meant that question rhetorically, exasperatedly, at first, but actually I really want to know.
I have gotten a lot of creepy messages from men I don’t know during the last few years I’ve lived my life partly online/in print, but especially in the last few months. When my book came out, a few excerpts were printed online. I am very grateful for them and mostly it was for the good. The downside was that people who didn’t read the full book and had no plans to had access to my name, my picture, and a narrow window into my romantic history, which, basically, was that I didn’t have one. And a number of THOSE people, all male, took these excerpts as invitations to email me, tweet at me, and Facebook message me to do one of a few things:
1. Ask me out (sometimes confusingly in other states/countries??)
2. Accuse me of friend-zoning or otherwise wronging men
3. …. ?? I’m not sure what?? But there’s definitely a third category, and the above message falls here. (So does the one I got the other day that was like “hey I read something about your book, you should check out my photo albums—I’ve traveled the world.” ??? Like, congratulations on having a camera and being able to find an airport?) I guess the best name I can think of for this category is “Announcement of My Male Existence.”
Haha. But seriously.
I have dealt with these messages and things pretty well I think, which is to say that I’ve almost exclusively ignored them. But, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if I ignore them too much. Sometimes I really want to respond! I really wanted to respond to PUA McReddit up there—not because it’s even that bad on this totally shit relativity scale, but just because today I felt like punching back—and I even wrote out “cool message to send to a stranger half your age who doesn’t give a shit!” in the little reply box. But then I deleted it and reported him as spam instead.
Partly that is because responding would do nothing, and I know that even if I took the time to craft the BEST and cleverest of all possible wounding insults, it would do nothing. He’s nothing to me. It’s nothing.
But all TOGETHER, among all the women writers I know and talk to and read about, it’s … a lot! It’s not even just “hate mail.” I don’t know what to call it, even. It’s just mail we get for being women. And sometimes I wonder if there should be a place to put all of it and then make every man who works for or reads the internet (so, all of them) look at the log for, I don’t know, an hour a week. That seems fair to me. I just worry sometimes that men—even the ones who are kinda paying attention—have a vague idea that they understand the extent to which this happens. But they don’t really? I mean, how could they.
Every time I get an unwelcome/harassing/mean/rude/bizarre message from a man I don’t know, I have to decide whether to be proud that I can ignore it and say nothing, or to be aggressive, and make it known somehow, and give it (and therefore him) attention. These are terrible options. I think they are both brave (because it’s brave to believe you’ll always have skin this thick, and it’s brave to believe other people will care to hear about something that seems wrong to you), but I don’t know if either feels all that good. What it feels like, at this point, is a routine.
I have a thick skin the way you must when you’re a woman with an internet presence. (Or a woman in general.) Sometimes I feel like I’m (or we’re) not supposed to acknowledge our toughness. There have been times I’ve wanted to publicize something like this and didn’t because it somehow felt like bragging. But I AM proud of it, even if it’s fucked up that’s a skill I ever needed to develop. I guess I think vocal pride has to be part of this raw deal we were handed. If I don’t get to team-brag with other women about how tough we are, and how the mail/tweeting/messages/comments media guys consider “hateful" are, like, Edible Arrangements compared to what we deal with, then I don’t know what recourse is left.
What recourse IS left?? What do you do?
Chris Kraus, I Love Dick
This book is like a talisman, or something, or a spell, like sort of a secret, because it wasn’t in any of your Women’s Studies classes or even on the radar for so long, but all the women you meet now or see at readings or online are talking about it in a way that makes you both doubt it’s really everything they say (because WHY DIDN’T YOU HEAR SOONER) but then you buy it and read it and are like, oh, yeah. It’s the kind of thing that makes you write exclamation points in the margins. It’s as totally revelatory and gutting as Emily in particular always says, of course.
It’s hard to be in the mood to make fun of Miss Utah — who, after all, was participating in a prettiness contest and who did what she was supposed to do in that regard, which is look pretty — when almost everyone who has done so already has done it so gleefully, because there isn’t much we love more than a dumb woman. (Especially a pretty one, because it’s reassuring, I think. “Well, at least I am smarter than her/Well, at least she isn’t threatening,” etc.) Her answer, if you can call it that, was funny, really. Or sad. But to watch the commentary is to be put in this weird spot where I don’t want to join in for what I guess are political reasons, and probably that’s part of the reason why feminists get called humorless — because it’s hard for me to understand what it’s like to live in that world, where one pilloried woman doesn’t remind you of sixteen others and you’re able to think of the person without the pattern. It’s the pattern that isn’t funny even if the person really is. It’s impossible to be objective.
And that’s come up a lot lately, and it’s among the other reasons I don’t care for the jokes about Miss Utah (it seems almost everyday now there’s something like this, forcing me into hiding off Twitter) — the idea that there’s an objective funny (and it’s what guys say) and an objective story worth making movies about (and it’s men’s) and an objective GOOD journalism, and it’s the kind in Esquire and GQ and not Marie Claire and Glamour. I don’t think anything is objective, except maybe, uh, gravity, but even that is debated, like by David Hume, even though I find that irritating because well, okay, we’ve all dropped enough things to know it’s going to keep happening by this point, if you ask me. That is my subjective opinion about David Hume.
There is a quote in that Jessica Grose story from Janet Reitman, who said, “I was never going to be a ‘chick,’ you know, doing ‘chick stories.’” And that’s taken out of context, and we’re assured she’s well aware of the way women’s experiences are ghettoized and discounted, but that sentence still makes me cringe. (That’s ME she’s talking about, in a way!) If even we won’t say our stories are as valuable as Buzz Bissinger writing about leather suits for fourteen thousand pages (and I think probably at least some of them are!), who will? I get it — on the one hand, women shouldn’t be relegated to writing about manicures if they do not want to write about manicures, and nobody should patronize us or assume ALL we care about are manicures. On the other hand, there is probably a lot to say about manicures, and a lot of people would read about manicures and have a nice time doing that, and there is a way to tell that story that’s smart and funny and interesting, too. At a certain point we have to ask WHY we think the topics we think of as fluff are fluff. (OK, a manicure story is not my best example. Or am I accommodating even now??)
The “stupid” girl movies and girl books and girl TV shows I’ve seen and read have meant so much more to me, personally, than any action movie about a bro hero or acclaimed pop psychology thinkpiece — things that feign depth while being, in the end, no less shallow than every “perfect for the beach! for girls in swimsuits!” book I’ve ever read, and probably more so — ever has. A lot of it is imperfect but I grab hold of it whenever it is there. And I hope soon there is more, MUCH more, so there’s room for some of it to be stupider than the rest. Because then we could say that out loud and feel fine — not so protective of something that, in a vacuum, we might not even protect — if other people say it out loud too. We won’t feel so sensitive, because we know it’s just one thing, not a pattern. You can hate this show/book/movie for girls and it won’t remind me of everything else I’ve ever heard about things made with me as an audience in mind.
And really, even now, I don’t think almost any of it — CHICK stuff — is stupid at all. Most of it still says something, however little, about what is — what it’s like — to be a woman. Who’s to say that isn’t serious? It’s the most serious thing I can think of.