A weird recollection.

It’s taken an embarrassing long time to realize that some of the earliest, most bizarre critiques I got as a writer posting things on the internet were actually guys hitting on me. It was mostly seeing this (NSFW, though it’s all text) post floating around the internet that made it snap into place for me.

The guys who started out by saying that I was a promising writer or even a good one but who then attacked everything I was doing. The ones who acted like they were doing me a favor reading and commenting on something I hadn’t solicited feedback on. The guys who felt the need to tell me how I could make my female protagonists more likable, or even what kind of writing they thought was “attractive” for a feeeemale to write.

I don’t think they were specifically negging. I think the thought process was more like, “Better let this girl know I’m interested, so I should say something nice. Oh, but I don’t want her to get too full of herself.”

I feel like if I had realized that these and all the implied and explicit mentorships I was offered were come-ons and had told the comers-on that I wasn’t actually looking for male companionship, I would have gotten replies along the lines of “What are you doing posting stories on this fiction website if you’re not looking for a date?” Those would have been leavened with a healthy dose of the the typical responses women get online for turning down unsolicited attention, which fall into three categories: “stuck-up”, “you’re ugly and no one wants you, especially me”, and “you are stuck up and ugly and no one wants you, especially me”.

When we talk about the harassment women face online, I think this is one facet that gets overlooked. Not just the hate, but the assumption that if we’re there and identifying ourselves to the world as a woman, that it means something, that we’re signaling… and that if someone responds to those signals and we aren’t grateful, we’ve sent mixed signals.

Call it the love interest angle. Every person has a story in their head that they tell about their lives. In so many of the stories that are put out in front of us as examples, if a woman appears, it does mean something. She’s the love interest. She’s there to have a connection with a male character.

The sorts of guys who scoff at any talk of systemic bias or sociological trends are going to read this and go, “That’s ridiculous. I see women everywhere I go and I don’t just assume they’re there to be my love interest.” Sure. You pass hundreds, thousands of women every day, most days, and don’t think any such thing. And so do millions of other guys in situations similar to you.

But it doesn’t have to be every guy to every woman to be a thing that happens often enough to be worth noting. If I get just five, or three, or two guys messaging me on a site thinking that because I’m there it’s suddenly OKCupid, that’s a weird thing. Even one guy would be a real weird anomaly, if it was an anomaly. If it was just that one site. If it was just me.