Last night I spoke at an event that was a meeting of a small group of people who are interested in writing and publishing books. There were several women there who seemed to have written interesting books or parts of books which they had to be coaxed into talking about and at times seemed slightly apologetic about having written. There were also two guys, one of whom had just quit his finance job and was now working on a novel about Asia and one of whom had recently retired and was now working on short fiction. They did not have to be coaxed into talking about anything.
I’m genuinely interested in hearing about writers’ experiences with publishing: self-publishing, small publishing, and large publishing. I think sometimes my experience, first as an editor and briefly as a publishing-gossip reporter and then as an author and now as a bookseller, can make it hard for me to think about counterintuitve approaches, because I know how difficult it can be to get publishers to change the way they do things and so I default to thinking “but that could never happen.” The perspective of people who have no idea “how things are done” can be very valuable because they are capable of imagining the good outcomes that I am too jaded to imagine.
But my perspective is valuable too, and that’s, ostensibly, why I was invited to speak at this event. These guys, for whatever reason, did not seem to think my perspective was valuable and I’d had a long day already and wasn’t really into being cut off midsentence by a banker who is working on a novel about Asia, but when that happened I said “No worries!” and smiled.
Afterwards I got on the F train to go home. It came pretty quickly and I got a seat. I have a bunch of books I’m reading but felt too tired and braindead to read them, so instead I took out my phone and started scrolling through the tweets I’d loaded onto it before heading underground. There was a large, middle-aged man sitting next to me and he looked over my shoulder, saw the tweets and said “You get reception down here?” incredulously. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone but I was in default talk-to-anyone mode because of the event, so I said, “No, of course not” in a neutral tone of voice, which indicated to this guy that I was interested in having a conversation. About my phone. That he’d been reading over my shoulder.
"Oh, I was gonna ask what carrier you have," he said, then launched into a long monologue about internet access in general, and how he showed his elderly landlady how to use Google. Maybe under totally different circumstances I would have been interested in hearing this anecdote, and felt like "wow, what a neighborly charm this big city can have, what an amusing oddball" but here’s the thing: I had put away my phone, taken out my book and said something like, "Well, I’m going to read my book now," and this guy was still talking. To me, but you know, not really. He was using my presence, the fact I hadn’t been outright rude to him when he’d first tried to start a conversation, as an excuse to just talk because he was bored on the subway, hadn’t brought anything to read or play with or eat, so instead he was going to entertain himself by forcing his sociality on nonthreatening-looking strangers, probably not other men.
"Enjoy your book," he finally said, in a tone of voice that meant " … you cold, dumb bitch." I probably fake-smiled or winced or something. He sighed loudly and shifted in his seat. I stared at my book. Of course I wasn’t really reading, just turning pages. I wanted to get up, but I was so tired and there were no other seats and there were only two stops left to go before my transfer.
Hey men: if a woman is rude to you, perhaps consider that you have put her in a position where she has to be rude to you in order to convey to you that you are not treating her like a full human. Also consider that this is what women’s lives are like, full of these little incidents, little and big incidents of not being treated like a full human, piling up every day.