I Hold My Breath When I Receive Online Comments from Middle-Aged Men

Gillian Sisley

This is an instinctual, defensive habit I didn’t realize I’d adopted until recently.

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As a full-time writer in my business, I receive a lot of feedback and notes on my published work.

Half the time, these notes are understandably from men.

I have to say, I have some really amazing readers who are middle-aged men and they are so supportive and so kind in the notes they leave. I especially appreciate the ones who challenge me in very high-quality and healthy ways, because that can be a really tricky landscape sometimes. But it truly does offer opportunities for us to share powerful, open dialogue and grow together.

The point and purpose of feminism, after all, is for men and women to be equal. I’m not looking to be superior or better than any man simply because of his gender.

I’ve been writing personal essays about feminism in womanhood for close to a year now. It’s basically part of the job description that I receive pretty sexist misogynistic comments on my work sometimes.

I’m still at the point in my writing where I look at every comment that’s left on my work and try to respond to every single one, as well.

But I take it upon myself to make the decision to not respond if a comment is unnecessarily rude or an attack on me, and will block as I see necessary.

Because quite frankly, when someone could just click away or not read my work if they didn’t like it, but instead chooses to be abusive, I don’t want that kind of person seeing my work to begin with.

Which is what brought me to what happened recently, where I didn’t even realize that a defensive instinct has developed in me.

On one of my pieces about women’s sexual health and my choice to get an IUD, I saw in my notifications that a middle-aged white man had commented on that very piece.

This piece was already controversial to begin with, because for some reason people think they have the right to comment on others' choices for what they want to do with their body, especially when it comes to reproductive health.

As I opened that comments, I noticed myself holding my breath. My shoulders tensed, and I prepared for impact.

I hadn’t noticed until now that I do this when encountering a comment from a middle-aged I haven’t heard from before.

I have become accustomed to expect the worst.

The comment ended up being in full support of what I’d written, and was exceptionally lovely.

When I saw that the comment was kind, I let out my breath, my shoulders relaxed and a smile spread on my face.

Before then, I had no way of knowing what the nature of this comment would be.

As an online writer who specializes in personal essays about simply being a woman, which is oddly more controversial than it should be considering 50% of the world’s population are women, I’ve grown to expect and anticipate a potential attack.

I have become accustomed to receiving abuse online.

And while a year ago receiving misogynistic and sexist comments was really difficult for me, I’ve come to a place where I’m better at processing them, and simply moving on.

But I have to admit, when I realized that my immediate instinct is tobe anxious and put up my defences when encountering a comment from an unknown male, I felt quite sad.

I hadn’t realized that my instinct for self-preservation had caught on to this trend until the other day.

When we are vulnerable and raw in our writing, we open ourselves up to a world of abuse.

This is often a reality that is enough to convince many who have been silenced or discriminated against to keep their mouths shut.

That’s certainly the safer route, and I can’t blame anyone for wanting to take the safer route, especially when dealing with more delicate topics like sexual assault and abuse.

The thing I prioritize more than anything is my own safety. Which is why, when encountering very aggressive commenters, I’m more likely to not respond or to block them immediately, because I am truly fearful of not only their verbal abuse, but things escalating even further.

I have seen friends who rejected men at bars, and then were assaulted for it.
I have met women who rejected advances on social media, and were then harassed for months and months for their lack of interest.
I know people personally who decided to leave a relationship, and in retaliation their ex-partner distributed naked photos of them on the internet for revenge.

It’s not unreasonable for me to expect that an abusive interaction could lead to more negative consequences for me, simply because I’m a woman.

On top of that, I’m a woman who is fairly transparent about her life, and runs an online business where I am in a way quite accessible.

I have to be careful.

Despite my fears, I will not stop writing.

Because I really shouldn’t have to fear to begin with.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a woman telling her story and speaking her truth. Particularly when she is part of a community that is often shamed and not believed when they step forward with information of a crime that has been committed against them.

As a survivor of the sexual assault, in wake of the absolute epidemic that is women experiencing sexual harassment and sexual assaults, I take it upon myself to write my story of my assault and talk openly about it fairly regularly.

There are a lot of people who are deeply offended by this.

I truly can’t tell you why, but I know it to be true.

I should have the right to speak my truth, like any man.

And until I have that full right, I’m going to continue to raise hell and be far more vocal until that right is jointly shared and respected by society.

Because that’s what the fight for equality looks like.

I am humbled more and more by the allies who are loyal readers of my work.

To the women who share their experiences with me, and can resonate with so much of what I say because they’ve experienced something similar, your stories also touch me and they truly make an impact in my life.

To the men who support my work, and comment with notes in support of equality and women’s rights, you are one of my biggest sources of hope for the future.

The men who stand with us, and fight alongside us, for the equality that everyone deserves gives me hope that one day my future daughter may be able to live her life without having to worry about the same concerns and fears that have plagued me.

The fears that continue to plague me.

When women are empowered, everyone benefits. The economy grows, there is greater success, and greater harmony between people.

That’s the goal, at least.

Final word.

I will continue to read comments, and for those who leave notes that respectfully challenge my views or opinions, without attacking me as a person, you will get a response from me.

We don’t have to be in agreement on everything to be able to have a respectful exchange of dialogue.

As long as someone is respectful, and I am happy to converse with them.

But the moment that exchange of dialogue becomes abusive or attacking in any nature, I’m not likely to reply.

Not because I’m afraid. Not because I think deep down you’re right. I choose not to respond because I am fully responsible for allowing the energy of others into my life if I so choose.

I am a woman who is juggling four different businesses and freelance gigs, all at the same time.

I truly do not have the time, patience, or energy to allow the toxic and negative behaviours of others come into my life, throw off my day and affect me in a deeply troubling nature.

I have better uses for my time.

As the old saying goes, if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it at all.

You have not sold your soul by reading my work. So, you don’t have to act like if you don’t attack me in a comment you will cease to exist. You could truly just click away and move on with your day, exactly as I will if you leave words of abuse under my work.

Better yet, do us both a favour and just block me right now.

Because life is far too precious to be wasting our time on bullsh*t like the exchanges you and I would have, if you choose to be unkind.

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Online solopreneur. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about trending news, viral Reddit content, and anything else that tickles my fancy.

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