Originally written for She Writes – an online community for women who write.
As young, emerging writers, it is vital for us to take chances, putting ourselves out there for the world to see our work. The internet provides potential for us to do so, with online contests, boards, and blogs that connect us with an international community of sayers and doers. On that hopeful note, I entered a tournament-style short story contest called “Indie Writers’ Deathmatch,” which is run by Broken Pencil magazine and, lucky enough, my story was one of eight accepted to compete against the others.
The competition is heavily vote-based, where two stories go against each other in each round. Visitors are welcome to comment on the board below; likes and dislikes about both stories emerged in my first round, and even a couple personal attacks. Here, I noted how each negative comment came from only anonymous commenters to which “someone” (their chosen name) replied: “anonymity makes the internet great!”
And this is the whole “point” of a Deathmatch, isn’t it? This is what I signed up for. Described as a contest where authors are encouraged to defend their stories, I was wholeheartedly built up to combat all my naysayers. It quickly moved away from this, becoming less and less about my story, and more about how big of a mistake it was that I entered this contest because my male opposition will probably “mount [me] like a blow-up doll” in the next round.
Internet anonymity allows individuals to live behind a guise where they are able say whatever they want. People are able to say mean, disheartening things when they believe it won’t be linked back to them. As we move towards a lifestyle that’s living online, however, total anonymity is becoming less and less likely. Even the author of the above “rape joke,” as it was deemed, was named on the board. But the knowing the persons name didn’t change much. We’re hearing more and more stories about online harassment, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying and the results are harrowing. Depression. Self-harm. Suicide. I can say for a fact that no matter how strong you are, when you receive personal attacks, especially one that includes pro-rape “jokes” and jabs at your character from people you’ve never met, it’s impossible not to take some of that to heart.
These comments are not okay.
Comments defending my character to strangers who haven’t even given me a chance is not the competition I wanted to be a part of. As my story made it to the semifinals and as the only female writer, I got picked on and personally attacked for being “a young buck,” “naïve,” “an immature brat,” “annoying,” that I lack manners and that I’m ungracious. Words of this nature were not thrown around with my competitors. Comments even pointed to my relationship with my mother and how I should “go sic her” on the Anonymous commenter because she’d openly been supporting me on the board.
When these comments occur and because I was one of four authors left, I felt a responsibility to participate in the board. I was invested in the competition. It is, after all, one opportunity for me to get myself out there, to have people read my work, and to attach my name to a piece I am proud of. But at what cost? I had little to say that I wasn’t afraid would get clobbered down by another comment about rape that would later be deemed a “joke” once labelled inappropriate. Because of this, it was mostly my partner on the board attempting to educate the anonymous about why it’s dangerous and inappropriate to write pro-rape, misogynist words directed at strangers and, in return, was told to “take it easy.” You can read his thoughts on the Canadian Women’s Foundation blog, here.
Over the past two months, I’ve been enlightened to the state of the ‘open internet.’ What I once thought of as opportunity is silencing me. Is it now that only those women willing to combat misogynist, pro-rape comments will have a place online? And if I choose not to be a part of it, will there be no place for me? As positive as I am, I am betting that this can and will change. Trying not to let a hard lesson harden my heart, I know we can speak out, and be examples, as both sayers and a doers. If we don’t, who will?
Broken Pencil’s Indie Writer’s Deathmatch runs until Sunday, March 9th at midnight. Visitors can read my story, Eraser, and my opponent’s story, Idiot Without A Coat On, here.