Help me resolve fear about trying to have a creative career.
May 24, 2014 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in working on a publishing/performing career (think the sort of thing you see on The Moth). However, I am female. I am aware that all women if they get well known anywhere will immediately attract trolls, stalkers, and potential rapists who will constantly send her death threats at bare minimum. Knowing this kind of thing is guaranteed to happen to me if I try to have a creative career makes me terrified to try.

I keep thinking that I am risking my life to do what I want in public. I am already a crazy magnet person IRL just walking down a street without choosing to make this worse.

I currently keep my online presence on the down low. I avoid social media, I don't publicize my websites and they have low readership, which I am fine with. I make it difficult for anyone to find my e-mail because when I first got online I'd have random people writing me to tell me how fugly I am. That solved the online troll problem, and right now I don't get any shit. I do not like knowing that I am making myself open season for this kind of harassment if my name gets known at all. It's not that I need to be loved by all, but I'd prefer that those who hate me aren't actively trying to track me down IRL so that they can stalk, rape, and kill me because I dared to exist.

I don't think I can do this anonymously/with a pen name, given identifying personal details and the desire to do stage performing. Plus anyone can and will be outed these days, so I should not trust that I could pull off keeping a secret or disguising myself as a man. Plus as far as I can tell, if you want a career in creativity these days you are required to be whoring yourself on social media 24-7, making sure people can contact you and chat with you, and posting pictures of your smiling, obviously female head on everything.

I know the obvious solution to this is "if you don't want rape threats for existing, don't do it." Which is what I keep choosing over and over and over again, but somehow I haven't been able to resolve myself a hundred percent to it. And I know I can get killed just for existing while female at any point in time even if I remain a boring lackey doing boring work until I die. But...I don't know how to resolve this conflict within myself to pick a side and stick to it and either cope with the life-risking consequences or make the inner "I want attention and to do far more interesting work than this" voice to shut the fuck up for good. I've read plenty of blogs about how the creative work is worth the public shit they get, but um...those were all written by men.

What I'm looking for here is:
(1a) if you're female and well known on the Internet/IRL, how much shit are you getting for it? How scared are you to go about your daily life?
(1b) Do you consider the choice you made to be well known in your career worth it? Would you do it again, or would you choose to hide?

And for all genders:
(2) If you do creative work under a pseudonym (not an open one, I'm talking secret fake name), how well does that mitigate or cause problems for you? Have you been found out? Is that actually still feasible these days to do without the general public finding you out?

(3) Is there anything I can do to minimize the amount of hate I will be taking in? Can I still make myself inaccessible to be e-mailed by the general public, for example? Disable commenting on websites? Will some publisher force me to allow public contact? (This is assuming I can't pay someone else to read the abusive e-mails for me.)

(4) How do I resolve this fear? How do I pick a side and stick to it when the cons seem so bad?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is all assuming you are wildly wildly successful which may never happen at all even if you do try.

Honestly I wouldn't worry about it. They don't know you. It is okay. If you don't feel comfortable and hate mail bothers you then have somebody else read it for you. Surround yourself with supportive people to help affirm you. And therapy wouldn't hurt.

I understand that scary things do happen. And they can happen to anyone. You cannot base your life decisions on a fear that bad things might happen if you try because bad things can happen if you don't try. You could get a stalker by looking to the left while walking down the street.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:36 AM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

In this kind of career it's now essential to have an active online/social media presence. You can manage this by hiring a social media consultant. They will be the filter for whatever crazy audience comes your way.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:02 AM on May 24, 2014

I can only speak as an unknown artist, so I can't comment on whether or not I regret choosing this line of career. Negative comments still irk me. They do that to everyone. But it's up to you whether or not you want to learn how to grow a thicker skin. To me, the feeling of fulfillment I get when I express myself creatively and share it with people overcomes anything negative people can throw at me.

Being creative and artistic walk hand in hand with vulnerability. You have to embrace it. You can take proper precautions to avoid trolls/negativite comments - but for the most part - you can't eradicate all of the fear and anxiety you have about it.

I would take it one step at a time. Try not to overload your brain with scenarios that scare you. It's good to acknowledge them, but you haven't reached that level of fame yet - or any for that matter. Focus your energy on your art.
posted by morning_television at 9:03 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you read "Gift of Fear"? It has concrete suggestions for how to deal with real-life stalkers.

There are two separate issues:
1. Online trolls. This will for sure happen as soon as you publish anything. People will write nasty online comments. You said you already experienced it. It is natural to mind it and have it sting a little, but it would be great if you can get past some internet stranger calling you fugly and not have that repress your expression of your talent. It is very unlikely that an online troll turns into a real stalker.

2. In-person stalking. This is much less likely. If it does happen, you can hire Gavin de Becker's company (the author of "Gift of Fear"). His company protects many A-list celebrities, all Supreme Court justices, etc.

I wonder whether you have a fear around really giving it your all, and the fear is manifesting as fear of attracting stalkers. I had a friend who was deathly afraid of sex because she feared STDs. No matter how much she was told about condoms and getting tested, she maintained that it is not failsafe and it is too risky. After years, she finally started having sex and suddenly the fear of STDs were gone.

Good luck! I hope you pursue it, because it can really suck to realize later that you gave up a deeply held dream due to some immature trolls.
posted by cheesecake at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

I am aware that all women if they get well known anywhere will immediately attract trolls, stalkers, and potential rapists who will constantly send her death threats at bare minimum. Knowing this kind of thing is guaranteed to happen to me if I try to have a creative career makes me terrified to try.

While some cases of famous negative attention for entertainers have occured, I think you should examine how likely it is that every single woman involved in a creative career is going to get death threats.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:23 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wait, what?

The odds that you are going to be successful are already low, never mind famous. Sounds like you're making excuses not to try.

I am an actress and I have literally never considered this an impediment to doing what I want to do.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

My entire professional life is on the Internet and has been for years and I have a social media presence as well. I am in a male-dominated field in an industry known to be somewhat unwelcoming to women. I do not use a pen name and am moderately well-known. While I have had to deal with occasional trolls, I have never experienced anything even close to the scenarios you describe.

As a second data point, I am friends with a number of professional actresses who are well-known in our area, all of whom have a strong online presence. None of them have reported experiencing anything even close to the scenarios you describe.

I think you're overthinking this. First, you're assuming you'll become famous enough to encounter the situations you describe. Second, you say every female "will" be trolled, threatened, and stalked. I can tell you that is not true.
posted by _Mona_ at 10:38 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm no where near as famous as you're imagining you'll become (or, like, at all) but I run a moderately-popular-in-my-city bike blog that has a million photos of me on it as well of photos of my distinctive custom messenger bag that literally has my name on it.

Readers recognize me in the street, occassionally, since it's pretty easy to figure out that the person riding a bike with a messenger bag with their name one matches up with my online persona. They're always like I LOVE TINY FIX!!! not "I disagree with your views on audible warnings before you pass someone, you jerk!"

I get some nasty comments on my articles, but honestly, I think the likelihood of me being hit by a car or assaulted by a stranger who has zero idea what my internet presence is is way more likely than someone tracking me down for revenge.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:38 AM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

To anyone who thinks the OP is coming at this "fear of threats" thing out of an exaggerated sense of importance, please see Sady Doyle' manifesto on what it's like to be a woman talking on the internet. Online harassment can be far worse than being called fugly, and not all stalking happens in person. If you are a woman who has never experienced it, that's wonderful! That also does not mean it never happens, or only happens to famous people.

This question is a favorite because I very much want to hear how prominent women answer it. The need for the question is very much my un-favorite. I am probably not the best person to answer it as I keep a pretty low profile for the same reasons you do, but here are some ways I would approach it:

1. Decide what online venues you actually need to participate in and be publicly "available." Is it twitter? Tumblr? Facebook? Some other blog format? You may not need to promote yourself on all of them. One well-curated twitter account might be more than enough to announce upcoming shows or link to a podcast. Whatever they are, make "professional" versions of those accounts that are just for your public self. Lock down your personal accounts as much as possible with whatever privacy features are available to you (or don't use them at all, if you don't want to!)

2. Decide how much input you will allow from strangers on those forums, if any. It can be very little! If you have a blog, you do not need to allow comments! Not every online space needs to be a forum. People can talk about you on their own blogs, if they want to.

3. Decide how you are willing to be contacted, if at all. Have one public email address and do not use if for personal business.

This is where it gets sucky. You are not unreasonable to expect some harassment and nastiness to come your way because we live in a patriarchal culture where men and other people have learned that this is a way in which they can feel powerful without much if any social cost to themselves. The only upside, is you can decide now how you plan to handle it, if it happens.

4. For online stuff: decide what you will ignore and what is worth documenting and potentially reporting. Decide before you get any comments, emails, replies, retweets, etc. This will make it easier if and/when you start to get online feedback. For example: I would recommend ignoring, a. negative critical commentary without substance, i.e. your show sucked! You suck! Deleting and/or ignoring b. commentary on your appearance, no matter how unpleasant, as long as there is no threat. That's just one asshole's opinion. c. Document and file any threat, no matter how vague. That means making a separate email folder, taking screencaps and saving them to a special file, etc. YMMV on whether to immediately act on any of these. Many will be one-off, drive by assholes. But if you happen to notice that you have a persistent "fan," you will have a paper trail to act on if you ever need to.

5. For real life events: this is a tough one and much like the previous questions, requires more work from you then it should. Consider the forums in which you would like to perform - say you're doing a group show with other performers. Ask the event organizer and/or your company contact what their harassment policy is, if any. Their response will be very telling, Do they have one? Who enforces it? What should you do if someone outside (or just as likely, inside,) says or does something that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. What about the venue? Do they kick people out for creeping, or is the customer always right when you're the one on the stage but they're paying for tickets and drinks? You might learn a lot from your fellow performers about what groups and/or directors are great to work with and which ones will minimize harassment and/or make it your problem (or even better, your fault.)

6. Make friends! Network with your fellow women artists. Having a community will make you feel less alone. There is untold amount of value in being able to turn to a peer and be like "I cannot even believe what this douchebag just said to me on twitter."

7. The hardest part: do not dwell, if you can help it. Take a "flag and move on" approach to the negative if you can, because life is too short. You're busy pouring awesome into the world. Concentrate on that as much as possible. Read and savor your good comments, the enthusiastic email, the rave review. Write back to the nice ones, if you feel comfortable, (bearing in mind that they are responding to the public you - even the vulnerable artist is only showing some parts of themselves - and respond in kind i.e. not with your personal email!)

8. Consider that a public career might not be right for you...or you just might need to take a break sometimes. Allow yourself vacations from the internet, or even many month-long sabbaticals. If and when you become rich and successful, you may be able to hire a PR person to deal with your adoring and not-so-adoring public.

Best of luck to you, anonymous! I hope you will be heard and find joy in expressing yourself.
posted by prewar lemonade at 10:46 AM on May 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

So here's the thing. A lot of people, male and female, will tell you that if you are a woman on the Internet, in creative fields, in the public eye, or whatever, you are guaranteed to face horrible things almost daily. A lot of times they're well-meaning people, social justice types. Sometimes they're people who want to discourage women from going into creative work or any sort of visible, powerful position borrowing the social justice types' language. Sometimes they're tacitly trying to minimize the factors other than gender -- race, sexual orientation, even littler things like media politics -- that affect whether and how much one is harassed. Sometimes this even has the side effect of redefining harassment as a twisted measure of success -- "I don't get emails like that, am I just doing things wrong?" -- rather than a sword of Damocles held up by bored teenagers. (Or worse, sometimes. But sometimes not worse.)

I would say the fear of these things is, if not universal, then real and important. I would definitely say it's important to point out that fear, because a lot of people -- men, often -- don't even register that it exists. I also think that a lot of the methods people hold up as solutions -- networking with other women ("Just make friends! It's not hard! You mean they don't take to you? Oh, well you'll probably die in a ditch.", hiring security or lawyers ("You know, with that money in your bank account. What do you mean, you're broke?") are less accessible than often claimed. But they don't always happen. And it's dangerous to think they always do. Clearly it's discouraging you from trying -- this is exactly what certain people want to happen. Which is a shame.

I'm a woman. I wouldn't call myself "successful" (actually I'm mostly a failure) but I'm somewhat in the public eye, Googleable, got the followers and the curated public persona, the works. The choice is worth it -- broke is usually less worth it than not-broke -- but I don't think you're overreacting. You don't have to be famous, or even Internet famous, to attract trolls or stalkers. It happens or it doesn't. But I know it's not a guarantee, because I receive probably fewer than par threats and hate mail. I'm not scared to go about daily life -- but the fear that maybe one day I might be scared to is always there, under the surface.

As for a pseudonym, I used to have one and now it's more permeable. There are the intangible benefits -- job hunting/etc with your "real" persona -- then there are the little annoyances like tax problems and issues with security officers (for job interviews, guest lists, etc.) believing you're really you, and there is the larger, more amorphous one: the constant fear of being doxxed. It's up to you whether the benefits outweigh the cons.
posted by dekathelon at 11:04 AM on May 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think you can find a meaningful answer to this just be looking around you at what's going on in the world. There are thousands of women with public careers in creative fields who do their work in the open and keep doing it year after year after year.

I can think of a few off the top of my head. Look at Molly Crabapple. She's an artist. She's all over the Web. She does tons of public, in-person live painting events all over the world.

Look at Lois Van Baarle, AKA "Loish." She's an international star. She gives interviews on YouTube using her real name.

There's Gail Simone, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Diablo Cody, Felicia Day, Kate Beanton, Amanda Hocking.

These are just a few of many current, contemporary women in the arts.

Going back a ways you have Laurie Anderson, Diane Arbus, Sarah Bernhardt, Chrissie Hynde, Kim Deal.

All of these women have essentially answered your question for you.

Right now we're in the middle of the Summer "con season." If there happens to be a comics/pop culture convention in your area, consider going to it as an attendee and interacting directly with the dozens or hundreds of women creators there, sitting at their tables selling their original artwork.

If you're in the SF Bay Area, this weekend Fanime in Sac Jose is happening. There's an excellent opportunity to meet in person with women artists and get their take on the issue. I believe Sac Anime is coming up in June. I realize anime may or may not be your thing, but if you can look beyond the specific genre and focus on your own personal concerns I think you could learn a lot. Alternative Press Expo is in October.

On the other hand, if you're just too uncomfortable with putting your name out in public, then be anonymous. I think it's difficult, though definitely possible to be anonymous online if that's truly a priority for you and you're willing to police your online presence *very* carefully.

There are ways to register a domain name while concealing your own identity. offers this option, but I think most other registrars actually offer it these days.

Any social media outlet allows you to use a username.

As far as email, set up a Gmail account that doesn't use your real name.

The caveat there, is that if you are really, truly VERY concerned about your true name and city where you live leaking out, then you're going to have to be careful online never to mention any identifiable details.

It also means that you can't give public performances, and you'd have to stick with just artwork and writing.

But honestly, I don't see a lot of people doing that. If you look at all the women in the arts I mentioned and all the thousands of others out there, evidently they decided that all that extra hassle and compromise and protection isn't worth the effort.

These are not careless people. They probably as some point wrestled with the same issue you're asking about here, thought it through, arrived at a conclusion, and proceeded accordingly.

So merely look at what THEY decided, and there's some expert advice for you.

I'll mention one last thing that's a story that's really striking to me.

A while back, some publisher used one of Loish's paintings on a book cover without her permission and obviously without compensation.

If that had happened to a company like say Disney, it would have cost them many thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of staff time to protect their I.P., protect their reputation, prevent others from ripping off their investment, and resolving the issue.

Loish put up one (1) post on her Tumblr explaining the situation and her fans did the rest. Loish never even had to talk to a lawyer or spend a penny (or whatever the Dutch equivalent is of a penny). In about ten seconds, the publisher apologized profusely, pulled all copies of the book from stores, and destroyed their remaining stock.

That, right there, is *power.* Real problem-solving power in the material world. Something to consider as you think through this decision.
posted by trevor_case at 11:15 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is a huge difference between trolls vs stalkers and rapists. Trolls are often people who would never hurt someone in real life, but with the anonymity of the internet, will call you fugly. Lots of women are online trolls but they are not going around raping people.

I would say a good fraction of online users (20%?) have trolled, but very very few of those turn into real life issues.

Even an online death threat of "you should die" is probably made by some teenager in another country who cannot even get a visa to visit your country. So I would not worry unless it turns real-life.

Developing a thick skin is part of what it takes to be well-known and successful.
posted by cheesecake at 12:35 PM on May 24, 2014

I'm a woman artist in a somewhat male-dominated field. I'm not sure how to assess my level of fame, exactly, but for reference: art is my main source of income, I have 2k tumblr followers and 1k facebook fans, my work is published by a major indie publisher, I get invited to do interviews, readings and convention appearances several times a year, and I receive messages from strangers to tell me they liked my work at least once a week. My online identity includes my real location, name and face.

I have never received rape threats, death threats, or other threats of violence because of my work. I have never been stalked as a result of my work. I have been trolled and insulted by jerks online because of my work--not in a way that I felt was particularly gendered, though I do sometimes get the sense that people generally feel less compunction about publicly criticizing a woman. I have been approached many times by strangers who recognize me because of my work, but none of them have ever been threatening or rude. (Some of them have been awkward.)

Please feel free to memail me if you have more questions for me about this, or if you'd like to know more about my career specifically to see whether it's similar to what you're envisioning for yourself. Good luck.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:47 PM on May 24, 2014

I share some of your worries about being a female public presence (though my work is, like Juliet Banana's, pretty local and niche).

The thing I've found most comforting has been working as part of a small organization. I'm one of the main public faces of our group - my picture's on the website, it's been in the city newspaper, I get recognized by people who attend the events I emcee in public from time to time - but I do almost all of my social media and PR stuff in my "corporate form", which is a nice shield from anything getting truly personal. (The one time I was profiled as just myself, I did get a few minor creepy comments on the internet edition of it, and even that really made me feel gross and stressed out even though it was just along the lines of "oooh she's pretty").

The down side of interacting with the public as an entity instead of as myself is that I probably don't get the same level of personal and professional benefit from the publicity we get as someone doing the same things with their own name and face all over everything would - a few mentor-type colleagues have warned me that I should probably put my own name on things more, actually. But so far the peace of mind of not having to deal with any BS has been worth it to me, and has allowed me to do better work. And most of the people who matter (colleagues in our field, press and critics, etc) know who I am anyway, which is perfect.

This model is probably harder in the kind of work you're trying to do, but if you can find a way of doing your thing as part of a collective - even if it's just while you're starting out - that might be a way to feel out the boundaries you want to set while still pursuing and growing the work you care about doing.
posted by bubukaba at 12:53 PM on May 24, 2014

Is this really worth worrying about?

For one thing, I'm pretty sure everything attracts trolls, period. If you want to do anything creative, you're going to have to prepare yourself for critics, including really mean critics. (FWIW it's often not what you think it's going to be -- when I put up the first episode of my web series, I coached the star to expect mean comments about her appearance. Instead all the trolls thought the jokes weren't funny.)

Personally, I'm female and I make creative stuff and publicize it, and I don't get really any hate mail. Or at least nothing insulting on a personal level, or triggering, or really beyond what a man in the same position would get. There are people who don't like what I'm doing, but haters to the left, you know?

I have never gotten rape threats for just existing, and my opinion is that this phenomenon is way overblown. Certainly nothing to avoid being creative over.

Re level of fame, I really don't think any of that is worth worrying about. I mean, if your biggest worry is "what if I get so famous that people hate me just for existing", like, wow, what an incredibly charmed life you must lead. There are a great many creative struggles you will have to deal with before death threats are a concern.
posted by Sara C. at 1:06 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would also prepare yourself more for silence than for hate. The sheer and utter terror at the lack of going viral is much harder to deal with than the critics, in my opinion. Every time I upload a new thing and am not immediately catapulted to fame, I kind of want to die. The internal critic is much harder to silence than the ones who leave comments on YouTube.
posted by Sara C. at 1:09 PM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

I keep thinking that I am risking my life to do what I want in public. I am already a crazy magnet person IRL just walking down a street without choosing to make this worse.

I have exactly this same issue. I have been "prominent" on a number of online forums and I attract attention everywhere I go, both online and off, no matter what I do. It does not matter how hard I try to lie low, be invisible, whatever, I get all kinds of unwanted negative attention for existing. (And, yes, this has included being molested and raped as a child and told it was my fault for being too beautiful to resist, yadda yadda -- though that was as a child, when I had much less control over my life. Nothing like that has happened as an adult.)

But I am nearly 49 and I have worked hard on resolving it. It is getting better and I am starting to get the kind of attention I want: Attention for my work, not for myself. Since a lot of what I do does involve disclosing a lot of very personal information about myself, it has been an extremely hard row to hoe to figure out how to move forward on my career goals and not wind up beaten, raped, killed, whatever. This is a question I have long wrestled with in earnest. I definitely feel ya on this.

What I'm looking for here is:
(1a) if you're female and well known on the Internet/IRL, how much shit are you getting for it? How scared are you to go about your daily life?

At times, I have gotten quite a lot of shit. I probably have the second highest karma of any openly female members of Hacker News. At one time, my participation there was pretty hard to cope with. I mostly left for about 18 months and recently returned, to a substantially better experience. I have also simply left a number of other online forums for various reasons (or been thrown off).

(3) Is there anything I can do to minimize the amount of hate I will be taking in?

Yes. You can learn to handle things differently. How you handle it makes a difference, even if you are a magnet for attention, controversial, and so on.

In my twenties, I got harassed constantly by men. I was a homemaker. I thought it was my looks. I thought that was the entire explanation. Then I was put on steroids for a medical condition, put on a lot of weight and became generally invisible to men. When I lost the weight, one unexpected side effect of the steroids was that it left me with double D cups. Men not only stared, they practically drooled on themselves. But unlike before, they did not approach me. While I had been invisible, I somehow learned something which caused me to be a lot safer while still being me.

You might look for books on Clicker Training. It sounds very similar to some of the things I have learned to do. I also blog a bit about what I think works. I don't know how to sum it up in a nutshell because it isn't any one thing. But my life, both online and off, has gotten better in this regard. I have learned how to just do things differently and that is making it feasible for me to move forward on various projects of mine, albeit slowly. I have found that taking it slow is part of what works. Giving people a bit of time to absorb the shock and recover and think about it and so on helps. Things get hairy when I push too far, too fast or when I am too confrontational.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I finally signed up both to start paying and to answer this, so hi. I have a long online career and currently am at the editorial helm of a website that is a pretty good size (we count unique visitors in the low millions per month). It's not like Jezebel so not as troll heavy. I also have in the past had a much more personal blog. I've been called out by last name + sux on Twitter by people who hated something I wrote.

This is the deal with the conversations being visible. Getting negative, over-personalized feedback is out in the air. It's not that people were not saying "what a cow" before, it's just that it wasn't over Twitter and there wasn't a pile-on. Coping with feedback is now an essential skill, just like invoicing.

I think most of us have experienced some degree of harassment in terms of crazy misogynist language. In terms of action I think it is pretty rare. In my case there was one day a regular, irate commenter showed up at my desk, without gun at least but it was a bit creepy. The worst harassment I have had in my life came from patronizing the wrong Starbucks though. Now I am old and invisible. I don't accept that this cultural reality is ok, but I also do not live in fear of it. It is part of being a person in society, period. The main thing is if it happens, pull in resources right away. The Gift of Fear is a great one.

When you put art or information out, you lose control of how people respond to it. If your question is how do I write without getting hurt, the answer is, you can't. The more visible you are the more people respond in many ways. In my charmed life so far the nice far outweighs the idiots. What's hurt the most is when people have been right about my having done a shitty job.

I agree this is probably more about creative fear than personal threat. My recommendation is to look for work in a different field. Internet publishing is hugely heartbreaking on many levels. If that just got your back up, congrats, keep creating.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:35 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi. I've been working on a response to you for a while and I keep going back and rewriting, clarifying. My "cred" for answering this question: I have a relatively public career as a published writer with a very active social media presence and lots of experience speaking to large groups, etc. Many of my friends are very well-known women writers.

Over the years, I've run into a few dudebros/troll types who feel the need to debate me at, say, my own reading, and have gotten the occasional scathing email or upset comment. I have never had death threats or felt physically threatened. In fact, the only one of my writer friends I can think of who was recently threatened is a male who had a person who was clearly off his meds attend a reading and tell him that he was tracking his every move. Security was called and the threat receded.

That said, I'd like to gently challenge some of the assumptions you're bringing to this post. Being a successful creative person does not require you to be a smiling whore 24/7. It's not an automatic sign-up for a life of being punished for "daring to exist." While every creative person I know has to walk a line when it comes to their creative life and the public (how much access do people get? how personal do you make your social media posts? how do you shut off access when it's time to, you know, create?), we do not live in fear.

There are many ways to filter out contact with the public. That's what agents, publishers, publicists, and minions is for. That said, I really feel that my contact with my readers is one of the things that makes this job worth it for me. If I cut myself off from everyone out of fear of the psychos and unbalanced people, I will miss out on the compliments, the fan mail, and the really constructive input.

I know how it feels to fear attention, sexualization, and unbalanced boundaryless people. For me, it stems from family shit (don't raise your voice or you'll be punished!) and victimization (hello, date rape) and weight issues (maybe if I'm fat, I'll be invisible!). However. None of these fears is stronger than my compulsion to create. And I truly believe that if I live out of those fears, I'm doing myself and others a real disservice.

Think of what we as a culture and society would have missed out on if every talented woman held back because of fear. Luckily, countless women have either powered through the fear or created in spite of it. We are richer for it. I hope you'll persist with your art and do rad stuff.
posted by mynameisluka at 4:31 PM on May 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't have what I would call a prominent internet presence by any means, but I have written an online column for a good-sized website and my columns were controversial material. My contact information was posted at the end of every column. I'm on social media. Photos of me are online. I include my phone number in the signature of my email and on my social media page, and it's easy to google my email address, too, if desired.

I tend to take criticism very personally, so for about 5 months I avoided ever reading my own columns after they were published. When I finally did go back and read the comments, they weren't nearly as brutal as I had imagined - they were actually fine. I never received a single negative email about the columns either, and I don't receive any hate mail or other problematic stuff via email or phone despite not being particularly careful about my online presence in any other way.

I understand your concern about stalking, back in high school I had a stalker and received a terrifying message threatening to rape me and kill me via e-mail (from someone who clearly knew who I was and where I lived). That frightened me for a long time, but my philosophy is that I cannot live in fear, and I'm not going to stop following my dreams because of fear of stalkers. Everyone must judge their own risk tolerance, but I hope you decide to go for it!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:38 PM on May 24, 2014

My name has been on the masthead of an online magazine since 2005. I have received hate mail, a lot of really ugly comments and so on, but my work is also responsible for at least 10 marriages and several children coming into the world.

No online harasser has ever threatened or stalked me personally, and the people who have threatened, harassed and stalked me in real life were not tied to my online presence. I am well known enough in my field to have been acknowledged by name in three recently published books.

Horrible people gonna be horrible, but after awhile your eyes glaze over reading all the weird bible quotes, irrational threats, etc. because they are hollow. Even the online petitions and lawsuits filed by crockpots resulted in... Nothing. Not even a nasty postcard to my home address.

Get a PO box for professional correspondence, hire a social media strategist for dealing with online promotion/comment moderation, and after your thousandth or so email calling you something awful, pop a bottle of champagne and donate money to your favorite charity that helps women. After awhile, hate rolls off your back like water on a duck.

Regret that you let others prevent you from doing what you felt what may be your life's calling? That is worse, and means the haters won before you even really tried to see what you could accomplish. Don't let them win!

One last thought: nobody else in the US has my name. If people want to find me, it's trivial to do so and I would not recommend a pseudonym for safety - it will kill your Google author rank, which matters in online marketing a lot these days.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:42 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm a genderqueer femmetype and I'm kind of sort of low-level famous. Like, there's 50 000 or so people who know what I do and check up on me, and about 10 000 people who like my stuff hard enough to put money/time down on it. My bigger comics have reached a lot more people, and I've been interviewed for large news publications. Which is cool.

I have gotten pretty awful hate mail, threats, and one person who stalked me. It super sucked. I have considered quitting when it got really bad, but I've put in place some things that have made it easier.

I never use my actual name. I never reveal where I live, frequent, or work, except in large strokes (like I live in Toronto). I've made it clear that any threatening behaviour will be escalated to the police immediately, which actually cut down on a lot of the worst.

Best for my mental health, I have someone screen all my emails and social network stuff. I don't see anything unless he has seen it first. That way I get protected from opening an email and getting blindsided with hate. If it's just general stupid asshattery, he archives it and tells me about it. If it's something that might be concerning, he tells me the content and we decide what to do next.

I cannot emphasize enough how much having a buffer against all that shit has made my life easier, and my work on the site easier. If you are planning on having an online presence and end up getting a bunch of attention, I highly recommend a screener. It doesn't stop the hate, but it gives you a way to deal with it on your own terms, which takes away the power they are trying to put over you.

Anyways, good luck out there.
posted by robot-hugs at 8:41 AM on May 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

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