I’ve belonged to a writer group on MeetUp for about nine months now — the first MeetUp group I ever participated in. Held at trendy, locally sourced, farm raised artisan cafes, that conveniently accommodate us wine and beer drinkers in the group, they are beacons of camaraderie among writers. Creative bubbles, I call them.
The originator, whom I never met, up and moved to California leaving a new leader in her wake. At the beginning of each meeting, introductions are usually made — of yourself and your project — while we sit at a large round or rectangle table depending on the venue, laptops open for most. There are several traditionalists writing down their thoughts by hand. Falling in between the two, I appreciate the hybridization of the group. We even have someone developing their first graphic novel.
We all use different mediums to get our message across.
The group is growing in numbers each meeting as of late, prompting a splinter group to start meeting on another day of the week. Non-judgemental support of your craft and the method in which you implement it has been a steady thread each week. This is why I was stunned by the events of this week’s meeting.
There were many new writers to the group on Wednesday. During the introduction portion of the meeting, when it became my turn to speak, I said “Hi, I’m Tara and I’m working on a historical fantasy novel. I also sometimes work on my blog while I am here.” Quick, short, and to the point. I’ve done this intro countless times.
The words were no sooner off my lips when the male group leader said “We keep Tara’s photo up on our MeetUp page to lure new members to join the group.”
I’m not a well known writer, so that isn’t the draw, nor was that the intent of his message. I should also note, I am only featured in group photos taken at MeetUp events, not individual ones. These are not publicity photos.
The thing is, when you are somewhere in a professional capacity, and surrounded by people you hope are impressed by your creativity, your dedication to your craft, and someone — even worse, the leader— follows your introduction of your piece with a comment regarding your looks, it steals the wind from your sails. It deflates your balloon and settles heavily within. It could make a less confident person doubt themselves and whether they should be part of any group. Thoughts such as “Am I good enough?” can sprout and grow wings. Me? I was insulted and angered.
Don’t tell me, or the group, that my worth is in a pretty face.
I refuse to accept the “He’s a guy” excuse. “Maybe he meant it as a compliment,” one person shrugged off. And if he did? That doesn’t make it right or appropriate.
Being male doesn’t give you permission to degrade someone’s ability, which is what happens when taking the focus off their art and putting it on their face. There shouldn’t be a space in professional or social arenas reserved for men to be misogynist idiots and say whatever they like, no matter who it hurts, because of their gender. Same goes for women — don’t do it.
A friend suggested that my comeback retort should have been “And that’s why we don’t use your photo” which a.) I was too stunned by the group leader’s comment to be that quick, and b.) my propensity to be kind and not rude is so strong within me that I would have felt terrible hurting another’s feelings, despite the fact that the consensus among those I’ve spoken to state that he deserved it.
Having not gotten an initial satisfactory response, and while waiting for other opinions to come in from my covey of illuminative texts sent to my squad, I contacted the Wasband, whom I knew would be enraged. Sure enough, I received a “That’s fucking shameful” and was relieved that someone got it — besides my fuming fourteen-year-old daughter whom heard the story when I walked in the door.
Side note: When socially conscious fourteen-year-olds feel injustice, it results in a plethora of memes texted to your cell capable of bringing down any culprit of wrongdoing. It also becomes number one topic at that week’s Social Justice Book Club at the local high school. They apparently now have my back. Goals.
It was the perfect word choice, shameful. Shame. On him.
To minimize my talent because of looks? To ignore my words describing my novel and instead relay to individuals, predominantly new members to the group, that my outward appearance is where their focus should be? It was humiliating and a flagrant disregard of my value as a member of the writing group.
The response I should have given was suggested by one of my best friend’s, “And I’m a pretty good writer too.” I didn’t do that. In reality, I froze with my lips in a stupid, tight smile, said nothing, and turned my back on him. I was dumbfounded. I was demoralized, for a moment, and felt attacked. He attempted to engage later in the evening, but I didn’t take the “We’re all friends” bait. In fact, I was the first to leave that night.
But I didn’t stay in that place, I didn’t allow it.
No one has the power to keep you in a place of demoralization but you.
Instead, I labeled his comment under “Ignorance” in my brain, and carried on. I know my worth, and won’t permit attempts to squash or redefine it.
That said, I really have to learn to be quicker on the uptake. Any quick comebacks out there you’d like to share? I’ll keep them in my back pocket for when I return to the group. Oh yes, I’m going back. Prepared.