Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Firstly, a trigger warning: the content of this blog post includes quotes from something that I received in the inbox of the magazine that I edit, and whilst I have done my best to not be too graphic, I don’t want to shy away from the nature of this message. It’s important that this sort of thing is brought to light, in my opinion. If you feel you may be triggered by mention of murder, rape and murder rape fantasies from the male point of view, you might want to prepare yourselves. No one can ever know the trauma that others have suffered, or what is going on behind their outward appearance.

There’s a lot of rubbish spoken about how trigger warnings create overly safe environments around creative subjects; not allowing readers to experience the emotional impact of the creative work, but for me a trigger warning is a way of respecting the reader. I respect you and your right to feel safe and your right to make judgements on your potential response to certain subjects.

A short while ago, completely out of the blue, I received a message in the Spelt inbox that appeared to be a threat towards me. Whilst I have, on occasion, received less than pleased responses to work being rejected: usually a bit huffy, a sort of ‘well f*ck you then’ response, I have never felt unsure of my safety as an editor. Of all the magazines that are out there, I feel ours is fairly inoffensive. It has a rural theme, we feature poems about walking and about nature. We are not an edgy magazine. We are a magazine seeking to celebrate and validate the rural experience. In fact, one of my aims with the magazine is to find a way of being approachable and friendly without ‘dumbing down’ the content or quality fo the magazine. To receive something that was so graphic was something of a shock.

I’m not going to put the poem in this blog. For a start, the quality of the writing is appalling and I wouldn’t want to subject your eyes to it. But to be absolutely clear, it was more than just an ‘edgy’ poem. It came with no cover letter, no ‘Dear Editor’, no identifier. When I opened the email I was confronted with something that looked vaguely like a poem (aligned left with line breaks) from a man’s point of view, in the first person, directed at the reader, with lines like:

Every woman I want to get my tongue all over them and slowly butcher them 

and

stay inside them for hours and hours licking them while I do it.

and the closing lines:

So be careful out their...I am going out soon /and who knows who I will find.

It’s difficult to show the graphic content without showing the poem as a whole and all the graphic content, but believe me, it was graphic, with terrible punctuation and an awful abuse of there/their.

I was shocked. Which I imagine is the exact response the writer wanted from me. Bravo. And then I found it amusing that someone would send something like this to our little rural magazine. I sent a screen shot to my co editor with a joke about how I couldn’t accept it because it had no rural theme at all. And then I left it. And then I went back to it, because…was it a submission, or was it a threat? I started to feel uneasy. I sent it to a couple of friends to see what they thought. The majority of the men I showed it to thought it was some failed attempt at being edgy. The majority of the women I showed it to thought I should file it as evidence and begin a record of any further threatening emails/poems so that I would be able to evidence the distress it had caused if anything happened. I feel this might be a good example of the way men and women are conditioned to experience the world around them.

When I showed it to my husband, he was worried. He thought we should report it to the police. I decided not to do anything with it and filed it in case I needed it at a later date. But my brain didn’t stop going over it. Amazingly, I questioned my own reaction to it. The word ‘prude’ formed in my mind, as if I was a silly old rural magazine editor who didn’t understand that this was a form of self expression and I was prudish and daft for not treating it as the edgy poem it was. And I felt anger, at myself, for allowing myself to be so unsettled by such a stupid, bad poem. I felt manipulated, unsure of what was happening, was this something I should be upset about, or was I being silly, was this person an abuser, or was this person a poet?

I suddenly became wary of male friend requests on social media. I became wary of male poets, even though I know NOT ALL MEN and all. Because, not all men, but definitely this man, definitely this murder-rape-fantasist right here. I did some searching about and found the person that I think sent it. I took it out of the file and looked at it, put it back in the file and fretted. I felt anger again because I imagined that he was gaining gratification, sexual or otherwise, knowing that he had hurt me and upset me. I felt a bit violated, I didn’t want to open my emails any more. The joy that I felt in my lovely magazine and all the hard work that I was so proud of, was suddenly sullied. I actually began to feel a bit pointless. It didn’t matter about all the lovely emails, all the great feedback the magazine receives, this one person, this man had entered into the sanctity of my space and dirtied it, he had dirtied me somehow, in the process. It all felt pointless because as any woman knows, this is always going to happen, there will always be this man, sliding into the DMs with some dick pic or sending an email with a graphic rape poem or getting angry when you don’t put your book down to talk to them.

I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?

All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.

I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.

While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.

I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.

I came to the conclusion that this person lives a small life, a life where he gets off on the shock felt by women when confronted with his fantasies and that is something to pity, isn’t it? If you’re reading this, and I suspect you are, I genuinely think you need help for these fantasies. You must be very sad and lonely.

Anyone who has ever taken one of my courses or workshops you will know how keen I am to see people pushing out f their boundaries, experimenting with new styles, using different voices to explore content that is sometimes challenging. But this isn’t that. You have a right to express yourself and your stories, real or made up, through whatever medium you choose. You have a right to express yourself. But that right is not more important, more valid, than my right to feel safe as a woman, to feel I can do my work as an editor in a safe environment.

I don’t think it was, but this of course could have been an attempt at edgy poetry gone wrong, perhaps making a woman uncomfortable is part of the experience. It shouldn’t be. But if you are wanting to write poetry that could be described as ‘edgy’ or uncomfortable, here are some top tips to stop the editor reporting you to the police as a potential rapist or murderer:

  1. Include a cover letter that clearly identifies yourself and explains what you are trying to explore with your poetry.
  2. Offer a trigger warning. You do not know what traumas people have suffered in their life. They do not walk around wearing a sandwich board describing those traumas and you can bet that most women have experienced some sort of unpleasantness caused by men. Sorry men, obviously not all men do this, but not all men are willing to call it out either.
  3. Follow the guidelines set out by the magazine editor because, honestly, I don’t have the time to waste on this bollocks.

The most important piece of advice is probably don’t send murder-rape-fantasies in the guise of poems to women editors because women editors talk to each other and your career may be a short lived one on account of this.

Thanks for reading

Until next time

x

9 thoughts on “Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

  1. Pingback: Scarbados and Wendy Time | Wear The Fox Hat

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