Why sex talk makes men insecure
It's 3am and I'm bolt upright in bed, screaming.
"It's okay. I'm here," my boyfriend mumbles in a raspy half-awake voice, before seizing his arms around me like a vice.
We sit like this for a few minutes, till the tight grip of his embrace jolts me back to reality and I realise I'm having a panic attack.
Anyone who knows me is familiar with the fact I'm a highly-strung person. I startle easily and overthink most things. It's often been suggested I'm not cut out to be a writer. Repeatedly exposing oneself to public criticism and generalised anxiety aren't typically two things that coexist harmoniously.
Admittedly, the cruel diatribes littering the comments section of my work used to incite nocturnal panic attacks.
"Why do you read them?" My boyfriend would ask.
"You know it only makes your anxiety worse."
Then, a few years into my writing career, the anxiety disappeared.
Taunts like "fat, ugly sl*t" and "attention-seeking wh*re" - favourites among those who angrily emailed me upon reading my work - registered as uneventfully as the sound of traffic outside my office window. I'd become numb.
This was a good thing, I felt, that I was anesthetised to the abuse. Being told "no man will ever f**k you" and warned I'd be run over by a car, no longer felt foreign and painful.
If you're unfamiliar with my work, you may have come to the reasonable conclusion I commentate on divisive political issues or adopt a particularly confrontational editorial tone.
In actuality, I write frothy sex and dating columns for women.
It's the last part of that statement, "for women" that induces the online rage I've become accustomed to receiving.
That wrath comes almost exclusively from men, incensed by the fact the narrative of my columns isn't centred around them.
There's a pattern to the way this anger is expressed. It goes something like this:
"Hey, I like your columns, but why do you always have to whinge about women? Don't you care about men?"
I respond, explaining I don't write about male experiences for the same reason I don't write about the experiences of people of colour. I write about what I know, and what I live.
Sometimes, I'm emboldened to suggest to the gentleman invading my DMs with his unsolicited editorial advice (presumably gleaned from many years of study in the field of journalism) that he's perhaps being a little oversensitive.
(After all, it's us women who are supposed to be the touchy snowflakes reading too deeply into everything, right?)
This is usually met with a slew of insults about my appearance (likely because I'm expected to care whether random men on the internet find me visually appealing).
Even as I sat down to write this column, a man sent me a DM complimenting my writing, then adding, "it's pretty clear you see women as hard done by in the dating scene, and I can assure you there's another side to the story" before altruistically offering up his vast expertise for my next story.
I pointed out I'd actually never suggested men don't struggle on the dating scene, and that he was inserting himself into a conversation that had nothing to do with him.
"Ah ok so you are the c**t you appear to be. Another wh*re who would rather write articles on their stories than the truth", came the swift and predictable response.
When I started writing for women almost a decade ago, it never occurred to me I'd spend most of my time dealing with insecure men.
I was admittedly naive to the way these men respond when women don't gleefully accept their demands with welcoming arms; of how quickly the conversation would turn hateful and aggressive.
These days, like most women who dare to exist in male-dominated spaces, I've learned - albeit disturbingly - to accept the abuse as a kind of constant white noise.
There is no 3am shriek sitting upright in bed when I remember the man who tweeted at me to watch my back, or the guy who DM'd words so twisted and cruel, I won't repeat them here - all because I wrote a story about women enjoying casual sex (something only men are allowed to do).
Instead, my work itself - as frothy and utterly unremarkable as it is - is its own kind of scream. One which won't be silenced by any amount of fragile men.
Originally published as Why sex talk makes men insecure