My work is not “me” – About attention, compliments & male entitlement

Just because I write it doesn’t mean I want to do “it” (and certainly not with you)

Stay back - warning by Sarah Dahl

Stay back!

Sarah Dahl

Face 1, the sensual writer. But is it ‘me’?

If I pay a compliment to my female friend, telling her she looks awesome in that new dress, I don’t expect anything but a happy smile from her maybe. Not gratefulness and surely not her offer to mow my lawn in return!

So we’ll dive into the aspects of unwanted attention, genuine compliments and entitlement. And how the artist’s work can be mistaken for being “the artist”. So who is the artist? What do you know after reading her?

Writing the sexy is no invitation

Sarah Dahl

Face 2. Eeehm…no!

Hi guys. I’m specifically addressing you, who seem to think that a woman author writing the sexy must mean that she as a person is always on the lookout for sexy attention by just anyone as long as he’s male and bold enough to voice his interest. And that this “interest” gives you the right to receiving a piece of me in return. Someone DMing me with “How are you, are you married, where do you live, what are you doing right now, I love that you love sex, do you want to see my …” HELP!

Sarah Dahl

Face 3: You think I’m just waiting for you? Seriously?

And I’m scratching my head there. It seems that my genre – well, not so much the “historical fiction” part, but more the “erotic romance” part – attracts direct and unwanted attention from men obviously thinking “She writes about sex, she must be starved for it”. That surely I must be up for what they believe is a “sexy” exchange (In truth, th ese are often just annoying or disgusting) as an intro to more sexiness, one-to-one. To personal attention.

I cannot guess why they think their attention could be wanted, or invited. I don’t understand this male mindset at all, as if ANY woman EVER has responded positively and with genuine interest to such approaches. (Maybe some did? Can this be fuelled by previous success? Surely not?)

It could be starvation on their side, though, not mine. Or pure gaucheness. Not every man can sweet-talk like Casanova. But really: I think I’m being naive and missing the point in that I take them seriously and these approaches as genuine interest. So what do they want to achieve? Can I know? No. Maybe they don’t think much at all.

Male entitlement as the source of unwanted attention

I’ll shift perspective. Why do they start the approach in the first place? With hints and reference to my work? Seemingly assuming that, as I write sexy, I must have so much interest in sex that the pure presence of someone with a male genital must excite me and is a door-opener? Phew. Surely the fact that I’m an independent, happily-married woman with a good (sex-) life wouldn’t change anything anyway. They’d still try their luck. Whatever that “luck” is.

It’s not like, Woman, you got my attention, now you owe me something back. You received uninvited attention, now fall down with gratitude. Serve me back.

Sarah Dahl

So did I invite you, eh?

No, for feck’s sake (using Irish for the sensitive-minded). You invaded MY space first, so I have every right to evaluate if I like the feeling this gives me, and then to shut you out. You know nothing about me.

I discussed this with other women. They said they get this kind of attention, too, no matter their looks, age, or demeanour. Maybe not as frequently, but equally unintelligible. It’s part of female online-life (and offline, holy shite). Male entitlement is at the bottom of it. This, You gave an impression, now I’m acting on it. I gave you attention, you owe me.

Sarah Dahl

Nightshirt, beard, and horns: the sexy writer looking all writerly. Fit the brief?

I discussed it with men, those I trust. They can’t get their heads around it, the mindset of their male ‘colleagues’. That any woman might be waiting for a crude invasion into their personal space. But surely those who wear something sexy or write something sexy.

But some said that my genre might be at the bottom of it: It signals something ‘sexy’, with the cover, the storylines, the way I’m not shying away from “it”, but in fact explore it in every detail. Then an attractive author pic just adds to the effect: it attracts. Would they still DM me with such approaches if I looked like Frankenstein’s daughter? Speculative.

Writing the sexy is just like wearing the sexy: It says nothing about me!

Sarah Dahl

What exactly don’t you understand, love?

It ties in with the same issue how women can’t wear something sensual without some men seeing it as an invitation. Or even if we wore a potato-sack, they’d still go, “Hey, hey, she’s wearing breasts, she’s signalling something – to me!”

Writing something sensual is obviously similar. But guys: it’s not an invitation for anything personal. I love when you love my work. I love when you pay honest compliments. But then stop there. I write what I write because I love to explore the topics and themes. I’m not going to defend my genre here. But be assured that it’s just a display of comfort, not a cry for attention of the kind you want to give. Us women wearing or writing the sexy, we’re just comfortable with what we are and do, that’s all!

Just like a short black dress, my sexy genre is NOT an invitation for anything more than professional exchanges. Just like if I ran around NAKED, you’d still have no right to touch me, and neither if I wrote hardcore-porn, you’d still have to respect me and all my colleagues, also those who do write porn. Why not? We’re civilised, ffs. We write what we can imagine happening, what is exciting, realistic, or fantastic. What we think can have an effect on readers, be that arousal, or fear, or happiness. We write what excited and enlightens, maybe, but we always MAKE IT UP and make it work.  We don’t write what we secretly want to do in real life. You know nothing about the person behind the author name.

And here comes the ugly truth: What I am writing is not “me”!

*insert loud ‘ooooh’ sound*

Sarah Dahl

That’s me. Yes, this! Ears and nose and all. Surprised?

It’s not like every story I put out there is a fantasy I secretly die to act out. Omg, no. Yes, I write hotness that should excite readers and also myself, exploring exciting paths. But that’s a long way from assuming that I’m putting into words what I’m starved for!

It’s the same with every artist: Yes, we express ourselves, our inner life, BUT it’s not a 1:1 translation of what we underneath want to act out. Writing the sensual for me means I’m comfortable with sensuality, I like to fantasise, yes, but not every fantasy I make up is “me”. It’s always a story I invent, a mind-game, the characters’ journeys, not my own fantasies. And even if they were: would that give you the right to approach me about these?

Stephen King and a cellar full of corpses

Just like, hopefully, no writer of thriller or crime really wants to kill and torture people himself! (S)he hopefully just adds these elements, lives and writes through them, to add dimensions that are necessary to fulfil the plot, to make the experience exciting and real. Do you women-approaching creeps really think we’re more open to crude attention because what we write must be “us”? That there is no distance, no art, involved? We are just playing, you know. It’s all pretence!

Sarah Dahl

Stephen King’s cellar must look like this, surely.

Just like Stephen King is just playing things through in his mind because his mind is so fucked-up awesome, he hopefully does not have a cellar full of corpses because he lives what he writes.

Sarah Dahl

No, sorry, this is me. You may now commence sending rude messages.

So what makes you think I am what I write?

The display of sensuality is not directed AT you, creep!

Truth is: The display of sensuality, be it in clothing, in talking, in writing or whatever, is not directed at someone specific, at you, as an invitation. It’s entertainment, just like my red nose there. I’m not personally addressing you, creepy man, with my plotline. I’m not sending you the subtle message that I want someone (and why you, of all men?) to do the things to me that I write about. I hope Stephen King doesn’t get tons of people DMing him how they want to kill him or want him to kill them. Ehm. *coughs*

With my work you get an insight into my working mind, yes. But not into my personal life and character.

Sarah Dahl

So this is me then. Is it?

So do I actively invite improper attention just like a woman with short skirts “invites” (HAHA! *bowls over with fury*) unwanted attention? We maybe just express comfort and an ability to play. And we’re allowed to do that. You can ALWAYS look away if you don’t like it. I’m not invading your space, running after you to hit your skull with my books. And neither does the display of sensuality give you the right to approach and invade spaces. Do not expect anything in return for your attention – it’s about respect and personal spaces. Don’t mix up my work (life) with my private (life). Your DM that started about my work (“Oh my god, that read left me hot and bothered … can I now talk to you to find out more about you and ultimately gain something, to erm, relieve myself?”) crossing into my privacy is a misunderstanding on an epic scale.

Attention is not, as such, a compliment. And it surely not justifies expectations. Compliments come without expectations. I’ll happily receive compliments. I’m not averse to those. You like what you see, you can say it, and I’ll be happy without obligations to you. Just stay polite and keep a professional distance.

A compliment is not about the one who gives it, but the one who receives it. Full stop.

Attention does not equal a compliment. We love the latter!

An honest compliment is different from unwanted attention. It can even be phrased simply, crudely. But it is respectful and has no hidden agenda. No ulterior motive waiting to bite me when I let my defences down. Good compliments can be given by anyone, even strangers: I once had a guy on the street tell me out of the blue “great legs” as I walked past. That made me blush but I loved it. Thanks, I said, and we parted, all the while having kept a healthy distance. All good. He liked what he saw and said it, but did not expect me to kneel with gratefulness and offer something in return. He just gave me something nice, genuinely, received a smile as thank-you, and I took it for what it was: not an invasion from his side and neither any expectations linked to it. Grown-ups, you know.

If I pay a compliment to my female friend, telling her she looks awesome in that new dress, I don’t expect anything but a happy smile from her. A compliment is meant to cause positive effects, feel-good factors. It can make the receiver’s day, at best. But please: don’t hide an agenda or expectations, giver-of-the-compliment. And always remember: what you see is not what you get.

And now, folks, brace yourselves for the REAL ME: Holy fuck, she so NOT looks like a goddess, or a vamp, or a whore, or maybe a silly child … but not an artist either, don’t you think? 😉 What is this and can I touch it? (no.)

Sarah Dahl

This is as close as you get to the writer-me. Now stay back.

What are your experiences with the topics of unwanted attention and the misinterpretation of work and person, and how do you respond to those? Do you think someone writing or dressing sexy sends specific messaes? Do you, like me, think the creeps will never be changed, but then something has to change in the way we perceive each other? What about respect and boundaries? Please comment below, I’d be interested to hear your take on this personal topic.


Sarah Dahl

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