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Anon: the difficult man

By January 20, 2020May 22nd, 2020No Comments

“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Virginia Woolf

Each month, in conversation with Liadán Hynes, women will speak – sometimes for the first time – about experiences they couldn’t talk openly about before. Anonymity is guaranteed, for protection is needed.


She knew of him before they met. Knew of his work. But of the other stuff too. He was the kind of man about whom women who knew him said “oh, yes, everyone has a story.” They first met at a conference; both members of a panel. There’s almost twenty years between them; he is older. She had answered a question from a member of the audience, and when she finished, he leaned in to add to what she had said. “I’ve worked with a lot of people, and there’s a lot of idiots, but she is to be trusted. Her work is good.”

I don’t know you, she thought, rankled at the inference that she was not to be trusted or to be believed, until he had stepped in to assure the audience to the contrary. She thought, I’m not going to sit on a panel and have some old lad say ‘oh you can believe her’. Like why on earth would you not believe me? “Thank you for validating me”, she replied out loud, ironically.

She recalls feeling as if she was meant to see him as her champion, but actually what she felt was ‘What? Who do you think you are, to endorse me? I don’t need your validation’. Some time later, they began working for the same company on a project. He was collaborative. “I didn’t find him stressful to be around because we were working together to make what he wanted to happen happen. It’s only when you deviate from facilitating,” she says now with her own hindsight, and the knowledge from other women.

His language was littered with expletives and sexual innuendo. It’s something she had called men up on before in the workplace, when it was used in front of a room full of people she had hired. “I felt a sense of responsibility and a duty as their employer, this language was unacceptable; I was concerned that there would be this misogynistic culture,” she recalls. “This was a workplace. Usually I feel more emboldened on behalf of others, whereas if it was just me having a meeting with someone, I wouldn’t. I’d let it slide. Think ‘ughhhh, conflict, get away from me’.”

There was a work trip away. A night out. He told her she was “a revelation” she recalls with a grimace. The team went out and he commented on her dancing, how she moved. She asked him to take a picture of her in front of a landmark. “I’ll take it with your phone,” she recalls him saying. “I can’t take it with mine; my wife might think we were having an affair.”

I wouldn’t touch you with a barge pole, she recalls thinking. And again you don’t need to validate me. “This isn’t something you should be concerned about,” she said, trying to keep her tone light, to not offend. “Because there would never, ever be anything going on.” People would ask her “but how did you work with him?” “I can’t tell you how many people asked that,” she says now.

“Thinking about it now,” she reflects, her attitude was “‘well he’s always been nice to me. He’s always been fine to me’. Until, he wasn’t. He hadn’t been horrific to me…until he was.” There was, she thinks now, a kind of perverse point of pride in it. Everyone thinks that this person is so difficult, but he hasn’t been an asshole to me, and I’ve been fine, and we’ve been able to work together. So I am better. “I can handle this person. I can break this horse. But why would you bother?”

“Now, I’m at a stage in my life where I think it’s actually not worth it. If someone tells me a person is really difficult, or if there’s LOADS of people telling me, then I’m not going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m just not.”

There was another project, it ended and he wasn’t happy with the result.

The texts began.

Accusatory. Aggressive. Angry.

It was a Sunday and she was in the garden with her family when she saw the tweet. She was already reading the blog post linked in it when she realised it was about her. It named her. And then denounced her. There were false accusations attacking her character and professionalism. “I felt ‘uggghhh god’,” she says wearily. “I had a few tears.”

But she was just back from a holiday, relaxed, and surrounded by her family. Because of that, she surprised herself by not being as upset as she thought she might have been under those circumstances. “I thought ‘you don’t get to do this’. I made a conscious decision.” Colleagues texted, other women, who shared their stories of the same man. Then he tweeted about her again every day that week.

“It was just horrible,” she says. She knew it was for attention. She really wanted to reply. I cannot let this stand, she thought. That he imagined he could write such things about her publicly. But she knew that replying would give it oxygen. She talked to her solicitor. But going to court meant expenses, and prolonging her contact with him, and for what? An older, male colleague rang. “You need to reply,” he said. “It’s making us all look bad.” But he brought this to me, she thought. It’s not my job to fix it.

There was a big conference coming up. Everything was booked. She was looking forward to it, she was pregnant and excited to catch up with colleagues before her maternity leave. She decided not to go.

“Ultimately I did not go, because I was afraid that I was going to bump into him, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was pregnant. The stress. Even if we didn’t see each other. The stress of being in busy events, lots of people, you can’t really see. I just didn’t want to do it. It was upsetting. I felt really bullied.” It felt like he was winning, she recalls.

“Like I was allowing myself to be bullied by not going, because my behaviour was being influenced by this man. I’m going to cancel all my plans. I’m accepting this being bullied. I’m not saying anything.” But if she went, she thought, what would happen? People would want to talk about it. Maybe she would see him and there would be a scene. “The right thing to do was to not let this person get to me. To go ‘you aren’t the boss of me, I’m going to do this thing, you can’t make me not go’. But the reality was if I did go, it would cause me more stress than just feeling a bit annoyed with myself at changing my plans.”

She had to balance, she decided, between the level of stress involved in doing “the right thing,” versus the level of frustration at feeling like she was accepting the bullying. Which would bring her more peace? Not going, she decided. “I could go to the thing, feel like I was doing the right thing, but feel like I had to look over my shoulder every moment. It was better not to have constant stress.”

Being pregnant made it easier. It was again about protecting someone else. “I’m doing this for someone else, it’s not for me,” she recalls now. “I’m doing this so my baby won’t be getting doused in stress hormones. If I wasn’t pregnant, I would have gone to the conference for sure.”

Is this the price we pay to participate; managing a man’s anger?


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