Invisible, until … On harassment and power in literary culture

I’m friends with this hot young writer. He’s widely published, prodigious, pretty, too. I was at a massive international convention with him earlier this year, sneaking into parties we hadn’t been invited to, the crush of the hotel suites full of conversation with the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy. Standing in the corner with him, sinking free ciders plucked from a bathtub full of ice, when some publisher or big-name writer or other would come and interrupt our conversation to talk to him.

Looking over me like I wasn’t even there.

The hot young writer would take pains to introduce me. ‘This is Marlee Jane, she’s a famous writer from Australia,’ he’d say, and I’d give him a light punch because I’m not famous at all, but I am a writer, I am from Australia. I am a person whose conversation they’d just interrupted.

‘Oh,’ they’d nod, glancing down in my direction for a split second, then they’d look back over at the hot young writer and keep talking to him.

It happened once – okay, fair. Then twice. Five times. Six times.

I was invisible.

I’m not hot, or young. But I am a writer.


The hot young writer wanted to meet his hero, and when I spotted the older man’s nametag I raced over to the young writer and let him know that the hero had just walked in. The writer went over, and the older man said to him, ‘you’re even younger than I’d hoped for.’ They say you should never meet your heroes, and I’m not sure how the hot young writer felt about meeting his, or about what the hero said to him.

The hot young writer’s hero came up to me later, stumbling drunk. ‘There’s something about you,’ he said, inching towards me, his eyes a direct line to my tits.

Yes, well-respected men often think there is ‘something about’ me, and it’s not my talent and it’s not my stories and it’s not the workings of my brain that I somehow manage to get out onto paper and that people actually pay money for, it’s my tits.

I inched away from the young writer’s hero as he stumbled towards me, and when he continued his wavering advance I actually ran away and hid behind a friend. We all laughed at the lecherous old drunk. Isn’t he silly? Even me. I laughed too. I felt complicit. My tits were prominent in my dress, they can’t help but be front and centre. Don’t worry, I’d brought it on myself.


During that trip, someone pulled their dick out on me.

Don’t worry, I’d brought it on myself.

I’d had the audacity to dance with him, had the gall to lie back on the sofa next to him feeling flushed and drunk and kinship. In the low light, he grabbed my hand, put it on his chest. Then he took that hand and placed it on his dick, freed at some point I hadn’t noticed from his pants.

‘No, no, not that,’ I said. I felt so complicit that I didn’t bring it up again and he was so drunk I don’t think he remembers. He passed out minutes later.


The convention taught me a lot of things, about writing, about people, about life. But it also let me know that I’m invisible until I’m not, and it’s never for the reasons that I want it to be. My talent, my stories, my brain, the fact that I’m a fucking person who exists and is talking, none of that matters. When I do matter, those rare occasions, it’s my tits. It’s my ability to service your dick. It’s the fact that I’m a random collection of bumps and holes that just so happen to fall into the correct schema to spark desire when someone is drunk enough to not care that I’m not hot or young.

And I’m so much more than that.

I’m not hot or young, but I’m a writer.

And a woman.

And I am a fucking person who is speaking.


Image: Curved / flickr

Marlee Jane Ward

Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader and weirdo from Melbourne. Her short fiction is published at Apex, Interfictions, Terraform and more. Her debut novella won the Viva La Novella Prize and the Victorian Premier's Award for YA Fiction. She tweets from @marleejaneward.

More by Marlee Jane Ward ›

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  1. See how your story compares with the closest parallel I can fathom, the late 1920s / early 1930s writing celebrity culture re Scott Fitzgerald, say, taking into account the treatment and fate dished out to Zelda Fitzgerald, especially.

  2. I’m very sorry this happened. I know it happens more than a lot of us hear about, so as difficult as this must have been to write, thank you for writing it.

  3. Well said.

    I had a bit of a naïve start in fandom; in that it seemed to me that the women I knew were treated as equals and respected in local groups, with only a few exceptional boors behaving otherwise.

    Some of this is genuinely being lucky enough to be in a more egalitarian group than some I have heard about.

    But only some: I have seen over time how bits of that veneer were only skin deep, have seen the sexist boors inevitably pardoned and excused because people saw them as important members – never thinking about how important the members their behavior drove away might have become.

    I have seen the female writers I grew up reading waved off as nonexistent or rare or unimportant by men writing the history of the genre — then had people turn around and blame feminists for “pretending women weren’t around in the past, and claiming they’re making a new space for them now” even as we’re the ones who are keeping their names out there by listing them as formative influences.

  4. Narcissism seems to be the disorder of the day in the arts, and in every puddle of society: we are only visible when the god-figure/man/boss think we’re going to make them feel good about themselves. Thanks for writing this. You’re a person who’s speaking, and we’re listening.

  5. Marlee Jane, I am sorry you had that experience. I enjoyed meeting you at your kaffeeklatch and hanging out for a few minutes after the Hugos. Thank you for sharing this, I know it cannot have been easy. I look forward to your new works.

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