The Hysterical Woman’s Guide to Dealing with Plagiarism

Unless it’s a coincidence, so please don’t make a scene!

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I read the article again, and I blink. As if closing and opening my eyes would somehow make it all go away. When I read it for the third time, it’s still there, no amount of blinking and refreshing makes it disappear.

I shake my head in disbelief, I am seeing my own main arguments tweaked and rephrased, I see how my original point has a spin on it, I see how the topic I thought to be kind of unusual is used again — by someone else.

Disappointment, disbelief, doubt — they rain over main me in rapid succession and I am saddened, enraged and confused.

Someone who is more established, better known and more appreciated than I am, took the same topic, made very similar points to my work. It’s not plagiarism, it’s not stealing. It’s a mess, that is messing with my head.

I don’t know what to do about it, and I am blaming myself for my inability to react to this properly. Because I am new here, because I am a nobody, and because I am a woman.

Various scenarios are racing through my head:

1. It’s a coincidence

There is nothing new under the sun, people keep coming up with the same ideas. If you look at the evolution of mankind, the great inventions (like the wheel) came along at approximately the same time in different parts of the world, completely unrelated to each other. So, it is possible. He never saw my article; he never even knew about me. My idea, my article — his idea, his article, nothing but a coincidence.

It is an unfortunate moment for the lesser-known (me) that the same idea usually cannot fly twice, so mine will flop and his will be okay.

2. It’s an honest mistake

Maybe he was just inspired by me (I should be grateful that he even reads my stuff, right?), maybe he read my article and it gave him some ideas that he thought would use. Maybe he wanted to tag me to indicate how my work had an impact on his thoughts — but he forgot. Maybe… (I can’t think of any other honest mistake…)

3. It’s a downright plagiarism

It’s a rip-off. It is using my topic, my idea, my points, my arguments.

I’m getting lost in trying to assign a percentage to the probability of each, after all, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I shouldn’t make a scene anyway.

I wish I was a man and I wish I knew how to manage this.

It should be all about communication. I should raise this with him and discuss and put an end to the misunderstanding. I could get some answers and some closure.

But if I bring it up…

1. I can’t prove anything

I can’t prove it. I have no means to do it. I can say that mine came out first, but how do I know when he submitted his? It’s too subtle to be plagiarism but too obvious to be only a coincidence. The subtlety of it makes it impossible to prove. If it is a coincidence then I can eventually get into an even worse situation, being accused of plagiarism myself.

2. It can seriously harm me

I am new here, a new writer, just gathering followers, just establishing a presence, working on my voice, my style. Picking a fight with someone who is well-appreciated here is signing my own death sentence, getting to be known for something I don’t want to be associated with. I need this community, I want to be part of it, I don’t want to become the pariah who is ruining someone’s reputation — unfoundedly, throwing accusations around.

3. I will come off as the hysterical woman

Because as a woman, if I make a scene of it, I will be the one who is overreacting it, who has nothing else to worry about, who is resorting to cheap tactics to get some attention. If this happens to men, they are allowed to fight for their rights — that’s what men do. As a woman, I am not even allowed to raise my voice for myself, without appearing a pushy career-driven bitch.

I wish I knew how to deal with it. I wish I knew who to ask for advice. I wish I knew how to express my frustration without “making a scene”.

If it was happening to someone else my advice would be

  • to bring up the topic and discuss,
  • find some closure,
  • and keep writing good stuff.

But I won’t do that.

When the shit is neck-deep, don’t make waves.

I am doubting myself too much to believe for a long enough time that it was no coincidence. I am scared of hurting my future possibilities.

I am used to people taking credit for my work — , especially men.

I am sick and tired of the drama and I don’t want to stir the shit, especially if nothing good comes out of it.

There are things that are a lot more important than this. I need to put this in perspective. But the thing is, that men get away so many times just because women usually put things in perspective. In lots of cases, we suppress our needs to be appreciated and recognised, because we have to deal with keeping a family together, we raise a couple of kids, we struggle with depression and low self-esteem when trying to get back to our pre-pregnancy bodies to be attractive enough for men. We need to find an outlet to self-expression, but we shouldn’t be too clingy, too pushy, too needy, too loud, too anything. And as there are more important things… or so we are told, we don’t make waves.

Some would say that I should be happy, that I am noticed — as if being a beginner would take away my rights to my own work.

Some would say it can’t be possible because he wouldn't do that — so someone else’s perception is rendering my frustration unimportant.

Some would say that I am overreacting it — like every other woman is overreacting when it comes to speaking up, be it about assaults, rape, cat-calling, the wage gap or the right to decide about our own bodies.

Final thought

I am privileged, I am white, cisgender, with an upper-middle-class background, who is educated, speaks a few languages, writes in a couple of them. In theory, I have everything handed to me on a silver plate.

But it’s not handed to me. I am working for it ten times as much. I am writing in my second language. I am writing between three jobs. I am writing after I put my three kids to bed. I am working hard for both the sake of writing and appreciation. But the appreciation shouldn’t come in the form of taking my work and re-using it.

I usually say that mediocrity flies under the radar, and if you are trolled or copied it means you are doing something right.

I will try to keep doing it right.

And the thing is, I will just put my head down, and work twice as hard. I will come up with my own ideas again. I will keep writing about what I believe in. I will do the legwork, the hours of tedious research. I will try to become better, and then even better.

As I can’t allow this kind of distraction to keep me from what I want to do.

After all… it could be a coincidence, right?

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Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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