It’s a widespread opinion that if you are someone who posts pictures of their life via a public forum like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, then you should assume – and accept – that people will comment.
That’s how these sharing platforms work – particularly if you promote a blog or personal page via one of these mediums.
I get that. I welcome that. The way these sites allow us to connect with people from all over the world at any time of the day is special and, largely, this global community is a great source of support. And I’d like to say that, much like that ill-advised house party you had when you were fifteen, it’s only a handful of people who ruin it for everyone else by posting negative, hateful or creepy comments. But in my own experience, this hasn’t turned out to be true.
In the modern dating age, sites such as Tinder and Plenty of Fish are increasingly popular. I am undecided about these apps. On one hand, I know people who have met their husbands and wives by swiping right, and I’ve made some brilliant mates for life from my own dating adventures.
However, for every nice human being you meet, there are tens of people who think it’s perfectly normal to send sexually explicit messages to a stranger. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been pestered by someone only to rebuff their advances and be told that I am “ugly anyway” or a “whore” or “lucky they even bothered.” (Yeah thanks, mate. The sixteen images of your grotesque ball sack you sent as an ice breaker were a delight for my eyes). Some people will even jump right in the deep end, not an armband in sight. “Want to ****?” one guy messaged me. “Pass,” I replied. “What, are you a lesbian? Because that’s ok 2.” ALL OF THE EYE ROLLS. ALL OF THEM.
Most of the time, I can laugh it off. My dating app phases have always been in tandem with a single female friend. We compare messages, howl hysterically at some of the more ridiculous things – and propositions – we are sent.
But, looking back, it’s quite disturbing that we were all receiving these messages. Disparaging, name calling, overtly sexual, and sometimes aggressive. We just expect it. Like gravy with a roast dinner. It would be weird having one without the other.
When I think about some of the messages I have received, not only via dating apps, but Twitter and Instagram, I feel disappointed that I made like Elsa from Frozen and simply let it go.
I have had some weird messages. Some are hilarious, like the guy who offered me an obscene amount of money if I let him at my shoe collection, and some border on sinister, like the guy who sent me messages every hour, on the hour for three days calling me a whore because I hadn’t responded. Who said romance is dead?
I have previously talked about the anonymity of the internet as a huge catalyst for the rise in trolling comments, but what I’ve never discussed is that long-lasting feeling of being unsettled, a bit pissed off and sort of besieged.
I haven’t used a dating app since the beginning of this year. Personally, I want to meet someone organically. I’m tired of bad dates and stilted conversations. But as a thirty-something year old woman loving in a city, its hard to meet someone new IRL.
I have friends who still use the sites – both men and women – and enjoy the conversations they have. I did too, the conversations I engaged in were not the issue, it was the barrage of insults, pictures and unwelcome comments about my appearance that I had – still have – a problem with.
Most recently, I received a couple of messages via Twitter and Instagram that took me back to that uneasy feeling.
Whereas I, begrudgingly, accepted the nonsense I received via a dating app as just part and parcel of this weird online dating shop environment, I view my Twitter and IG accounts as something else entirely. I use them to post blog posts, snaps, book recommendations, pics of food and, more often, images of housemate’s dog. I use them for work. I don’t, and I guess I am naïve in this respect, feel like I should be bombarded with messages from complete strangers who think it’s okay to comment on how I look, or – as has happened on occasion – something of a more explicit nature.
I was a teenager pre-Facebook when all I had was a shitty Motorola with an aerial and a My Space page. Christ, I didn’t have a smart phone until I was 25. I had a flip-phone Samsung. Vintage, darling.
This is all too much for my technologically-challenged brain.
I took a break from social media this year. It lasted a couple of months and it was really helpful in aiding my recovery from what I was going through at the time. At the end of November, I made the decision to be more active with my accounts and began instagramming, using Facebook and finally, tweeting, again. At first, I enjoyed it. I have always been an avid social media user and engaging in it fully, particularly when it comes to sharing blog posts, feels like a huge aspect of my personality.
But over the last couple of weeks alone, I’ve received a few messages via social media accounts from strangers that have made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know if I was being “sensitive” (I am quite sensitive tbf) or if the feeling in my stomach was justified. I text two male friends and asked for their opinion.
“This is creepy, right?” I sent via WhatsApp, with a screenshot of something a stranger had tweeted me in response to a review I’d posted about a hotel’s vegetarian food. “What happens if I feed you some meat? Surely you wouldn’t say no then?” he said. MEGA. LOLS. YOU. FUNNY. GUY.
I waited for a response. Was I just being a bit over sensitive? Was I constantly on edge, reading too much into messages from a stranger? Was he just enquiring about the validity of my predilection for vegetables? Was he offering to spoon feed me? Perhaps he thought I was unable to feed myself? Was he simply a great cook, offering up his meat cooking services? (I couldn’t keep a straight face typing that one) Had I made it smutty?
Was this my problem, not theirs?
“Yeah, that is creepy,” one friend text back. “I wouldn’t send that.”
“What the hell? Who sent you that?” the other said, genuinely appalled by this Twitter fellas chat.
I mean this one didn’t really bother me so much. In the grand scheme of nonsense I have received from men, it’s pretty minor. I was just pissed off that he’d hijacked my article (tweeted to the establishment I was writing about, and the magazine I write for) and turned it into something else. Like it was reducing what I had to say for myself.
The day afterwards I received a direct IG message from an account I don’t recognise stating. “You are very attractive.”
I mean, thanks that’s nice. But why? Why was it necessary to send a stranger a message about her looks? Would you say it to my face? My general rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t walk up to me in the street and say it, don’t bother typing it. I kind of wanted to respond in a snarky way (Oh, jeez, thanks. I am glad you approve of my face, kind stranger) but he didn’t deserve it. I genuinely think he thought it would be nice to tell me that. I guess it was something about the direct message. It’s so personal. It’s not like simply attaching a comment to a snap, or hitting the like button.
For me, its problematic. If we dismiss these messages as “banter” (I detest that word, its used to often to shame people for a natural reaction to dickishness) and adopt a “boys will be boys” attitude, then it’s going to keep happening. Now, before I get a load more message to my IG box calling me a “manhater,” (I love men for the record) I am commenting on my experience as a woman. I can’t comment on the experience of men. I am calling for a re-education for both sexes.
We need to teach men – our boys – that it is not OK to disrespect women, even if it is done anonymously. It is not fine, or funny, or banter, to be sexually aggressive or overt, or pass judgement on complete strangers. And, similarly, we need to teach women – our girls – that it isn’t something we have to put up with. It doesn’t make you more desirable to men if you okay these situations and it doesn’t help men to laugh it off as playfulness or part of “dating.” Its damaging, archaic and sexist.
Ok, I’m just going to sit back now and see what happens.