Today I had reason to check the ‘other’ message tab on a Facebook account that I have. I, in all honesty, had forgotten I had an ‘other’ folder (since about 2013 or so). I was shocked to see over a hundred unread messages, and upon closer inspection, they were all from different FB user profiles, and they all had common themes… Calling me ‘beautiful’, talking about my smile, talking about their vision of an ideal relationship with me, demanding I contact them, and some were disgustingly sexually explicit right off at initial contact. Many had been censured or removed in some form by FB, but I could see enough in the preview.
It was disturbing and I am, quite bluntly, disgusted. I keep my FB profile buttoned down on privacy levels, so all the folks could see was my name and my profile picture. That was apparently enough information for them to decide to approach me in a medium that is not a primarily dating oriented site. I am not ‘out there’ in that way, and the messages spanned two years. I imagine many are scammers and bots, but it all comes back to unwanted attention and the strategy to engage in this way. I understand that with any online presence, with any public presence, you are at some level running the risk of unwanted attention. You set your privacy controls, realize their limitations, and simply do your best to live your life at what you consider ‘full volume’.
Ironically, earlier this week I was talking with a male friend the other day about his frustrations in regards to online dating, and having an online presence, and the unwanted and often abusive interaction that occurs that sours the experience for the women he contacts. He was absolutely shocked to realize that my experiences are very similar to many women, and others have had much worse interactions and have been targeted, threatened, stalked. A light bulb came on for him when we had the discussion when he expressed that many men are just concerned about rejection or meeting someone incompatible… and I shared that many women are concerned that they will be physically hurt or killed.
Recently there have been many discussions in public forums about privilege, and especially male privilege, how it is invisible to those who have it, and how the strategies of oppression focus on depersonalizing those who operate outside of the dominant group, how insidiously experiences are minimized, invalidated, gaslighted. Being called out on behavior is not comfortable… but learning about one’s privilege, and using it for elevating those who do not have it and advocating, being an ally, and least of all … NOT BEING PART OF THE PROBLEM… is all part of what it will take to end domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and all forms of abuse of power and control.
I am sure those who are thinking… “Well so what? You got some disturbing emails, some pictures of male genitalia and folks find you attractive, you should be flattered…” To those who are saying that… you miss the point at best, and are contributing to the problem worst case scenario. It is not about a potentially mutual and reciprocal attraction communicated in a respectful way via a mutually understood social media venue. It is not about a respectful request to interact to get to know me better. It was from the same place that emboldens those who are acting out their male privilege so the person fells justified to tell women to ‘smile’. It is the face of benevolent sexism and anger at being ‘friend zoned’. It comes from the same oppressive place that attempts to enforce response to unwanted contact as a response is the man’s entitlement. It comes from the place of women are objects to be acted upon, and should respond in a prescriptive and defined way. It comes from the terrible place that acts as a flashpoint for online shaming, threatening, and trolling.
If you are in the ‘so what?’ group discussed above… Congratulations- until you examine your privilege or internalized misogyny, you are being acted upon by patriarchy, and are buying into society’s polarizing and over simplified binary. And if you do not actively engage in the behavior, your silence is often viewed by the offender as tacit agreement.
My call to action? Speak up. Confront this behavior, and any of the related micro-agressions. This is not okay, and no one should open their email to this. Or experience this on the street, the train, at their workplace or school.