This is what happens to women on the internet

Yesterday I was enjoying some delicious brunch when I overheard one of the women sharing our table tell her friends about her experience at a bar the previous night. She was playing pool with a friend and one of the guys they were playing against kept telling her about how he had “Asian fever” and had dated more Asian women than white women, apparently as a way to flirt with her – because of course women love nothing more than to be singled out as potential dates due to their race.

From what I heard of the conversation, I don’t think much else happened beyond that guy making a fool of himself, but it made me think of this cringe-inducing post from the Creepy White Guys blog and the way that a lot of entitled, creepy men like to pay attention to women but will turn on them and show their true asshole colors very quickly if they don’t get the response they want.

Sometimes when I hear stories like this I think “how gross, I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that when I was a woman” but hey guess what: I did! I’m just good at temporarily forgetting about those incidents, because who wants to remember traumatic events?

In the fall of 2002 I shaved my head; I’d gone from long hair to fairly short (for me at least) hair that summer and when my grandfather died in early September I knew I was going to shave it when I got back from the funeral. This was back in the days of Livejournal and I joined a community specifically for women with very short or no hair to get pointers and see other people’s pictures. My roommate helped me and I took four pictures with my webcam to document the process from my original hair to the end result. The pictures were on my webcam site, my personal and mostly-public Livejournal, and in a post on the bald women community page.

A week later, someone in that community got in touch to let me know someone had taken those pictures and posted them on a short-haired/bald women fetish porn site, plus he posted a link to my journal on the site’s forum and as a “link of the week” on the front page. The main site was a huge grid of photos, some sexual and some not, so while the pictures I had taken were just of my face and the top of my shoulders and weren’t sexual at all, they were right next to explicit shots. It was really gross and invasive and I felt completely violated by it. I wrote an angry email to the site owner and I remember that it was a lot angrier than I normally let myself be but that I still toned it down a bit because I was afraid to be too angry, like maybe I didn’t deserve to be as mad as I was about the whole thing and should just calm down.

I don’t have a copy of the email anymore, but the site owner’s response was something along the lines of “well I will take the pictures down, but I don’t see why you’re so angry since it was a compliment and the pictures were public anyway, you bitch. You should be grateful I thought you looked good enough to post them.” And he did eventually take the pictures down, but he apparently thought it would be a great act of revenge to add a sidebar link to my silly-pictures webcam, meaning I got more creepy attention. A few days before I’d learned about the stolen pictures, I got some weird IMs from people who said they’d seen my pictures (either they mentioned the LJ community by name or I assumed that was where they’d seen them) and tried to get me to chat with them, which I was not into. By the time the pictures went down I was getting a LOT of unwanted attention from creepy dudes who could not understand why I was so pissed off that they kept bothering me. Either they didn’t understand that I hadn’t authorized the porn site to use my pictures or they just didn’t care. I don’t think any of them were as mean about it as the site owner but they weren’t exactly gracious and apologetic either. It was kind of a “STOP bothering me.” “but you’re so lovely, I just have to tell you regardless of your feelings!” sort of scenario.

Looking back through my journal from that time, I saw that I referenced another Creepy Guy interaction I’d had a little over a year before that left me feeling upset in a similar way, although this earlier incident was even worse, I think. My first year at college, I was really sad and lonely in the beginning of the spring semester and had the “let random people message me” option enabled on my ICQ client so I sometimes got local dudes trying to take me out for Indian food after exchanging two sentences with me. I did go on one (disastrous) date with someone I met through ICQ and shortly afterwards uninstalled the program, but there was one person I chatted with for a while who turned out to be pretty terrible but was good at hiding it at first. I don’t remember his name, but he said he was a lawyer in Wisconsin and wanted to talk about a pretty intense fetish he had (I am still not comfortable giving a lot of detail about this). I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but at the time I was in a pretty bad mental place and this person was giving me a lot of positive attention so I was willing to talk with him about what he was into. I didn’t have to discuss anything explicitly sexual and his particular interest seemed so odd to me that it was kind of interesting asking him about why he liked it.

So mostly our interactions were him trying to talk about his fetish and giving me compliments (it isn’t like he knew much of anything about me, but this guy gave a lot of them which I realize now was his grooming technique), and me asking him a little about why he was into it and timidly saying “what… would happen if someone actually did this to you?” because I’m pretty sure the real-life answer is “broken bones.” And I guess this wasn’t enough for him, because after a week or two he started bugging me to meet up with him and act this fantasy out for real. Now, I may have been lonely enough to chat with a guy halfway across the country about his dangerous fantasy, but I had no interest in actually doing anything about it, or seeing him in person. I’m sure it was clear to him that I had almost no boundary-setting skills or self-confidence at that point so he pushed and pushed and it took a lot for me to give him a definite “no” even though I knew I didn’t want to do it (plus, how do you sort out the logistics of visiting a college student in a shared dorm room for activity that would probably be classified as assault?).

And when that “no” came? Dude was fucking furious. He called me a slut, bitch, whore, how dare I lead him on, he was going to sue me (?) for it, insult after insult, “never contact me again as I am blocking you.” Did he think I’d beg for him to talk to me after that? I was relieved, so relieved when he said he was blocking me; I was already a little afraid of him and he had been starting to make me uncomfortable, but that initial grooming process made it so that I didn’t feel like I could just stop talking to him. I remember that this happened right before spring break and I spent that week (on an otherwise nice vacation with my family in the New Mexico desert) feeling a low-grade dirtiness and dread the entire time. I was so embarrassed that I’d let it happen to me.

In both instances it’s really interesting for me to note that I felt upset and angry over what had happened, which is perfectly understandable, but also had a lot of residual shame and embarrassment over what had happened even though I hadn’t really done anything wrong. But the people who act like this, who explode in anger when someone deflects their creepy advances or calls out their behavior, are good at focusing that anger and trying to convince their victims that the situation is their fault and that they deserved it. These people are fairly good at appearing to be somewhat friendly or decent but the moment something goes a little bit wrong, they’re tearing off their suit to reveal a Superman costume, except instead of Superman it’s a screaming, rotting pile of meat trying to trick someone into having sex with it.

That Creepy White Guys tumblr I linked to above is scariest to me not specifically for its content but because the content isn’t surprising at all. If you just showed me the initial message sent by the user (he actually opened with “ni hao ma,” what the shit dude) and asked me to predict his response if the woman he messaged wasn’t interested (whether or not she was aggressive about it), I would have come up with something  pretty much identical to what he actually wrote. This sort of thing is not a surprise to me, which is the worst part. This is just what happens if you’re a woman who spends time online. How fucking depressing.

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11 Responses to This is what happens to women on the internet

  1. Tiercel says:

    I have never been more deeply grateful that my own (unhealthy) coping mechanisms led me to isolate myself rather than go out on the internet during my most vulnerable. Everywhere I turn I see this shit happening and it just blows my mind. I’m sorry those assholes inflicted themselves upon you.

    Also, the Superman analogy is truly inspired.

    • I certainly think these events are a large part of why I gave up trying to meet people online or hang out in forums and chat areas. It didn’t feel safe, plus I never managed to have interesting conversations in places like that anyway. It’s incredibly upsetting and confusing that this sort of behavior continues to happen constantly, and that a lot of people impacted by it have a hard time finding sympathy for it.

      I couldn’t quite tell if the Superman analogy had gotten away from me or not, so I’m glad it worked for you.

  2. Kirin says:

    There are some people I want to shake roughly by the shoulders while yelling “what the *fuck* is wrong with you?!”. I just cannot even.

  3. Pingback: Death by a thousand linkspams (22 February 2013) | Geek Feminism Blog

  4. When I shaved (well, clippered) my head as part of an annual event to raise money for cancer research I put a couple of videos up on youtube to show my friends and linked to them in my dreamwidth journal.

    What I didn’t expect was guys on you tube commenting about how hot I looked with ultra short hair and linking to soft porn featuring women with short/shaved hair. When it did happen, I realized how naive I had been to think that no one would see the vids unless I had sent them a link. It also reminded me of a night many years before when I had gone dancing with a friend, only to be cornered by some guy who wanted to know all about me, and eventually let slip that he had a thing for women with short hair and glasses.

    • Ugh. I mean, if someone thinks my hair (in any configuration) looks nice then I guess that’s a plus, although that isn’t the point either. But if they’re making MY hair (or whatever attirbute) all about THEM and focusing on that it’s just gross. There’s a huge difference between “your glasses look great, you have fantastic style” and “I love women in glasses.” That just makes me feel like a floating naked head/pair of glasses with a body conveniently attached.
      Also I had a creepy moment not too long after I shaved my head when someone came up to me in a crowded convention hall, rubbed the back of my head vigorously, and left without me even seeing them. I asked the group of friends who was with me if any of them had done it, and no one had, so it turned out that a stranger had given me a drive-by head-grope.

  5. Rowena says:

    I’m glad you posted this. I’ve felt pretty conflicted about some unwanted advances, lately, and I didn’t want to feel like I was overreacting because frankly, at this point, I don’t feel safe talking to him, even though he’s the friend of a friend. And I don’t want to stir up shit with our mutual friend, so I’ve been trying to explain why his behavior is problematic. And he seems to have simply ignored it. I don’t really know what else to do at this point, except just stop talking to him. I guess I’ll have B talk to him, next, if it happens again? I just don’t want to deal with it at all.

    • Not talking to that person, or just excusing yourself from future conversations he tries to initiate, sound just fine to me. I think if someone ignores what you’ve told them about how their behavior is unwanted and makes you uncomfortable, you’re really not required to observe anything but the most basic level of politeness (as in, not actively pissing on his shoes) in the future.

  6. lkgundel says:

    Oh, hon- I remember that incident with fetish guy. I was going through dramaangstwoeisme at the time and wasn’t as available as I should have been, but I remember feeling scared. Wasn’t that the one where J and I offered to wait in the car and get you after X amount of time if you decided to meet up with The Dude? So much creepy. Hugs and hugs and hugs.

    • Yeah, that was around the same time when I did meet up with Olin in Raleigh for a date and I remember that I did call J from his place when I got there (and that was a nightmare but kind of a hilarious one). I can understand, given my life and state of mind at the time, how I got drawn into this guy’s weird fetish discussion, but it’s still really hard to think about it and not want to shake myself around a bit and say “you don’t need to put up with that to get positive attention from someone!”

      That semester did a ringer on a lot of folks for sure.

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