I’ve been following the #mencallmethings phenomenon with interest. It’s made me thankful that most of my writing is for the print media. Rarely have I had to put up with abuse directed at me thanks to something I’ve written, given the lack of instant feedback options that paper pages present to the reader.
Unfortunately, I recently learned that the anonymity of the internet means that women of minimal prominence can also be subjected to online misogyny.
I’ve been experimenting with the comedic goldmine that is online dating over the last couple of months. It’s one of the free sites where you set up a fairly perfunctory profile and just chat to people who you think you could fancy. I’ve gotten a few dates out of it – some good, more bad, most average.
Some of the profiles I’ve seen are, well, wack. There was the guy who gave himself marks out of 10 for personal and physical attributes (Listening: 4/10, Body: 6/10, Good in Bed: 7/10), and then included a helpful set of benchmarks for potential paramours (Listening: 6/10, Body: 9/10, Good in Bed: 10/10).
Then there was the man of, well, hefty body type, whose ideal partner description concluded with the charming caveat, “oh and no offence but no biggies pls”. Another man had the profile name ‘GetADogUpYa’ – what does that even mean?
The most upsetting experience I’ve had, though, threw into sharp relief just how different people can be when shielded by a keyboard.
A young(ish) man of 32 started chatting with me several weeks ago. We had a few reasonably pleasant conversations, although he tended to give off a slightly stuck-up vibe – as if it would be up to a woman to prove herself worthy of him, and that if she did, she should count herself lucky.
I chalked it up to him being a bit crap at online chatting, although it meant that I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to meet up with him “in real life”. He was determined though, and would ask me to catch up nearly constantly. Eventually, I gave in, and agreed to a quiet coffee on a Sunday afternoon.
Christ, it was painful. For a guy who’d been hassling me for a date on a near-daily basis for over a fortnight, he wasn’t particularly forthcoming in terms of conversation. He sat there, avoiding eye contact while drinking a beer, while I pulled every interviewing trick out of my hat to get a bit of dialogue going. The best I managed was getting him to talk about how proud he is of his secret parking spot in Windsor.
After about an hour, I gave up and announced that I needed to get going. We parted with barely a goodbye, and I walked off thinking that he probably hated me, but at least I probably wouldn’t have to talk to him again.
About a week later, I was logged in to the dating website when he popped up. (I saved the conversation, so what follows is accurate.)
Him: want a root?
I blinked. Wait, what?
Me: Um, no thanks.
I felt pissed off. The guy had barely been able to carry a conversation with me in person, and here he was asking me for sex. It annoyed me, and I decided not to let it pass.
Me: Anyway, if I did, chances are it would be with someone who could actually make eye contact with me, and speak to me when I’m sitting at a table with them.
Him: your tits are the best thing about talking to u
I didn’t know what to say, but for once, he was willing to fill in the conversational gap.
Him: don’t get me wrong, im not into you at all, but id fuck you in a second.
I issued a final retort: “I’m blocking you now, and I wouldn’t think you’d get very far with this site if this is how you speak to people who were only ever nice to you.”
I went through with blocking him, but the experience left me rattled. Why did he speak to me that way? It was clear from the moment we met that we had no chemistry, but his smutty talk – via the internet – seemed unwarranted and nasty.
This man couldn’t string a sentence together when we were face to face, but given the shield of his keyboard, he was perfectly happy to reduce my worth to my sexual appeal.
Of course, I understand that this nowhere near as horrifying as much of what women have been enduring via online commentary (for a great summary of what’s come out of the woodwork, see Sady Doyle’s brilliantly comprehensive wrap-up).
It does go to show, however, that this undercurrent of online misogyny is even more prevalent than the comment boards would have us think. While men calling them things may have, unfortunately, made prolific women think twice about publishing their opinions online, my experience has taught me that no woman can completely avoid this ugliness. This is a problem not just for the outspoken, but for any woman with a voice on the internet at all, and ignoring it will not make it go away.