Trigger Warning: sexual harassment.
It doesn’t seem to matter what ethnicity you are, what your sexuality is, whether you’re disabled, or if you even identify as a woman; sexual harassment of some kind is a near universal experience for all women, trans women, and those Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB). That’s not to say that all of us experience the same harassment regardless of protected characteristics, as the type and extent of harassment is massively impacted by these, but experiencing sexual harassment in one of its many forms is something that just about every woman I know has encountered.
Sexual harassment can occur anywhere; at work, on the street, in just about any public space imaginable, in the privacy of our own homes, and even online. I, for one, have lost count of the many inappropriate comments and messages I have found on my social media, and by far the worst platform for this (in my own experience) is Instagram. In fact, at one point it was so bad, I seriously considered deleting my account altogether. A simple selfie, even make-up free with dishevelled hair, could get me three or four private messages from complete strangers, all of them men, raving on about how gorgeous I was and what they’d like to do as a result of said gorgeousness. Now, some men seem to find this hard to grasp so I’ll spell it out for you; that is not a compliment. I did not ask for or want graphic depictions of positions I doubt I could manage, being disabled and all.
At first, I tried messaging the men to politely decline and ask them to stop. None of them did, but their responses can be divided into two categories. The first category is “f*** you b****, no one will ever want to f*** you anyway, you’ll die alone”, and the second category is *obliviously continue because it worked so well the first time*. Naturally I hit the block button so frequently it became muscle memory.
Next, I tried just blocking them from the outset, given that that was always the end result. In maybe half of all cases this seemed to work, but the other half simply logged onto another account and sent me a new message. My personal record is twelve different accounts used before they took the damn hint. No matter how many times I blocked them, within half an hour I would have another message in my inbox. It was worse than trying to politely reply.
After this, I tried ignoring message requests, but my inbox just kept filling up. Then I tried deleting message requests, but I seemed to spend half my time on Instagram wading through unsavoury messages than actually using the app as intended. It was ridiculous.
The next step was to make examples of them by screenshotting their messages with their name and profile picture covered up, which was far more courteous than they had been with me, and posting the images on social media. I did see some backlash from this, as apparently their actions didn’t warrant public mockery. I guess bullying the bully isn’t a popular tactic, but unfortunately it seems to be the only effective one, as eventually the number of creepy messages I received declined.
A hint for men; having to deal with all this is a bigger turn-off than unplugging something. There are ways to politely approach someone without making gratuitous comments about our bodies or calling us condescending names like “sweetie”. Even if you do have genuinely good intentions, there are better ways to go about showing that. Also, if they say no, they mean no. It doesn’t mean they’re playing hard to get, or a challenge; it means no. Ignoring our requests and persisting is harassment, and it has a major impact on self-esteem and mental health. To be brutally honest, if you describe yourself as a nice guy, chances are you aren’t.
Oh, and a couple of disclaimers before I forget; despite being very open about my sexuality I have never once had such a message from another woman, and I am aware that not all men do this because I married one of one’s who didn’t do it. So just stop it.