I recently (loathingly) participated a not-uncommon, but annoying, interaction in which a complete stranger took it upon himself to send me a message. Silly me, I responded. You see, I always hope for the best- perhaps someone wanted my advice, or even to pay a nice compliment. Right?
He wanted to let me know that he had seen me comment on a well-known fitness figure’s Facebook post, stating that I was both a bodybuilder and a powerlifter. And then he wanted to question whether this was true, and also teach me about both of these sports, because clearly I had no idea how they went- including a quick mansplain of what the USAPL is, and a few critical remarks towards my credibility when I had no idea who the “other natural bodybuilder” he mentioned was. Clearly, this man knew more about the sports in which I am either professional or elite than I do. Interestingly, a 30 second Google search of my name shows both of these fun facts before you’ve even had a chance to scroll down.
This was less than 24 hours after a man on my Instagram messaged me with a question about my new Nike’s that I had posted. Ten minutes later I realize this man had absolutely no interest in my shoes, and was simply after a quick jerk off to my insole.
What the actual fuck.
Maybe I should just be glad neither sent me a dick pic?
If you’re a man and you didn’t know- yeah, ladies find UNSOLICITED PHOTOS OF MALE GENITALIA. FROM STRANGERS. IN THEIR DMs. On the regular. Like a goddamn dick party in there. Don’t click into the DMs.
Reflecting on these interactions in an all female online forum, I posed a simple question looking for some solidarity in my madness: “Anybody else fielding digital harassment recently?”
I should not have been as surprised as I was by the responses. Of course this brought up the infamous time I was internet harassed by a man, through multiple accounts over many months, who had a fetish for shoulder rides, having seen me post a photo of me boosting a man up at a music festival, but I am far from the only woman on the internet who has dealt with internet creeps. I can’t speak for all of the internet, in it’s deep and dark splendor, but I can speak to my corner- the fitness corner- where men find it more acceptable to comment on a woman’s body because she works on it, or might put it on display, might even *gasp* celebrate it. HOW DARE SHE!
Women from all over the world commented with their experiences with both men and women using the internet as a space to spread toxic thoughts, make hurtful and unwelcome comments, or otherwise annoy, badger, distress, provoke, anger, tear down, scare, or straight up STALK them.
What a time to be alive, eh?
Amidst these stories, from dozens of women, a few patterns arose:
We already talked about this, but some men apparently LOVE to share their genitalia with strange women uninvited, it turns out. Luckily, Instagram has recently caught on to this and will kindly blur it out for you unless you choose to see it. Instagram, your’e amazing for adding this feature. You’ve saved millions of women’s eyes from unimpressive sexual harassment.
“You’re fat/you haven’t made any progress,”-type body shaming.
Men and women alike are guilty of dropping these gems. Once you put yourself out in public as working towards a goal, or being interested in any fitness-relied activity, suddenly every person feels like they have the right to comment on your body, bring on the haterade, comment as to whether or not they believe you fit into the aesthetic of your activity, or whether you are progressing at the rate they believe you should be.
These people may truly believe that their perspective on your body is obviously the one that matters most. The comments are often pretty generically negative and pretty carelessly organized, as though they have some stock shade they just throw at everyone who uses #fitgirls or something- key words include fat, manly, ugly, comments regarding facial features (“you need a nose job,” “butterface,”), gross, and unfuckable, to start. These people are the Regina George’s of the internet- ugly on the inside, and vindictive for the purpose of feeling good at the expense of others. Most often these commenters hide behind private profiles themselves and their profiles include words like “sickkunt” and a bible verse, yes both. Always both. These people suck and should not be validated with returned comments.
Lots of women reported posting non-sexual photos- how about that pic you snapped with your dad at brunch?- and receiving comments like “your account is major boner material,” “I see your booty work paying off,” “wow, you’re sexy,” and the incredibly pervasive “your hot,” [sic]. This almost always comes from either a perfect stranger who has never before commented on your profile, or worse, from a family friend, a coworker, or a childhood friend completely out of the blue that makes you feel hella awkward. Ladies who like ladies, it seems, are often further subject to mass quantities of “you’re too sexy to be a lesbian, I could make you straight,” fuckery, in this category.
Um, I don’t remember asking you to ogle me. You can see yourself out, now, thanks.
Unwilling participation in fetish play.
Alright. I have nothing against people with foot fetishes, or most fetishes, as a general rule. But I do believe that if someone is going to be a party to your sexual gratification, they should be both aware and willing participants. One would think that this should be a given- you don’t just walk up to people on the street and jerk off on them, you know, so maybe you shouldn’t do that on the internet either?
For some reason, foot fetishists are particularly predatory on social media, with a shocking number of women reporting having had unwanted interactions regarding their feet. I have had multiple conversations that start out being about shoes (the downside for my love of Flyknits, I suppose) and end up with me blocking someone. Two beauty bloggers commented about being skeeved out by comments requesting pedicures in very specific detail when they posted their nails. Other women simply received comments on totally un-foot related photos requesting to see their feet or telling them that they should be a foot model. LEAVE OUR FEET OUT OF THIS. I mean, at least have the decency to creep the folks who use #footfetish or something, so that they know what’s up. It feels really icky when you aren’t anticipating that someone on another phone is touching themselves to your insoles and toenail polish.
I mentioned before, that a while ago, I discovered that there is a fetish for shoulder riding, which was a shock to me. Over the course of several months, I was contacted by and subsequently blocked a number of accounts (perhaps the same person, as the wording was decidedly distinct) that contacted me unrelentingly through both Facebook and Instagram. Eventually, this person stole photos of me from my social media of me giving people shoulder rides at music festivals to start his own Instagram account dedicated to women letting men sit on their shoulders. When I threw a fit and demanded my photos be removed, he begged me to keep them up, but ultimately removed them before I reported the account and blocked him. I literally could not make that up if I set my most creative thoughts to it.
A particularly scary instance was shared, in which a young woman revealed that she had received a direct message describing, in detail, how a person wanted to physically beat her, biting her breasts until she bled, completely unprovoked and uninvited, following posting a selfie.
Whatever your fetish is, please don’t ensnare unsuspecting victims in it. Be straight with them. Maybe they’ll be down with it, but if they aren’t, maybe leave them the fuck out of your masturbation.
“Actually… did you know…”
If I had a nickel for every time I saw a woman post a photo or video that was “corrected” in the comments via mansplaining or “I read an article that said that”-splaining I’d fill a bag up with those nickels and use it to bash those commenters in the face. A woman posting a squat video on the internet probably doesn’t need to be told that women should never lift that heavy. A woman sharing her bench PR probably doesn’t need to be told that she’s going to wreck her back arching it like that. She’s probably stronger than, has a better coach than, read more articles than, and is otherwise not a complete know-it-all jerk, unlike our thoughtful commenter.
“You’re getting really manly/you clearly take steroids.”
Being a female lifter on social media, these ones get thrown around a LOT.
Squatting over twice your bodyweight?
Visible striations in your delts?
Men and women both seem to struggle with the idea that a woman can be strong and have muscles naturally, and actually want to be and have those attributes as well. I get it, muscles and the associated aesthetic isn’t everybody’s cup of tea- but my DNA clearly never got the memo that only men can grow muscles. Powerlifting isn’t everybody’s hobby- but the fact that women in the world can squat upwards of 400 pounds and bench upwards of 300 indicates to me that… yeah, actually women CAN lift that heavy. It feels really unnecessary to come on to someone’s page and talk shit to them, in their own space, when it would be just as easy to keep on scrolling, and keep your shit comments to yourself.
Aside from violating the old “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say nothing at all,” advice from Thumper’s mom, accusations of drug use can have some pretty serious consequences for competitive athletes- costing them sponsorships, titles, and respect that they’ve worked hard to earn. Greg Nuckols has spoken before about how these sorts of jealous finger-pointing comments have lead to death threats against him– which is completely insane! All because someone on the internet couldn’t believe that a person could possibly work hard to achieve strength and aesthetic goals, completely disregarding genetics, training, diet, and the hundreds of other variables that contribute to an athlete’s success.
Outside of these pattern internet abuses faced by women, some outliers emerged too. Terrifying stories, like the woman who received a rundown of her entire high school athletic career, or the woman who opened her inbox to find a collage of her Facebook profile pictures nicely compiled, or how about the woman who, for a span of time, received phone calls and messages of an anonymous caller just… laughing.
This behavior cannot be ignored. Sure, it’s fine to roll your eyes with your girlfriends, “Oh, another stranger’s cock in my inbox, what a jerk,” but this is truly sexual harassment, and this is not normal, and should not be tolerated. Don’t ignore these messages, comments, slanderous posts: report. Report REPORT REPORT these comments AND these commenters. In a Facebook group, report to the mods, on Instagram and on the larger Facebook, you can report directly to the platform. Some women even shared that they had forwarded messages to the commenter’s parents or spouses! Chances are, you’re not the only one facing an unwanted penis, hurtful words, and accidental sexual involvement from this person. And while these sorts of behaviors are common, given the anonymity that our phone and computer screens give us, they should not be taken as normal and accepted.
You. Deserve. Better.