You probably know Ben Affleck, right? Former Hollywood hunk known for his work in Gone Girl, Good Will Hunting, and the DC franchise. But his latest turn in front of the camera might just be his boldest yet: Last week, influencer Nivine Jay shared in a TikTok that Ben Affleck allegedly DMed her on Instagram after she’d unmatched with him on a dating app. The audacity of men never fails to surprise me.
In her TikTok, Jay explains that she had matched with Affleck on celebrity dating app Raya, known for its extreme exclusivity and referral-based application system. Thinking Affleck’s profile was fraudulent, she unmatched him. Their interaction should’ve ended there, according to all known dating app etiquette laws, but Affleck decided to take the extra step by tracking her down on Instagram and sending her a personalized (and honestly? A little aggressive) video.
You know what they say: Stars, they’re just like us — and apparently, like to creep in our DMs, too.
60% of women ages 18 to 34 have reported having received unwanted messages after turning someone down.
“Nivine, why did you unmatch me?” Affleck asks her in the video. He seemed to have made his own assumption about why, because he followed this up with an assurance: “It’s me.” (I don’t think the deep, growling voice works as well for him outside of the Batman mask, but maybe that’s just me.)
While Jay might be one of the first to post on TikTok about such a high-profile man sliding into her DMs, her case is not at all an isolated one. Dealing with unsolicited advances seems to be an expected and even fundamental part of the young woman’s dating experience, one only exacerbated by social media and the ability to look up your matches with terrifying ease. Whether these men are celebrities — as was the case for Jay and for then 19-year-old TikToker Kate Haralson, who posted a similarly private and frankly alarming FaceTime call with Friends star Matthew Perry — or your average, everyday a*sholes, the message is clear: The line between sexy and sleazy in online dating can often blur, if it’s not already gone.
According to a 2019 survey of 4,860 U.S. adults conducted by the Pew Research Center, gender can play a huge role in sexual harassment on the internet. While 48% of female respondents said that someone continued to contact them after saying they weren’t interested, only 27% of men said the same. Broken down by age, these percentages become more alarming: 60% of women ages 18 to 34 have reported having received unwanted messages after turning someone down, 57% received unwanted sexually explicit messages, 44% were called offensive names, and 19% were threatened with physical harm. They were the demographic with the highest percentages in each of these categories, pointing to a particular vulnerability for college-aged women, and a failure on the part of online dating and social media platforms to protect them.
“I don’t know how much dating apps can protect college-aged women from users being creepy toward women.”
Dating apps, whether they’re kindling young love for the college-aged crowd or acting as a playground for the rich and famous, are by no means exempt from gendered power dynamics that prioritize men’s interests over women’s comfort and safety. This is the reality that college-aged women like Rachel, 22, have to deal with every time they sign up for a dating app. “Dating apps allow men to feel more comfortable sending creepy messages because they’re behind a screen,” she tells Her Campus. “They most likely wouldn’t say these comments to [our faces].”
These gendered power dynamics aren’t limited to what goes down in a private DM conversation, either. As much as Jay’s TikTok incited a conversation about Affleck’s behavior, she wasn’t safe from the line of fire for choosing to bring attention to it in the first place. Among the critics was Chrissy Teigen, whose subtweet called Affleck “creepy,” but also asserted that releasing private messages like Affleck’s or Perry’s FaceTime call is “tacky.” “Ya both wrong, congrats,” Teigen wrote.
Sorry to Teigen, but I’m not exactly convinced that tackiness is an offense as egregious as harassment. Whether or not Affleck intended it as a flirty joke, it doesn’t erase Affleck’s celebrity status, the responsibility that comes with being an older, male public figure, or his reported misuse of that power when he decided to separately search for Jay’s account and continue to contact her despite her visible disinterest. According to Rachel, it’s hard for young women to combat this behavior on dating app platforms — while dating apps do have some measures in place to report harassment, there are few, if any, preventative steps taken to avoid situations like Jay’s, and offending accounts aren’t always taken down quickly enough. “I don’t know how much dating apps can protect [college-aged women] from users being creepy toward women,” she says. “They can definitely take action against individuals once they’ve acted out and been reported. The key is the speed in taking down those accounts, so other women don’t experience harassment from them.”
I’m not concerned for Affleck — at worst, he’s become a meme, and one that’ll fade from the public consciousness within a couple weeks. The stakes for Jay, Rachel, and every other woman who finds themselves on the receiving end of an unsolicited message from a man, are much higher. Unlike Jay, their stories will mostly go unheard. So, men — the onus is on you to amend your behavior. In other words, just stop?
Anderson, M., Vogels, E.A. (2019). Young women often face sexual harassment online – including on dating sites and apps. Pew Research Center.