Recently, I’ve noticed more messages coming into my “requested” inbox on Instagram. They’re never good. It’s either a bot trying to seduce you into clicking a link that will give you a virus, someone attempting to rope you into a pyramid scheme, or someone who is clearly planning to try and swindle some sexting out of you. These last ones, in particular, are the ones I’m most concerned with.
This problem is very widespread and it doesn’t just affect women. Predatory behavior isn’t gender-specific. It also does not apply to every guy who messages a girl on a social media platform. However, my personal experience is from the perspective of a young woman dealing with creepy men contacting me over the internet. These range from absolute strangers to men I know who are almost twice my age inviting me to hang out and not taking the hint when I don’t respond to them (knowing full well how old I am).
I’ve had enough encounters with this to recognize that it’s an epidemic. Plenty of accounts like @byefelipe on Instagram and @sheratesdogs on Twitter document stories from lots of different perspectives. Knowing how common it is, I asked my Instagram followers, specifically females, to send me their own experiences. Here’s what a few of these women had to say:
(Responses edited for clarity)
“In my experience, being a young woman on Instagram who posts “liberating” photos, I have experienced a lot of sexual harassment in my Instagram DM requests. Many of these men find me on my tinder which I linked to my Instagram profile. These are generally men that I have not matched with and do not intend to have a conversation with. Those messages are always super gross and too much information. Men feel as though they are entitled to share their opinions about my body/face when I did not ask. They beg me to speak to them when I blatantly ignore them. One man was so aggravated that I didn’t answer his DM that he commented on one of my photos, “look at my DMs”. No, I am not interested in you and just because my Instagram is sexy (as am I), I will not entertain your sexual fantasies of me. I have learned that these men think I care what they have to say or that I owe them something because they have seen me on a dating app. I hope in the future that they will learn that women have no obligation to them and need to keep their nasty, dirty sex thoughts to themselves. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.”
“This person made an account called @i_wanna_f***_[her name] and would send me messages about what they wanted to do to me and tell me how they see me every day but are too nervous to talk to me. They would tell me where I was and what I was doing when they saw me but I still have no idea who they were. It creeped me out and I felt so self-conscious for weeks walking around knowing someone was staring at me. They’d text me every night saying new things I was doing. They deleted the account because I went off in the DMs after a while of them just saying nasty things.”
“Admittedly I spent way too many of my formative years on the internet talking to strangers (sorry, mom). Goofing around on Kik and ChatRoulette were go-tos when my friends came over for sleepovers, and I guess it’s because of this normalization that I never bat an eye when random men slide into my DMs. I know that I am willingly putting my photos into the public eye, but with the intention of my friends complimenting my haircuts and shoe choices, not 50-year-old men named Greg getting their kicks from looking at my pics. It’s easy to ignore their messages, except in some fun cases such as my friend responding to a serial thirster who had slid into the DMs of multiple girls I know. Even though in today’s day and age it might seem so, this is a reminder to myself and all other girls that it’s not normal when a man with his wife and kids in his profile picture promises you $500 in return for being his sugar baby.”
Not everyone realizes how serious of a problem this is. It may seem harmless and easy to ignore, but it’s really not. In fact, ignoring the messages sometimes prompts the sender to start verbally abusing whoever they are trying to talk to (see @byefelipe). No one should be taught to ignore harassment anyway. The phenomenon that women should be trained to accept that “boys will be boys” is absurd. Men who feel entitled to female attention and don’t care to show any respect for the women they speak to shouldn’t be tolerated.
Creepy men in the DMs is a smaller problem that stems from this double standard and a multitude of other issues. Another thing I have learned that especially resonates with me is that social media is not always a blessing. Being behind a screen can easily make us forget that there is a living, feeling person on the other side. My photos are mine. I post them because I feel confident, to express myself, and to connect with my friends. They are not for the viewing pleasure of entitled men who intend to do nothing but objectify me. There is a real woman behind each and every one of those photos, and she’s tired of being treated like a 2D image.