Atheist feminists Miri at Freethought Blogs and Heina at Skepchick both have excellent criticisms of the viral Reddit post where a guy created a fake dating profile and “proved” that women get a whole buttload of harassment on OK Cupid. Their point is that there’s something deeply screwy about a situation where women can point out, again and again, how much harassment that they receive—even offer evidence of it!—but it’s not “proved” until a man says it. It’s part of a larger problem of how women’s voices are devalued, something I learned at a young age when I realized that citing a male friend or writer who agreed with me when expressing an opinion, especially to another man, made it exponentially more likely that my opinion would be taken seriously instead of dismissed out of hand.
Anyway, I think one serious problem with a lot of this discussion is that it tends to focus on women’s experiences with harassment to the exclusion of equally important discourse about what men are doing this and why. Part of that is understandable, since women (and men who pretend to be women for experimental purposes) have something to gain by talking about their experiences and how it makes them feel, whereas men who like harassing women online are largely going to deny that’s even what they’re doing, much less offer honest assessments of what they get out of it. Still, the need to focus attention on the actual cause of the harassment—harassers—is why I wrote a piece at the Daily Beast arguing that online harassment isn’t really a surprising phenomenon when the offline world has so much harassment, much less rape and domestic violence. It’s also not particularly surprising that anonymous commenters online will claim rape and domestic violence victims are lying, vindictive bitches. After all, that’s the same excuse that 90% of rapists and wife beaters whip out when they get in trouble.
The online world is not a separate place from the offline world. For some reason, there’s this strong tendency to assume that misbehavior online is somehow provoked by the technology, especially when it comes to bullying. Emily Bazelon discusses this in her book on bullying, Sticks and Stones, when she discusses how she doesn’t like the term “cyberbullying”, when most of the bullying going on with schoolkids online is simply an extension of the bullying going on in meatspace at school.
Reading women’s accounts of what they get on OK Cupid in terms of rude behavior, I see two kinds. Both are easily recognizable to me from the “real” world. There’s the boundary-pushers, guys who really do want to meet you and try to hook up with you, but who are abusive fucks and are testing to see how much disrespect they can dish out while exploiting your female socialization to play along. In real life, you meet these guys all the time: The ones who hit on you by insulting you, trying to get you to try to “earn” their respect. (This is often called “negging”, because of pick-up artists kind of formalizing it, but it existed before PUAs gave it a name. Some men just come naturally to the idea that the best way to interact with women is to put them down.) Or the ones who badger you to drink even though you don’t want another drink. Or the ones who insist that you owe them a certain amount of time and attention because they did you the favor of buying you a drink or even just gracing you with a compliment. Or the ones who see all women as broken and, in an avuncular tone, start trying to “fix” you right away. Then there’s the sexual harassers who have no intention of trying to fuck you, but just say mean, vulgar things to you because they are carrying a giant chip on their shoulder about women. In real life, these are the ass-pinchers.
All of which is to say that I don’t think it says something about men that harassment is so common on OK Cupid and other dating websites. As in the real world, a small percentage of men see relations between the sexes as inherently hostile and get so obsessed with “winning” that they forget that the point of dating and cruising is to actually meet people you actually get along with. “Pick-up artists” try to channel this false belief that women are the enemy into a promise that you can get laid, by telling guys that if you “win” the interaction, your prize is sex. This is why actually giving relationship advice—despite that fact that many to most guys who are drawn to PUA writings are more interested in a girlfriend than an endless series of hook-ups—is absent in PUA writings. Sitting on the couch enjoying your favorite show with your partner is friendly behavior, and women are The Enemy. This is also why so many PUAs drift into advising bullying and even assault, because once you have determined that the interaction is a contest, then using violence starts to seem a little more justifiable. Women are routinely portrayed by PUAs as obstacles between them and the pussy. The possibility that sex could be a thing that people decide to do together, as opposed to one person conquering another, is just not in the vocabulary.
Sexual harassers, of course, aren’t even interested in “winning” by getting a reluctant person to give them bad sex to make them go away. They’ve realized you can “win” without the hassle of trying to get laid at all. If you irritate a woman or make her afraid, then you’ve put her in her place and can chalk one up on the scoreboard and move on.
Either way, the reason women get deluged on OK Cupid by both these types is not because men as a group have no idea what they’re doing, but because the handful of men who think this way spend hours upon hours of every week taking potshots at women because it makes them feel good. While this is a problem in all corners of the internet, I think that dating websites get the bulk of it because dating websites go straight to the heart of the misogynist’s anxiety about hating women while also being attracted to women. Or, to be more concise, hating women because you’re attracted to them, and it kills you that women, who you believe are inferior and here to serve you, are so uppity as to claim a right to pass judgment on you and decline your company. So they go online and they punish and punish and punish the women they blame for their dilemma, women whose sin is to be attractive while having the legal power to say no. They can’t legally take that power away (though let’s be honest—all the rape apology is about teaching other men how to rape and get away with it and trying to mold the culture so that’s easier to do) but they can relentlessly abuse you for it. Being a pretty young woman in the world is perceived, utterly unfairly, by these men as a deliberate provocation of their anxieties, so they are going to attack and attack. Being a pretty young woman on OK Cupid turns the volume up, because you’ve announced your interest in dating, and therefore any rejection of them is taken even more personally. Yes, the irony here is that by being assholes, they make the rejection they fear a certainty. But that’s what fear and loathing does to people.