As many women do, I spent my teenage and adult life feeling self-conscious about my body, and I hated every inch of it. Shopping for clothes depressed me, and looking in the mirror was something I avoided.
But in 2013, I discovered bullet bras, girdles, corsets and seamed stockings. I entered the world of pinup and vintage fashion where the female form is embraced, no matter what size or shape you are.
In January 2014, I had learned enough about retro underwear that I decided to create a blog. It was something completely new to me, and I was excited to share my new found passion with other people around the world. I even plucked up the courage to post photos of myself in my underwear.
As the months went by, people started to gain interest in my blog, and I acquired a small following. Whenever I posted on my blog, my aim was to help other women to love their bodies and to use retro underwear to help them to do this. Women would comment and like my blog posts, and I was happy to be able to help them with their body confidence too.
And then suddenly, it all changed; men started to show an interest in my online content. This was somewhat unsurprising and I felt that I was ready to deal with the odd "perv" that came along. What I wasn’t prepared for however, was the barrage of sexual harassment and threats that I would endure for the next two years.
Like most other bloggers, I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to promote my posts and engage with followers. Although 95% of the messages I receive are very positive and encouraging, the 5% that are not consume a huge amount of my time. Sexual harassment has unfortunately become the norm for me; I receive at least one dick picture a day, over a dozen crude comments on each post, daily requests for nude photos and sex, and then rape and death threats several times a month. One man recently contacted me and asked to have "violent sex" with me, he elaborated by informing me that he "loves to rape women, as it make [him] feel powerful."
Another man, annoyed by my request to stop using my images on his adult website, sent me over 180 death and rape threats a day for months. He effectively internet stalked me during this time, creating new accounts and profiles each time I blocked him, calling me a "cock hungry slut" who deserves to be "raped with a wooden pole," amongst other statements.
How do I deal with this? Well, I delete comments, I block offending profiles, I report them and then I alert my female friends to their behaviour and encourage them to block them too. On the odd occasion when I have engaged in conversation with these men to try to explain to them why their behaviour is inappropriate, their usual response is, “What do you expect? You’re on the Internet, deal with it," or “Why don’t you blog about something that doesn’t excite men if you don’t like the attention?”
However, the biggest challenge I have to deal with is social media platforms not taking this issue seriously enough. Reporting offending messages from Facebook users to Facebook itself is a gamble as to how they will react; sometimes I hear nothing and rightly or wrongly assume that the offending person has received a warning, on other occasions, Facebook informs me that the person I have reported “has not violated our Community Standards”. If sexual harassment and threats of rape do not violate their community standards, then that’s an even bigger concern to me.
If a stranger were to come up to me in the street and touched me inappropriately, I would be well within my rights to report the incident to the police and expect some sort of repercussion for the perpetrator. I don’t feel that this is the case online, and that women are left to fend for themselves, or told to simply “get off the Internet."
With the Internet now being such an fundamental part of our lives, rules and regulations need to be put in place to protect online users from sexual harassment.
But what can we do about this issue? Can these men be put on the sex offender’s list? Can we create a publicly accessible database where victims can log usernames and interactions? Can we name and shame the offending men? Sure, these are all viable options and could be considered in the short term, but for a long term impact I feel strongly that education is key.
I believe that children should be educated about privacy and the issue of consent. Nobody should have to put up with harassment, online or otherwise. Demonstrating the effects of online sexual harassment, the mental scars it leaves, and how degrading and demoralising these negative online experiences really can be is essential. In my experience, sexual harassment is predominantly directed at women and and as such emphasis should be placed on the education of young males.
One of the best things I have seen recently is a video by FCKH8 called "Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism" where little girls are seen giving statements and facts about the reality of being a woman in today’s society. A quote from that video that rings true with me is, “Stop telling girls how to dress, and start telling boys not to f*cking rape!” I couldn’t agree more!
This post was originally published May 5, 2016. Photos courtesy the author.
More from BUST