On the second floor of a house near Journal Square in Jersey City, Claire Caster sinks into a worn leather ottoman inside her living room. Still in her gym clothes, she drags her fingers lazily across the screen of her smartphone – encased in pink.
The doorbell rings and she rises to answer it. Outside, a Buon Appetito deliveryman waits with an extra large pizza inside an insulated warming bag. This delivery – the sixth one this week – is part a social experiment that has resulted in an unexpected twist: sexual harassment.
Two weeks ago Ms. Caster, 27, created an account on the dating app Tinder. She created her online profile in order to test a theory about personality types inspired by network marketing guru Marc Accetta.
Hoping to discover who would send free pizza to a complete stranger without expecting anything in return, Caster took to Tinder, where she felt she would have easy access to a large pool of individuals. However, she was sure to state in her profile that she was there looking for answers, not romance.
Caster moved to the New York City area from Alabama in February. Although she has spent most of her life moving around the United States, her home is in Wisconsin. “That’s where my grandmother lives,” she said. “She’s who raised me.”
An entrepreneur and fitness athlete, Caster decided years ago that college wasn’t for her. “I learn differently from most people,” she said. “I’m extremely analytical so I have a very hard time when someone is teaching me.” Instead, she has spent recent years educating herself through diverse work experience and independent learning.
Although Caster’s predictions for her experiment have been mostly accurate, she has been surprised by the harassment she has faced.
Within the first 24 hours after creating the account, Caster began receiving abusive messages from male Tinder users. “Every day I’ll get some sort of message – completely inappropriate, unsolicited, with no conversation beforehand,” she said, running her fingers through her long blonde hair. “I have been trying to wrap my head around why and I can’t figure it out.”
Of the 400 matches Caster made with Tinder users within the first four days, she estimates at least 20-30 began with an inappropriate comment. The number of abusive messages she received became so high that she created an Instagram account dedicated solely to chronicling the harassment. The account already has over 500 followers. “I’ve had women submit their interactions and we’ve reposted them,” she explained. More than anything, she created the account in hopes of raising awareness and making other women realize they aren’t alone: “It happens to so many women,” she said.
Holding her phone in one hand, Caster flipped through the dozens of photos on her Instagram page. Most of them did not blur the names or faces of the men who sent the messages. “If you have the audacity to speak to one woman that way then I don’t feel your name should be blocked,” she said, uncrossing her legs. “It’s predatory and other women should know about it.”
Though Caster blames pent up aggression and lack of integrity for this behavior she admits that there is never a justifiable reason for it. She also believes the online dating model is to blame as it has diminished the need for real connections while increasing access to more people. This, she believes, is a recipe for disaster when it comes to online harassment: “There’s always the next match, or the next match and they can just go down the line,” she said.
“I know that the inappropriate messages are not a reflection of me at all,” she said, recalling past times she has received unsolicited sexual advances. “As a blonde with big breasts, I get things called out at me all the time,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that I am the person you are perceiving me to be.”
Caster plans to continue the experiment for another two months, changing her profile’s parameters along the way to reflect each of the personality types she is testing. She also plans to continue donating the food deliveries she receives to neighboring families, and to continue posting Tinder advances to her Instagram page.
“Brush them off and keep going,” she said when asked for her advice to women experiencing Tinder-mares or other forms of online harassment. “Your worth and your value have nothing to do with the opinion of a stranger.”
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