In Is Australia Sexist, Yumi Stynes lived out the fantasy of many of us women who use online dating sites. Yumi met with a man who had sent her an inappropriate message online, and asked him, face to face, why he thought it was okay.
I’d love for you to sit on my face so I can eat my way to your heart, he had written.
According to the survey commissioned by the series, 43 per cent of women believe that online sexual harassment is a greater issue than street harassment.
As someone who works in the online space, and uses online dating sites, I know this to be true. Men say things online they would never dream of saying in person; the anonymity and distance afforded by keyboards gives them a bravado that doesn’t translate to real life. I’ve received messages from men across all social media platforms that have enraged me with their sexism and entitlement, and I’ve often fantasised about confronting them in person.
“That opening line,” Yumi says to the man, Gary, after making a date to meet at a cafe. “I didn’t like it.”
“Really?” Gary asks. “Well that’s okay.”
The dude is completely bewildered. He’d had no idea that what he wrote wasn’t okay.
This I believe, is the crux of the issue. Many, if not most, men on dating sites do not realise they are being woefully inappropriate. This is true of many types of sexual harassment – many men, for example, believe that wolf whistling is a ‘compliment’ – but it is particularly true in online dating. Most men using online dating platforms are there to find sex and/or love. Sure, there are trolls who create dating profiles specifically to dupe or harass women, but most are genuinely looking for a date. Like Gary, they are using pick up lines that they truly believe will work with the ladies.
I have lost count of the number of inappropriate approaches I’ve received on dating sites, from ‘I really want to kiss you’ (from a total stranger) to ‘Hey sexy, love the pics’. And I’ve received countless unsolicited messages from across all my social media platforms, randoms who slide into my DMs and announce confidently that I am hot and that we should get to know each other. One man – an educated man, a doctor, for god’s sake – sent me a series of emails about his fantasies about me.
The messages feel icky and pathetic, and yes, they are a form of harassment. But, like Yumi, I’ve gone on to question several of these men, and ask why on earth they think it’s okay. And I’ve learned that these men are not deliberately harassing us. These are not calculated attempts at intimidation or coercion. These men are, quite simply, romantically incompetent.
Like Gary, the men who have approached me clearly believe that this is how it's done. Despite living in the post #MeToo era, despite the endless media coverage of sexual harassment, they genuinely believe that ‘Hey sexy, I want you to sit on my face’ is the way to score a lover. They are so steeped in sexist ideology that they see women as sexual playthings, to whose bodies they are entitled, and whose feelings about the issue are irrelevant.
For me, sadly, these awful approaches are the least of my concerns. What worries me far more is the deliberate and ongoing harassment of women on dating sites by the men they reject. You can see it briefly in Gary’s reaction to Yumi, the anger evident in his voice when he realises she isn’t there for romance.
Men get angry when they’re rejected. They lash out. They become abusive. Visit Instagram accounts like Bye Felipe or Tinder Nightmares for a glimpse into the ongoing abuse faced by women who politely decline an approach by a man. It is the male sense of entitlement, that complete disregard for the female human who inhabits the body they are interested in.
Sexism on dating sites, and online in general, is a huge issue for women. Sexism is responsible for the gamut of male responses from the hapless (‘Hey sexy’), to the unwittingly offensive (Gary’s message to Yumi), to the downright terrifying (see Bye Felipe for examples). It should not be incumbent on women like Yumi and I to educate men about their attitudes and choices.
Men need to do better. Men need to shape up. Online dating won’t work if the women all leave.
Kerri Sackville is the author of Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife
Is Australia Sexist? premieres on SBS on December 4 at 8.40pm. The show will also be available to stream on SBS On Demand.