Trigger warning for discussion of sexual harassment.
I was reading on Geekfeminism about how common it is for women to be hit on and harassed online to the point that most women are silent about it because it’s just such a common occurrence – leading men to be unaware that this exists.
When I was young – the proverbial 13/f/ca (where ca stood for Canada and not California) I often chatted online. I was obsessed with chatting on Napster. I loved chatting in the Alternative section, and I got a lot of guys hitting on me. Ranging in age from 13-35ish or so, I had a lot of conversations with these people, and I ended up meeting several in real life. They were flirty, but so was I. After a couple of close calls, and a steady boyfriend, I lost my interest in chatting, and dropped most of my flirty activities.
When I was 22, I got into MMOs, specifically WoW, and became a forum regular for a while posting there and on Darknest, a site that was put up around fantasy erotica and had a huge group of people playing WoW. Since then I’ve played several other MMOs, posted on a lot of forums, talked to a lot of people of both genders, often revolving around sex and sexuality.
In all of that time, I can barely recall an occurrence where a man (or woman) flirted with me in an unwanted manner past the point that I stopped expressing interest. If I stopped responding to their chats or emails, few were persistent enough to keep trying. There were cases where men have been rather heavy-handed in their flirtation – telling me what they want to do to me despite me not asking, or continuing past that brink of friendly banter — however they quickly stopped once I made it clear I wasn’t interested, or I simply stopped responding.
I have not felt truly harassed since I was 15 years old and a 26-year-old man said he was driving from California to Ontario just to be close to me.
So I’m always surprised when I hear about other women who have a huge problem with unwanted attention from men online. Am I playing on game servers that they’re not? Am I playing games they’re not? Am I posting on forums that they’re not? Do I just have a higher tolerance for sexual harassment online? I play on roleplay servers which tends to attract more female players as well as less aggressive players (such as those on hardcore PVP or raiding guilds/servers), so perhaps that plays a part?
These questions are all moot. There’s no explanation for why certain women are harassed, and it’s very unlikely that it’s something that she had done, or failed to do. Like rape we consider there to be a certain protocol for harassment, and expect everyone that falls outside that line to be safe.
I’ve never hidden my femininity. I am open about the fact that I write and read erotica. I am an open feminist. These are all things that tell others that I should be a target for harassment but it’s not. There are plenty of women who hide their feelings, hide their gender, hide their sexuality and are still harassed.
These problems are real, yet I’ve never experienced them. I can’t explain why.
It is important to remember that my actions don’t affect the likelihood of me experiencing harassment. It can come anywhere, at any time, for any reason. It’s not something the women are doing to draw this time of harassment, just like it’s not something that I’m doing to not draw this type of harassment. Everyone’s experiences are unique.
It does explain why men are unaware of the problem, however, since all women don’t experience it – at least to the same degrees.