‘I’m tired of being scared for myself, for my friends, for every girl who ever received a degrading message from an anonymous user who believed they were invincible’
LIVING in a different country is a strange but wonderful experience for many reasons; the pretty buildings, the glistening canals, the bustling crowds of tall strangers speaking words I wish I could understand – I can now understand at least nine more phrases in Dutch, so we’re getting somewhere, albeit slowly.
The thing I think I like the most though, the best part, is the anonymity. No one really knows who I am. I don’t recognise acquaintances on the street, I don’t run into old faces on nights out. I can do anything, say anything, and it doesn’t really matter, because there’s no one to remember it, or remember me. Maybe they’ll remember me for a bit, but I’ll fly out of here, and in a few weeks, few months, I’ll be a vague, blurred memory. I’ll be faceless.
That kind of facelessness is its own kind of liberation. When you don’t really have a face, you feel very, very free. You could do anything, and there would be no repercussions. It’s an addictive kind of feeling.
I’ve been thinking a lot about anonymity over the last while. Anonymity can make humans feel so very powerful. Make them sure that they are invincible. Wearing a mask doesn’t make you an absence of someone but makes you into the possibility of anyone. A wonderful blank slate. You can be anything, anyone, when you’re anonymous. No identity, no selfhood, nothing holding you back. No one to judge you. No consequences.
Anonymity, in spite of how much I crave it, luxuriate in it, is something that makes me very, very nervous. When I think about the ways anonymity has crept into so many aspects of our culture, and the way it has altered the way we think, the way we act, it makes me feel a little uneasy. Like most things that make us feel invincible, it has the capacity to be so damaging.
Tinder is a strange kind of app, because you can see someone’s face, their quirky bio, their top songs on Spotify, but you don’t really have any idea who they are. You don’t know where they’re from, who their friends are, what their last name is. Their pictures might not even be them. Instagram is the same; a person can message you, with a random username, and you have no idea who they really are. They’re perfect strangers, and even when you can see their face, you don’t actually know anything else. They have the power of maintaining their anonymity even while using these apps.
I don’t think I have a single female friend who doesn’t have some horrible Tinder horror story, or cringe-worthy Instagram encounter. Sometimes it’s something idiotic, something you can almost tell yourself was funny, like a cheap, explicit pick-up line (read degrading, unsolicited sext), or a dick pic at breakfast time that you did NOT ask for. You can laugh about this with your friends, if you really try, because if you think too much about what these things actually mean it will make you want to cry.
But sometimes it’s worse.
Sometimes you hear worse stories. Sometimes it’s detailed descriptions about how a man will hurt, break and rape you. Sometimes it’s paragraphs telling you all the ways they will punish you, and why you deserve it. Sometimes, it’s sex, degradation and death threats all in the same line. Sometimes it’s a blank user icon telling you that they know where you live.
Sometimes it’s so scary being a woman on the internet. I’m so tired of being scared. I’m tired of being scared for myself, for my friends, for every girl who ever received a degrading message from an anonymous user who believed they were invincible.
There’s an account on Twitter that I really enjoy, that’s made a lot of men real mad. It’s called SheRatesDogs. Women are invited to send in screenshots of messages that they have received, like the ones I’ve described. Sometimes they’re just cringey, sexist, derogatory messages from boys who think they can say anything to a woman because no one will ever find out. Sometimes it’s scarier messages, the messages that make you afraid to be a woman in 2019.
SheRatesDogs post these screenshots, for all of her 262 thousand followers to see. She takes these messages, messages sent with the assurance that there would be no repercussions, and puts them out into the world for everyone to see. She takes all the nasty things people think they can say to a woman, that will never come back to them, and displays them for the public to judge. It’s a public shaming. She also rates them out of 10.
I personally love good old fashioned shivelry pic.twitter.com/QB3KOZ01jN
— SheRatesDogs (@SheRatesDogs) June 14, 2019
Some people (mostly men) think this is wrong. That it’s bullying, a targeted harassment. Some men even out themselves as the people who sent the messages shown in the screenshots in the process. They think it’s unfair to publicly humiliate them like that.
SheRatesDogs actually covers up the pictures of the people who send these messages in the screenshots. She offers them a base level of privacy, safety, anonymity, while still exposing the pathetic, toxic messages they send.
Personally, I don’t know if I’d even want to do that. Anonymity is addictive because it makes you feel like you can do anything. If, upon realising you’re invincible, your first instinct is to degrade, subjugate and threaten a woman with assault, violence, rape, then maybe you can’t be trusted with anonymity.
If you weaponize anonymity to hurt women, then maybe it’s a privilege you no longer deserve. SheRatesDogs is not just a funny Twitter account; it’s also a subversive tool placing the power back in women’s hands. No one is truly invincible or invisible – SheRatesDogs becomes a weapon simply by reminding us of that fact.