I’ve been part of online communities since 1994, and, as far as I know, yesterday was the only time I’ve ever received a “hotness” rating. Some Silicon Valley brogrammers behind a site called GirlsOnAMap rated me a 4.2 out of 10. Even I was surprised that this score didn’t upset me. Because wow. So dudebros don’t think I’m good enough for their wingmen to neg? Very boring. Maybe that’s because posting a picture of me without my permission, and then revealing my location (which they got wrong anyway), is a little too worrying for me to worry that some frat boy wants me to think I’m ugly. Such not the problem.
GirlsOnAMap is rape culture, geotagged, and with a search function. Photos of women are uploaded and rated by hotness, and cities are rated by the “easiness” of their young female population, creating a global index of hot, fuckable women. Their goal is to help globetrotting predatory dickheads get straight to the work of manipulating women into sex, preferably without ever learning their names.
These companies don’t seem to get funded very often, and I’m not sure anyone is going to want to do an acqui-hire of a couple of startup PR douches and a Ruby developer they found on Elance. I wouldn’t think their data has a lot of value to other companies, and dudes like that don’t pay for something they can get on a PUA website or by trolling OK Cupid, Tinder, or some other dating site for a while, so they won’t have an easy time making money. Plus, I can’t see many women thinking this is a great opportunity for them.
These douchebags can’t even build something worth paying for.
But just because GirlsOnAMap has been brostrapped from the start (according to CrunchBase, at least) and they only have about ten twitter followers. And even though other things that make reasonable people weep for the state of humanity, like the Hackers and Hookers party last autumn, are a flop, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about how easy it is for these guys and their shitty attitudes to thrive without any consequences.
The internet is not misogynistic
Misogyny is not only enabled by misogynists, it is enabled by indifference, and it doesn’t live on the internet. The bigger, more difficult problem is that the response from a lot of people, even those who agree this stuff is disgusting, is to tell us to modify our behaviour. To not take these guys seriously because they’re in the minority. To just ignore because it’s stupid. To leave websites where we have problems. To hold ourselves entirely responsible for our safety, in case something happens.
Earlier in the day, I had been encouraging people to post pictures of dogs in outfits on their stupid map. I mean, if dudebros can appropriate Chatroulette for dickpics, surely we can do a good deed of a different kind.
The bros took the pics down as fast as we could upload them. Then a friend let me know that my picture was on the site’s section for Ireland. And I was a lousy 4.2! I did not respond politely, nor should I have.
I mailed them and demanded that they take it down, and then my lawyer stepped in. The bros immediately tone-policed me on twitter, but I know when to pass things off to someone whose job it is to deal with them.
Then the rest of the internet stepped in. For a brief, shining moment, this was the list of the hottest “girls” in the world. Because people are generally quite excellent, online and off.
Usually I do ignore individual examples of this kind of bro-stuff because it can be pretty upsetting to deal with, but having been stalked myself, I am even less tolerant of this particular brand of rapey bullshit.
It isn’t the rating system, it’s the way that they are trying to build a roving gang of sexual privateers and make it easy for stalkers and violent dudes to humiliate, frighten, or endanger women. And not every woman has a lawyer who actively fights misogyny, and who also follows her on twitter.
After my picture was posted, and the founder insisted he was a “feminist”(ha!), the thought also crossed my mind that maybe this is to be expected, given that I was hoping to mess with their precious data and make their site unusable. Isn’t this what happens if you mess with people?
Yes, but no. Consequences for calling out misogyny are not the same as consequences for misogyny. There are many ways to respond that do not involve humiliation and endangerment, which is not a response — it’s an attack.
Telling us to log off is basically telling us to stop existing
Of course, it’s not exactly that (I can hear a chorus of “well, actually” from you mansplainers). Even if you can see as well as I can that misogynist dudebros are a problem, if you tell me to leave it alone, you’re saying that I can solve the problem simply by going away. And when the real world and the online world are merged, where is there to hide?
Besides, if we modify our behaviour because of the potential actions of a dangerous minority, isn’t that even shittier?
What happened to me is mild, but how many of the women on that site even know their pictures are up there? Speaking up puts us in danger. Not speaking up? Also puts us in danger. It’s our need to navigate around a possible, hypothetical danger that results in a diminished ability to participate in life, online and off. Every time you tell us to do that, even when you mean well, you avoid the real problem.
I have no idea how many people responded to the call to create a better internet with pictures of everything but “hot” women. But it was a lot. There are more of us than there are of them.
OK, so my orchestrating a campaign to improve their site wasn’t the most diplomatic thing I’ve ever done. Even though my initial idea for stylish puppies would yield more valuable data: in the US alone, pet owners spent more than $55B on their animals last year, so I’d have been doing them too much of a favour if they’d left the pet pics up.
There is no such thing as online misogyny
Let’s agree that there is no “online” misogyny, just like there is no “date rape”. There is misogyny. There is rape. Where it happened has nothing to do with its impact. And it doesn’t help to quit the internet because it’s not about being on the internet. Violence against women is a cross-platform experience.
Besides, I like the internet. It shouldn’t matter that it’s where I work— I just like it. That should be enough, and we shouldn’t have to earn our place or justify our participation because we are here on official business. Fuck that, do you know how long I spend making doge memes?
And if I disappear, I’m just shifting the danger onto some other woman, maybe one who doesn’t know that someone has posted her picture and location on a site that encourages other predatory dudebros to hunt her down. There is the bullshit about damaging messaging, the dehumanising tone, and the general objectification, but then there are the individual dangers: are there women on that site who don’t even know they’re there? Those things combine to show rape culture at its most obvious. Real violence happens to real women, and this is a crucible for it.
My feminism and my community responsibility aren’t about me or my personal safety alone. I’m lucky that I had the ability to have action taken quickly, but I’m not interested in only making myself safe. Besides, safety for all participants is only the first step in making a better internet.
A community has to be self-regulating to be healthy. And in this instance, the good people of the internet won. There was surprisingly little “what about the menz” in it, and I only had to use this doge twice.