Dating site abuse exposed

By Kerri Sackville

An example of the online abuse documented by the Instagram account Bye Felipe. Most are far more offensive than this. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe
An example of the online abuse documented by the Instagram account Bye Felipe. Most are far more offensive than this. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe

"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." - Margaret Atwood.

This quote is attached to a post on Bye Felipe, the Instagram account documenting abusive behaviour of men on dating sites.

An example of the online abuse highlighted by the Instagram account. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe
An example of the online abuse highlighted by the Instagram account. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe

But Bye Felipe is full of examples of hideous conduct by men, with hundreds of screenshots in which men threaten women, calling them 'c**ts' and 'whores', tell them they're ugly and fat, and send unsolicited d**k pics. It's very confronting.

What's worse, nearly every young woman who has dated online can relate.

The Bye Felipe name is a play on 'Bye Felicia', the now-famous dismissive farewell given by Ice Cube in the movie Friday.

Alexandra (Ali) Tweten, a bubbly 28-year-old Los Angeles resident, founded the Bye Felipe account in response to a lengthy thread in a private Facebook women's group.

One member of the group posted a screenshot of a stranger calling her an 'asshole' after she failed to respond to his approach.

The post was soon inundated with screenshots from other women, all of whom had had similarly bad experiences.

Ali receives up to 20 screenshots a day from women all around the world.

"I always think 'This has to be the worst one ever', but then there's another," she tells me. "It gets really depressing."

Comments like these are all too common for many women who use dating apps. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe
Comments like these are all too common for many women who use dating apps. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe

Of course, not all men behave badly, and Ali reassures me that she has had far more positive dating experiences than negative. But nearly every single women has been abused online, or sent unsolicited sexual pictures, and it is relieving to know that you're not the only one.

So what causes this poor behaviour? According to Eileen Beard, 32 year old co-host of the new Bye Felipe podcast, the problem stems from male entitlement and deep insecurity.

"They lash out with insults to make themselves feel better after being rejected," she tells me. "I sympathise with them being insecure, but I don't sympathise with them being arseholes."

Ali considers the Bye Felipe account to be a social commentary on sexism. Online abuse, she says, "is the same concept as being catcalled, the same thing that's happened to women throughout history."

Her favourite posts are those in which the woman uses humour to reply to the abusive or inappropriate message, such as this one using a photo of a man's bum posing as breasts.

Sometimes humour is the best response. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe
Sometimes humour is the best response. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe

I discovered Bye Felipe a couple of years ago, after trying online dating as a 40-something divorcee. I'd had my fair share of unpleasant experiences and was both comforted and horrified by what I saw on the Instagram account.

It seems, however, that - while men in my age group frequently argue when they are rejected - they are less sexually aggressive and less violent in their language.

Perhaps it is simply that older men have not grown up behind a screen, and haven't quite absorbed the sense of invulnerability of younger people. Perhaps men of a certain age are more cautious about protecting their reputations as they have more to lose.

The inevitable question, of course, is whether women behave badly online, too. In my experience, having talked to dozens of men who have used dating sites, the answer is 'far less frequently'. As Eileen points out, women are taught to communicate better and don't feel as though they are entitled to a man's attention.

And besides, as Ali says, "Comparing hostility from men and women is not comparing apples to apples. Institutionalised sexism means that men do not walk around in fear just for being men. Men are not scared of being raped. If a woman did send a man a hostile message he would laugh, not be scared."

One of the tamer conversations on the Instagram account. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe
One of the tamer conversations on the Instagram account. Photo / Instagram/Bye Felipe

It is generally difficult to identify the men from the screenshots posted on Bye Felipe, but occasionally men have been identified and publicly shamed as a result of appearing on the site.

While I'm not a fan of public shaming, I share in the frustration and despair of women who deal with ongoing abuse online. Currently, social media offers us little recourse, other than to block a particular offender (who can, of course, return under a different guise).

But, as Eileen says, we shouldn't have to be subjected to abuse or unsolicited porn in the first place.

Ali is currently working on a change.org petition to Facebook to make penalties harsher for sending unsolicited d**k pics. She intends to take it to the Californian Legislature to make punishments the same as for public flashing.

So how should men respond to rejection? Eileen believes they should simply say "Okay" and move on, which is just what most women online do. Repeated rejection, however, may be a call for self-reflection.

'There is a sweet spot between not taking rejection personally and looking at yourself," she says.

- news.com.au

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