Dear creepy men: stop contacting me
Ashton Weber | Tuesday, October 20, 2020
“You look great on CNN.”
“I am a lawyer and winery owner… just so you have some idea of the person who writes you out of the blue… not sure if it gives my name on the message I sent. [Insert Name].”
Two Fridays ago, I was interviewed on CNN. A few minutes before the hit time, I hid my phone to avoid distraction, and as soon as I signed off of the streaming platform, I retrieved my phone from its hiding place, baffled to see it blowing up. I quickly clicked on one of the incoming notifications and started to understand what was happening.
I had been found. I guess there aren’t many Ashton Webers in the world, and I’m a pretty vocal one on the internet. After seeing me speak on TV for less than 90 seconds, over 100 people tried to add me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Some of them appeared to be kind and congratulatory, but most of them were older men who accompanied their follow requests with messages that sexualized me and established their relative positions of power (see some of the messages above).
To say I was freaked out is an understatement. Although I’ve received creepy messages on the internet before, it’s never happened to this magnitude, and it’s never been from people who had previously seen me… most of the strangers who try to follow me on social media are sugar daddy bots. So, even though this wasn’t an unfamiliar occurrence, it was an incredibly uncomfortable one, made distinct by the fact that these people not only saw and decided to find me, but that they then concluded it would be appropriate to contact me and comment on my appearance.
This isn’t to say that no one should ever contact me on social media again. I’ve loved previous responses to columns, and it’s been touching to see that my words resonate with people. I’m rarely able to respond to emails that people send me, but I still appreciate them deeply, especially those that thoughtfully respond to the things I’m saying. There’s nothing cooler than knowing that people are engaging with the things you’ve worked hard to tell them.
Perhaps that’s why this whole occurrence bothered me so much. It’s not just that random men tried to follow me and wanted me to know they think I’m attractive. It’s also that my argument wasn’t given respect and was instead reduced to a reflection of my image.
In my introduction to gender studies course this semester, we’ve been discussing a concept called the mythical norm. Originally coined by Audre Lorde, it essentially means that there’s a perceived “normal” in each society and those who fit it wield the most privilege over those who don’t. In the United States, the mythical norm is widely recognized as white, cisgender, heterosexual, male, Christian and financially stable. Those who don’t fit this norm are marked as other, and their value is determined by how useful they are to those who are mythically normal.
Cool, Ashton, but how does this have anything to do with your being perceived by random men? Upon first glance, I appear to be mythically normal except for my femaleness. In, say, a three-minute CNN clip, there’s not much you can understand about a person beyond things you might ascertain from a first glance. This means that, right off the bat, I was marked by femaleness. A majority of the responses I received came from men who appeared to match the mythical norm and referenced superficial things like my physical appearance or composure. As I mentioned earlier, they also sent me information that established a weird power dynamic. Thank you for thinking I sound smart, but why do I need to know what you do for a living? Why do I need to know where you live and work? Honestly, why would I even need to know that you think I looked composed and sounded eloquent? If your reflections have little to do with what I’m saying and more to do with how I said it, why do you feel the need to relay them to me?
I shared my creeped-out-edness with a few friends who have also made public comments, and they remarked that they had also received random messages and follow requests. I started to wonder how often this same phenomenon happens. The news cycle runs 24/7/365 and people are interviewed all the time, so how many other women have received a “you looked amazing on CNN” message and hundreds of friend requests?
Beyond just the news, how does this same occurrence play out in other scenarios? How many times a day do women (or people who defy the mythical norm in other ways) give statements on things they care about, only to be told they sound surprisingly intelligent or that they look hot? How much worse do the messages and objectification get when someone is mythically “abnormal” in multiple ways?
I think the biggest thing I want to say in this column is that it’s important to think more intentionally about the ways we’re interacting with others. There have been multiple times when I’ve reduced people to superficial characteristics instead of listening to what they’re saying in the fullest. On several occasions, I’ve considered myself first when responding to others, instead of giving full attention to what they’re saying. I would invite everyone to join me in thinking about the positions of privilege we find ourselves in and actively considering how they shape our interactions with other people. I also want to say: Please stop responding superficially to people, especially people who are working and thinking long and hard about how to say important things. We don’t care if you think we sound intelligent or if you own a winery. We only care that you’re actually hearing what we have to say.
Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is an econ major with minors in sociology and gender studies, and can often be found with her nose in a book. If you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.