Earlier this month, The Huffington Post spoke with the brains behind @perv_magnet, the subversive Instagram account that just went justifiably viral.
Stocked with unsolicited predatory comments directed at founder Mia Matsumiya, the account sadly has plenty of material to run on. Tiny at 4-foot-9, Matsumiya is a professional violinist and ethnically Japanese -- a "nightmare combination" when it comes to creeps, who routinely send the musician "scathing, racist and violent" material, including rape and death threats, Matsumiya told us.
Even would-be seducers insult Matsumiya, with absurdly graphic come-ons laced with racism. One guy begged to lose his "Asian virginity," meaning sleep with an Asian girl. Women reduce her to the stuff of fetish too, building convoluted arguments all to prove that she's not attractive.
Either you're used to this degree of harassment (hi, young women!), or you can't believe it. The latter reaction partly explains the strength of this strain of verbal abuse. Online hate thrives in comment sections and inboxes -- the alleys of the Internet -- where the only witness is often the victim.
Luckily, some victims know how to fight back. In the past few years, female artists with a knack for social media have flooded light on the trolls of the Internet. Their simple formula deserves notice: use their own words against them.
1. Anna Gensler
Last year, 23-year-old Anna Gensler joined Tinder. Cue the creepy pick-up lines. Rather than cut her losses and join...uh, Glimpse?...Gensler, an artist, mined the provided material for artistic inspiration.
Her series of portraits of the men who harass her -- found on her Instagram account, @instagranniepants -- look nearly like the Tinder profile photos of the men themselves, except for a few key differences. Major one: they're nude. Secondarily, certain elements are slanted to suit the function of the project. As Gensler explained to Slate's Double XX blog, she didn't want to "draw them in a way that would make them happy":
"They’re all based off of these guys’ profile pictures, so their faces and their general positions are the same, but from there I tried to make them look a little chubbier or scrawnier or just not particularly well-endowed. I wanted to prevent a reaction that was like, “Oh, she loves me and my hot body, let’s have sex.”
Gensler's efforts seem to be working. On her account, she often includes screenshots of text chats with the men in question, many of whom take issue with their portrayal.
2. Ann Hirsch
Online sexual politics is kind of Ann Hirsch's thing. The multimedia artist's avant-garde iPad app Twelve made a performance of a fictional vintage summer romance between a 12-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man in an AOL chat room.
Years before came a prescient two-year YouTube project, staged between 2008 and 2009. Before online comments became the stuff of PhD dissertations, Hirsch was performing the part of Caroline the "camwhore," an alter-ego of sorts whose presence elicited a now predictable litany of gross reactions.
In a 2013 interview about Twelve, Hirsch recalled how the attempts to tear her down ironically made her more confident:
If you subject yourself to something so horrible and you get through it, you come out stronger. People would be like, Die in a gas chamber, Anne Frank. Now I feel like I’m at a point in my life that there’s very little that someone could say online that would insult me.
3. Lindsay Bottos
If simplicity is a virtue, Lindsay Bottos is the saintliest of viral art stars. A 21-year-old art student at the time, Bottos ushered in 2014 with a series of selfies that electrified the Internet in a way the genre typically doesn't.
The twist was Bottos' decision to superimpose comments on her self-portraits, a juxtaposition that brought home the truism that people type things they'd never ever say to someone in person.
On her Tumblr page, Bottos linked the vitriol to selfies in particular, and women in general: "I get tons of anonymous messages like this every day and while this isn’t unique to women, the content of the messages and the frequency in which I get them are definitely related to my gender," she wrote. "I almost exclusively get them after I post selfies. The authority people feel they have to share their opinion on my appearance is something myself and many other girls online deal with daily."
In an interview with Buzzfeed, she noted that her critics are often women. This "girl-on-girl hate" goes against a "feminist act," she argued, "especially in a society that tries so hard to tell women that our bodies are projects to be worked on ... Selfies are like a ‘fuck you’ to all of that, they declare that ‘hey I look awesome today and I want to share that with everyone’ and that’s pretty revolutionary."
4. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
On the Internet, Resting Bitch Face is a celebrated phenomenon; on the street, men still yell at women to "Smile!" Last year, artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh injected digital rebellion into the real world, with her street mural project "Stop Telling Women To Smile."
Speaking to HuffPost, Fazlalizadeh said her aim was to "humanize" the public concept of women's faces by depicting them in unyielding poses: jaws set, eyes narrowed.
The subjects were her friends; the captions came not from the harassers, but from the words the women wished they'd said back. The real world campaign struck a nerve online, with Fazlalizadeh's images going viral.
5. Rupi Kaur
Even if you don't know the Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, you probably know her most viral photograph. Snapped by her sister, and art-directed by Kaur, the portrait -- removed twice by Instagram -- shows Kaur in bed, her back to the viewer. Splotches of fake blood mar her sweatpants and the sheets, loud points of color in a muted scene.
In a long-ranging interview with HuffPost, Kaur, whose parents are Sikh, talked about the cultural and personal reasons she was drawn to explore the stigma of a woman's period. When the Instagram photo produced a tidal wave of negative commentary -- much of it sexist and racist -- the photo sharing site took it down without warning.
The hypocrisy of this stance struck Kaur as worth fighting against (she suggests Instagram users search the hashtag #girls for a read of some of the misogynistic content that hasn't yet been flagged on the platform). Her reposted photo was eventually reinstated, its comment log a record of exactly what she sought to expose:
"You ugly feminist this and you ugly that," and like, "In a few years we won't even need women anymore because we'll just breed our babies in labs." The women were like, "I get it's natural but I hate my period. I don't like it so you shouldn't either. Why are you celebrating it?"
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