If you Google me, you will find photos of my nipples. We all have them, so please don’t get too excited.
I’m a model who has curated a sizeable social media following. I owe the internet my career, and I am very grateful for it. I am also a woman, and the internet is relentless in reminding me of that. I have lost count of the number of unsolicited dick pics, sexual solicitations, and death/rape threats I’ve received over the years. I do know that only one of those users has been banned by the platform their abuse occurred on. My frequent reports are met with generic responses that inform me that their behaviour does not go against the site’s community standards. Boys will be boys, Instagram subliminally replies. This is the tax you pay for being a woman on the internet.
This is the tax you pay for being a woman on the internet.
I was twelve the first time I experienced online sexual harassment. A man on DeviantArt wrote to my account, chock-a-block full of a child’s drawings and point-and-shoot selfies, to ask that I send him a photo ‘of my pussy.’ I was a naïve child and incredibly eager to please, so I sent him a photo of my cat, which I sincerely thought was a fulfilment of an odd but innocent request. Incidentally, that was the first time I was ever called a cunt and blocked online. Only in hindsight would I understand that a grown man had requested a photo of my genitals and responded violently when I did not comply.
Since the world locked down in response to Covid-19 I have seen a rapid influx in online abuse. Since mid-March, I have been inundated in angry purple penises and baby-you’re-so-beautiful-send-me-nudes-well-fuck-you-too-you-fat-frigid-bitch love letters. And they say romance is dead.
This abuse is nothing new, but Instagram’s response to it has taken an insidious turn. Every report is now met with this message: ‘We couldn’t review your report. We have fewer people available to review reports because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, so we’re only able to review content with the most potential for harm.’ The first report that received this response was for a DM from a user threatening to find me, rape me, and murder me. It would seem ‘most potential for harm’ is subjective.
I have been posting screenshots of abuse since 2015 and have never shied away from speaking up about my experiences. An ex once accused me of bragging about it, as if a daily routine of dehumanisation was a mark of pride. He argued that if I didn’t enjoy it I would just block them and move on, put the onus on me to handle it demurely rather than on the men who felt entitled to my body and mental real estate. I argued, and argue to this day, that if this behaviour is not exposed and dealt with it will continue without consequence. I refuse to be complicit in upholding that culture.
Three days into the lockdown in the United Kingdom I launched a new Instagram account called @CumminityStandards. The stream is filled with abusive messages superimposed over photos of me. It was born in a moment of frustration and feeling of helplessness, a bid to make people laugh and to vent and to regain control of the narrative all at once. The response was swift; women writing to share their own experiences and commiserate; men writing to apologise ‘on behalf of all men’, some tacking on empty reminders that ‘we aren’t all like that’ as if the act of exposing my abuse was somehow synonymous with me accusing every man with a keyboard of being a predator.
Three days into the lockdown in the United Kingdom I launched a new Instagram account called @CumminityStandards. The stream is filled with abusive messages superimposed over photos of me.
What I find remarkable about @CummunityStandards is that it seems to elicit a much stronger empathetic response in viewers than standalone screenshots ever did. There is something tangibly painful about looking at a photo of a woman with fucking worthless disgusting nasty fucking disease pig bitch superimposed over her body. I hope that the project will drive home the point that these words might be penned on a blank screen but they are directed at a living, breathing human being. It has proven cathartic. If Instagram is willing to let their platform be transformed into the wild west, I am going to fight back.
Abuse like this is not unique to the internet. The same year a man asked me for a pussy photo I was groped by a stranger while shopping for groceries with my mother. In drama school we were pressured to sexualise ourselves while being warned to not take it too far; one tutor pulled me aside to express concern that I had posed nude and to warn me that I may attract the wrong sort of attention, once again putting the responsibility on the would-be victim rather than the would-be abuser. It’s so strange; I have found it astonishingly easy throughout my life to not stalk someone or send them death threats or grab their body without their explicit consent. I don’t think my self-control is any better than the majority of the population, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect to go about my day to day life, in both the real and the digital worlds, without being pelted by abuse.
I have found it astonishingly easy throughout my life to not stalk someone or send them death threats or grab their body without their explicit consent.
The internet is a powerful and wonderful tool, but I think it is imperative that its inhabitants learn that their actions can have real-world consequences. The only user who has had their account pulled from Instagram in response to one of my abuse reports is a producer for a major Hollywood studio. He slid into my DMs and repeatedly solicited me for oral sex. Those screenshots are not featured on @CummunityStandards as they were handed over to the studio in question and the Directors Guild of America for inspection. When Instagram pulled his account but the studio let him keep his job I sent them to a reporter instead. I am exhausted, but I will never stop fighting. Those who don’t leave a digital paper trail leading back to their real lives may feel impervious to such consequences, empowered to accost women they will never meet under the guise of throwaway usernames. With them, I can only hope that perhaps my project will spark a bit of empathy. Anonymity does not soften trauma.
One of my favourite memes goes a little something like this: a boy asks a girl to send nudes, and she responds by saying sure, that will be $50. He responds by calling her a slut. Sex sells, but it only seems palatable at the expense of those being paraded as sex symbols. Since puberty, I have known that the mere act of presenting as female was a political one. I am twenty-seven-years-old and have spent the majority of my time on earth on the receiving end of harassment and objectification. The first time I posed nude was an act of defiance, a rush to reclaim my body on my own terms in a world that was desperate to sexualise it without my consent. I stand by that decision. I was able to demystify a body that I was being told was wrong for simply existing. By starting @CummunityStandards I have now chosen to weaponise it.
I can only hope that perhaps my project will spark a bit of empathy. Anonymity does not soften trauma.