Consent on the internet

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Last week, I had a conversation with a woman who shoots boudoir photography and about the “creepy” people that come with it.

The conversation went much the same as the many that I’ve had with other women throughout my years as a young adult.

She had a man that repeatedly called her and he wanted to talk about a descript sexual fetish. Instead of dismissing his sexual fetish and desire for sexual attention, she noted that while his wants and needs are perfectly normal, what’s not normal is that she did not consent to participating in his fetish.

There’s a lot of conversation surrounding consent today. Those conversations touch on consent in a potential sexual encounter, but what those conversations rarely touch on is consent on the internet, via social media or texting.

When I was barely a teenager, I frequently received text messages from boys or men containing either explicit pictures or “what is your bra size?” From an early age, I learned to brush them off. To laugh and roll my eyes, not to rock the boat. To respond with something off-topic or to say something sarcastic because when I rocked the boat, I was called a bitch or a prude and immediately shunned.

As I got older, it never changed. Only it turned into “send me a picture” or “let me tell you about my sexual fantasies.” The unsolicited pictures of genitals and the inappropriate memes sent to me at all hours of the day continue to pile up, and in most scenarios, I ignore them because it happens so frequently. I literally cannot be bothered to say something because it HAPPENS SO OFTEN. 

This is not just a “once in a while” problem. This is a weekly and sometimes daily occurrence that happens to women whether they’re in a relationship or not.

Over the past week, I started a conversation with a man who seemed to have a lot in common with me. We chatted about hockey and exchanged numbers on a dating app. The polite questions quickly turned into “so what’re you looking for?” and without a response from me, turned into “I want someone to have hot kinky fun with.” It continued, still, without a response from me to “what are you doing tonight?” and more sexually explicit messages.

And for the first time since the world conditioned me to be soft, I was mad. Like red hot mad.

If someone tried to describe their sexual fantasies to me without my active participation or consent in person, the experience would transpire much differently, so why do I continue to be friendly and polite towards these men who are sexually harassing me on the internet? Why do I, and many other women, continue to turn the other cheek and not call out this behavior?

We’re conditioned to quell our rage and stifle our anger. We’re conditioned, partly for our own safety, not to react the way we should. If we react in any way other than submission we might be subject to emotional or physical violence, so we quietly tuck away the uncomfortable feelings and continue with our days.

I am not advocating for violence and aggression, but rather for directive anger and assertive confidence. I am advocating for women to advocate for themselves and set their boundaries with hard and firm lines. It’s weird, it’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t feel right to call out someone’s shitty behavior, especially when you don’t know them. But, it’s disrespectful and no one is entitled to share their sexual thoughts with me or anyone else without their permission.

Sexual harassment is sexual harassment whether its face to face or on the internet. If I am not consenting to pictures, details or any other unsolicited form of a sexual approach, it is sexual harassment.

Advocating for yourself and demanding respect in all spheres of your life is difficult and uncomfortable but an absolute necessity.

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