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ONLINE DATING’S TOXIC MEN

October 07, 2018

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If you’ve been online dating for more than a hot second, you’ve probably encountered a range of joys and horrors. On the positive side, dating apps introduced me to some pretty great men. On the depressing side, I also matched with men who said inappropriate things to me, sometimes before we ever met. At worst, I’ve — briefly, thankfully — feared for my safety.

Such is the burden of being a woman, looking for connection online. Alexandra Tweten knows this well. Her popular Instagram account, Bye Felipe, outs creeps for their bad online dating behaviours. For the unfamiliar, she posts screenshots submitted by women who’ve been harassed by men on dating apps. Propositioning for sex, lashing out when they’re turned down, sending pictures of the male anatomy (or requests for racy photos) and calling women a slew of names are all-too-common online dating scenarios. Since Bye Felipe’s creation four years ago, Tweten has amassed nearly a half-million followers.

A journalism major, Tweten never planned to be a “Feminist Tinder-Creep-Busting Web Vigilante” with a popular social media account, as she was originally hailed in 2014. Now, she’s back to her writing roots, exploring online dating and lending her best wisdom in a new Bye Felipe book, which is an ode to understanding and taking it all in stride.

Where did you originally get the idea for Bye Felipe?

It was October 2014 and I was in a Facebook group for women in Los Angeles. One woman posted a screenshot of a message she had received on OkCupid. She didn’t respond and 12 hours later, she’d gotten a second message, [an insulting expletive].

I thought it was funny, and I’d gotten messages that felt similar before. There was one guy who’d messaged me for months and months, over and over, on OkCupid. When I finally turned him down, he said, “Why would you even respond?” You learn that you can’t not respond; they freak out. But if you do respond, they also yell at you. You can’t win.

So, we had an inside joke in the Facebook group that when something like that happens, we’d say, “Bye Felipe” — which is a play on “Bye, Felicia.” I started the Instagram as a joke just for me and my friends to make fun of these guys. Two weeks later, Olga Khazan at The Atlantic found it and asked to interview me. After her article came out, it blew up from there.

What are your personal online dating horror stories.

When I first started online dating, I received a handful of hostile messages. And the first thing I thought was, is he a stalker? Is he going to come after me? You just don’t know. It can be scary putting yourself out there on the internet. I got a lot of thank-you messages from women who don’t feel so alone in that experience now. I felt the same way when I saw the messages that other women were receiving.

Do you think ‘toxic masculinity’ plays into the Bye Felipe phenomenon?

Yes. It’s definitely related. But we probably need a nicer name for it. Men hear the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ and think, “Wait, we’re not allowed to be men anymore?” That’s not what we’re saying when we talk about toxic masculinity. It’s really about redefining the social norms of what it means to be traditionally masculine.

Currently, ‘real men’ aren’t generally allowed to step outside of a very rigid set of gender roles that basically say they should be strong, dominant and unemotional. Anger, violence and aggression are some of the only approved emotions men are allowed to have. They can’t be sensitive, sad or show any softer emotions. We expect men to be sexually aggressive, too, and this is a big reason that women experience so many hostile messages online. It’s ingrained in our society.

At the end of the day, a lot of the guys perpetuating these behaviours just have personal issues, too. Online dating is hard for everyone — however, the stakes are just a lot higher for women. Women experience it differently. It’s often a safety issue.

Have you ever found success in online dating?

Yes, I’ve met really great guys online dating. I was in a relationship with someone I met on OkCupid for two and a half years. I’ve met wonderful guys who turned out to be friends. I also have couple friends who met online and are now married or engaged.

The point of Bye Felipe has never been to encourage women not to do online dating. The real message is that our society and culture are really broken. The evidence is that we have all these examples of men acting completely entitled, objectifying women and becoming aggressive. It’s not only in online dating, it’s everywhere: on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, gaming apps, message boards — it even happens in real life on the street or in the bar.

I think online dating can absolutely be successful. We spend so much of our time online, so why shouldn’t we use it for dating? The fact that this behaviour is coming up so often [online] is because it’s so easy to document.

How did you approach creating a book from an Instagram account?

I got the idea for the book pretty shortly after the Instagram took off. It took me two years to finish the proposal and then another year to write and publish it. Whenever I got submissions, I’d put them in folders in my inbox: mansplainers, fat-shamers, ‘nice guys’ and so on. And then I analysed them to see if they had anything in common to figure out what the best ways of combating them would be.

I wanted to create a handbook for how to handle any situation when you’re online dating as a woman. It ended up being an anthology of the best — or worst, I guess — Bye Felipe submissions, a guide to the best ways to respond to trolls, a collection of funny stories from my own dating experiences and then, partly, dating advice.

I also tried to answer the question “Why do guys do that?” It’s basically the book I wish I would have had when I first started dating, especially online.

What did you want your big takeaway for women to be when they finished reading?

Don’t take online dating too seriously. Have fun, and let it go. You’re probably going to meet a bunch of jerks out there, but have a sense of humour about it. Make fun of them. The number one key to not letting harassment get to you is having self-confidence — which is really the most radical act of resistance.

*By arrangement with The Washington Post

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 7th, 2018