Following on from my response to Grazia’s Single Shaming article, I wanted to tell you guys about something which happened recently to me.
For the past week I’ve been trying to work out the best way of approaching the topic on the blog. Should I even mention it? Should I ignore it – the old adage of not ‘feeding the trolls’? Or should I outright name and shame?
Some of my friends suggested I shouldn’t even mention it on 30 Dates.
30 Dates is a positive blog, with positive messages about being single and dating, and they thought it would tarnish the positivity to mention the troll mine I found. However, as a child who was bullied violently for two years, I look back at 10/11 year-old me, and see a girl with no voice. A girl who wasn’t able to stand up to the bullies.
A lot of things have changed in the last twenty years, and 31 year-old me most certainly has a voice these days! But don’t worry … it’s still going to be a positive one!
You see, last week I stumbled upon a forum. It’s not the first forum I’ve come across which mentions this blog. First there was the one where a bunch of singletons seemed to misread everything I said, and take random sentences completely out of context! Then there was the militant gold star lesbian forum, kicking off about Rock Chick’s sexuality labels article.
But this forum was rather different.
I can only describe the forum as anti-women. It had been created as a men-only forum, in order to ridicule women. Not just women in general – but individual women. Without those women even knowing their images had been shared online. Basically a group of single men, who have been put off dating or relationships for various reasons, trawl the internet, stealing photos from women’s online dating profiles, and then critiquing them. And when I say ‘critiquing’, what I actually mean is writing really vile things.
How did I come across the forum? Well WordPress very handily shows me where blog traffic comes from each day, and there was a surge of hits coming from a specific website. (Thanks for the hits boys!) I clicked on the link, only to discover an entire thread of the forum devoted to insulting me. Amongst other comments, I apparently look way over 40, and am carrying ‘far too many pounds below the waist’ to ever attract a man. The forum focused a lot on an apparent ‘wall’ which women hit, where they lose both their age and their looks – our only two redeeming features according to the forum!
However, the interesting thing, which I realized as I skimmed through the various criticisms made of me by the vile men, was just how confident 31 year-old me has become.
Yes, my skin may carry a few wrinkles these days, but it also turns out to be surprisingly thick! And whilst I know I’m not a super model, I’ve come to rather love 31 year-old me! For a start, she’s actually a dress-size smaller than 21 year-old me was. And she has a far more healthy attitude to food, drink and body image than I ever had in my younger years. I may have hit their imaginary wall … but I hit it sprinting! And will continue to live my life at the same pace!
What I did take offence to though, was the fact the thread about me had very obviously been started by one of my Facebook ‘friends’. In fact he even went so far as to cockily say “I would feel bad about posting this about her, but it’s not like she’ll find out.” Hmm … someone clearly doesn’t understand how pingbacks work!
To cut a long story short, with some help from friends, I managed to work out who the troll was, and call him out. Rob ‘Trolls’ was my neighbour in Pangbourne last year. He’d lived in the flat beside mine, with his gorgeous, lovely, girlfriend, and barely said a word to me in the year they lived next-door. A guy who only knew my name from my post (yes, that’s creepy!), and who had added me as a friend on Facebook after he and his girlfriend had split up, and moved out of the flat. He’s sent me the odd weird FB message over the past 6 months, and it was pretty clear he was trying to hit on me. However, I took it with a pinch of salt, and whenever he said anything remotely flirtatious, I just wouldn’t reply. Looking back, I know I should have just removed him from my friends, but I’ve always had a rather liberal approach to Facebook de-friending … something which may have to change in future!
Ironically, one of the first clues that pointed in Rob Trolls’ direction, was that the forum was started on a Saturday evening, and that same night, at about 4am, he sent me a message on Facebook, trying to strike up conversation, months after I’d last heard anything from him … I’ll let you guys make up your minds about his motives!
On the forum, he’d posted links to my personal website, and the blog, mainly criticising me for pretending to be happy in my single status, but also for calling myself a dating expert. Both things were rather interesting-
1) Their whole forum encourages men to stay single (in particular by promoting sleeping with prostitutes), so surely by promoting single life, I’m actually doing them a favour??
2) Very few men on the forum seemed to have even looked at my blog or anything I’ve written, before launching into criticism. Which made most of the criticism completely irrelevant and out of context.
I won’t give airtime to all the nasty things they said about me, and my life, and my blog … because it pretty much was all rubbish, spewed by men who hadn’t even taken the time to read the blog.
In fact, you can probably tell how little of it resonated with me, when I say that the comment I was most disappointed about, was one suggesting I’d misused a word in the title of a recent blog post! (spot the perfectionist!) Even then it turned out I hadn’t! Ha! Who’s laughing now nobbers??? (My sister certainly was laughing – she read the forum in far more detail than I did! And particularly enjoyed reading the grammar critic eat crow, when he finally realised I’d used the word correctly!)
So why am I talking about it, if it didn’t actually upset me?
Because there is an important point to be made from that horrid troll mine.
What could have actually been a semi-educated debate, disagreeing with opinions I’ve voiced on the blog, quickly descended into childish comments about my appearance, weight, and whether they would shag me.
Comments which were only made because they were men talking about a woman.
Had a man been in my position, the same observations would never have been made. How often do we see men criticised for their appearance? (Perhaps with the exception of old Bo-Jo’s hair!) The timing couldn’t have been more pertinent. This forum appeared in the wake of Emma Watson’s inspirational ‘HeForShe’ speech, and the ridiculous backlash threat of releasing naked photos of her. Again, the same would never be done to a guy.
I acknowledge that not everyone will agree with everything I say online, and that everyone is entitled to an opinion. But criticise me for my opinions! Not my bloody appearance!
As I’ve said before, I’ve never identified myself as a ‘feminist’, I just believe in equality! Equal rights to be happily single. Equal rights to have my views criticised, NOT my appearance.
Because I’m 31, and not 11, I stood up for myself, and confronted Rob Trolls. He blocked me on Facebook without a word, and removed himself from the forum, though the strand about me still remains up there online.
If I were petty, I could really do some damage to him, simply by sharing some of the awful opinions and home truths he had shared on other sections of the forum. But like I said, I’m 31, not 11! And I have a feeling he’ll end up being his own undoing in the end, without any help from me!
So what I have done, is to email the forum to remind them it is copyright infringement to copy my image and display it on their forum, as I own the copyright to the photo.
If you use online dating sites, I would suggest Google Searching the photos you use of yourself, every now and again, just to ensure they only appear on sites which you’ve put them on yourself. Unfortunately websites like the troll mine, can only be closed down if enough people complain about the copyright infringements, and normally website providers will only accept copyright infringement complaints from the person who actually owns the copyright.
I promised this post would be positive. And it will end positively …
You see, when I first stumbled upon the troll mine – half asleep, and sharing my bed with Gunter the dog, the other week – I didn’t have a clue what to do. Seeing it had all started on Facebook, I decided to share the link to it on my Facebook wall.
The response was incredible.
The post inspired over 70 comments, and tens of private messages, texts and phone calls from concerned friends, worried I might have taken the messages to heart. People were absolutely raging about the things the forum said, not just about me, but about women in general. In fact, several friends were so angry with it, that they were the ones who helped me identify Rob Trolls so quickly!
As I said, I genuinely wasn’t affected by the comments about my appearance. And that in itself I saw as a victory. As a girl who grew up beating herself up for the way she looked, I’m really proud that those nasty words bounced straight off my now thick skin. It just goes to show how much confidence writing this blog has given me.
But not all blog writers have such a thick skin – I have a good friend who has stopped writing her own dating blog because it encourages so much abuse from trolls. Since when should someone attract abuse for her appearance, simply because she shares her opinions on life in a blog? We’re not models! Nothing we do or say should be related to our appearance!
I’m also incredibly touched by my friends, and proud to be friends with such a decent bunch of human beings. Yes, I made a mistake accepting Rob Trolls’ friend request. But he’s one bad apple, in a very large, and positive bunch. And as one friend pointed out, my Facebook post attracted more positive comments than any of the nasty crap on the forum had!
So thank you Rob Trolls, for reinforcing my belief in the world we live in, and for underlining the need for campaigns like #HeForShe. And finally, thank you for making me realize that my skin is thicker than I realised!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx