As a woman on the internet, abuse, being “othered” from spaces and creepy sexual messages, are practically an occupational hazard. You want to chat to friends, have a social media presence, meet like-minded people, immerse yourself in fandoms or learn about new things? Expect to be made to feel uncomfortable. It’s depressing, but undeniable. And the longer you’ve been around, you’ll more you might relate to that.
You can block the user giving you shit, report them to whatever platform’s help service you’re on. But the reality is that IRL authority haven’t yet caught up with the nuances of dangerous online sexism. One musician from Los Angeles has come up with the perfect idea to garner some real attention around the issue and make a few people feel as unpleasant as they might have made her.
Mia Matsumiya has been documenting all the online bullshit from her early Myspace days. The result is over 1000 abusive messages all collated in one Instagram account, Perv Magnet. She’s also now posting the odd unusually grim ones that her female friends have received.
Dazed spoke to Mia “Perv Magnet” Matsumiya about why she started the account and where she sees it going.
How early on were you getting messages like the ones you’ve shown on your Instagram?
Mia Matsumiya: I think my oldest is from 2001 or 2002. It’s from a guy who had a sexual fantasy of being roasted alive on a spit and cannibalised by women on a deserted island. I saved that one because I thought it was completely insane and it made my brain do some baffled somersaults. I couldn’t fathom how or why someone could find that sexual, so I saved it in order to study it. I’m an extremely curious person, especially when it comes to human behaviour, and maybe this is weird, but I compulsively save anything that affects me.
I received multiple death threats from one individual and ended up calling the police. They told me to just turn off my computer and weren’t helpful in any way. The Internet wasn’t very commonly used back then, so they didn't understand that these threats were coming from an actual, real human being, and not some video game character. I was terrified and ended up hiding out in Japan for six months, barely using the Internet, until I felt it was safe to return to the states.
What’s the worst message you’ve had?
Mia Matsumiya: Probably this guy who would write pages and pages of fantasy stories about coming to my concerts and then raping me in the bathroom. He actually ended up getting arrested for stalking another Asian woman.
When did you decide to make the account and what gave you the idea?
Mia Matsumiya: Originally, I actually wanted (and still want) to make a disturbing coffee table book of all the messages. I thought it could be a really entertaining, yet unsettling read—something positive to come out of all the troubled and negative messages, while making people question, “Who does this and why?” I had come up with the idea maybe 5 years ago, which I think was before Instagram, but I never really had the courage to do it.
But the messages never stopped. Anger began creeping in and it gave me the impetus to finally do the coffee table book and I wanted to get a start on it by creating this Instagram account. This is not so much a vendetta towards the perverts as it is a demonstration of what horrific things are said to women online when everyone else's heads are turned.
What do you hope to achieve with Perv Magnet?
Mia Matsumiya: I want to start a dialogue by sharing, commiserating, and discussing these messages. I hope to make aware that this is the way some people - a lot of people - act behind their computers. (And often in real life too.) Personally, I don’t know any woman who hasn't been the recipient of creepy behaviour. It’s unacceptable and so depressingly rampant. I want my account to be a place where women can commiserate and men to just learn what women can experience online. I don't know yet what can be done about it but I feel like the first step is definitely to shed light on the issue.
What’s the response been so far?
Mia Matsumiya: Women are definitely relating to what I'm experiencing and feel a little more sane and less helpless about their own experience. Men too, have given me lots of positive responses. A lot of them are just horrified, which is good because that's effective and I’m happy these messages have that power.
But of course, there’s the flip side of that, and I've received some pretty intense hate mail. The biggest critics are the ones who believe that I’m bragging about how many “compliments” I receive, which is insane to me. Have they read these messages? They’re so dehumanising, degrading, and aggressive. I’m guessing these might be the same guys who actually send these messages. All I can do is look on the bright side and try to view the hate mail as new material for Perv Magnet. They’re just more examples of what needs to be changed.
Probably the most interesting response I’ve gotten are from men who supposedly wrote me creepy messages years ago. They’re apologising for their behaviour and are terrified of me posting their messages. However, they send the apologies anonymously, so I have no idea which messages are even theirs, so they very well could get posted.
Follow Hannah Rose Ewens on Twitter here @hannahrosewens
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