When I first heard about Anthony Weiner's lewd pictures, I thought, Well, that's disgusting — but what he does is also completely common out there in Internetland.
I know this because, unfortunately, once upon a time, not all that long ago, putting up a personal ad on Craigslist seemed like a good idea to me — until I actually did it.
But I'd just started writing this dating blog, and I figured my Craigslist adventures might provide some interesting fodder.
The response I got might best be summed up in one word: erect. I received a seemingly unending flood of pictures of male erections, despite the fact that I had not asked for or expected such images. I was mostly disgusted and appalled by them, sometimes amused, but mostly rather horrified. I wanted to respond to almost every single one of the guys who sent me photos of themselves from what they may have believed was their best angle by saying, "What is your problem? Keep it in your pants — and out of my inbox!"
But I didn't — despite the fact that each one of those lewd emails came across like an act of aggression. In fact, maybe that was part of the reason I didn't. I felt a little threatened. And even though I could've used an anonymous email account, I didn't want any further dealings with those guys.
Now, however, I'm wondering if I should have told those guys to back off — that their dirty pictures were unwanted and inappropriate. I'm wondering if all women who feel as appalled by it as I did shouldn't do the same. I wonder if it would help, in some small way, to encourage more civilized sexual interactions, and a more civilized dating culture.
I think men might actually not realize that sending unsolicited naked or erect photos of themselves is the kind of behavior that a lot of women not only don't like, but feel somewhat threatened by. I don't think they entirely appreciate that such behavior might be read as an act of aggression — despite the fact that they are basically acting like virtual flashers.
When we don't write back to say their advances are unwanted and offensive, perhaps we send a different message — that what they're doing is okay. But as the response to Weinergate shows, most of us don't think it is.