Kit Steinkellner
October 28, 2014 2:09 pm

Alexandra Tweten was getting tired of being harassed on online dating sites simply because she said no to a potential date. So she created “Bye Felipe,” an Instagram that crowdsources women’s experiences of being harassed on dating websites, and screencaps these exchanges, in an effort to thwart future online dating trolls. It’s not her first foray in schooling verbally abusive online daters. She’s kind of known as a feminist vigilante of the O.D. world, and she was cool enough to talk to us about why she decided to turn the tables on her harassers.

So I know you’ve been on and off OkCupid since 2010, and have recently responded to the unacceptable behavior of men who become verbally abusive when rebuffed by women by creating “Bye Felipe.” I want to start by asking: what was the final straw? What was the incident or conversation that made you feel like you had to take action?

I’ve met a lot of great guys doing online dating. But, I’ve also gotten some weird and/or mean messages just for existing as a woman online. This is not out of the ordinary. I think any woman who has an OKCupid or Tinder account has to deal with these frequently. I created the Instagram account because I was alerted to other women who were getting the same kinds of not just creepy messages, but actually hostile ones. I just happened to get a hostile message recently, and comparing that to the messages others were getting just lit the flame. I know that there are already blogs and Tumblrs pointing out the weird or creepy messages from guys, but I wanted to compile the messages that follow this now-standard formula of guy hitting on girl, girl not interested, guy lashing out. I find this especially problematic because it shows the entitlement these guys believe they have to a conversation or go to on a date with any woman just because she’s there.

You’ve already received several submissions for the Instagram- anything surprise you re: the content submitted so far?

People send me a lot of standard creepy messages from dudes. Just explicit sexual stuff. But I got screencaps of a really scary text exchange from a woman that made me ask her if she had gotten a restraining order and if she was OK. She assured me she had, and that this was a while ago, and she was safe. It was really disturbing and I chose not to post it because the content I run is a little lighter.  But this one was threatening and I didn’t want it to seem like I was making fun of this situation because it was actually pretty terrifying. I think that might be appropriate for the Tumblr “When Women Refuse”. 

What are your goals/dreams for “Bye Felipe”? Do you feel like this Instagram is more about teaching these men a much deserved lesson? Or is it for your female readers and contributors to feel heard and vindicated? A little of column A and column B?

When I started it, I just wanted a place where we could keep all of these crazy messages and discuss them. Like, “Hey, we all get ridiculous messages sometimes, let’s commiserate.” Also, let’s make fun of them and take away that power these men are trying to harvest to make us feel bad! I did want to put it out into the world that this is what it’s like for a woman to exist online. I think a lot of guys just don’t know that we as women get inundated with disgusting messages pretty frequently. I wanted guys to know what it’s like, and get a peek into our inboxes. In a way, I feel like it’s a lot like catcalling, but their messages are immortalized online. I don’t feel bad about publicly shaming them because their behavior is atrocious. Maybe a guy will see it and think twice about sending a mean message.

How have you observed the online dating world change since you began engaging in 2010? Are things better or worse for women out there? Is there a way for dating websites and apps to more effectively control their inappropriate and abusive users?

I did an online dating experiment back in 2010 where I identified myself as a feminist, and wrote about the good and bad messages I got from it (you can read all about it here, here and here). There were definitely a few troll-y messages then. I’m really not sure of the best way to control inappropriate and abusive users. With the guy who messaged me “WHY THE F— NOT?!?” I just blocked him, and that was fine with me. I appreciate that you can report these people and their accounts will be disabled, but I’ve heard of these guys just creating another account. There should be a way to permanently block a person from creating accounts if they are sending distressing messages. One problem with Tinder especially is that people use it for all types of reasons, and you don’t know their motives. Some people are just using it to hook up, and others are looking for meaningful relationships. Something offensive to one person, might be ok with another, so I don’t know how they could go about censoring messages. A lot of the problem is embedded in society, and without changing the patriarchal, misogynist atmosphere, women will continue to receive these disgusting messages.

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