We can all learn a lot from walking a mile in someone else's shoes. In this case, the shoes were high heels, and the "walking" was only digital.
Redditor ComfyRug, aka John Cooper, had an idea for an experiment — he would pose as a "hot chick" on the messaging app Kik, and would then post the results on Reddit's truecreepyPMs subreddit. This self-described "middle of the road kind of guy" anticipated some attention based on his fake persona, but was far from fully prepared for the realities that often come with being a woman in the digital world.
Here are Cooper's biggest takeaways about online harassment, which he shared with MTV News via email.
At first, he assumed women exaggerate complaints. He was wrong.
The point of Cooper's experiment initially was to prove that personal messages IRL weren't as bad as this subreddit made it out to be.
"I wanted to give myself peace of mind that this problem wasn't as rampant as they made it out to be," he told us, but admits that he couldn't have been more mistaken.
Dudes love sending d--k pics more than anyone likes receiving them.
Cooper anticipated a few unwanted penis pictures, but he was not prepared for the volume. One guy went as far as to send three, all featuring different d--ks. Cooper admits to even doing it once prior to this experience, as a joke to one of his buddies.
"It was on SnapChat and I drew a top hat and mustache on it," Cooper says. "I don't even know why. Alcohol, probably."
You get called pet names more than your real (well, fake) name.
Cooper decided on the fake hot girl name "Monica," but it didn't matter since no one used it. Instead people opted to call him "baby," "sexy" or "beautiful." He found this surprisingly upsetting after awhile, mostly because it was clear they didn't see "Monica" as a person at all, but just a body.
Sometimes you have to be mean to get people to leave you alone.
What offended Cooper the most was when a guy said that all the d--k pic-related harassment was his (or her) own fault. Cooper asked the creep to stop messaging, a request that he did not honor. This jerk probably thought Monica was being shrill, but Cooper felt that he didn't have any other option.
Creeps don't care whether you're ignorant or smart...
As a part of his experiment, Cooper tested what he could get away with as a hot girl, pretending to be racist, ignorant and downright awful. Shockingly, most of the people messaging were able to overlook the offensive conversations and press on to more important matters -- requesting naked pictures.
...and judge you based on how much skin you show.
Cooper purposefully chose a picture that was attractive and showed "a little cleavage." Though he didn't think it was the focus of the picture, a lot of guys used it as an excuse to justify degrading language, chastising Monica/Cooper for displaying cleavage when he said he didn't want to be harassed. To put it plainly, he got slut-shamed.
No guys actually wanted to be just friends.
"What surprised me the most was just how many guys were talking to me with only one goal in mind," Cooper said. He met people whom he thought he could actually be friends with, and hoped the being a hot girl part was irrelevant. Instead, once it was clear that he wouldn't send pics back or engage in sexual conversations, the potential for friendship didn't matter.
Not everyone is who they say they are. (Obviously.)
Just as Cooper had done with this experiment, he suspected that there were others on Kik posing as people besides themselves. You never know.
This is NOT representative of all dudes.
Cooper didn't think such creepy messages reflect on all guys when he started the experiment, and he still doesn't think that now. Instead, he suspects that a majority of the people doing this have limited experience with women.
"They tried being a cultured, fedora-wearing gentleman and it didn't work," Cooper said. "This is their Hail Mary."
It's possible to be offended and sympathetic at the same time.
Cooper admitted to feeling bad for some of these guys to a point, especially one who confessed (after a conversation regarding salacious pictures) that he had never had a girlfriend and he thought this is what love feels like.
"Every time I've seen a d--k pic, I could only see this guy behind it, someone who doesn't know how to connect with women, who is lonely and someone who is otherwise a good person," Cooper concluded, noting that it's still no excuse for sending unsolicited photos. "They're wrong and need to be told so."