“Make up your mind
And I promise you,
I will treat you well, my sweet angel,
So help me Jesus…”–The Toadies, “Possum Kingdom”
Hey, my kinky, poly peeps! Welcome back for what I believe is going to be an AMAZING post. One thing I love/get irritated by about Panda is what we jokingly refer to as her “undying optimism”. She is the personification of the “Dog in a burning house” meme. The phrase “This is fine.” comes forth from her lips probably about once per day. After seventeen years together, you realize your partner has affected you in more ways than you thought. When I spoke to my therapist, Wes, six months ago about starting this project, I told him “I’m gonna do a news update and a new blog post every single week!”
I mean, it was a nice thought…
Anyway, this piece has been a long time coming, and by that, I mean it’s something I wanted to do while I was still working on the podcast almost a year ago. Being a cishetero man, there’s certain things in life I’m just never going to experience, the ability to have multiple orgasms in a matter of minutes being my biggest regret. Another one of those things is being subjected to poorly written, and unfortunately, often crude, if not threatening e-mails from complete strangers on the Internet. Because I support women’s rights, and in order to truly support something I believe you have to do your best to understand it, I wanted to see first-hand what it was like to be a woman in the BDSM community looking for play partners.
So, before I go any further, I do want to say this project was not without its ethical concerns. It’s hard to defend the practice of catfishing, however, much like drug companies will research on mice to find life-saving medications, I recognized there was a benefit to what I was about to do, and I would need to walk a fine line between, for lack of better term, “investigative journalism” and identity fraud.
The first step was setting up a profile. I decided my online persona was going to be a bisexual woman who identifies as a bratty submissive (OBVIOUSLY!!!). I knew my profile wouldn’t get nearly enough attention if I didn’t have some sexy photos. Fortunately for me, my meta was more than happy to offer some older photos of herself, sans face, showing her ass, breasts, and genitals.
I picked about a dozen different kinks that I thought my persona might be open to, joined ahalf dozen groups, and then I sat back and I waited. In an effort not to misrepresent myself (at least not anymore than I already had), I decided I would not actively reach out to any profiles, nor would I respond to any e-mails. As part of my curiosity was around not just what men would write to a total stranger, but what they would write in the very first e-mail, responding to any messages wouldn’t have added to my data set. I would eagerly accept any and all friend requests however, because the more friends you have on FetLife, the more feeds you show up on, which in turn encourages more friend requests and messages.
I ran the experiment for two weeks and in that short time, amassed twenty five friends and thirty-eight e-mails. Because the purpose of the experiment was to evaluate the quality of initial e-mails I received, I developed a color-coded stop-light system that I would use to categorize the responses to assist with my analysis. The colors and definitions were:
- Green – Well written and thought out, playful and not overly sexual, typically shows an effort was made to actually read the profile I wrote.
- Yellow – Low effort. Not crude, however, little to no thought was put into what was written (i.e. “What’s up?”)
- Red – Sexual in a crude way, mentions playtime right off the bat, creates a vibe that the author is not a safe person or someone who would respect boundaries.
As the first few e-mails started to roll in, I was quite surprised with the quality of what was written. I received several “green” e-mails before I received my first “yellow” or “red”. I showed my meta (the one who let me borrow her pictures) and she actually got mildly upset. In her words: “These are my pictures!!! Why can’t I be getting e-mails like this?!?!?!” I told her I was just a better at being her than she was at being her (She’s a brat-tamer, so she gets it). When I finally totaled the figures earlier this week, the totals were 58% green, 26% yellow, and 16% red. You read that right: Despite all the horror stories of what I had been told happens to women on sites like FetLife and Tinder, more than half of the e-mails I received were respectfully and cordially written, while only one in six was something you would want to use as the basis for a reality show (a la Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrities read mean tweets”).
Feeling perplexed by the results, at Penguin’s suggestion, I broke down the e-mails by age. Now, I do want to reiterate that my online persona was a 21-year-old woman, soon turning 22 on April 25th, because it’s the perfect date.
My online persona also lives in the Philadelphia area and is interested in several kinky and geeky things. I basically tried to make her what a younger version of myself would have been like if I was a woman and had been involved in kink at the time. I joined several kink groups, both local to the Philadelphia area, as well as one devoted to Geeky & Kinky, one devoted to submissives, one devoted to brats, and one for TNG (for the uninitiated, that stands for “The Next Generation”, and is basically kink slang for anyone under the age of 35).
Penguin and I both thought that attracting younger Doms would provide for more courteous messaging (a theory Vixen also later supported), however, Poly Mom was far less optimistic as her personal experience has been that young Doms are less polished and don’t have enough experience in the community yet. I broke down the e-mails into three separate age groups (under 30, 30-39, and 40 and over). Much like the quality of the e-mails, the breakdown in age groups was equally surprising.
Of the thirty-six messages I received (two messages were from men who withheld their age), roughly half of them were from the 30-39 age group while the other half were split equally between the under 30 and 40 and over groups. While I will be the first to say that I believe age is nothing but a number in relationships, the fact that 75% of the messages were from men more than ten years my senior did give me cause for concern. I’m not saying that significant age gaps in relationships are a problem per se (Panda has a high school friend who married a man twenty-six years her senior, they have three kids together and are about to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary), however, when a man in his thirties approaches a woman who is barely out of her teens, it should be looked at with an initial level of suspicion, because large age gaps can be a sign of large gaps in maturity, and we can’t truly have informed consent if both parties lack the emotional maturity to agree to the terms being offered.
Looking at the messages I received by age group, there does appear to a direct correlation between the prevalence of a “red” message and age group as the over 40 group was most likely to send a red message while the under 30 group was least likely. I will add, because the sample size was so small, I’m reluctant to draw any serious conclusions from this data. In addition to this, all three age groups showed more than 50% of messages in the “green” category, only further adding to the ambiguity.
As I alluded to earlier, the ratio of “green” to “red” messages (more than three to one) came as an immediate surprise. I joked with my meta that my conclusion should essentially be “Well, sounds like women are just making this all up!”. Of course, I know this isn’t the case because I’ve seen some of the messages my women friends have received. Penguin offered me some insight as I reviewed each of these messages that I found to be extremely helpful.
First, as consent education becomes more prevalent, my initial hypothesis that the younger generation is becoming more aware of enthusiastic positive consent practices shows some promise. Obviously, thirty-six messages is not nearly large enough of a sample size to make any definitive conclusions, but I do have hope for the future.
Second, Penguin pointed out to me that I was using an incredibly low bar for what I considered “green” messages, and even though many of those e-mails seemed courteous, she showed me potential warning signs that I had missed that would cause her to ignore potential suitors. To mark a message as “green”, the sender had to a) not be crude, and b) mention something that made me think they actually took the time to read my profile. Penguin pointed out that men have become increasingly adept at crafting their message to sound polite, without having much… substance behind it.
For instance, one message I coded as green started with the author thanking me for accepting his friend request, then informing me he liked my picture and profile and would be interested in getting to know me better. While very congenial and well written, Penguin pointed out that nothing in that message pointed out that he had actually seen my pictures or read my profile. At it’s core, it was a generic statement that could have been copy and pasted to any person on FetLife.
Speaking of “copy and paste”, I received two e-mails from one individual that I thought was sent in error. The language was identical, and I chalked it up to a technical glitch in which the same message was accidentally sent twice. Upon closer review, I noticed that one small detail was different: The name of the group in which in the individual had seen my profile. I mentioned earlier that I joined about half a dozen groups to try to make my profile more visible. Apparently, this person had seen my profile in two different groups, copy and pasted the same message, changed the name of the group, and sent it off twice, not realizing he was e-mailing the same person more than once. It makes me wonder how many other people in those groups he had e-mailed. It reminded me of the time that Panda and KittyKinz had gotten the same e-mail from the same gentleman, minutes apart, simply because he saw them in the same group.
Finally, while language is important, Penguin mentioned that taking a deeper look into the individual profile can say a lot about what type of behavior this person is engaging in online. Another e-mail I coded as green was very similar to the generic e-mail I mentioned earlier, and the individual’s profile pic was nothing but their penis. Digging deeper into their profile, their “About Me” section was about as scant as it could be (stating they are looking for a submissive and message them if they want to know more), of the nine pictures they had, six of them were dick pics, and they had forty-three different fetishes listed as interests, which means they were probably just throwing the net as wide as they could, trying to catch any women who came even remotely within their field of vision. Long story short, it appears that “creepiness” has taken on a new form as men are learning to adapt their first impressions without changing their underlying motives.
So, what did we learn from all this? Well, I believe this post has actually raised more questions than answers. I’m not gonna lie, part of my desire to do this experiment was to satisfy my confirmation bias that most men on FetLife act like trash to women. Notice how I didn’t say “are trash”, but rather “act like trash”. I think the anonymity a keyboard provides allows all of us a certain heightened level of confidence we otherwise would not have. One look at the comments section of any news article will make it painfully clear that people would say things online that they would never say to someone face-to-face.
I will say the situation on FetLife may be better than it’s made out to be. I’m not saying there aren’t problems, however, to quote that famous journalistic motto, “If it bleeds, it leads”. Yeah, roughly one in six messages was pretty filthy, and another one third were lazy, but that still leaves half of them courteous, if not in some cases charming. Does that mean the individuals behind those messages are perfect gentlemen? Of course not. It does, however, mean that not every guy on FetLife is a total creep. Do I get comments on The Bratty Cat Facebook page that make me feel dirty and disgusted? Of course (“This website and all it’s degeneracy needs to be culled from the Internet” is still my favorite). However, I weigh that against my 3,800 followers and the positive comments I receive every day that keep me going.
If this conclusion is beginning to sound like “Not all men”, I apologize. I’m not trying to minimize the bullshit that women have to go through when it comes to online dating. 16% of all messages being crude and harassing is 16% too much, and, to Penguin’s point, even when these messages appear safe, the individuals behind them may not be. What I am saying is that my own personal biases may have been dispelled a little bit and it appears that messaging on Fetlife may merely be a “dumpster fire”, rather than the “landfill fire” I originally suspected it to be.
Until next time, stay kinky, my friends…
–The Bratty Cat