As many of friends will exasperatedly testify, I am a devotee of The Smiths. I know many people dismiss Morrissey’s lyrics as ‘depressing’, but in doing so they miss the sharp wit, caustic cynicism and biting satire to be found in his writing. I tend to remark upon how relevant his lyrics continue to be, and this can be confirmed through the tale I shall share with you today.
This tale involves a man, LinkedIn, a message and a liberal dashing of sexism. It is a case of not only a bigmouth, but sexism striking again on social media, with myself being the recipient.
As a frequent social media user, I know well how the granting of an online platform and promise of relative anonymity can inspire some to hurt, and offend. Social media can be a powerful tool for empowerment, education and activism; it can also be a means to boost confidence and facilitate socialisation.
As someone who believes strongly in freedom of expression, I believe that this is something which is impliedly extended to the internet. I often say that I respect everyone’s opinion and their right to articulate and express their thoughts. I often follow this statement with a sigh, and ‘but how I wish people didn’t abuse this to deliberately hurt others for fun.’ But it is at this point I must state that what constitutes ‘offence’ differs from one to another. Moreover, sometimes offence is not always intentional, and may in fact be caused accidentally. This may be the case when it comes to my tale. But as a woman, I wonder how else I was supposed to react in all fairness.
Like many students, soon-to-be graduates and aspiring professionals, I have an account on LinkedIn. Yes, my CV, work experience, details of my student organisation participation, volunteering, and all those other titbits which help fill out application forms may be found on this website, which is is informally referred to as the ‘professional Facebook’. (Thankfully, it does not care about relationship statuses, nor does it send frequent reminders about ‘memories’ and encouragement to post at certain times of the day. I’m looking at you, Facebook.)
Networking is provided for on LinkedIn via a messaging service, and the option to ‘connect’ with others. Whilst I have yet to be headhunted for my dream Constitutional legal advisory position via the messaging service -hint hint -I do receive the odd message about seminars and training, or invitations to connect. It was one such message in late October which I shall now discuss.
My university email informed me that I had a new message in my LinkedIn inbox. Could this be my equivalent to a ‘tap on the shoulder’, I wondered, half jokingly. (Spoiler alert: it was not). I went to my inbox, and was rather surprised, shocked and more than a little exasperated to receive this:
Ah, where do I even start. Perhaps with another paraphrasing of The Smiths: now I know how Charlotte Proudman felt.
The Curious Incident of the Sexist Message in the Inbox first emerged with Ms Proudman in September of this year. Ms Proudman, a barrister, received an email on LinkedIn from one Alexander Carter-Silk, a senior partner at a London firm. In this email, he commented on her profile photograph, saying:
“I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture. You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.”
Suffice to say, Ms Proudman was not impressed. She replied by informing Mr Carter-Silk she found his message offensive, adding that she was using LinkedIn for professional purposes, not to be approached about her physical appearance ‘or to be objectified by sexist men’. Mr Carter-Silk later commented that he was referring to the professional quality of the photograph and ‘presentation’ of her account.
Ms Proudman took to Twitter to share her experience and to enquire whether other women had similar stories. Soon after, various newspapers carried the story, and it was deemed to be ‘controversial’, in the sense that it was centred around modern-day Feminism. And as we know, mention Feminism and suddenly there is a furore as people argue about how feminists apparently hate all men, and how we must remember that ‘not all men’ act the same. In Ms Proudman’s case, newspapers tried to argue that she should have expected this/been flattered/realise she was being hypocritical, because there is apparently evidence she commented on the physical appearance of male professionals. Simply read the Daily Mail’s take to see what I mean.
What the Daily Mail fail to grasp however, is that this was never a case of double standards. Ms Proudman made comments regarding the physical appearance of men on their personal Facebook pages. She knows, and is friends, with these men. Who has never posted a positive message to compliment a friend’s appearance on Facebook? There is, however, a difference between posting such messages on Facebook, and to a personal friend at that, compared to messaging a professional on LinkedIn.
Which brings me to my tale.
This man messaged me, after seeing my account and my profile photograph. I do not know him. I am not a connection of his; in actual fact I subsequently blocked him. Yet he thought it was acceptable to message me in the way he did. My reaction? From being perplexed and a little amused, I soon switched to frustration – and a touch of anger, too.
Just look at his use of language, ‘hi gorgeous, how are you beautiful?’ Am I supposed to be thrilled to read such a salutation? This lavish praise of my physical appearance is both ridiculous, and grossly inappropriate. Like Ms Proudman, I am on LinkedIn for professional reasons, and professional reasons only. I do not wish to know what you think of my personal appearance. I would far rather you discussed my CV, my work experience and career aspirations with me.
And how am I, a young female student, supposed to react when I am asked whether I am married, or single? And that I will only be told more about my messenger when I reply? Excuse me if you think I am being dramatic, but these sentences sounded faintly sinister. I felt uncomfortable, and I hated that a message could have such an effect on me.
Is this a sexist message? In my opinion, yes. I highly doubt a man would receive such a message. Women are subjected to such messages, and then women are told that we must deserve it, because we opted to use that photograph for our profile pictures, or we posed in such a way. Surely it must be our fault that men feel obligated to message us about our appearances. When we ignore the messages, we receive more. When we do not reply, sometimes the messages become angry. We are accused of being selfish and bitchy for our lack of replies, for ‘leading men on’. Apparently we must consider men and their feelings when we select profile pictures – Heaven forbid women do anything for themselves.
Evidently the fella in my tale is a serial spammer, who must believe that such a message works when connecting with women. No doubt he has emailed the same words to other women on LinkedIn. I have received similar messages on Facebook, mostly from people who I am not friends with, and I just ignore them.
I ignore them, even when I am criticised and maligned for not replying. I ignore them, even when I am sent message after message in quick succession. I even ignored them during one particular incident, when a man apparently in America asked for, and then demanded, topless photographs. (That was another faintly sinister occasion; consequently when I went to report him, it transpired that his account had already been taken down.) I ignore them, but that does not mean I am content with them. I will never be content about being subject to sexism. My being a woman does not afford men the right to degrade me, and render me to a subject comprising only a face and a body.
Simply put, it is a regrettable fact that women are subject to receiving unwanted messages regarding their appearance on social media, and as such we just have to deal with it. But oh, how I thought I would be safe from this on LinkedIn, an apparent professional platform.