For many women, receiving harassing messages online is business as usual. But one musician decided to do something about it and documented 10 years of abusive content she had received online. Here is the result.
A lot has been said about how social media platforms, for all the benefits they create with regard to interpersonal communication, have also brought less positive outcomes into our lives. One of them is the opportunity they give anyone who is so minded to offend, criticize and even harass others, while hiding behind anonymous profiles and faraway keyboards.
Mia Matsumiya, a violinist based in Los Angeles, has decided to make this frequent harassment public, and collected over 1,000 messages sent to her in the course of 10 years. Most of them contain abusive, racist or sexist remarks, and many even constitute straight-out threats.
Matsumiya posted the messages one after another on a designated Instagram account, "Perv Magnet," which immediately stirred a massive online debate about the humiliation and violence women are confronted with on the Internet.
Speaking to the "Huffington Post," Matsumiya said that "pretty much most of my life now, I've encountered Asian fetishists, pedophiles, stalkers, racists, and who-knows-how-many unsolicited sexual comments. It had gotten to the point where someone would send the most scathing, racist, violent thing to me - like rape or death threats - and I would barely have a reaction."
And indeed, many of the messages sent to her refer either to her petite height (about 145 cm) or to her Japanese origins. She describes herself in her various profiles as a "4'9" violinist & perv magnet," claiming that this makes her a victim of people "with all sorts of fetishes."
In her posts, Matsumiya writes about her thoughts and feelings after receiving the original messages. Sometimes, she admits, she is left speechless. "This one is so grim and repulsive, I actually can't come even up with a good caption for it," she noted under one post documenting an aggressive message sent to her on Facebook that describes the user's very explicit sexual fantasies about her.
"Have I just been really unlucky or have I never seen a well-intentioned question that contains the phrase 'virgin flesh?'" she commented on another message asking, among other things, about her virginity status.
Matsumiya began receiving the messages while she was writing about music and arts on blogs and other social media platforms such as MySpace. Ever since, she says, her Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as her mailbox have all been full of messages that can be called disturbing, to say the least. "In six-seven years I will come to America and I'll try to find you... Mark my words," a user wrote to her on MySpace.
Some incidents of harassment have even occurred to her in real life, while she was performing with her band, Kayo Dot, around the world. "In 2008, I played a show in Germany with my band," she recalls. "A creepy guy with crazy eyes kept following me around asking me for my autograph and a kiss. I tried to hide, but security wasn't good and he ended up cornering me, demanding I sign his forearm. I did it out of fear, and then the next day, he sent me a picture of him pretending to cut up my signature on his arm with a pair of scissors."
A few days ago, she uploaded a post to her Instagram account which included her email address, hoping that other women will share their stories with her. The post has since been removed, most likely due to abusive reactions of the same kind she is trying to fight.
Matsumiya also posts disturbing messages that were sent to her female friends, trying to show that hers is not a rare or special case.
"I try to take a humorous approach with these messages, at least publicly, even the most horrible ones, like the ones threatening to kill or cannibalize me," she told New Zealand media. "The jokes are definitely a coping tactic. I hope that people start acting civilized. Man, that would be nice."