In a social experiment posted on subreddit TwoXChromosomes (a forum related to gender and intended for women’s perspectives), a man recently detailed how he set up a female profile because he believed women ‘have it easy’ on online dating sites (pause for great mirth). What then occurred surprised the poster – but probably not any woman who cyber dates – as he received a deluge of aggressive sexual come-ons, requests for nude photographs and suddenly hostile messages if he dared express a lack of interest in the respondent.

After a mere two hours of the experiment the man deleted the profile in response to the barrage of ‘needlessly sexual’ and insistent messages, saying he “went about the rest of my night with a very bad taste in my mouth”. The post received over 800 comments with many female readers stating that they’d had similar experiences and that it was indeed hard to brush off all the negative attention.

Of course, for them they couldn’t simply turn off their profile after only two hours, unless they also wanted to opt out of cyber dating altogether (an increasingly unrealistic option given that one US study found more than a third of new marriages start online). The creator’s final finding was a 180 reversal on his original thesis, stating that he “came away thinking that women have it so much harder than guys do when it comes to that kind of stuff”.

Experiments like this are both frustrating and encouraging. To start with the good, it’s great that this guy gained a new perspective on the difficulties of being a woman online and a better understanding of the demeaning and corrosive effects of objectifying and harassing behaviour.

But the downside is how could this possibly have been a revelation to him? There are sites like The Ladies of OkCupid, which documents the thoroughly unpleasant responses a trio of women receive on their profiles, Caroline Criado-Perez got a torrent of rape threats on Twitter for campaigning to get a female face on English banknotes and freelance writer Amanda Hess very recently wrote an excellent article examining ‘Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet’.

There are myriad discussions happening about what it’s like to be female online, whether it’s for dating, gaming or social networking. So the best way to find out what it’s like to be a woman in these spaces isn’t to pretend to be a female – it’s to listen to women and actually take what they say at face value rather than assuming they are misinterpreting the situation.

It shouldn’t take for a man to try it himself before he finally decides to believe what many women have already said about the difficulties of online dating. Sure, the ladies might get more responses to their profiles, but if the majority of those answers are lazy one-word messages of “Hi! ;)” or quickly degenerate into sexual or abusive content that’s nothing to be jealous of, is it?

This month also saw another online dating experiment – but this time written by a woman. Alli Reed created ‘the worst online dating profile ever’, a vapid, racist, bullying, gold-digging, lying narcissist named aaroncarterfan. Despite these less than stellar qualities, she found that in the objectifying world of OkCupid so long as an attractive profile picture was attached any nasty personality traits were readily overlooked, with 150 messages received in only 24 hours. (The made-up creation was a 25-year-old Aaron Carter fan for goodness sake, what is wrong with people?!)

It’s pretty depressing stuff, as it seems if you are a woman it literally doesn’t matter what you put in your profile because there are some people who just don’t care about what’s inside, what’s on the outside is all that matters. As Reed said when drawing conclusions on her experiment, “I could extrapolate from my data that men have been so deeply socialised to value women solely on their appearance that many of them seem unable to take any other aspect of who she is, such as intelligence or capacity for self-reflection or suffocating douchiness, into account.”


Both the Reddit post and Reed’s article found that women face a tough time looking for love in cyberspace, having to deal with a disheartening onslaught of rude, nasty and inappropriate messages, as well as only being judged on their appearance. Online dating isn’t about to go away any time soon (and most of us have at least one friend who has met a great person online – not everyone is horrible, thank goodness). But it shouldn’t be necessary to wade through a big puddle of muck to find that one shining match.