Sharing photos of our creations on our blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts is almost second nature to most of us now.
From outfit posts to in-progress shots, our photographs add to the conversation and create inspiration for other members in the community. But the Internet’s not so clear-cut and, well, nice as that. Take the Reddit storm which erupted recently, regarding the unmasking of a user who championed the “creepshot” – posting compromising pictures of women taken unawares.
Obviously in our little community it’s a completely different kettle of fish. We willingly share images of ourselves and our projects. There’s nothing sexual about what we do, right? Well, as some of us taking part in Me Made May ’12 found, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
A couple of months ago, I logged onto my Flickr to find someone had added quite a few of my photographs to their favourites. For those not on Flickr, you’re able to add pics to your favourites or cultivate your own galleries dedicated to certain themes. In this case, my pictures showed up in a gallery cultivated by someone with a clear fetish for scarves.
Clicking through to their profile, I saw they had added any and all photos of me wearing a scarf to a favourites filled with clothed and half-naked women draped in the seemingly innocuous accessory.
I didn’t really know what to make of it. A huge part of me obviously felt creeped out. These pictures weren’t taken for that purpose, after all. Another part of me felt like I shouldn’t be judging someone else for whatever rocked their boat – but then, I didn’t particularly want to be involved in it. So, I blocked the user, which prevents my pictures from appearing in their feed.
Feeling “creeped out”
I’m not the only whose photos have ended up in unexpected Flickr galleries. Roisin of Dolly Clackett noticed it when she started submitting photos to the Wardrobe Remix Flickr pool.
She said: “I think the worst one was someone called TIGHTSFACE, whose profile had lots of photos of naked men with tights on their heads. None of the comments have been aggressive or anything but it does creep me out when someone comments to say ‘I’d like to smell your feet’!”
Then there were the knitwear fans. ”I did get a number of knitwear fetishists favouriting my photos and adding me to their galleries – the strangest one being someone who favourited a load of totally innocent photos of me wearing cardigans and added them to a gallery that included drawings and photos of naked girls wearing cardigans, and people having sex in knitted gimp suits,” she said.
There’s a whole thread on the Me Made May ’12 group on this subject, started by Gillian, who wanted to know if this sort of thing was happening to other people too. As a teacher, Gillian is at pains not to post anything she wouldn’t be comfortable with her students seeing.
I contacted her for more information, specifically, how did these “off” comments make her feel? ”It’s very insulting, demeaning, and hurtful,” she said.
“The sewing community is generally so kind and positive that it’s a real shock to realise that lurkers and creeps are out there! Luckily, I feel relatively in control with Flickr - It’s easy to block someone, and I can delete comments as well.
“Once it’s dealt with, I forget all about it. It doesn’t affect what pictures I post.”
It seems almost harmless, really. Especially when you think that some people are posting demeaning upskirt pictures of women taken when they weren’t looking or wishing death on each other via anonymous comments. Except I can’t help but think sexual comments and Internet catcalling is the next step – in fact, I’ve seen a comment here and there which definitely weren’t about how well the drape of the fabric works.
I think there’s a mentality on the Internet that if you post pictures of yourself dressed to the nines and in some nice make up, as many of us did during any of the numerous sewing challenges, then you “deserve” this kind of unwanted attention. But people say the same thing when I dress up in real life and get catcalls and unwanted comments. Not to mention, the reality is, the most successful blogs have this personable element to them which is difficult to achieve if you’re hiding behind your mannequin.
Gillian agrees with on this one. She said: “Sure, I could make all of my pictures “private”, but that defeats the point of social blogging. I could change what pictures I put up (no head, for example, or low res crappy pics), but again, why should I have to?
“Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to harassment and sexism in either the real world or the blogosphere… so until then, I appreciate the support and commiseration of the sewing community!”
I expect to be able to walk down the street in garments I’ve made without being called sugartits – so why is the Internet any different? It all comes back to this notion of the online world being beyond any sort of social conventions we expect in day-to-day life.
Also, as Roisin points out, there is a worry that by taking offence to our pictures being added to fetish-themed gallery, we’re being judgemental of someone else’s sexual preferences. She said: “I’m trying not to be too judgemental about the creepy things people comment about. I choose to share the photos in a public space and I don’t want to be judgy about people’s sexual practices, but it definitely does make me feel uncomfortable to know that there are people out there getting kicks out of a picture of me in a cardigan.”
I’m sure there are a few people out there who sew and maybe even read some of our blogs on a regular basis but don’t want to put themselves out there for fear of this kind of reaction. As much as I love the diversity of Flickr’s community, this mixture of the innocent and the more suggestive can be hard to deal with when the two collide.
One of my Cardiff Twitter contacts Martyn Kelly, who’d also experienced some of this on his own Flickr page, probably put it best. He said: “Flickr is one of the few communities where it embraces the dualist nature of the web in terms of filth/underbelly and friendly/safe/social, and does so with grading/rating photo streams, mature audience flags, logged in only content, etc. and advice on how to manage that.
“But things break when: 1) Someone comments something a bit creepy… or 2) The Flickr-specific problem – if a creeper favourites a photo. Because a user’s favourites are public, you find your image has been curated by a man in a mac, erection wavering outside your digital window. It all gets a bit weird.”
I emailed Flickr months ago to ask what they’d advise users do if they’re uncomfortable with a comment, but they haven’t answered. But here’s what it says in their community guidelines:
Don’t be creepy.
You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.
Your thoughts, as always, are much appreciated.