My mother always told me to moisturise, and I never listened. Of course, this came back to bite me in the ass pretty recently, when I was caught with my pants down (skirt up?) when I got turned away from a federal building because my stylish yet affordable skirt was, apparently, too short.
To be honest, I suspect it was because my legs looked dry and icky.
I reside in a relatively conservative Muslim country -- most of the time I don't have any problems but this time around it just wasn't my lucky day. I was finally admitted entry when I put on a longer skirt over my outfit and the rest of the day passed without incident -- until the story made the news.
There'd been a rash of similar cases around the country -- a woman was denied entry into a government department for wearing a sleeveless top, a writer for wearing a “too-short” dress to an official function. A female lawyer wasn’t allowed into court. Someone else wasn't allowed to visit her sick friend at a hospital because she was wearing cargo shorts.
At the time I didn't think my inclusion into this little club was all that big a deal. Sexist, sure, but I figured it was a news item that most would overlook.
Boy, was I wrong.
The day the news came out, I was blissfully unaware of what was in store for me. I logged onto Facebook, as you do — only to see tens of friend requests from total strangers. And they kept coming — every few minutes I'd get another notification, and another.
OK, I thought, this isn't a big deal.
Then I realised the article about me was being furiously shared and commented upon. And Christ, were some of the comments nasty.
Random people, some of whom I had a bunch of mutual friends in common with, were taking apart my appearance, theorising about my conduct, even suggesting I'd staged the whole thing to "get famous."
"Her face looks so bitchy," one read, while another man suggested that I needed to be "put in my place" by a man for putting the authorities in a bad light.
I was flooded with Facebook messages, the bulk of which mercifully went into my "Others" inbox. One said I should die for not respecting the customs and rules of the country. Another said I was an "attention-seeking whore" because the story came out in the press.
It didn't help that some of my friends, trying to get me to laugh off the situation, sent me screenshots of particularly choice comments and tweets. Of course, finding out some of these sanctimonious jerks were people I'd worked with or alongside in the past helped — there's nothing like a quick unfriend to bolster your mood.
An hour later, the shares and RTs and unsolicited messages had not let up. I'd approved some of the friend requests out of sheer dumb curiosity and, surprise surprise, the next thing I know I’m getting weird monobrow dudes hitting on me because my bare calves were just that titillating.
One guy tracked down my work email and started sending seemingly innocuous emails — the first was a note of support, but when I replied with a polite but brief thank you he started sending more emails: asking me if I was at my office, whether I was free to meet, why wasn’t I replying?!
The rest of the day saw several men — all claiming to be retired civil servants — posting threatening messages because I’d put them in a bad light. One said I needed to be slapped, another using a Facebook account with no photo said if he saw me on the street he’d hit me with his car. A third suggested that I was looking to “find a husband” which is why I’d dressed “inappropriately.”
Despite trying my best not to read the comments, I just couldn’t stop. It was like the proverbial car crash and I was every cliché in the book. One of my closest friends is not on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media platforms because he doesn’t want to open himself up to the trolls, so I texted him for hoping for some consolation.
“I am trying not to read these awful Facebook comments but I can’t stop.”
“All things must pass. Even asshole cowards.”
And while he wasn’t wrong, it sure took a long time. What was even more depressing than the creepy, ominous messages from men — it was the scornful remarks that came from women. Women who genuinely believed it was OK for people to police their knees and shoulders. Women who thought that it was easier to just abide by sexist dress codes.
“You know they can be strict,” posted one, “so why try to challenge it? Just do what they tell you and it’s easier to get what you want.”
I did foolishly try to engage some of these people, especially those with whom I had many mutual friends, but at the end of the day it was just far too exhausting to entertain all the comments and posts and messages and general nastiness.
It wasn't all bad though — some really lovely people who I barely knew sent me sweet notes and texts of solidarity. My very first boss, who I haven't seen since I was 14, emailed me all the way from New Jersey saying he was proud. A woman I'd met only once during a conference dropped me a line describing my responses as "empowering."
I’d like to say I learned a valuable lesson, but I am afraid I didn’t. I’d like to say that the flurry of attention surround stupid, archaic dress codes enacted positive change. But that didn’t happen either. What I did learn is that people on the Internet? They’re fricking bloodthirsty. And the adage holds true: Don’t read the bloody comments.