Paige Woolen is changing the internet one dude at a time

"I thought that maybe if I shared some of these conversations publicly, I could show some of these people how silly it looks to talk to someone the way they do."

Image: @paigewoolen

Many people believe their social skills have atrophied thanks to the lockdowns of 2020 – and now 2021. But you could be forgiven for hoping our social media skills would have improved during this time. Au contraire.

Paige Woolen’s ‘Dudes in the DM’ Instagram account suggests – when it comes to DM sliding– many people have only got worse. Woolen started ‘Dudes in the DM’ at the beginning of quarantine, “when I was reflecting on my social media presence,” she told DMARGE.

“I was looking at my [personal] account and I thought ‘what am I really offering here?’ I was looking through my DMs and I was laughing at the exchanges I had between me and these strangers. I always found peace in responding to bullies or harassment with humor.”

“I thought that maybe if I shared some of these conversations publicly, I could show some of these people how silly it looks to talk to someone the way they do. I also thought that maybe I could build a community of people to support and talk about the kinds of things that are being said online.”

Woolen added that, with regards to men’s DM sliding skills, although on the whole she still gets inundated with wack comments each week, some individuals have improved as a consequence of being shamed.

“I’ve had all kinds of interesting responses since starting the account. I recently did a podcast where I shared ‘dos and dont’s’ of DM sliding. Many people (mostly men) found this helpful.”

Woolen also sympathised with the task: “I think it’s hard to strike up a conversation out of nowhere with a stranger online and NOT seem creepy. Making small adjustments to how to approach someone online can really go a long way. I’ve also had many responses from people that they didn’t realize how creepy they sounded UNTIL they read their message on Dudes in the DM and saw the comments.”

“I think there are some people that now want to get posted on the account so they’ll say something absolutely insane but I can usually tell right away.”

“Honestly, the best ones are the ones that are ‘normal’ or make me laugh. Recently a guy sent me a joke that read: What do you call blueberries that play the guitar? The answer was: a JAM session. I giggled and responded. I also like when someone says something normal like, ‘hello I’m xx. Love your account! Keep up the good work. Cute dog, too.’ Normalcy goes a long way.”

Woolen also shared some of the worst DM slides she has ever seen.

“The worst ones are the extremely sexually explicit ones. Someone wanted to put a wine bottle up my butt and that hurt to read.”

“I think about this a lot actually… You can say whatever you want and you have the emotional and physical security of hiding behind a keyboard,” Woolen told DMARGE, when asked why she thought random strangers were emboldened enough to say horrific shit.

Katie Wilson, Director of Communications at HUD, a “sex positive app,” told DMARGE, “When we see someone online – whether it’s a tennis professional [like Eugenie Bouchard] or a Kardashian – we don’t think of them as being real people, with real lives and feelings and emotions beyond what’s projected on social media.”

“Combine that with the ‘anonymous factor’ of being physically far removed from them, behind a screen and keyboard, and convinced that you’re in the Wild West of the internet where there are few rules and minimal risk of getting caught for being a creep – well, this does open up the opportunity for anyone to say anything, particularly things they would never say in person.”

“People feel more comfortable to speak up when the consequences are either minimal or so far removed as to feel nonexistent. This is a double-edged sword – on one hand, feeling safe can encourage people to speak up against injustice and stand up to bad behaviour, but on the other hand, it can also encourage inappropriateness.”

On how to approach someone on Instagram in a positive manner, Wilson told DMARGE, “You know, we women don’t have a handbook on how to approach men without making them feel harassed or sexualized, so it’s an infuriating double standard that women – who by and large face the biggest proportion of sexual harassment and violence – are being expected to do the work to educate men on how to approach them without coming across as a creep.”

“Men need to do the work to figure this stuff out, and listen to women instead of expecting to be coddled through the process of learning how to act authentic and genuine. Just use your common sense, don’t be pushy, don’t harass her, and accept no without being a jerk about it.”

“Men who approach women thinking they’re owed attention, a date, or sex, or that women wouldn’t post pictures of themselves in bikinis unless they were ‘asking for it’ do need to learn real human interaction skills, but it’s not women’s jobs to teach them. Men caused this problem, and men need to recognise this about themselves, unpack this, and rehabilitate their own behavior.”

“I think guys hold back on approaching women [in real life] because they are uncomfortable about being themselves, and they feel like they need to put on a show or act impressive in order to get a woman’s attention. But I think women are more impressed by authenticity and kindness and openness.”

“The guys who treat picking up women like a game are going to get caught out pretty quickly, because women are smart, and we warn each other about who’s a player to avoid! I do think the stigma of being thought of as a pick-up artist has filtered out the self-aware ‘good guys’ who do hold back on approaching women, but what I think is a bigger problem is men’s inability to hear ‘no’ without looking at it as a challenge.”

“When you’ve been told for your whole life that you can do and have anything you want, and when your male role models are males in positions of power who say things like ‘Grab ’em by the pussy’, it doesn’t exactly incite confidence in women or encourage men to believe that no means no.”

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