A Conversation With the Woman Who Saved More Than 1000 Gross Online Messages
Tuesday 20 Oct 2015 6:09 p.m.
Mia Matsumiya is a talented violinist based in Los Angeles, perhaps most well known for her time with a band called Kayo Dot.
It’s a rather strange group, which makes perfect sense for Mia. She's into some pretty strange stuff. Cryptozoology - the study of “hidden” animals like Bigfoot - is a huge passion. So is adding to her collection of human teeth. Her father is a scientist, and she has inherited his passion for the obscure - specifically transhumanism and nanotechnology. At 4’9”, she also prides herself at squeezing into small spaces. “I can literally fit inside a queen-size pillow case, which is my proudest squishing moment,” she informs me.
Another of her interests has been archiving the hundreds of disgusting messages sent to her by men on the internet over the last decade:
“What will feel if I enter inside you? Are you a virgin?”
“You are so cute and tiny. I just want to shrink you down and keep you in my pocket”.
“I wouldn’t fuck you. I would fuck the shit outcha. Morning, noon and night. Till ya black and blue”.
“I wish you were here. I wish you were mine”.
I was going to make a list of five examples, but four seemed enough. They’ve arrived in a horrid ongoing torrent since 2000, blocking up her MySpace; her Twitter; her Facebook.
Mia screen-grabbed them all, and about a month ago she decided to start posting them on an Instagram account called Perv_magnet. The bio succinctly sums up the project: “4’9” violinist & perv magnet. I’ve archived 1,000+ messages from creeps, weirdos & fetishists over the last 10 years.”
Okay, okay, here’s what we all need: A male writing an article about the systematic online harassment of a female… by lots of males.
But stay with me: Mia Matsumiya is my friend. I met her through my other friend Rae in LA about 8 years ago. I love cryptozoology too, so we bonded over our love of the Mongolian Death Worm. Over the years she’s shown me some of the messages she received, sort of joking about it at the time. I mean, what else could you do, right?
Well, you publish them online. You show the world what’s going on. And people are starting to take notice. Perv_magnet’s already surpassed 10,000 followers, and been written about by the HuffPost, The Daily Mail and as of today, Buzzfeed.
Of course this is the Internet, and so awful often breeds more awful. This is starting to happen with Perv_magnet now. So while most of the feedback is supportive of Mia, there’s a bunch of gross dudes out there still being gross:
Director James Gunn (he made a film called Guardians of the Galaxy) follows the account, and summed up pretty well:
Which is exactly what Mia’s doing:
I thought it would be a pretty interesting time to check in with her to see how it’s all going.
David: You created this Instagram account about a month ago now, and it’s doing great. I’ve seen articles pop up on Huff Post and so on. Why did you want to do this thing in the first place?
Mia: It's awesome that Perv_Magnet has gained so many followers and press already, but all the attention is a bit terrifying too, since it was so unexpected!
Five years ago, I wanted to make a coffee table book out of all these fucked up messages. I thought they were hilarious, anthropologically interesting and would make an entertaining but disturbing read.
I never really had the courage to launch it though, but the messages kept coming and coming and never stopped, especially the abusive ones (It was like a Lars Von Trier Film, haha!)
Individually, I found a lot of the messages darkly funny, minus the death and rape threats, of course, but looking at them collectively, it's pretty upsetting!
I definitely don't deserve to be the recipient of such vitriol, just for posting photos of myself and tweeting and blogging harmless self-expressions. I thought a good place to start actualizing the book would be Instagram. My intention is to bring to light all the horrific things people say to women online when everyone else's heads are turned.
The messages are shocking, to put it bluntly. When did you start getting these messages, and has your reaction to them changed over time?
Right? Some of the messages are so, so terrible! I began getting them in the early 2000s when I started my own website and blog, writing about all my fringe interests and various projects.
The first one I ever saved was from a guy who had a fantasy of being roasted on a spit alive on a deserted island, and then cannibalized, which is the worst idea ever. I saved it because holy shit, I found it so disturbing and strange. Maybe it's a quirk, but I compulsively save everything that affects me so I can study it later.
In 2003, I joined a band called Kayo Dot, and self-promotion was a necessity. It was right around the time Myspace started, and I ended up with 110,000 followers.
The upside was that we gained tons of awesome fans, but the downside was that it attracted a LOT of sexual aggressor weirdos. The Myspace days are definitely where the bulk of the messages come from.
Where are these messages coming from? Most of them are over OkCupid, I think - but that's something we don't really use here in New Zealand.
Most of the messages are actually just from normal, non-dating social networks, like Myspace and Facebook, but there are some from OkCupid too. P.S. - Ew, Okcupid.
Right. I think I forgot how Myspace used to look and assumed it was OkCupid. What social network leads to the most pervs, would you say?
Everywhere, both online and offline, is brimming with perverts, from what I've experienced! It doesn't matter where you are, those weirdos will find you. I've walked down the street fully covered, and looking not unlike a frazzled meth addict, and STILL been a target for unwanted sexual advances.
Pretty much every woman has experienced this phenomenon.
The description on the account is "4'9" violinist & perv magnet". I've noticed some of the comments tie in with your height, and you've mentioned to me in the past that your physicality seems to attract the creeps. Do you still think that, and why?
I still think that, even though the overall blanket reason for why this happens is definitely because I'm a woman. The combination of being 4'9", Asian, and female really seems to attract predatory behavior.
My race attracts fetishists who believe that Asian women are subservient and I have a theory that my size is non-threatening to men who might otherwise be scared to approach normal-sized women - not to mention that it's fetishised.
Throw in the fact that I'm a musical performer and it makes everything ten times worse because of the attention I receive for all of it.
You have over 1000 of these comments - does it change the way you view the human race?
Fuck yes, it does. I'm terrified and suspicious of men! I try to be positive though, despite all the gross, scary encounters and crossed lines.
All the dudes in my life are wonderful people.
Now this isn't just online reactions you get, right? I recall countless examples you've given me in the past of the crazy shit people say to you IN REAL LIFE.
Right. It's kind of awful both online and offline. I guess online harassment just happens with more frequency because harassers can hide behind their keyboards without seeing a reaction from their target.
You mentioned on Facebook that someone suggested you are just trying to show off about all the compliments you get. This seems like another layer of horrible onion you are peeling back. What did you make of that comment?!!
Since starting this account, I've gotten this comment sooooo many times now. I think it's ridiculous to suggest that I'm trying to show off about how many "compliments" I get.
These are NOT compliments. These are degrading and dehumanising messages! I'm sure the people who think these are compliments are the same exact people who are sending the messages.
I'd like the messages themselves to be the focus of attention, not myself. I honestly believe that as a collection, they're really powerful and cause the reader to ask, "Who in the world is sending these messages and why? How can it be fixed?" I don't actually know what the answer to that question is - I have some hints - but I feel like the first step is definitely to shed light on it.
What has the reaction been like in general to the account and your stories?
Thankfully, most people have been wonderfully supportive and sympathetic. Surprisingly so! Women have commiserated, and I'm encouraging them to submit similar messages they've gotten so that I can post them on my account too.
I only represent a tiny slice of what online sexual harassment looks like and I'd love for my account to represent more.
Men have written me, telling me that they had no idea that this sort of thing was going on, and that they're horrified.
Still, some people, mostly men, accuse me of attention-seeking. I'm glad the messages are getting attention though. I strongly feel like this issue needs attention.
One of the most interesting reactions I've gotten are from people who began following my account because they initially think the messages are funny. After a while though, they realize that they're actually dark and disturbing as fuck, and then they unfollow me.
What's the reaction been like from the men involved? Have they reacted, or has it been embarrassed silence?
So far, no one I've posted about has contacted me. I'm receiving messages and apologies from lots of dudes who are terrified that I'm going to post their messages though, haha!
I guess Perv_Magnet has made them at least think about the consequences of sending violating messages, which is good - that means it's working! Interestingly enough, I'm seeing some people who have written me some very creepy messages following me on Perv_Magnet. I have no idea if they're self-aware or not.
Please tell me this is just an LA thing. Please tell me it's just this LA cesspit and not the rest of the world too?!
No, I'm sorry, David. This is universal. These messages have come from all over the world. It's depressing. So, so depressing.
What do you want readers of this interview or viewers of your gram to take away from this? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? I mean - on one level it's hugely entertaining reading these posts, on another it's absolutely awful. I mean if you don't laugh, you cry, right?
Exactly. 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 cannibalise me.
The jokes are definitely a coping tactic. I hope that people start acting civilized and cutting this shit out. Man, that would be nice.
Finally, what do your friends and family think of this stuff? How do they react?
I think my parents would be super worried if they saw the messages I get, so I hope they never see them. My older brother has been very supportive of the book idea.
My partner can barely read the messages. They really upset him on multi-levels.