A Social Experiment On Female Harassment – Seeking Work On Gumtree

A social experiment in female harassment when seeking work on a popular classified ads site

Classified Ads site Gumtree is huge in Australia. It’s ingrained as the go-to site to sell your car, look for accommodation, or find a job – among other things. While I was trawling though the site for accommodation prospects early last year, I noticed a lot of ads from backpackers looking for casual work. They’d mention they were travelling and would give a brief message with their relevant experience and include a photo. I didn’t ever consider seeking work this way, as a friend of mine had told me she had sought work on a classifieds ad site before – only to be bombarded with inappropriate messages and shady job offers from creepy people – mainly men.

As women, putting up with this kind of Everyday Sexism is humiliating and dejecting to deal with. I’m forever stunned at just how archaic some men can be towards their female counterparts, even in today’s modern society.  A year or so later – as I was recounting my friend’s experience – I was curious to know if this kind of harassment towards women seeking employment was still occurring; so I decided to conduct a little social experiment. I placed an ad in the classifieds job section of Gumtree looking for work, stating that I was a hardworking 24 year old Irish female called Alice. I paired this honest sounding description with a really old photo of myself, then told people to email or text me if they deemed me a potential suitable employee – then I waited.

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Within five minutes of the ad going up I had a phone call from a number I didn’t recognise. This freaked me out as I didn’t specify on the ad to call me and the thought of talking to a stranger was daunting. I screened the call.

A little while later I got a text from a different number. It read:

IMG_8127 (2) Hmm, using my number to contact me for the personal purpose of picking me up isn’t appropriate stranger – especially when i’m just looking for work.

Steve and I had planned to go to the cinema that night – so I set my phone to do not disturb while we watched the film. When The Martian finished some 2 hours later I had another missed call, 4 texts, 3 mails on the gumtree site -and worst of all – one WhatsApp message. Although it wasn’t an explicit text, the principal of this stranger looking me up on WhatsApp unnerved me so much. To think this person once again ignored me and contacted me outside a specified means – maybe to try to see another contact photo of me or when I was last active – made me squirm. Not appropriate!

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I quickly blocked his number from contacting me. I was annoyed I hadn’t thought of people potentially looking me up on WhatsApp – but then again also assumed people weren’t as creepy as that. That naivety was an error that seemed to repeat on me as I read the other texts:

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Oh. My. God. LICKED! MASSAGED AND LICKED! You creep. I also highly doubt you are 24 mate, most 24 year old males don’t reply to ads on gumtree asking girls if they can lick and massage their feet for pay. Absolutely gross. The next text was another person using my number to once again comment on my appearance and contact me for the personal purpose of picking me up

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The following two messages after that failed pick-up attempt weren’t as creepy as the ones previous. One didn’t specify what the job entailed and the other one asked me if I had any experience in marketing (when I had already stated I had worked in retail and hospitality only.) I tried to reply to that text and the vague text before it but both recipients couldn’t receive iMessages. I moved on to the mails directly on the Gumtree account. The first one was from someone called Sam who asked me what “industry” I was looking for work in. Although I was so temped to reply with something sarcastic like ‘The hammock industry’ – I just replied telling him I was up for learning new skills and probed the conversation further:

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Apparently Sam had “known people” in cleaning, admin and …..MODELLING! I had no idea there were “known people” in the cleaning industry. Did he mean like Mr. Muscle? Did he personally know Mr. Muscle? Or Barry Scott of Cilit Bang fame? I appreciated him listing two other “industries” before he mentioned modelling to make it seem as normal as possible and not scare me off straight away though – good plan Sam! I replied:

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I told him that modelling wasn’t for me and maybe I could clean. Annoyed that I wasn’t as vapid or easily led as I looked to take the modelling bait straight away, he then reminded me that yeah I COULD clean but modelling pays more money. I acted dumb and asked him if he was in the industry and what kind of modelling it was:

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Oh so I could be earning $35-50 an hour? (€22-€31) And I seeee Sam, you used to do modelling yourself but are usually too busy to now. Yeah… too busy replying to ads posted by young females on gumtree. I decide to probe him some more on what I would have to do and ask if he could get me some work:

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So I need to send you more photos? Hmm… would these be for personal use? Oh no wait, just a picture of my face along with my resume – but why would you need my resume for modelling? Also if it’s just my face, then isn’t the photo I’ve put up with my ad enough? And your “life photos” sometimes involve lingerie? What a SHOCKER!

I act surprised about the lingerie and ask him if he shoots these modelling jobs or not:

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Oh you only shoot them sometimes, you’re usually too busy hiring people for them. Riiight. And then when I tell him I’m not into lingerie shoots he tells me there’s ‘nothing wrong with them’ but that’s my choice. I then don’t reply and he replies again a while later with ‘So are you into cleaning?’
What are you gonna do now, offer me a job cleaning your gaff in lingerie? PISS OFF SAM.

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The other two messages were from another person who suggested I model once again… PFFFFT (probably shot by them, in their house, alone, naked) and someone who goes by the name of ‘Crazy’ offering me $40 to do a experience survey of a beach. This didn’t sound TOO odd until a friend informed me that specific beach was a nudist beach! With that I retired to bed for the night.

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When I woke up the next day (quite late) I had another 3 missed calls and some more texts, all asking me if I was looking for a job and what kind of job. It would surely figure that anyone genuinely offering you a job would text you with the description straight away – not ask you what kind of job you wanted so they could then make one up or something? It seemed like most of these people just wanted an excuse to contact me, which was weird.

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‘Hi Alice are you looking for work?’ Errr yeah that’s why I posted the ad? Again, most of these messages weren’t iMessages so I couldn’t reply to them – but when the person who iMessaged me saying ‘are u still looking for Jobe?‘ followed up that text an hour later with a ‘?’ – I figured the use of ‘Jobe’ sounded too legit to ignore, so I replied to him but he never responded back again. Guess he just couldn’t make up a suitable ‘jobe’ for me.

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Then – surprise surprise – I got another shady ‘modelling’ text:

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I wanted to add a control to this social experiment – so I asked Steve to make an ad identical to mine; that way we could see the attention he would get as a male in comparison. So he made this one:

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Steve got two texts.

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Digging ‘Stumpswholes’ and cleaning an apartment – naked! Oh christ. Although Steve still got one solid creepy text – the difference in attention my ad got compared to his was substantial;

Steve’s Ad
36 visits
2 texts

My Ad
211 visits
1 WhatsApp message – Non specified job offer and also HIGHLY creepy to contact me on.
10 texts – 1 solid creepy one, 1 cleaning job offer, 2 come on’s, 6 non specified job ones, 1 modelling suggestion
7 phonecalls – all screened
8 gumtree messages- 2 suggesting I model for them, 1 offering cleaning, 1 offering an experience survey, 4 non specified job offers.

You couldn’t even use the reasoning that maybe because it was a photo of a girl more people would have clicked on my photo than Steve’s – as the photo doesn’t show up in the feed of ads – just the title. Was a tagline of ‘friendly hardworking Irish 24 year old girl’ more attractive from an employer’s perspective than ‘Hardworking 25 year old English guy?‘ Hardly. My title was just more attractive to the creeps who weren’t looking to employ at all – just exploit naive women with offers of “modelling” or as an excuse to inappropriately contact them. Although I can not know for sure, it is fair to assume these contacts were all from men. I am not rising to that conclusion from an ‘all men are creeps’ point of view – however I just know that women were FAR less likely to use my ad just as an excuse to text or call a girl because I had supplied my number. They would know that wasn’t appropriate; as women understand what it is like to be a woman and have unwanted attention from men. I’m grateful that I wasn’t genuinely looking for work on Gumtree – I would have been sorely disappointed if it was the case.

Why wasn’t I taken seriously? Why did those men deem it acceptable to call me when I said not to? Why did those men deem it acceptable to text me with no job offer but just a comment on my appearance? Why was I offered vague modelling jobs?
Why did they think I would be stupid enough to agree to partake in modelling work from a stranger? Why the hell would I want my feet licked and massaged for pay?!

So many questions but the only answer I am left with is that some men just do not understand boundaries and inequality and sexism among genders is still rife. Did you know 1 in 8 women leave a job because of sexual harassment in the workplace? (Slater & Gordan 2013).
Steve may have got less job offers than I did on the site; but as a man he still statistically earns more than me as a woman. In the finance sector the pay gap even rises to 55%! (Fawcett Society 2013)
Or maybe Steve got less offers than me because people took him more seriously than I? Did they think he was less naive than I was? Did they respect him more? Did they think all I was good for was to stand there and look pretty? It was a simple social experiment but it showed me a lot.

To be honest I’m also a bit offended I didn’t get the offer to dig ‘stumpswholes’ either. Just because I’m a girl it doesn’t mean I can’t dig stumpswholes! Whatever they are.

– Aisling Abbey


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