Behind the lens of @hotdudesreadinginvictoria, Victoria’s problematic fave

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle
Illustration by Abi Paeth, Graphics Contributor
Illustration by Abi Paeth, Graphics Contributor

Local men may want to rethink reading in public, at the risk of confirming Orwellian suspicions that someone has been watching them. @hotdudesreadinginvictoria (HDRV), an anonymous Instagram account, has taken to snapping candid shots of bookish men in coffee shops and street corners all over the city. The account became active in early January 2016, and currently features nearly 60 non-consensually obtained photographs of men reading around downtown Victoria.

Although it currently has a relatively small following of just under 170 people at the time of writing, HDRV has become a local problematic fave for many Victorians.

“Reading is fundamentally hot,” said the sole facilitator of HDRIV, a self-proclaimed “biblio-fan” who requested to remain anonymous (henceforth referred to as ‘Sally’).

“In an electronic age, it’s kind of fun to see a guy reading a book,” Sally says. “It makes him very attractive, and I’m just having a little fun and being flirtatious.”

The foremost intention behind the account, she explained, was to promote the love of books. “To me, there’s no other experience that can replace reading a book. It’s a very intimate experience. I’m just celebrating other people enjoying that experience in and around Victoria.”

Sally attributes her inspiration to the New York City-based Hot Dudes Reading (HDR), an enterprise of 13 individuals who recently published a book and calendar which Amazon describes as “Humans of New York meets Porn for Women.” Members of HDR told People Magazine that they had gotten “hookups,” as well as commercial gain out of the account.

“I think that’s great, good for them, but I’m kind of leery of the idea that it’s kind of exploitation in a way,” said Sally. “That’s not my intent . . . I don’t wanna make money off of it, [but] it’s kinda fun they’ve taken off with it.” For her, HDRV is foremost a celebration of literature, to which she strives to provide a “local feel.”

Sally has requested to remain anonymous in order to “protect my job and to keep the focus on the content and what the project is, not who I am.” Only one picture on HDRV has been posted with explicit permission of the subject, the man in question being Sally’s brother. Due to the largely non-consensual nature of her account, Sally recognizes that “perhaps” this is a bit contradictory of someone who posts pictures of strangers online, but said, “I hope they see it as a fun, harmless way of promoting literacy.”

One of the men featured on the account, who would prefer to be identified only as Ryan, said to the Martlet, “While I think the intention is positive, the pictures are unsolicited.” He had been waiting for a friend, “not aware in the slightest” that a photograph was being taken of him. “I think that’s where a great deal of my discomfort stems from,” Ryan said.

When initially shown his picture on the page by a friend, Ryan recalled that he “laughed about it,” but “the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt.” Ultimately, he decided not to reach out to HDRV and ask that his picture be removed, due to the further tribulation he felt that would cause him. “I don’t like being put in a place where I have to justify my discomfort, especially to people I don’t know.”

Although the non-consensual nature of the content on the account could raise an issue, the comments on HDRV are largely positive. This could be because people in similar positions to Ryan may not want to dispute with Sally over what he calls the “lack of consent their page is predicated on.”

Similar accounts featuring non-consensual pictures of women, such as the 2011 Facebook group “Women Who Eat On Tubes,” received heavy criticism for being widely perceived as harassment and sexist.

However, Sally believes that “women tend to be more pushed back by it, whereas men may be more flattered.” While she understands how people could see this as a double standard, Sally isn’t opposed to a gender-reversed account. “I think it would be great if a guy tried it out, just to see as a social experiment,” she continued. “If somebody took a photo of me . . . saying I was really cute reading a book, I’d be sort of flattered by it.”

“My intent is to not objectify,” she says. “I’ve thought about stopping, like maybe this is a creepy way of going about celebrating literature and books.” She has considered asking permission, but admitted that so far her own introversion and shyness has held her back.

Another primary source of ethical discourse stems from the content of the captions. Most photos come sporting captions such as “I nearly tripped and spilled my slow brew all over the place spotting this pulchritudinous man with a fine mane!”

While some of the captions comment on the book or location, others feature elaborate fantasization.“I try to be flirtatious, but quite not as lewd as [HDR], and be respectful of the person,” said Sally. “Some of it is a bit ‘locker room’ for sure.”

Ryan claims that had he been consulted, he would not have given permission for Sally to take his picture, especially due to the nature of the captions. “Much like catcalling in that the person doing it might think they have the right intentions . . . ultimately I would have prefered to be left alone.”

At this point, Ryan doesn’t think anything beyond deleting the non-consensually obtained images could right the situation, although he stated that “it would be nice to know that in the future they approach the subject of their pictures and ask for consent before posting them.”

Sally may soon take a leaf out of the UVSS’s book and ‘get consensual,’ as she confessed to the Martlet that the inquiry had “inspired [her] to change it up a little bit.” Since talking with the Martlet, Sally has begun including disclaimers at the bottom of the pictures that state she will happily delete images of “celebrated” individuals who wish for their removal.