Monday, September 1, 2014

People, Not Property: Why Clicking That Link Makes You Part of the Problem

Maybe it stems from the mythology of Adam and Eve -- Eve was produced from the rib of Adam, and therefore was an extension of him. Maybe subconsciously men still think women are theirs to create, theirs to control. It wouldn’t surprise me, given this latest scandal.

Since I read the first post about this latest celebrity photo leak, I have felt absolutely sickened. I wasn’t thinking about the men who are trying to profit off the photos, or the many voices that have chimed in across the internet arguing the semantics of what it means to put a woman’s nude photo on a public forum without her consent. I was thinking about the women in question, whether they spent the weekend hiding under the covers, afraid to leave their houses and go out to face the world; or even worse, if they have to go to work today or tomorrow and wonder if their colleagues - people they know and trust - looked at the photos, if they’re thinking about them, if they shared them with other strangers.  The mere thought of that level of humiliation makes me want to curl into the fetal position, so I cannot possibly imagine what they are going through.

Even if you think of yourself as a person who would never end up in this situation (although this belief in itself smacks just a little bit of victim blaming), think for a minute about your own life, your own embarrassing moments, of things out in the world you know could one day come back and haunt you. Think of a photo you took because you wanted to spice things up with your significant other, or even just a photo you took because damn, your ass looked really good that day. Think of the silly text messages you send to your friends which, taken out of context, could easily be misconstrued as something bizarre or even mean.

Because the problem is that yes, these women are in the public eye, but that in no way means they’ve surrendered their right to privacy when it comes to this. The point, and the reason many women across the world are appalled by this leak and the way it’s been handled, is because those photos were never intended for public consumption, much less public judgment. These women were taking photos intended for their partners, or maybe even just for themselves, and to think that you, the anonymous masses of the web, have somehow earned the right to invade that personal, private space, is both delusional and cruel.

The issue in this particular case comes down to body autonomy, something all people are entitled to, but which women in our society are rarely granted in full. Members of the female gender should have just as much freedom as men to make choices about their bodies, whether those choices emerge in the arena of reproductive rights, sexual activity, or merely the ability to choose who does or does not see them naked. Maybe these actresses take pride in the fact that they haven’t done a nude scene in one of their films or tv shows; maybe they just don’t care to become another body for the world to pass judgment on. The point is, it’s their choice, and when people commit acts like this, when other people conspire and spread access to photos like this, they are actively and maliciously taking that choice away. It might be well-disguised by the sleek veil of modern technology, but this photo leak is essentially no different from taking an upskirt photo on public transit, or peeping in someone’s bedroom window in the hopes you’ll get to see them changing clothes. You wouldn’t hesitate to call a person who pursues those sorts of things a creep (or worse), so it begs the question: if you were one of the people who clicked over to look at these celebrity photos, if you were one of the people who used them in some manner for your own enjoyment (or even just to attract traffic on your own media platform), what exactly does that make you?