By Caitlin Abber
If you’ve been on the internet in the past 48 hours, you know that personal and private photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and several other female celebrities were stolen from their phones and shared widely across the internet. You’ve likely seen people tweet their opinions about it, and heard commentators on TV discuss the issue ad nauseam. In solidarity, and also just because women are generally fed up with this crap, many celebs, including Lena Dunham and Emma Watson, have also taken to Twitter to express their disgust.
Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It's not okay.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 1, 2014
Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.
— Emma Watson (@EmWatson) September 1, 2014
But what is interesting isn’t the fact that people are talking about it (people gonna talk!), but what they are saying: The collective response has been rife with anger — and noticeably so.
It now seems that we are talking about the real issues behind the violation itself, and using language that clearly identifies who is in the wrong (the leaker of the photos), and who is not at fault (the women who took the photos of themselves). In the past this hasn’t always been the case, and you can still hear echoes of that when people say things like, “if you didn’t want your photos leaked, you shouldn’t have taken nude photos in the first place.” But that doesn’t seem to be the main message we are hearing.
“I think that the most valuable thing we can do is to reinforce, over and over, that 1) this is a crime, 2) this is a sexual violation, and 3) the only people to blame are the ones who stole and distributed the photos,” says Lindy West, blogger and founder of the website I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault, which is dedicated to providing a platform for young women to tell their personal stories of trauma to the guiding ears of older women, who stand with them in solidarity. “It is absolutely a black-and-white issue. This crime is the fault of the perpetrator, who did it maliciously and on purpose. Being naked is not a crime, being sexual is not a crime, taking nude photos is not a crime. And being a celebrity does not mean signing away your right to privacy.”
While the reality of the internet is that anything you do or say lives on for eternity and can be found by anyone, there is absolutely no unspoken agreement that when you send an email or snap a photo, that piece of content now belongs to everyone. What’s more, it is not the photos that are the problem, but rather how they are used to shame and humiliate the women in them.
“The overriding message (of this sort of crime) is that your body does not belong to you,” says Lindy. “You should live in fear, you should only express yourself in certain ways, and you should spend half of your energy on turning yourself into a commodity (i.e. being as conventionally attractive as possible) and the other half on protecting that commodity. That’s what our society wants women to spend their time on–not math, not science, not business, not art. And if you ‘fail’ you deserve it.”
It might be too soon to applaud the public outcry over the privacy violation experienced by Lawrence and the other women (after all, the photos are still out there, and people are still looking), but it is important to note that we are perhaps beginning to have a conversation about the value of a woman’s privacy, and the crime of stealing and disseminating photos that do not belong to you.
“We see a lot of public condemnation of other privacy violations–the NSA, doxxing trolls, the ‘right’ to anonymous comments,” says Lindy, when asked if she thought there was a real shift in the way we are talking about the right to privacy – specifically when it comes to naked photos.
“When it comes to women’s privacy, women’s naked bodies, a lot of those freedom fighters are nowhere to be found. Homer-backing-into-the-bushes-dot-gif. Or, more commonly, they’re arguing for the other side. We have a ‘right’ to view these photos because women are too stupid to avoid being violated by us. That’s incredibly frustrating. But I also feel encouraged by how loud the conversation has been this time around. It’s not just us feminist killjoys who are unequivocally condemning the theft and release of this batch of photos–it’s a plurality of voices, including the mainstream media.”