On Aug. 31, 2014, over 100 nude photos of various celebrities, ranging from Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, model Kate Upton to actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, were leaked on the online forum known as 4chan. This story initially made headlines in the way most news media have covered similar leaks – in a depoliticized albeit sensationalized way that attracts readers and gross sex offenders with their hands halfway down their crotch. However, let’s take a look at two of the major issues that lie at the root of this scandal: the right to privacy and victim-blaming.
Let’s set the record straight: sharing sexual images of a person without their consent is sexual harassment.
We live in a society that demands women to be sexually appealing, insisting our value comes from our desirability and ability to attract partners. Yet when a sexy image of a celebrity surfaces, the Internet is all too happy to degrade women because of private photos that were taken in the privacy of their own homes. Looking through the slew of comments and tweets surrounding the nudes, I was reminded of the phrase, “jerking it with one hand while pointing with the other.” Those shaming celebrities for taking sexy images are all too often the same people sharing them and “enjoying” them. Some of the comments were too offensive and triggering to share, but just think of sexual predators who really, REALLY hate women’s sexual autonomy and you get the idea.
@M_E_Winstead Thats what you get for being stupid
— Barb (@BarbofPA) 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
Let’s set the record straight: sharing sexual images of a person without their consent is sexual harassment. To repeat: sharing sexual images of a person – be they nudes, a sexy selfie, or a photoshopped image of their face onto a naked body – without their consent IS sexual harassment. It’s also an illegal act, a violation of their privacy and an act that turns an already shitty person into a sex offender. What’s more, shaming women for taking said images while also looking and circulating them is misogynistic hypocrisy at its worst.
So why are we harassing the victims instead of naming and shaming the scum-of-the-Earth who felt compelled to hack those photos and post them online? Because of sexist double standards, that’s why.
James Franco posts a nearly-nude selfie on Instagram and no one (aside from a few fangirls and fanboys) bats an eyelash. 5 Seconds of Summer’s Calum Hood Snapchats a fan a video of his penis and, fortunately, isn’t harassed with a barrage of rape threats that decry him as a dirty slut. Former Disney channel star Cole Sprouse’s nudes leaked, yet no one criticized the lack of washboard abs or the girth of his dick. In the world of Web 2.0, a man sharing nudes merits an “LOL BOYS WILL BE BOYS AMIRITE?” attitude but women doing the same have to face a bombardment of sexist comments, misogynist slurs, and rape threats until removing themselves from social media feels like the only safe thing to do.
These women are talented musicians, actors, and artists. They have won Oscars, recorded albums, and starred in blockbuster movies. And they, like every single one of us, are also individuals with intimate private lives that they want to remain just that – private. They already have to live with the paparazzi following their every move. They deal with incessant media scrutiny about every aspect of their intimate lives, their bodies, and their relationships. The least we can afford them is respect and privacy, especially surrounding their sex lives. So respect these talented and intelligent women’s right to privacy and don’t go looking for the photos.
…these things happen to regular women and men all the time with sometimes even more harmful consequences.
Call out friends who are sharing non-consensual sexual images and thereby violating the victim’s privacy. And if you’re a young man or woman reading this and considering sending a nude or a sexy selfie to someone, I implore you not to. It may seem like everyone is doing it, it may seem fun and harmless, and yes, it’s very unlikely that it’ll go as viral as J Law’s nudes did, but these things happen to regular women and men all the time with sometimes even more harmful consequences. Unless you’re with a long-term partner you completely trust, you have LITERALLY nothing to gain from doing so yet so much to lose if the image ends up in the wrong hands.
Don’t blame the victims of sex crimes. Don’t circulate non-consensual nudes of people. Don’t commit theft of personal property. Don’t be complicit in sex crimes. Go forth, and don’t be a shitty person.