The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing


Roxane Gay at Comment is Free on the misogyny underlying this trick of stealing and publishing photos of women.

What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.

The racy images of these nubile bodies are the biggest story on the internet, and every site that refuses to reprint the images has already left itself absolved while leaving a prurient trail of breadcrumbs. The permanency of such violation is a bitter thing. These leaked images are instantly widely available and they always will be. The images will be downloaded and viewed and shared. These women’s lives and their private choices will be dissected. They are women, so they must be judged.

Revealing nonconsensual nudes of the famous female body is not new. In 1983, Vanessa L Williams was the first black woman crowned as Miss America. She had little time to enjoy her achievement, however, because Penthouse published naked pictures of her, and she was forced to relinquish the crown. Williams has gone on to a successful career in film and television, but her biography will always have this footnote. She will always be reminded of the time someone decided to put her in her place because she had the audacity, as a woman, to rise too far.

Nor is this exploitative exposure of women’s naked bodies an issue that only famous women must deal with. Celebrities are just like us after all. This practice is so pervasive that it even has its own name –revenge porn, nude photos and explicit videos unleashed on the internet, most often by disgruntled ex-lovers. There are websites and online forums dedicated to this pernicious genre. Lives have been, if not ruined, irreparably harmed, because we are a culture that thrives on the hatred of women…

I think a few years ago I might have thought that was overstating it a little. Now? I don’t.

Comments

  1. Dan says

    “because she had the audacity, as a woman, to rise too far.”

    As Miss America? Surely women are expected to be Miss America. As the first black woman she was torn down, maybe, but not as a woman.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Oh please, Dan. Look at how the right wing has attacked President Obama, our first black president, to the point of showing a pair of chimpanzees with a baby, with Obama’s face photoshopped onto the baby. He’s not even allowed to be human.

  3. says

    Yes, most likely as a woman. Miss Americas or Miss Anythings are supposed to live up to impossible ideals. They shall be sexy and attractive, yet not have sex – heaven forbid – or allow themselves to be seen without clothes, much less be photographed without them.

  4. Dan says

    I guess you’re right. The good thing is, she’s probably the most successful former Miss America today.

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    The Vanessa Williams pictures showed her not only naked, but doing lewd things with another naked woman.

    I’d say that you’re right about her success – the only former Miss America pageant-related competitor who attained any notable degree of success in the entertainment industry was Cloris Leachman, who competed in the 1946 Miss America pageant as Miss Chicago, but didn’t win the crown :(

  6. ludicrous says

    “What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.”

    I think it’s important to not conflate intention with effect. The effects, ‘take down women’, may be as she describes but I think the intention is primarily to get clicks, to sell ads, to sell stuff. I think the viewers, mostly simply enjoy viewing naked women without much if any thought of how being used and exposed affects women. (Revenge porn obviously an exception)

  7. says

    @ludicrous

    But the underlying idea is that women’s bodies are there to be commodified for the pleasure and profit of others (and let’s face it, those others are men). Women are for the pleasure and profit of men. Because they are still just women, vulnerable to be exploited. Forever.

  8. Al Dente says

    Blanche Quizno @5

    Bess Myerson was Miss America in 1945. Wikipedia says:

    In 1954, Myerson was a panelist on The Name’s the Same, a television game show. From 1958 through 1967, she was a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Myerson enjoyed a successful television career as a TV personality, actress and commercial pitchwoman for myriad popular products.

  9. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    @ ludicrous

    I think the viewers, mostly simply enjoy viewing naked women without much if any thought of how being used and exposed affects women.

    Because how would anyone find pictures of naked people on the internet if nobody specifically targeted certain women, hacked their iClouds and then sold the images? If it was just a desire to look at nekkid women, there are websites full of women who have consented to have photographs and films of themselves available for public consumption. This has nothing to do with a perfectly natural desire to look at naked women.

  10. ludicrous says

    Seven at 9

    I did not spell it out in my comment but I believe it is clear that I assumed that the posters of the pictures and the viewers of the pictures are two different groups. The sentence of mine that you quoted clearly refers to the viewers. I assume the people who steal and post the pictures are in it for the money and couldn’t care less about anything else. Yes, there may be ambitious misogynists among them who enjoy hurting women but not having any data I assume it’s primarily the money. I don’t think porn became a multibillion dollar industry just because it was fun.

  11. qwints says

    From the legal perspective, it may be worth distinguishing between similar actions. The Vanessa Williams case (and the Marilyn Monroe case for that matter) involved Williams agreeing to pose for the photos in a professional setting, with the dispute being over the agreement she had with the photographer. Revenge porn cases typically involve the harasser legally obtaining the pictures, but distrubuting them without any permission. The hacked celebrity photos are a third situation, involving someone having permission neither to have or publish the photos.

    From the sociological perspective, the threat of objectifying women through such distributions are all pretty similar. The nature of it was summer up by Seth MacFarlane in a nauseating manner a few years ago. “We Saw Your Boobs”

  12. says

    doing lewd things with another naked woman

    Maybe you spent more time searching them up than I did, but – from back in the day – I seem to recall that the most “naughty” picture involved her kissing another girl just below her belly button (by which I am not euphemizing; I mean, literally, just below her belly button. Not 6″ or 8″ below, but about 1″ below) That’s hardly “lewd”

  13. yahweh says

    “But the underlying idea is that women’s bodies are there to be commodified for the pleasure and profit of others …”

    But this can only be done because the customers (we men) like looking at nekkid women. Consideration of women as people is something which boys can learn but lechery comes built in. And seeing women you know of nekkid is particularly interesting, as anyone who’s ever been a (hetero) boy can tell you – if they can find it in themselves to be frank about these things in such a forum.

    I don’t doubt either that it makes women feel that “They are women, so they must be judged” just as I don’t doubt that the media, endlessly bitchy, will judge all of these women ruthlessly, hypocritically and unfairly, but the boys are just whacking off – judging (in this sense) really couldn’t be further from our minds.

    I’m not arguing that this is right and good, and if the perpetrators of this despicable act are caught and punished I will be cheering along with all the rest. It’s just that the role of thoughtless libido as an explanation for what men do is simply not taken as seriously as it should be.

    There is a Robin Williams one-liner going round “God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time.” Recognition makes everyone laugh but everyone wants to believe its only a joke.

  14. John Morales says

    yahweh @15, perhaps so, but you clearly aren’t disputing the claim itself by your particular explanation of it.

    In short, you don’t dispute it, rather you endorse it.

    (Appeal to nature)

  15. ludicrous says

    Happened to run across Ms Gay’s article on Alternet. Normally would not read about celebrities but recognized the connection with this thread. She mentions 8 celebrities none of whom did I recognize or have any idea what they were famous for, presumably actors. I don’t have TV or go to movies or other purely spectator events. Passive experiences no longer interest me since meat life and the net allow me the possibility of interaction with real people however far away. So those celebrities are pictures on a screen, not real to me and I care little about them or their bodies. It’s a mystery to me why many people do.

    Regarding porn, we are unintentionly participating in a great social/sexual experiment. Now that a generation of children will grow up with easy access to pictures of naked people on the net and of their friends selfies on their phones , bodies no longer hidden, will the appeal of porn be different for them?

  16. John Morales says

    ludicrous @17:

    Now that a generation of children will grow up with easy access to pictures of naked people on the net and of their friends selfies on their phones , bodies no longer hidden, will the appeal of porn be different for them?

    What, are you living in 2004?

    (That generation is here now)

  17. John Morales says

    ludicrous, I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to say.

    Let me adumbrate: much the same as yahweh above, you consider mere instinctual prurience to be the driver for this phenomenon (which is boosted by those who are driven by cupidity); but you furthermore suggest that if it’s become(ing) ubiquitous (or, at the very least, something from which one must needs consciously opt out to avoid) then whatever stigma is attached to unwanted publication of nudity might lose its significance and thus ameliorate what you consider to be an incidental effect.

    (Shorter: “O tempora o mores“)

  18. jesse says

    There’s a lot to unpack with revenge porn and this kind of theft of photos. To address a bit of yahweh’s comment, there is a difference in the type of porn-titillation going on, and it isn’t just “nature.”

    First, there’s the regular stuff, where the women presumably consented. For most people that’s OK.

    Then there’s the kind of thing with celebrities who haven’t done a nude scene yet (though that isn’t always the case). The reason that people want to see naked pics of Jessica Alba or Sandra Bullock is precisely that they have never done a nude scene. That’s inherently more interesting and it’s why the guy who stole the photos thought he could make money off it (in this case for Jennifer Lawrence et al). The problem is it violates consent at the very least.

    In the Vanessa Williams case it’s a professional consent (which is a little different). But there was a reason the photos were worth something, especially pre-Internet. Stuff like the Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton tapes doesn’t quite fall under this category because it isn’t clear whether they were leaked “accidentally on purpose.”

    Then there’s the stuff from Girls Gone Wild and the like. Yes, the women there consented (you have to sign a release). Either way, the reason GGW was a thing was the idea that you might see someone you know, or someone like someone you know. In a similar category is the sites that have all the user-submitted stuff that isn’t touted as revenge. The melding of porn and “reality” TV was huge, for both the porn industry and our social lives.

    (Jeff Francis is an awful human being, and he spawned this kind of stuff so I would say that he bears a certain responsibility for the very appearance of revenge porn).

    Which brings us to revenge porn, and it’s terrible because it doesn’t involve consent. In fact it fetishizes non-consent. Even GGW didn’t do that. (Jeff Francis’ personal behavior notwithstanding). In the case of revenge porn you have a situation where the only consent was to have the photos taken. I can’t see from an ethical or legal perspective how you justify publishing them in any format.

    Yeah, hetero teenage boys want to look at nekkid ladies. But there’s a difference in the kind of “rush” they are looking for with the kinds of porn I mentioned above, if a subtle one. Lord knows when I was a teenager if someone had nude pics of any of the girls in my class I would have been interested. Such pictures would have been far more interesting to me than Playboy, because I knew the people in the pictures. And it has nothing to do with the relative availability of nude pictures generally.

    This doesn’t make it right, of course, the point is it isn’t just “nature” that makes this stuff an issue. It’s a whole stack of social norms and a hundred other factors that go into how we see women.

    In fact, I would argue that the very availability of porn — and the mainstreaming of it — has the pernicious effect of warping our ideas of what’s “normal” and expected, and ratcheting up the value of pictures like those of Jennifer Lawrence.

    Whether this hurts someone’s career or not (I don’t think it will, ultimately) is manifestly beside the point, as is whether it’s “natural” for men to want to see naked women. The issue is consent and the lack thereof.

    Anyhow, from a legal perspective the simplest way to deal with something like this is a) via laws against theft and b) copyright/ use of image. The latter isn’t as satisfying maybe, but it sure as shit works because local sites aren’t often willing to tangle with copyright lawyers, at least not those representing famous people. For non-famous people it’s possible to file DMCA complaints an actually get Google search results omitted. It won’t solve things completely but it will keep stuff from being so obvious that it’s the first thing an employer sees, for example.

    Whoever hacked the pictures is looking at a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violation straight up, and the local DAs have the added bonus of being able to choose jurisdictions. California in particular has some rather strict use of image statutes, and it’s a “truth is no defense” state if you wanted to get creative with defamation and slander.

    As they say, they put Capone away for tax evasion.

    Not to say the legal remedies address the misogyny, they don’t. But it is something.

  19. ludicrous says

    John,

    “instinctual prurience”?
    Prurience: Having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters Oxford Dict.

    I think the hidden and forbidden promotes prurience and not the other way around.

    I’m asking that as nudity rapidly becomes more common, will prurience diminish? And thus interest in porno wane.

    As religion goes away will kids growing up without the shame inflicted on them around sex, will interest in porn diminish.

    I’m just saying that as nudity gets more ‘so what’ perhaps porn will wane. In recent years so many formerly shameful things have become ‘so what” that it seems likely that nudity will also.

  20. chrislawson says

    Unfortunately Roxane Gay has munged two different things. Vanessa Williams’ photos were not “nonconsensual nudes.” She posed for the photographs for money, knowing that they would be published in a prominent magazine. That does not change the hypocrisy of a Miss America organisation that poses young women in swimsuits to be judged on their bodies while at the same time placing contractual restrictions on their sexual behaviour (or even just media portrayals of sexual behaviour). As in, it’s apparently OK to ogle young women so long as one pretends they are asexual.

    The non-consensuality of hacking these photos, though, is the big story. I bet that most of the women whose accounts were hacked have done nude scenes/topless scenes/flimsily dressed scenes that they agreed to do. People who download these photos are almost certainly getting a kick out of the lack of consent/invasion of privacy because if all they wanted was to see the breasts of a movie star, there is no end of freely available material out there made by willing actors. And if there are no nude scenes with Jennifer Lawrence, who has been a major name now for several years and no doubt has been offered numerous opportunities, I would imagine that’s because she is not comfortable doing nude scenes.

    I also wonder if this is going to lead to a business boom for more security-oriented cloud services like Spideroak.

  21. says

    It’s just that the role of thoughtless libido as an explanation for what men do is simply not taken as seriously as it should be.

    How fucking seriously should we take it, then? Seems like “thoughtless libido”, with the usually unspoken corollary of “nothing you can do about it” is the dominant mode of discourse on this subject. Because men’s libidos are treated as eternally unchanging, immutable objects of great power, nearly sanctified, the way people dodge away from critiquing the expression of male hetero sexuality in this culture.

    What exactly does this explanation offer in terms of explanation or possible solutions to the problem? Go ahead, we’ll wait.

  22. says

    I’m asking that as nudity rapidly becomes more common, will prurience diminish? And thus interest in porno wane.
    As religion goes away will kids growing up without the shame inflicted on them around sex, will interest in porn diminish.
    I’m just saying that as nudity gets more ‘so what’ perhaps porn will wane

    This is entirely irrelevant to the subject at hand. Even if porn and nude photos become boringly blasé, there will still be people who don’t want their nude photos to be public, and if there is no change in attitudes towards women and women’s bodies, there will be people who deliberately seek out nude photos, not because NAKED but because VIOLATION OF CONSENT.

  23. smhll says

    Yes, most likely as a woman. Miss Americas or Miss Anythings are supposed to live up to impossible ideals. They shall be sexy and attractive, yet not have sex – heaven forbid – or allow themselves to be seen without clothes, much less be photographed without them.

    I think I remember a list of published behavior rules for the current Miss America (when in public) that even included not saying “no”. One was apparently supposed to white lie it with comments like “Gee, I wish I could.”

    (I haven’t come up with a search phrase that lets me dig this up, yet.)

  24. ludicrous says

    SS @ 25.

    Yes, I see my comments were irrelevant to the issue at hand. I apologize for the distraction.

  25. md says

    I think its wrong and criminal these women’s photos were stolen but I wonder if the same folks pissed about this were also up in arms over Donald Sterling’s violated privacy.

  26. yahweh says

    @24 Sally Strange,

    There is a terrific amount of fruitless argument in atheist/feminist blogs (unless disagreement per se is the fruit) and I don’t have any interest in engaging in it, so I am content to let the bulk of your response stand, as ever.

    However, I think there is a strong tendency worth mentioning, examplified by this bit: “Because men’s libidos are treated as eternally unchanging, immutable objects of great power, nearly sanctified ” which is worth mentioning. It’s like a sort of Post Straw Man (or Post Canard) Stress Disorder which activates whenever the topic gets close to old lies.

    To (sort of) answer your final question, thoughtlessness as a factor in men’s involvement in this (as end users, for want of a better phrase) offers promise because it is so easily countered. The offence is readily understood once explained and, because legislators are mostly men, this is quite useful.

    My two penneth is that the time is ripe for the type of invasion of privacy perpetrated by the hacker and by websites which hosted the pictures to be criminalised and I think that, although such legislation would be difficult to frame, it would be a very fruitful discussion to have here. Criminalisation is appropriate here, IMO, because society has an interest in the preservation of decency in addition to the personal interests of victims.

    If you are interested, Helen Nissenbaum has written about a conceptual framework for privacy which she calls <a href="“>contextual integrity which I think is an excellent analysis of the problems brought by technology and how we might nowadays frame reasonable expectations of privacy.

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