A puzzling bit of human psychology

Actress Emma Watson gave a speech on being a feminist and appealed to men to join the HeForShe movement that seeks to create a broad coalition in support of gender equality. It was a good speech, not at all incendiary or even controversial, but as is so often the case these days, all it takes is for a prominent woman to speak out publicly on an issue that advances social justice to result in all kinds of weird people to come out of the woodwork with angry responses and threatening revenge. And the latest vehicle for revenge is to threaten to release nude photographs and they promised to do so with Watson too.

But James Cook says that the threat against Watson turned out to be an elaborate hoax with several layers of deceit. While Watson seems to be safe, such threats are becoming more realistic with the increased ability of hackers to get into the private accounts of people.

What I don’t understand is why people bother to go to the trouble of hacking computers for these photographs, given that they can be charged with serious crimes and face jail time if caught, since if you wanted to see naked women, there are plenty of such photographs on the internet that have been voluntarily provided by them.

The interesting question is one of human psychology. It clearly seems to matter to some people that they are seeing the actual naked body of someone famous instead of the naked body of someone else who may have such a similar body type that they cannot tell the difference. It is not the naked body itself but who it belongs to that seems to matter. I am trying to understand why that is. Is it that people are far more interested in seeing those things that people want to keep hidden rather than those that are freely revealed?

How times have changed. Growing up in a socially conservative pre-internet period in Sri Lanka where images of nudity were not freely available, seeing photographs of bare-breasted women in a few magazines like National Geographic or as part of some artistic photograph exhibition were highly titillating for us schoolboys, even though the women were totally unknown.


  1. Paulo Borges says

    I interpret it in the following way, if one sees these artists as women in places of authority (a place reserved to the exclusively to the mother) we can see how some people might feel threatened by them. The desecration, rendered by the unauthorised exposure of the naked body, breaks the spell, the threat disappears by removing the moral authority. However, the effect is only accomplished in its totality by making the images public. With the public exposure we get the humiliation.
    There are two other related points which to me are much more interesting. First, it’s almost impossible to have the same effect on a man, although the same result can be achieved by using the wife. If any woman independent of social strata can be attacked in this manner, why men appear immune anything so devastating?
    Second, why this only seems to work with unauthorised images. There are countless examples of actresses willingly naked on films, in “gentlemen’s publications” or activism (Femen, PETA), however the mechanisms at play here are different and at times even opposed, it can even empower the woman.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    I’ve never understood the effect that celebrity has on many people. A large number of us seem to have a need for walking icons – people we can focus our love/hate/worship on. Hmm, Beliebers as a model of religion. Maybe there’s a thesis in there. Nah, probably already written.

  3. Who Cares says

    Western society is still almost Victorian in it’s prudishness (especially the US). Being naked in public is still a big taboo. So these people assert power over the woman in question by showing her naked in public. This to their reasoning causes them to put her in the place they think she should be. The place? With the whores and other untrustworthy people.
    This in turn allows them to excuse earlier behavior towards the woman in question and give an excuse for further harassment by saying she isn’t better then the hooker on the street corner.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    It’s an attempt at belittling. A woman who dares to speak out about male privilege (however kindly and mildly) is laying claim to an authority she must be denied. Naked pictures of her change her from a person to a sperm receptacle, and thus her “threats” have been neutralized.

  5. Heidi Nemeth says

    It is about power, as #5 says. Being naked in front of others is something I choose to do or not do. Once I caught a peeping tom looking at me. I couldn’t believe how offended I was, and how much effort I put into denying him the possibility of further views. Like sex, I protect my right to choose who gets it and who doesn’t.

  6. jenny6833a says

    In the case of women, all a nude photo shows that a bikini photo doesn’t is a patch of pubic hair, a couple of areolas, and a couple of at-rest nipples. They all look pretty much the same and aren’t particularly interesting.

    Hacked photos are intended to get the the woman all upset. So, don’t be upset. Or, if you’re the taboo-riddden type, don’t admit to being upset. Shrug, say nothing, and get on with life. Yes, that five percent of the female body is a big-big taboo, especially in the United States. Still, the best way to deal with silly taboos is to ignore them. If women did that, the incentive to publish such stuff would soon disappear.

  7. Jonny Vincent says

    It is about power, as #5 says.

    It’s the violent hijacking of toddlers traumatised for life by women who, once reduced, do not want to play fair and compete against girls for their male slaves.

    Being naked in front of others is something I choose to do or not do.

    To enable your obsession with doing that, you force children and men (who aren’t obsessed) to suffer, just to please you.

    Once I caught a peeping tom looking at me. I couldn’t believe how offended I was…

    You advertise the viewing of your object as an ostensible prize and then you take offence when someone falls for the illusion? You want everyone to be similarly intrigued so you can reward those who please you with…an illusory prize.

    Like sex, I protect my right to choose who gets it and who doesn’t.

    By traumatising children and using violence to force men to give your self-objectification the veneer of “normal”.

    Disparity in Reactions to Male v Female Nude Photo Leaks

  8. jenny6833a says

    I’m blown away by the ludirous significance attributed to the mere sight of ordinary body parts. I’m expecting y’all to next go ape over someone seeing an ear, an elbow, or perhaps a toe. I mean, we’re talking about seeing, — not touching, squeezing, licking, sucking, etc. And in most cases above, we’re not talking about the body part itself, but about electronic representations of unknown accaracy.

    Taboos die when they’re ignored. Kill it!

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