Public Property, Part Two: Cautionary Tale
October 7th, 2014
It’s that shoddy candy wrapper analogy (no one wants to eat used candy) imparted in Celibacy Ed class in states that should secede from the Union. Since sexual modesty is a woman’s virtue, once her delicate skin is exposed to the harsh air of social scrutiny she is devalued. Failing to attend properly to her god-given role as a gatekeeper, we set her back in her rightful place, keep her in line. For her own good. To make an example of her. As we knock her off her marble pedestal, reversing her good fortune, we kvell in schadenfreude and gloat in our presumed superiority.
[I]f she shared nude images consensually, then people wouldn’t get to revel in her humiliation. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? To take a female celebrity down a notch?… [T]here is an obsessive tendency in American culture with elevating women—young, beautiful women, especially—to celebrity status just to bask in their eventual fall.
—Jessica Valenti, What’s Wrong With Checking Out Stolen Nude Photos of Celebrities
Valenti is right: it is precisely the humiliation that captivates us; we delight in knowing that someone who appears to be superhuman, to have it all, can be taken advantage of—is just a naked body underneath her clothes. If we wanted nudity, there are thousands upon thousands of naked people on the internet who encourage us to view to their bodies for fame, fortune, or exhibitionistic fortitude. Women are routinely penalized and pathologized for daring to be beautiful and confident, for claiming their bodies as sites of pleasure and adoration—on their own terms.
Part of our satisfaction in sneaking a peak, in intuiting that celebrities with vaginas are vulnerable humans just like the rest of us, is borne out of our tacit acceptance that nudity is something of which to be ashamed. We have internalized the notion that bodies, especially female ones, are base instead of bare. Otherwise the risk of having our bodies put on display wouldn’t hold such an air of gravitas—it would be more of a shrug than a snarl. There is something so barbaric about it all: I’m picturing nakeds and crazies on display in a Town Square, with clumsy court jesters and a clamorous procession along Main Street. Heralding the discovery that a powerful female has flesh covering her bones and lady bits with ostensibly indecorous needs. There is almost a mortality threat undertone to the public ostracism and adversarial outcry. As if nudity is humiliating for even the extra attractive because it reminds us that we are all animals—with bodies bold enough to outsmart our supposedly superior brains, bodies that will sooner or later betray us entirely.
When we take advantage of a woman who is young, attractive, and enjoys her vitality, she should have known better. She was foolish to think she could have gotten away with revealing her skin to only a select audience. A loose woman becomes public property—careless with herself, we are given the green light to handle her with rough paws. This classic victim-blaming paradigm is not an exaggeration. People really believe that women are responsible for how men behave towards them, that they could control men by exercising more self-control. When women are harassed on the street, they shouldn’t have worn short skirts or dared to be out at a late hour in a certain neighborhood, when women are raped and have been drinking they shouldn’t have let their guard down, when girls wear leggings to junior high and high school they prevent men from being able to think straight and impose their intellectual authority. Women must be put in their place, taught a lesson: regardless of the thoughts that run through their minds and the words that fall out of their flapping lips, they are at fault for being tricky tricky temptresses, for bewitching men—their bodies so bodacious and men’s brains so pea-sized. Men suffer from constitutional weakness to an extent that women are puppeteers of their behavior. Unwitting ones. When a man invades a fortress of pheromones, well, what did you think was going to happen? You left your door unguarded.
Every woman knows you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you dress frumpy or turn down sexual advances, you are a prude bitch or a pretty, pretty princess. If you are proud to express yourself sexually, you are ripe you be violated. I bet these men on the internets who blame the photo “leak” on the women who allowed men to snap pictures of them (or who GASP asked to be photographed—for posterity or provocation), would tell their own girlfriends that they were frigid bitches for refusing to pose.
LEAN TOWARD LENIENCY
We’re supposed to guard our bodies like a secret. We’re supposed to be on such high alert for sexual assault that we test every stupid drink that passes our lips. We’re never, ever supposed to relax. When something as comfortingly frivolous as painting our nails becomes a reminder that we’re all just one unlucky Tinder right-swipe away from the emergency room, what psychic space do we even have left for fun?
I almost feel like this idea that we are expected to be on high alert all the time encourages women to be lackadaisical. Not out of rebellion but because it’s like, oh well, if we are fucked either way we might as well have fun going down!!! Fatigue leans toward leniency.
She should have known better? Well, what if we preempt their predictable judgment by outing ourselves. If we all got naked on the internet—which I think is sorta the direction things are going in these days anyway, with our lives transformed into marketing tools and our innards mined for data—there would be no more scandal in nudity. Bodies would be seen for what they are: something that all of us have, whether we like it or not. And the real failure would be in our bodies failing to function. Diverging from an algorithm. As mine has. Gradually then suddenly.
I’ve always thought that the clothing we choose to wear reveals far more about us than the physical attributes we dress. Bodies are merely the hangers on which our identities are hinged. The canvases on which our stories are inscribed. I’m not purporting that our constituent parts don’t matter. I’m fully aware that the reason I’m able to get away with talking about literal shit on first dates and still get fucked is that I’m a conventionally attractive 30-year-old woman (tiny girl with huge tits!) who has the outward appearance of a 20-year-old despite the physical (dis)abilities of a 65-year-old. Often I think about how hilarious it would be if someone stole nude pictures of me, distributed them without my consent. First, they would be assaulted with medical porn, pictures of my shitting out of my ajar abdomen. You can’t ruin me: my immune system already has!
Years ago my ex boyfriend’s best friend explained to me how he keeps all his porn centralized in a conspicuously labeled folder on his desktop, so when people poke around on his computer they don’t snoop. Seriously, there are things on my computer wayyy more personal than nudie pics. There are all sorts of emails and essays in which I’m laid bare—emotionally and intellectually. That I consider far bigger threats to my current, past, and future reputation and identity. Given all the prospectively incriminating digital material out there, it seems silly that we demand a higher level of security for women’s bodies. That we expect women to keep their bodies on lockdown. Which, in theory, should be averse to men, too—men who like women’s bodies and want to view and touch them. But it’s all about controlling access, retaining power. As long as we can strip women of their dignity by exhibiting their naked bodies and mocking their sexual exploits, as long as their exposure can have actual consequences for gaining or maintaining employment, men will have a leg up. Me, I prefer for women to have a leg up—on the sofa.
HEED THIS WARNING
Here is a facebook conversation demonstrating the double standard, the higher standard to which misogynists hold women. Victim-blaming in action. A digital foot-in-mouth print that can’t be erased:
SHARI: “I’ve never heard anyone respond to financial hacking by saying, Just don’t use online banking. That’s what you get for using credit cards.”
[quotation by Farhad Manjoo]
JUSTIN: I’m assuming your referring to the pic leaks. The difference being. Credit card fraud happens thousands of times a day. Usually you call, cancel the card, verify charges and get a new card. Minor inconvenience. Morally yes, stealing from someone’s computer or phone sensitive information like photos is wrong. But it won’t stop.
SHARI: I think you are missing the meaning behind this quote… this is referring to the countless people “Slut-shaming” the women. Saying that it is their fault in the first place because they took the photos. What they do in their personal life with their partners is not wrong. It is not their fault, it’s the assholes who committed a sex crime. The countless comments I’ve read from (usually misogynistic) men that the women are to blame and shouldn’t do it in the first place is incredible.
JUSTIN: I agree it’s their business, and no doubt they are victims of a crime. I think this should be viewed as a cautionary tale. How many photo leaks need to happen before people realize that it’s a bad idea. You are one lost phone, angry ex, hacker, away from the public. Simply put, don’t do it.
SHARI: When you are on set for months on end, halfway across the country or world from your loved one…. then I can totally understand wanting to still keep that part of your relationship “fresh” and utilize the technology that exists today. Why should they not work on the sexual part of their relationship because asshole hackers exist? That’s like saying I shouldnt online shop because financial hackers exist (yes I did just requote the quote. ha) Also, these photos were not on a phone, they were on the cloud, many of the victims stated that they deleted the pictures years ago from their mobile devices.
JUSTIN: I’m not talking about just movie stars. Anyone should be aware of the risk. And that’s what it comes down to, risk. Comparing it to online shopping is apples and oranges. For me the risk of online shopping does not outweigh the rewards. As for the cloud. Quick tech lesson. When you digitize something it can and in many cases will exist forever somewhere. When you “delete” something it doesn’t disappear, instead the computer just marks that area of the memory as available for writing. Cell phone interceptors exist all over the us. Many law enforcement have them as well as hackers, spys, whatever. Do not send anything sensitive over cell networks. Photos, banking, etc. Wait until you are on private WiFi and using a secure server. Online banking should always start with “https://” the “s” stands for secure. Encrypt everything, your phone, computer, tablet. It’s the first thing I do with any new device. Now if you want to securely send some sensitive file to a friend use an end to end encryption service. Also you should trust this person if the relationship goes south. For the victims I truly do feel for them and the lack of justice. Hopefully in the future though people will heed this warning. Ignorance to tech security does not make it go away.
Operative word: cautionary tale. Women are respectable only as words of warning and paragons of contrition. I love that he mansplains how computers work, when she has moral objections about the allocation of blame; not confusion about technology and how deleted images can magically reappear years later. He assumes “ignorance.” It shouldn’t go without saying: Shari is an exceptionally pretty girl, a successful model. Incidental to her prettiness and demonstrated in this exchange, she’s no dummy (in fact, she’s quite attuned to social injustices). But I’m sure she gets treated as such because of her looks. Not that all women aren’t the recipients of condescension on some account.
Our lives could get infinitely small if we ceased doing anything with prospective risks. And living in the constant vigilance that Justin’s attitude engenders is not a psychic space I wish to inhabit. I’d far prefer to be considered unrespectable by people whom I don’t respect.
We, women, pay for men’s blatant abuses. And that’s the epitome of misogyny. What if it isn’t an issue of our being ignorant to the way the internet works, to the possibility of resentment and revenge rearing their ugly, inflamed heads. What if it is an issue of their being indignant and refusing to cede to abuse. What if we aren’t dumb sluts. What if we make conscious, active and informed decisions. That don’t jibe with your propriety.
What if we, collectively, don’t negotiate with terrorists.
Americans are obsessed with ruining lives, especially of the successful, fortunate, or famous, who should have known better. Who have too much to lose. (I mean the poors—excuse my French, the proletariat—they have so little value anyway, who cares about their presentation?) The farther one has to fall, the more hardcore the tragedy porn.
Which brings us to my career: How do we wrap our heads around it when someone sabotages herself on purpose? When she is perfectly aware of the risks but goes ahead and takes liberties anyway. When she broadcasts her transgressions proudly. In an attempt to shift the status quo. To win over hearts and minds. Okay, so that last one was an exaggeration.
The whole humiliation angle is one I can’t relate to, because I like my body. I want it to be seen. Sort of like how someone with a nice voice (not I!) might want to sing aloud. Bring joy to others with her physical gifts! Which isn’t to say that I don’t know my audience. I wouldn’t, for example, send my family a Hannukah card with me spread eagle. But to imply that a woman should be humiliated by her body being out there, that the exposure of her flesh is the principal threat to her social status (likely to precipitate her downfall), is to imply that there is something distasteful and embarrassing about lady parts. And it’s just weird and inane to think that something roughly fifty-percent of the population have can be cause for shock and shunning. Like, we live in a society inundated by sex, but within such limited contexts and with such a deliberate spin on it, that we haven’t become habituated to most of the permutations. We are shocked that women can be smart and hot, that women with less-than-desirable bodies still get laid, that confidence is actually attractive and something to be lauded. We look at a dumpy naked woman and say she is brave; at an attractive naked woman and say she is foolish or vain. If of a certain education level or socioeconomic class, we assume both are trying to make some point. Their nudity is political, deliberately situated. We miss the most obvious explanation: that some people like to be naked and don’t buy into the myth that bodies are something about which to be ashamed, something that only certain types are allowed to enjoy guilt-free.
…I would not be surprised in the days ahead to see arguments as to why this is somehow the fault of the celebrities whose phones were hacked—that these women took the pictures, that they were posing, that generating publicity is part of their job… The underlying premise is that these women have consented to being there for public entertainment…
—Jessica Valenti, What’s Wrong With Checking Out Stolen Nude
So, no, it is not an actor’s job to be public about her private life, to exist for male consumption. But as a future gynecologist I do believe that it is part of my job to teach women that they shouldn’t be embarrassed by their bodies—shouldn’t conceal tampons as they walk to the bathroom, shouldn’t run water while they poop, shouldn’t wear clothes that hide their figures, shouldn’t wax and clean their vaginas so they look and smell like dolls instead of adult humans. As a doctor who will primarily treat women, I am a model for women. Reducing sexual stigma necessarily starts with me. If someone who examines hundreds of vaginas per year has to hide her own, if someone who interacts intimately with hundreds of women and other vagina-havers per year has to hide her humanity, follies and all, then that’s a sad world for vaginas and human connection.
I refuse to accept my inevitable fate as a cautionary tale, to be made into an example. I want to set an example.
Look, guys: I’m no role model. I’m fucking miserable. But I’m doing the best that I can. I really am. And part of that is living life according to desire, not fear. Ignoring fear to pursue my desires. Triumphing over bullies with two parts ambition and one part insouciance. Refusing to negotiate with terrorists. It is an active rather than passive stance. Pursuing a divergent path, I am inadvertently thumbing my nose at society, as a woman who just wants to be fucking human.
Don’t assume that women who disobey have been led astray, misled, manipulated. Give us more credit than that. Women can make choices too, albeit constrained ones.
I’m your worst nightmare come to life – I’m a girl who won’t shut up.
What if being sexual as a female wasn’t synonymous with being out of (your) control and having poor judgment (according to your broadly imposed standards).
What if fear of breaking code was seen for what it is: cowardly.
What if we were outspoken.
What if we were out. In the open.
What if we impelled the movement in between iconoclast and icon.