Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Naked Pictures, A Hack and Rape Culture

I saw something on Facebook yesterday. Actually, many somethings, but all shades of the same.

More than a few people I'm "friends" with over there, in reference to the now infamous weekend hacking of the iCloud accounts of, among (many) others, Jennifer Lawrence, posted something along the lines of "if celebrities don't want their nude pictures shared, they shouldn't take nude pictures."

In other words, if you don't want people to see you naked, you sure as hell better never be naked.

I sat with this for awhile, trying to figure out why it made me so uncomfortable. Because it did. Really uncomfortable.

And then I saw something else on Facebook. I saw that Emma Sulcowicz, a Columbia University student who filed a Title IX complaint alleging that the University mishandled her rape and the subsequent investigation, was carrying the mattress from her dorm room bed wherever she went on campus in protest of Columbia's failure to take action against her rapist, and would continue to do so until he was no longer on campus because, she says, "Every day, I am afraid to leave my room."

And maybe you want to stand up right now and tell me that these two incidents are completely different. Completely unconnected. Maybe you want to tell me that no one touched Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe you want to tell me that being raped is nothing like having nude pictures of yourself posted onto the internet. Maybe you want to tell me that posting naked pictures isn't the same thing as sexual assault.

But what I want to tell you is, you're wrong.

Sexual assault doesn't have to be physical to exist. Sexual assault deals with consent, and particularly the lack thereof, in a sexual act. In Emma's case, a man forced her to have sex without her consent. And in Jennifer Lawrence's case, hackers shared nude pictures of her with the entire world, and I'm relatively certain she didn't give her consent for that. Or to the millions of people who have looked at the pictures since Saturday. 

And instead of talking about how she was violated, how sharing these pictures was a crime and how everyone who looks at them is complicit in that crime, people decide it's better to lecture her about how if she would just never have taken these pictures in the first place, this never would have happened. As if she and the other women involved in the leak are somehow at fault for these private pictures finding their way to the internet.

Sorry, but fuck that.

The hackers didn't find these pictures and publish them on the internet because a bunch of famous women had nude pictures on their phones or stored in their iCloud accounts, because they had bad passwords, because they took the pictures in the first place, or because they just weren't careful enough. It happened because people committed a crime by hacking into iCloud, stealing personal property and publishing it on the internet. 

And the public came flocking because, naked women y'all. And what do naked female bodies exist for, if not to entertain the men of the internet, of the world, right?

Wrong. So very, very wrong. It doesn't matter that these women are hot or rich, or that people feel that they are somehow entitled to them because they are famous and put themselves into the public eye. None of these things give anyone the right to violate their privacy. These women are people. They are human beings with the right to a personal life and to pieces of themselves that are not available for public consumption.

The kind of victim blaming that has ensued in the wake of Saturday's hack isn't any different from the victim blaming that nearly always follows rape allegations made by women against men. It is just as horrifying as when we chastise a rape victim for what she was wearing, saying, drinking. Or for not saying no loud enough. Or for not going to the police fast enough.

This is rape culture.

And don't you dare tell me that men get raped and sexually assaulted too and use that as some kind of excuse to close your ears and cover your eyes and ignore what is really going on here. Because how many men are afraid to walk down a street alone at night because a woman might jump out and attack them? How many men do you think worry about getting raped by a woman during an early morning run? And do you honestly think that the hackers who published the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence didn't find any nude pictures of men? Of course they did, but they didn't publish those all over the internet because men don't do that to other men.

We live in a world where universities, my very own Brandeis University included, hand out rape whistles to girls during freshman orientation and give them the locations of the emergency phones on campus, instead of telling the boys that rape is wrong. We live in a world where girls are taught to protect themselves but boys are rarely taught not to do the things that the girls would need to protect themselves from. We live in a world where companies are spending money developing nail polish that will change colors if dipped in a drink that contains a date-rape drug because money is not being spent teaching boys not to rape. We live in a world where in a poll of high school students, a large percentage of both girls and boys really and truly believe that it's not rape if she's drunk, if her skirt is short, or if she paid for dinner. We live in a world where a brilliant and accomplished female Senator is called "porky" by her male colleagues. And we live in a world where too much unacceptable behavior is ignored or pushed aside or even laughed at because boys will be boys, amiright?

And it's sad and terrifying and not at all the kind of world that I would like my children to grow up in.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here? Do we stop taking any pictures of ourselves that we wouldn't want posted on the internet for the entire world to see? Do we all buy a bottle of the date-rape drug detecting nail polish? Do we buy pepper spray for our purses and hold our keys between our fingers if we should ever have the audacity to walk alone at night? Do we stop wearing short skirts and red dresses and high heels?

I just don't know. I'm not sure anyone does.

I don't know if it will get better, or if maybe it will just keep getting worse.

And that might be the scariest thing of all.


  1. This was so well written and spot on. Bravo.

  2. I want to share this with the world!! Thank you for writing.

  3. Excellently said.

    My age is talking though. Rape whistles are shocking in that they are distributed. My big reservation is that we are not teaching young women to avoid situations that could cause them harm.

    Young men should be taught to respect women and the word no. It is a shame that frat house rapes exist. It is such a shame for the perpetrators to not know what a degenerate they are.

    Hacking is also a crime which is evolving. We'll all get a share of this in the coming years. Take care.