It seems that the latest celebrity to fall foul of the seedy exposure of personal photos that punctuates the 21st century is Jennifer Lawrence, star of The Hunger Games films and Oscar winner for her stunning performance in Silver Linings Playbook. There is also much frenzied tittering amongst the Internet’s multi-million strong army of the sexually frustrated that more famous women are set to be ‘exposed’ in the coming hours, as if exposure was a new element to their lives and not something they have been subject to their entire professional careers and before.
Hopefully people with a better knowledge of digital security than mine (ie. everyone) will tackle the issue of how these photos have emerged, in a possibly futile attempt to reduce further occurrences. What I want is an end to comments such as ‘I always knew Jennifer Lawrence/Victoria Justice/famous young woman was a hoe’. No more of the falsely magnanimous forgiving ‘stupid mistakes’ that in no way involve or affect them. Even positive opinions on the natural appearance of these women, while sometimes well-intentioned, are cementing them as objects to be observed. Let’s appreciate what they do in the public sphere. These are people like you and I, not images, not statues, not subjects for our gaze.
Now I’m not talking about sexiness or sex (sorry Salt-N-Pepa). Sex is the great pretender of these situations; the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow made of grainy images of women we’ve previously been teased with, but now with their nipples or genitalia in shot. But of course the pot does not exist, and the rainbow is a mix of sludge and exploitation. There are reasons beyond sexual desire why so many alone and lonely men devour these images, like them and share them and RT them with a fervour that is so badly wasted on such shabby ends. The most prominent of these reasons is this: we are being told that naked photos are a natural endpoint for any woman who dares to show a public face. For an all-too-large number, a public woman is a Barbie doll; you can dress her up and critique her clothes, or you can take those clothes off. Either way, she exists to be ogled, and the pleasure is all yours.
To say these ‘hacks’ are distasteful is not enough; they are crimes, and a dangerous indication of a society that requires conformity from women, no matter what they may desire or enjoy in their own lives. I went to watch my local men’s football team play yesterday, & at half time the corresponding women’s team were introduced to the crowd to promote their endeavour. The chorus of wolf-whistles and shouts of ‘Get yer kit off’ made me very sad, but more angry. These women have reached a high level in a sport that brings so much enjoyment to the world; how vile that the first response of so many ‘lads’ should be to reduce them to the level of dolls. The boorish behaviour of some in the stands is not illegal, while exposing private material belonging to other people is; but there is an objectification that connects the two.
We know that as soon as such photos or videos are created, so is the potential for them to be shared. Digital privacy shrinks as fast as the digital age expands. As a consequence young people are advised by their elders against taking such photos at all, although whether they should heed the forbiddance of those who didn’t create and often don’t understand the technology is another matter. This feels a little too close to censorship for my liking, and the human desire to share our bodies with others is stronger than any attempts at containment.
So where do we go from here? There is no quick fix, but increasing a sense of public women as humans, not figures, will help. Whenever a woman achieves something notable let us not consider her skirt or her lipgloss, but the achievement itself. Mary Schmich got it right; don’t read beauty magazines, or other publications that have no regard for what women do and plenty for how they appear. And in every photo where there is a person, clothed or otherwise, look into the eyes. You might see something more meaningful than a pair of tits.