Reports on ‘Leaked Nude Photos‘ — Just Another Form of Victim-Blaming

As most of you will have heard by now, an anonymous hacker has stolen the private images of a large number of female celebrities, and posted them on 4chan, an imageboard website notorious for being a cesspit of misogyny.

Here are a selection of headlines I’ve seen today:

The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014 is Just the Beginning –  Guardian

Jennifer Lawrence Nude Photos Leaked ‘After iCloud Hack’ – BBC

Leaked Nude Celeb Photos Spark Hacking Fears – Sky News

Jennifer Lawrence’s Nude Photos Leak Online, Other Celebs Targeted – Huffington Post

Leaked: Photos of Naked Celebrities, Including Jennifer Lawrence – The Sydney Morning Herald

Nude Photos of Many A-List Celebrities Leaked Online After Apparent Hacking – CTV News

*****

Leaked. Over and over, the same phrase is being employed. The photographs were leaked.

What a strange word to use. A leak is what happens when I fail to turn my tap all the way off. If my water bottle is not properly sealed, it leaks. If I had a baby, and then forgot to change its diaper often enough, that would leak too.

But is that what has happened here? Did the photos of these women suddenly find themselves on the internet in an unfortunate accident, brought about through the laws of physics and a defective containment system? Or was there something else at work here?

Make no mistake, these photos were not leaked. They were stolen by an unscrupulous individual who hacked his (or her, I suppose, but I think we all know that ‘his’ is far more likely) way into personal online accounts, saved the images, and then distributed them on the internet without consent. As Van Badham rightly points out, this is an act of sexual violation, and those who enjoy and continue to share those images are perpetuating this abuse.

Of course, this is not the first time that a crime of this nature has happened, and it appears that the use of the word “leaked” in this context is common practice. Countless women, celebrities or not, have had their photos stolen and shared around by men, and each time the media has reported it as an act of nature — “Oh, there those photos go, leaking into the web again!”

What this standard terminology serves to do, however, is to obscure the (almost always) male perpetrator, focusing the attention, critique and shame solely on the (almost always) female victim. The fact that a man has committed a repulsive crime is swept under the carpet, and it is her actions that are scrutinised. “Why did she take those photos?” “Shouldn’t she have hidden them better?” “She’s ruined her career now.” “Shame on her!”

As we all know, this is victim-blaming. The responsibility does not lie with women to ensure that our private images are not shared on the internet, but with the would-be perpetrator not to steal and share them. In the wake of the most recent crime, victim-blaming sentiments are running amok on social media, most famously by Ricky Gervais, who tweeted, “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer,” and most horrifyingly, by a Twitter user who claimed that the women deserved this exposure, for the crime of not allowing any and every man access to their bodies.

The use of the word “leaked” to describe the photographs may not be as blatantly victim-blaming as the statements above, but they do imply that if the pictures are being illegally posted and shared, it is due to the women’s carelessness and neglect — they did not protect the photos well enough, and thus allowed them to slip away into the world wide web.

After all, if a pickpocket were to take my wallet out of my pocket, and distribute my money to all his friends, would you say that my money had simply “leaked”?

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On #YesAllWomen, and the Discomfort of ‘Good Men’

YesAllWomen

 

Following Elliot Rodger’s hate crime against women (yes, I know many news reports seem to have missed the misogynistic message he was sending, I know Wikipedia has decided to classify it as generic violence instead of violence against women, and I know The Good Men Project has decided it was really all about virginity, but make no mistake, it was a hate crime nonetheless), women all over the internet rose up with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, sharing stories of misogyny and sexual violence, pointing out how the little and not-so-little experiences that women are subjected to on a regular basis combine to create a society in which a killer like Rodger is made.

Somewhat predictably, there has been resistance from men reluctant to acknowledge the sexist culture that surrounds us; more specifically, they are uncomfortable with the idea that they, with their ‘harmless banter’ or only slightly sexist behaviour, could be complicit in a hate crime of such immense proportions.

One example of this is this piece by T.J Holmes, who believes that the hashtag is unfairly placing blame on men who consider themselves good men, who have never attacked women and probably never will, who are only guilty of what he sees as innocuous sexist behaviours, such as giving a woman their arm, or getting women to pass through doors before themselves. He states that “there is a huge gap between the man who catcalls a woman walking down the street and the man who opens fire on her”, and that #YesAllWomen has somehow led to a confused population of women who are unable to see the distinction between these two actions.

Yet, as someone who has followed the hashtag quite closely over the last week, I see no evidence of this “sense that all sexism is created equal”. There is nothing on the hashtag to suggest that shooting a woman is just the same as whistling at her on the street. What I have seen though, over and over again, is women asserting that we must connect the everyday sexism and harassment that women experience, with the underlying attitude of male entitlement to female bodies, thereby creating the conditions necessary for Rodger’s hatred of women to take root and flourish in that particular way. I have seen women point out how charged with fear many romantic / sexual interactions are for women, where it is often hard to tell if rejecting a man’s advances will lead to an uneventful evening, or an encounter with violence. I have seen women unite in their common experiences of being women in a man’s world, and call on men to take the responsibility of tackling the misogyny rampant in socialised masculinity. Nowhere have I witnessed the notion that a man who has regressive beliefs about being a “gentleman” is exactly the same as a mass murderer, which makes Holmes’ opening lines puzzling, to say the least.

And let’s not forget that we live in a world where women are brought up to expect and get over unwanted touching in bars and clubs, a world where a woman’s clothing and behaviour can be blamed for her rape, and where an unambiguously woman-hating killer is called a ‘madman’ rather than an extremist in a misogynistic society. Given this background, can you imagine that from now on, due to #YesAllWomen, any man who engages in sexist behaviour will be viewed and treated as no better than a mass murderer? Of course not. The idea that this is a serious concern for men is patently ludicrous.

I’m not surprised that many men are feeling uncomfortable after reading tweets on the #YesAllWomen hashtag. If one has lived one’s life completely oblivious to the systemic sexism that pervades everything we do, it can be a shock to suddenly realise that you, a well-meaning, kind-hearted man who would never hurt a fly, are complicit in a culture that has led to horrific instances of male violence against women. In fact, I’m glad of this discomfort. I would find it much more worrying if all men read about the harassment, fear and violence that women experience, and felt absolutely nothing. But don’t pretend that this discomfort is in anyway comparable to the actual lived reality of women’s oppression. Don’t ask women to censor their words and hide the truth because it makes some men feel unfairly blamed. Recognise how tiny sexist acts, while so seemingly harmless to you, can add up and add up and add up, to a culture where women are assigned inferior status, and hate crimes against women are a dime a dozen. Then take that discomfort and use it to drive change, rather than taking the easy path of denial.

Exotification – I’m Not Your Pretty Little Lotus Flower

“I love Asian women!” “Asian women are so hot.” “Japan, Korea, China?” “Asian women know how to treat a man!”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? If they do, congratulations, you’ve come across (or you are) a man — probably white — with so-called “Yellow Fever”.

As an Asian woman living in a country full of white men, I meet these guys a lot. You know, the ones who blurt out all of the above sound bites, who try to guess what ‘type’ of Asian I am, whose favourite actresses are Gong Li, Lucy Liu and Zhang Ziyi, who insist on discussing Korean/Japanese/Chinese dramas with me despite me not having seen the series in question, who tell me about all the other Asian women they’ve dated, who complain about how ugly white women are and why Asian women are so much better, and who try to get me to tell them that white men are so much better than Asian men.

Of course, such exotifiying sentiments are meant to be complimentary. After all, the patriarchy asserts, what could be higher praise for a woman than the approval of a white man?

Only…it isn’t praise. It is patronising and dehumanising, and inextricably bound up with the social power of race and gender. To them, ‘Asian’ is our defining characteristic, in a way that ‘white’ would never be used to define themselves. When the “Yellow Fever”ed men speak to me, they aren’t speaking to me, they’re speaking to their idea of an Asian woman, their fantasy made flesh. They’re speaking to every Asian woman they’ve ever seen in the media, every Asian porn actress they’ve ever leered at on their computer screens. My personality tries to push itself forward, but is rendered invisible, obscured by the lenses of racial stereotype.

And what a horrifically misogynistic stereotype it is too. Have a wander round any online dating site or Internet forum discussing Asian women, and you’ll notice that one of the most attractive things about Asian women, according to white men, is our apparent ability to “treat our man right”. But what does “right” entail? Well, to put it simply, “treating a man right” is to treat him as superior. Time and time again, Asian women are lauded for our supposedly meek and gentle natures, for our submissive attitudes, for our rejection of feminist values. (Hah!) Through their fetishisation and racist assumptions about Asian women, they reveal their attitudes towards relations with women in general: one should be quiet and meek, contented with a subordinate status, and eager to serve.

How, you may ask, do these men reconcile their ideas of Asian women with the existence of Asian feminists? Easy; they decide that she has been “brainwashed” by Western feminist values, has been contaminated, and has neglected her cultural roots. The fact that they assume submissiveness to be so inherent in Asian women that any feminist ideas must be mere parroting of the ideas of white women, is insulting in the extreme. Nor do I appreciate their assumption that Asian culture is static. I would love for them to cast their eye over their own cultural history, going back hundreds of years, and then tell me — what is “Caucasian culture”? And by rejecting the values their ancestors espoused, have they betrayed their cultural roots?

So please, men with ‘Yellow Fever’, stop objectifying, fetishising and exotifiying us. Instead, try seeing us as individual human beings with individual, unique personalities. Cool idea, no? And next time you have the urge to tell me about all the Asian women you’ve dated and how much you loved Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Memoirs of a Geisha — don’t.

What Does Physical Attractiveness Have To Do With Sport?

Picture the following scenes. It’s November, 2012, and President Obama has just won the US election. Amid the celebrations, keyboard warriors take to social media to comment, “Obama? President? What a joke, he can’t tap dance at all.” Or perhaps a group of students are in the classroom learning about Einstein, and wonder aloud, “Why is Einstein so admired? He clearly didn’t know much about hairdressing.”

Naturally, we recognise these to be completely absurd. One’s ability to tap dance has no impact on one’s effectiveness as a leader, and to be a theoretical physicist, hairdressing skills are unnecessary. To link them is simply ludicrous. Yet, this line of ‘logic’ was precisely what drove the actions of a horde of social media users in the wake of Marion Bartoli’s victory in the Wimbledon final.

While Bartoli, overwhelmed by happiness, hugged her family and friends, these men (for they were mostly men) took to Twitter and Facebook to express their anger over how “ugly” and “fat” she was. And judging from their tone and language used, there was some serious rage going on. Laura Bates of @EverydaySexism captured and tweeted a tiny selection of the comments, which you can see below. (Warning: abusive, violent and misogynistic language)

SexistTrolls

What is most bewildering is this idea that Bartoli “didn’t deserve to win”, and that she “shouldn’t have won”, due to the fact that she was apparently, to them, so unattractive. I’ve always thought of the Wimbledon Championships as a tennis tournament, and wasn’t aware that it was a beauty pageant as well. I can think of plausible reasons why an athlete might not deserve to win — perhaps they simply got lucky on the day, perhaps they constantly display unsporting behaviour, perhaps the referee/umpire/judge made a mistake. But an athlete being less attractive than their opponent is not one of those reasons, and to say so is every bit as absurd as condemning Einstein’s achievements on the basis of his hairstyle.

Of course, this weird logic only seems to apply to women, and Marion Bartoli is not the first female athlete to be judged on her looks instead of her skills. During the Olympics last summer, British weightlifter Zoe Smith had to defend herself from a bunch of sexist Twitter trolls, keen to share with her their thoughts regarding her appearance. After some pictures of Olympic triple-gold medallist Leisel Jones appeared in the media, showing her with a tummy that was (oh, horror!) not completely flat, the public was abuzz with criticisms. And we hardly need to be reminded that Serena Williams has always been on the receiving end of similar vitriol.

This isn’t confined to female athletes either; women in every possible field are somehow expected to meet with the approval of the male gaze, even when physical beauty has nothing whatsoever to do with their jobs. From politicians like Hillary Clinton, Julia Gillard and Angela Merkel, to Professors like Mary Beard, to singers like Susan Boyle, it seems that beauty is a compulsory attribute for every woman to have, if we do not wish to be bombarded by misogynistic trolls publicly declaring their fury and hatred.

What does physical attractiveness have to do with sport? Absolutely nothing. And if we want to encourage little girls to pick up a racquet, to throw a ball, and to aspire to sporting greatness, then we need to stop cementing the notion that female athletes, and indeed all women, will only be successful and appreciated if they happen to meet societal beauty standards as well. Marion Bartoli is a tennis player who has just won her first Wimbledon title. Let us rejoice with her and recognise her for her sporting success.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, the time has come to navigate the minefield that is choosing a costume. Dressing up for Halloween can be fun, but it has, to some extent, morphed from being a scarefest into a hotbed for casual racism and sexism. Here are three issues surrounding Halloween costumes which bother me.

Dressing up as a racial stereotype

I’m actually astounded that some people think of these as legitimate Halloween costumes. White people dressing up as Asian geishas, African-American pimps, Arab terrorists, and so on, is rude and downright offensive. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the lived reality of the lives of non-white people, and an insensitivity to the way our lives are negatively affected by the very stereotypes being perpetuated for the sake of a few laughs. It contributes to the othering and marginalisation of racial minorities by portraying us as a separate species, to be parodied and summed up by one outfit, stripped of individual differences.

A group of students from Ohio University called “Students Teaching About Racism in Society” (STARS) have started a campaign against such costumes. Their posters are very powerful, and have gained lots of publicity:

(all pictures are from STARS)


How to avoid this: Easy – steer clear of racial costumes.

Men dressing up as ‘sexy’ or ‘ugly’ women for a joke

From Fancy Dress Ball – The Online Fancy Dress Shop

Sadly, this doesn’t happen only on Halloween. In the UK, a skirt, wig, high heels, fake boobs and make up is an oh-so-funny get-up for male university students, whenever a costume is required. The hilarity depends on the indignity that we perceive to be inherent in a man dressing as a woman, and the more sexualised the costume, the funnier it is supposed to be. Or they sometimes just turn to mocking women who don’t conform to patriarchal ideals of beauty; that works for them too:

From Halloween Spirit

I must be clear that I am not referring to trans women here, or men who like to cross-dress occasionally. I am talking about the outfits that you see in the pictures above, and others like them, that are clearly meant to be ridiculous, and to elicit guffaws from all their lad friends.

How to avoid this: If you’re a man genuinely wishing to dress up as a female character, (and make sure it is a female character, not just ‘Woman’,) do it in all seriousness, and spend the night urging others to critically analyze why they might find it funny. Otherwise, just stick to vampire/monster/skeleton.

The epidemic of sexy female costumes

Have a browse through some Halloween costumes online, or take a trip to your nearest costume shop. Then see how spot-on this cartoon is:

A man’s costume can be scary, funny, weird or disgusting, but God forbid a woman be anything but sexy! I’ve seen this framed as simply a Halloween issue, and indeed I’m writing about it in the context of Halloween costumes, but the problem extends much further than that. Moving away from the realm of costumes, we see this phenomenon in every aspect of our lives. It isn’t enough for a woman to be a world-class athlete, a comedian, a CEO, or a politician, she must never forget her duty to appear attractive at all times. This is why it makes sense for media outlets to report on the figure of Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo; for people to mock Olympic gold-medallist Leisel Jones for being ‘fat’; for hecklers to insult Hillary Clinton’s appearance. Last time I checked, physical attractiveness was not a competency required to be a successful athlete, CEO or Secretary of State. Unless, of course, you’re a woman in a patriarchy. Then it’s always required.

Solution: If, like me, you’re tired of the mandate to be constantly sexualised, focus on being scary or funny this Halloween. Non-sexualised costumes for women are few and far between, but they do exist, together with unisex costumes that are pretty ace. Or if you’re feeling creative, DIY is a great way to go.

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Happy Halloween!

Ted, and the Fallacy of ‘Harmless Jokes’

No spoilers

I wanted to like Ted. Although I had problems with both Family Guy and American Dad, the story arcs of Stewie/Brian and Roger were often funny, and didn’t always rely on offensive material. Being a talking teddy bear, I thought Ted would fit into the same mould.

Sadly, much of Ted’s humour stemmed from his being one of the most obnoxious non-villain characters I’ve seen on screen. He is the ultimate lad’s lad – doing drugs, sexually harassing women, surrounding himself with prostitutes, spewing racist tripe, and being quick to point out that he is totally not gay. All of which, of course, is supposed to be hilarious.

Film critic Jonathan Kim says in the Huffington Post, “It’s a film filled with the kind of jokes you might make with your closest friends, where you can say the most offensive things you want to get a laugh since your friends know you and your intent well enough not to take anything you say to heart.” Well, I’m not sure what kind of friends Jonathan has, but my friends and I certainly don’t find such things funny. No, not even in private. Not even if we ‘know we don’t really mean it.’

The whole idea of how it’s fine to make jokes at the expense of minority groups, because everyone knows you’re not really sexist, or racist, or homophobic, is a common fallacy.

In Quirkology, Professor Richard Wiseman’s book on psychology, he investigates the world of laughter by conducting a wide-ranging experiment as to the kind of jokes people find funny. He found that “the top jokes had one thing in common – they create a sense of superiority in the reader…in each case it is about one group of people trying to make themselves feel good at the expense of another.” He also goes on to say:

“Some research suggests that jokes like these can have surprisingly serious consequences. In 1977, psychologist Gregory Maio from Cardiff University of Wales and his colleagues looked at the effect that reading superiority jokes had on people’s perception of those who were the butt of the jokes. The study was carried out in Canada, and so centered around the group who was frequently portrayed as stupid by Canadians, namely Newfoundlanders (or ‘Newfies’). Before the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The people in each group were asked to read one of two sets of jokes into a tape recorder, supposedly to help determine the qualities that make a voice sound funny or unfunny. Those in one group read jokes that did not involve laughing at Newfies (such as Seinfeld material), whilst the other read Newfie put-down humour. Afterwards, everyone was asked to indicate their thoughts about the personality traits of Newfoundlanders. Those who had just read out the Newfie jokes rated Newfoundlanders as significantly more inept, foolish, dim-witted, and slow, than those who had delivered the Seinfeld material.”

“Just as worrying, other work has revealed that superiority jokes have a surprisingly dramatic effect on how people see themselves. Professor Jens Förster, from the International University Bremen in Germany, recently tested the intelligence of eighty women of varying hair colour. Half of them were asked to read jokes in which blondes appeared stupid. Then all participants took an intelligence test. The blonde women who had read the jokes obtained significantly lower scores on the IQ test than their blonde counterparts in the control condition, suggesting that jokes have the power to affect people’s confidence and behaviour, and so actually create a world in which the stereotypes depicted in the jokes become a reality.”

So is Ted, as Jonathan Kim opines, “a breath of fresh air,” or does it merely trot out the same old tired stereotypes and brand of humour that has honestly gone completely stale? In a world where sexism, racism and homophobia are thriving – the very things MacFarlane’s jokes depend on – do we really believe that all “viewers are smart enough to know that they’re just jokes”?

Being obnoxious doesn’t make you cute or funny, Ted…even if you are a bear.

On Comment Moderation

Before starting up my blog, I had a look around the internet for other blogs about feminism, and searched for tips to start up a successful blog. Something that caught my eye and set me thinking was the common recommendation to moderate comments. The likelihood of a feminist discussion attracting sexist trolls is high, the advice acknowledges, and many people find it best to remove such offensive behaviour from their sites.

I’ve been lucky – so far I’ve met with nothing but support, kind words from fellow feminists that have buoyed me up and inspired me to keep writing, to keep fighting. But I cannot help but wonder, if I were to one day receive an offensive, misogynistic comment, full of violence and threats (and I’m sure everyone’s seen these before), what should I do? Delete it? Leave it up? Respond to it?

Let’s dismiss the last option straightaway. If an individual can read a thoughtfully-written, sensible feminist blog, and still think it appropriate to threaten the author with rape, I doubt an argument with him would do much good. So let’s consider the other two options – deleting it, or leaving it on the site.

I can definitely see the benefits of disallowing it straightaway. After all, feminist blogs should be areas of support, where women rally round to vent their frustrations and articulate their hopes. We get so little support in real life that online support is vital. Allowing vile comments to parade about on my blog feels like a violation, a discouraging slap in the face. And it won’t be just me who is affected, others who read my blog (if they support the cause) will receive an indirect threat as well. If a budding feminist were to stumble upon my blog, I want her to find support, to be empowered. Seeing men hurling abuse may well discourage her from speaking out for herself in the same manner.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that deleting these nasty comments will only serve to further cultivate one of the biggest problems of combatting sexism today. And that’s the fact that most people do not believe sexism exists. With clear-sighted feminists on one end and unapologetic misogynists on the other, it is the people in the middle of the spectrum that we need to reach out to if we want to see change. And how can we convince them that sexism is a problem if we painstakingly hide away all evidence of it?

It isn’t an easy decision. I would be curious to know the thoughts of bloggers more experienced than I am – there may be an aspect of the problem that I’m missing. But for now, I’m leaning towards fearlessly displaying sexism in all its nakedness, and showing the world exactly why I am a feminist.