For some reason, Jennifer Lawrence is the synecdochal masthead for the recent celebrity nudes leak, so let’s talk about Jennifer Lawrence. Everyone was pretty nuts about her for a while, praising her film performances, laughing with her about her drunken antics at the Oscars, it seemed like J.Law was kind of in. But “in” doesn’t mean, like, “respect,” or anything. Since the leak happened, the women involved have faced advice amounting to “Don’t use computers to document your hot body that men want to see,” had their deeply personal photos spread across the internet like it was juicy gossip, and the people who climaxed to the photos have begun trying to wash away the shame and prove to the world that they’re good people who just couldn’t control their nethers.
This is pretty much the same pattern applied to less public incidents, the procedure for dealing with victims of revenge porn sites or simply amoral partners. No special treatment for celebrities, just bigger. No woman is powerful or famous enough that she can’t be the subject of this kind of misogynist bullying.
One of the engines for this story blowing up was Reddit’s subforum /r/TheFappening, which is probably the best name for this incident, because it makes it impossible to ignore the image of slimy motherfuckers slapping it to these pictures. The Reddit community, well-known for its integrity and empathy, spread the photos and buzz about them across the site, crowing about how if women didn’t want their nude photos getting out for all to see, they shouldn’t have kept them on a device that some scumbag could hack into. This same community passionately rebuked the NSA’s spying programs last year, saying (reasonable) shit like “I should be able to live my life without some creep peering into my private life just because they can.” Apparently it only counts as wrong if you know as much about net security as whoever the hell it is that’s lecturing you.
Twitter had a lot to say, as well. Many fellow celebrities weighed in, using the same sort of victim-blaming arguments as anyone else. A heartening number of people, including celebrities, countered, calling out the bullshit, taking a stand on privacy and against trading women’s bodies around. But “heartening” is a hopeful word, not a victorious one. It’s not a minority opinion that women should be modest and careful in order to avoid violation. The problem with that sort of “advice” is that it only helps pass the threat to other women. At its most perfect execution, it only succeeds in getting women to stop taking photos of themselves altogether because there’s this threat of gross predators that we as a society are too afraid to attack head-on. Meanwhile, the actual legit blame to be laid at the feet of the hacker and people who “benefit” from the photos is ignored.
After several days of fapping their hearts out, users of /r/TheFappening started to feel kind of bad. Everyone was saying they were assholes for reveling in the humiliation of prominent women who would never ever sleep with them. So they decided to do some good and raise money for charity. Like, instead of shutting down the subreddit, or apologizing. Cause, you know, that totally works for Washington football. The first charity they gave to? Prostate cancer. Rather than address the actual reason for their “atonement,” misogyny, rape culture, the subreddit chose to focus on a disease that is largely a men’s issue. Somehow, they made donating money to cancer research a total dick move.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation quickly returned the money. Reddit’s next choice, Water.org, also refused to accept the donation. Users of the forum were mad, whining about how these charities have a moral obligation to take their money and make them look good. Instead of maybe breaking up the donation and having everyone donate separately, anonymously, /r/TheFappening is determined to have their stamp on it. It’s blatantly self-indulgent guilt alleviation, not just for individual users, but for the entire community of perverts that wants to think they can be good people while still exploiting these women’s private sex lives.
Whoever was responsible faces heavy, ridiculous punishment and is being tracked by the FBI. But they’re only one person. What worries me more is that, whether they touched their genitals while looking at the photos or not, millions of normal-ass people who supported these women months ago are now spreading the photos around like it’s nothing. The casual misogyny that led to this incident blowing up in the first place is the real story.
A lot of people want to make this a conversation about celebrity, but that’s short-sighted. Indeed, there’s privacy issues facing celebrities that are well-documented and discussed. The user who proliferated the photos certainly hoped to benefit from the fact that the women in question are well-known, expressing disappointment they didn’t make more money. But to focus on these women being celebrities suggests that this doesn’t happen to women everywhere, every day. That this set of leaks has blown up this way should not be a referendum on celebrity culture, but a chance to talk about what it means to any woman for her privacy and bodily integrity to be pushed aside for the fleeting amusement of people who somehow get away with saying “You should have been more careful and prevented me from doing this.”