Women in Media are Not Your Sexual Objects

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Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the celebrity photo hacking scandal. A hacker obtained nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Upton, and several other female celebrities, and then posted those photos all of over 4Chan, an imageboard website that encourages anonymous posting. The photos then made their way to Imgur and Reddit, and from there then to the rest of the Internet. It is believed that the perpetrator hacked into the celebrities’ computers/ phones and accessed their cloud or some other storage source for the photos. This is illegal, obviously. It is even more illegal considering some of the celebrities were under age, including gymnast McKayla Maroney.

The ensuing media storm has been quite dramatic. There have been pissed off tweets from Ariana Grande and the women of Glee; “comedic” Reddit memes about being a celebrity and not taking naked photos; and even claims by media outlets that the hacked photos are involuntary porn. Whatever your feelings on the issue, the entire episode highlights a sad truth: too many people believe that female celebrities and other women in media are not worthy of privacy.

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Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency, a website and YouTube channel that discusses representations of women in pop culture, was violently threatened last week. The reason? She released a video entitled “Women as Background Decoration: Part 2,” the sixth in her series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” This installment dealt specifically with the sexualization and objectification of female non-playable characters, or NPCs.  Insults and threats are nothing new to Sarkeesian. When she started her Kickstarter for “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” a barrage of misogyny and sexual harassment followed. Her Wikipedia page was vandalized with pictures of sexual acts and links to pornographiy. She received hundreds of emails and comments calling her every sexist slur in the book. Her website was even subjected to denial-of-service attacks, which are typically targeted at banks and credit card companies.

“In addition to the aggressive actions against me that I’ve already shared,” she wrote, “the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported my Twitter and YouTube accounts as ‘terrorism’, ‘hate speech’ or ‘spam’. They also attempted to ‘dox’ and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).”

That was two years ago and none of it caused her to call the police or leave her home because she feared for her safety. Until this past week. A Twitter user sent a series of tweets that described  brutally raping Sarkeesian in her home (giving her exact address) and killing her boyfriend. (Trigger Warning: Tweets can be read here.) It is disgusting. People talk about how sexism doesn’t exist, but then women like Sarkeesian are sexually harassed and threatened for having an opinion.

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There isn’t much of a difference between what happened to Sarkeesian and what is happening to several female celebrities following Sunday’s photo leak. One of the most common responses I have seen on Reddit, 4Chan, and even my own Facebook newsfeed, is that if the celebrities in question didn’t want people seeing those pictures, they should never have taken them. This is the equivalent of telling a rape victim that she shouldn’t have dressed “that way” if she didn’t want to get raped. It is putting the blame on the victim and slut-shaming. Even more egregious are the users claiming that because these women are celebrities, they do not have privacy. This is an even more absurd comment. Just because you pay money to watch an actress perform a sex scene in a movie, doesn’t mean you are now allowed to look at her leaked nude photos. Just because a model dresses provocatively in a magazine ad, doesn’t mean you are now allowed to access her private moments. Just because these women choose to work in an industry where the objectification of women is pervasive, doesn’t mean they are not allowed the same privacy as people outside of that industry.

Jennifer Lawrence may be in the spotlight, but that spotlight doesn’t give the world a right to invade her privacy and reduce her to a sexual object. The response by many users on Reddit and 4Chan makes me disgusted. I recognize not all Reddit and 4Chan users endorse this activity, but the activity exists and is widespread. Free speech is an integral part of our society, but there is a difference between free speech and the intimidation and humiliation of women. Sarkeesian may put her opinions out in the world to critique, but that should not open the door to sexual harassment and abuse.

Roxane Gay said it perfectly for The Guardian:

“For most people, privacy is little more than an illusion, one we create so we can feel less vulnerable as we move through the world, so we can believe some parts of ourselves are sacred and free from uninvited scrutiny. The further away you are from living as a white, heterosexual, middle-class man, the less privacy you enjoy – the more likely your illusions of privacy will be shattered when you least expect it.”

Roxane is right. The hacker, the responders, Sarkeesian’s attackers: they are reminding Anita, Jennifer, Aubrey and countless others that they are women, not equals. And for that we, as women, will forever be vulnerable to this horrific abuse. Our privacy, our opinions, our space, do not matter to them because we will always be reduced to sexual objects. Because to some, we are nothing more.