Jennifer Lawrence Photo Leak Is A Big Chance For Change
I feel before I start that I should preface what I write with a few short notes. What I want to talk about is a little sticky and if you don’t know a lot about me as a person I’m afraid that what I say may be misinterpreted in a way that would make me ill. I want whoever reads this to know that I am very open to discussion of this idea and very open to being completely wrong.
A little bit about me: I’m a privileged white man but I care deeply about women’s rights. I understand the difference between Humanism and Feminism and I consider myself a completely committed feminist. If I had to choose a brand I would pick Desperate Feminism. I want true equality for women in a desperate and angry way. I want to see an end to the patriarchy that absolutely dominates our world. I want justice for women. I would never purposely do anything to detract from the goals of equal rights, never minimize the surreptitious effect of patriarchy, and never discount the sexually violent nature of the world toward women.
I feel the need to I say all that because what I am about to write about is treacherous. I don’t want to undermine a feminist issue and I don’t want to insert myself into a situation that a privileged white man should not have an opinion about. If this is one of those times, I apologize in advance, and am very willing to change my position if I am overlooking something important.
An interesting thing happened over the last few days as a collection of leaked photographs sparked an intense conversation about celebrity, privacy, and the evolving definition of sexual assault. I completely agree that the act of stealing someone’s private sexual photos is a form of sexual assault. I would like to be clear about that. It is a sickening violation and a cowardly act. Posting them for money is just an extra layer of disgusting on the shit cake. It was horrible. I hope whoever did it gets caught and slammed in a precedent setting case that would see similar criminals in the future end up on the sex offender registry.
That being said, I think it might be a mistake to limit this conversation to just sex.
The reason this crime is getting so much attention is, of course, because of the celebrities involved, but it also seems like the true shock lies in the sexual component of the story. The photos that were stolen were of a sexual nature and that seems to be the element that is marshalling people’s opinion. Sex is the part of the story that is grabbing people’s interest, no doubt, but perhaps it is a distraction from the bigger and more nefarious issue.
Some have pointed to misogyny as the root of the problem, and while I agree that in this particular case it is absolutely a factor, it is possible that there is something else that “caused” this problem. I don’t think the root of this is as easy as terrible, horny, men doing their usual terrible things.
The Jennifer Lawrence pictures showed up on my twitter timeline, I looked, though I wish I hadn’t now. I did not seek out the pictures of the other celebrities. Soon after the leak I began to see the reaction. The responses were everything that you would expect; from unoriginal and predictable boner jokes, to genuine sadness from those who immediately recognized it as yet another commodification of women. Personally, it made me feel sad for the people who have been unwillingly exposed and violated.
Is it really as simple as “a pervert with no morals decided to sexually assault famous women,” or are we perhaps trying to localize the blame? Is this really just an audacious crime or is this the culmination of a culture that we have all contributed to?
Let me be more specific.
I don’t believe there would be nearly the same reaction to this if the stolen photos weren’t specifically sexual, and even more specifically, sexual in a way that includes nudity. The fact that these are “private” and sexual seems to be what makes them so wrong in the eyes of some.
I put “private” in quotations because these photos were taken outside of the public. That seems to be an extra invasion of privacy. These weren’t paparazzi photos – they were personal. But why is that a distinction that needs to be made?
Why is this where we are drawing the line for what we think of as reasonable ownership of a celebrity’s privacy?
The term consent is being used in reference to the private nature of the photos. A meme that has been passed around featuring an image of Jennifer Lawrence reads:
“Consent Is a Real Thing. If she hasn’t told you it’s ok to see her naked, it’s not ok to look at pictures of her naked. Consent matters all the time.”
But why is the consent of a celebrity only an issue when nudity or sexuality is involved? If these were private pictures of Jennifer Lawrence covered by a giant quilt that only exposed above the neck would this still be an issue of consent or something we consider a lesser crime, an invasion of privacy?
It seems that as a culture we have decided that we own public figures, that when a celebrity goes outside their home they are fair game, they belong to us. Newsstands are littered with magazines that are driven by exposing the private lives of celebrities. “Catching” them going to the store without makeup, spotting their cellulite on the beach from behind the safety of a telescoping lens. To me it doesn’t seem any different, in terms of invading someone’s privacy and the commodification of their existence.
That is the distinction I would like to make – that perhaps this is just another step in the direction that we have been steering ourselves towards as a culture: celebrity obsessed, voyeuristic, and entitled. This particular photo leak may only be a sore on a body riddled with syphilis, a symptom of a much more grim disease.
Soon after the leak and the reactions to the leak I began to think about a story from a few months ago surrounding Jon Hamm. Some disgusting photographer was following him around, snapping pictures of him and one of the photos happened to catch the outline of Jon Hamm’s spectacular penis. How do I know it’s spectacular? GOOD EFFIN’ QUESTION! The photo spread quickly and was the butt of many jokes. In the end the whole thing seemed to be taken as just good, harmless, fun. Many even suggested that (in a delicious reversal of our unfortunate gender roles) he take the unrequested attention as a compliment. The fact that his penis was covered by a wafer-thin layer of pant cotton, and he was not in his own house, seems to be enough to justify our consumption of his Jon Hammer. He since has been quoted in numerous publications expressing how uncomfortable he felt about the whole thing.
I used a male example for this in an attempt to strip gender out of the equation for this particular problem. Not to detract from what these women are going through, or trivialize sexual violence towards women, but to shed light on what I believe to be the source of the problem.
It is possible that our consumption of all things celebrity, and our attitude towards people in the “public eye”, is truly the root of this issue. We are the ones who make TMZ rich and incentivize their lecherous behaviour. We are the ones who click on links about celebrities at such a staggering volume that it practically begs unscrupulous people to take advantage, implores them to fill our desire, encourages them to escalate the audacity.
Men, women, teens, all of us. Every indulgence in celebrity gossip has contributed to this, every dollar spent on tabloid rags, every viewer of paparazzi products. We may not have created the demand for private information, but we are, at the very least, complacent in maintaining it, and at worst, guilty of supporting it.
I don’t believe the crime was inspired by misogyny, I believe it was inspired by greed. I think someone saw a market that we created and exploited it.
In the end, and unfortunately at the cost of the victims, this may prove to be a very good thing for society. It is possible that this could be the catalyst for change in how we see celebrity culture and how we see sexual assault in the digital age.
The fact that Jennifer Lawrence is America’s sweetheart seems to have finally stirred an anger that had been missing from this debate. Sadly, I don’t believe this story would have awoken nearly as much vitriol if it didn’t surround a young woman that we have designated as pure and virginal. If this crime had been perpetrated on someone who chooses to make their sexuality more available it most likely would have been swept under the rug. As sad as that is, the reality of this scandal surrounding very powerful women will hopefully lead to a motivated investigation, conviction, and perhaps even legislation.
Already there are movements forming that simply suggest you don’t look at the photos.
That is EXACTLY right.
Don’t look at the most recent leak.
Don’t look at older leaks.
Don’t look at TMZ.
Don’t look at US weekly.
Don’t look at Gawker.
Don’t look at Perez Hilton.
Don’t look at any of the purveyors and supporters of paparazzi culture.
Don’t look and watch them disappear.