The recent hacking episode, in which nude photographs of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Mary Elizabeth Winstead have been stolen and leaked online, raises significant questions about society’s attitudes towards women. Namely, it raises important issues regarding how we perceive a woman’s right to privacy, and her ownership over her own body. In my view, there are three main points that we can learn from the hacking.
1. The surfacing of these photographs illustrates the extent to which society views women’s bodies, particularly famous women’s bodies, as commodities which can be shared and gawped at with no respect at all for whether the woman in question wants her body to be judged, stared at, or commented upon. Initiatives such as The Everyday Sexism Project demonstrate how women can scarcely walk down the road without having their bodies subjected to unwelcome and degrading commentary and judgement, demonstrating a worrying sense of entitlement on the part of those who feel their desires and opinions about women’s bodies are so important that they must shout them across the road at us when we are trying to walk to work, and who become angry and surprised when their suggestions and comments are rebuffed. In a world where an increasing amount of our interaction occurs online, it is unsurprising that this culture of harassment and unsolicited commentary upon our bodies has pervaded the internet too. Many will use the fact that the photographs are of celebrities to support their argument that viewing and sharing the photographs are justified because the women are in the public eye and are therefore “fair game.” No. Just because these women are in the public eye does not mean that the public own the rights to their bodies, their privacy, or their consent. The loss of anonymity which comes with celebrity status does not equate to the relinquishing of privacy, the ownership of their own naked body, or their right to choose who is allowed to share intimate moments with them. Unfortunately, this recent hacking has shown that the harassment and commentary that women’s bodies are subjected to on a daily basis are only exacerbated when you become famous. The entitlement that some people feel over women’s bodies is demonstrated by the lewd comments that women are subjected to whilst walking down the road, and the verbal and physical violence that women face when they dare to reject the advances of their none too charming suitors. Unfortunately, when the bodies of celebrities are thrown into the equation, this sense of entitlement only worsens, due to the fact that we already believe that being a public figure equates to having to share every intimate detail of your life with the entire world. It does not, and celebrity status does not equal the relinquishing of rights such as the right to privacy and the right to grant your consent over who gets to see you naked.
2. The point is not that “these women should not have taken the photographs if they did not want them to appear online.” These women took the photographs, many of them with the intention to show them to a partner or husband. Some, such as Winstead, tweeted that the photographs were taken with her husband in the privacy of their own home and were deleted a long time ago, noting the “creepy” effort that went into unearthing and stealing them. Giving their consent for one person to view these pictures does not mean that these women brought this infringement of their privacy upon themselves. They were quite clearly not meant for the public domain, and giving consent for one person to see your naked body does not mean that you have given consent for the entire world to see it too. Essentially, what people are insinuating when they use this argument is that “because these photographs exist, they deserve to end up online, and when they do I have a right to see them.” If you need any more proof of the sense of entitlement that we feel over the bodies of women, particularly the bodies of women in the public eye, then please look no further.
3. Lastly, if you share or view the images yourself, you are further violating the rights and privacy of these women. These photographs were not meant to be shared publicly, and they were certainly not meant to be seen by you. By viewing the images, you are choosing to ignore the fact that you are doing so against the wishes of those who appear in them, and you are also choosing to ignore the fact that you are viewing the images without the consent of the women in the photos. To do this furthers the culture of entitlement and harassment surrounding women’s bodies, and if you view or share the images you are contributing to this problematic attitude.
I hope that at least some good can come out of this violation of privacy, and that it can generate some discussion about issues such as those raised here. And hey, at the very least, maybe Perez Hilton will finally have to take some responsibility for being such a douchebag, after sharing the photos online? I will certainly be keeping my fingers crossed for both of these outcomes. What do you think we can learn from reactions to the hacking?