Over the weekend, nude photos of many actresses and entertainers—including Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Kirsten Dunst, Ariana Grande, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead—were published on the website 4Chan and rapidly disseminated around the Internet. This isn’t, of course, the first time this type of photo hack has happened, and it will hardly be the last. In the last few years, celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Blake Lively have dealt with similar situations, in which personal photos taken for the express purpose of sharing with intimate acquaintances were stolen and released to the world at large. And as is always the case with these leaks, the photos are of women (sometimes men feature in the images as well, but they’re always secondary; it’s the women that are the targets), and it is the women themselves who are blamed for their own exposure, and for their own violation.
All over the Internet, whether in comment sections or on very popular Twitter accounts, people—male and female alike—were admonishing these women for ever having taken nude photos of themselves to begin with, as if in the simple and unbelievably common act of sexting, these women were to blame for the crimes committed against them. We should be beyond this, right? We shouldn’t need to still be fighting back against the notion that women are complicit in how they’re violated? And yet here we are. Here we are blaming women for engaging in virtually universal behaviors and saying that it is their own fault that their privacy was ignored, their selfhood denied. Here we are dismissing people who are vocally offended by the release of these photos and saying that we wished we looked that good, and if we did, we’d be happy that our photos were leaked. Here we are saying that some of these women have been photographed or filmed in varying states of undress before—and for money! lots and lots of money!—and so why should they care if more photos are out there? Here we are saying with no small amount of bitterness that this is “the price of fame” and that these women asked for it and that they should feel protected by their money and just get over it already. Here we are, click-click-clicking away, actively participating in yet another instance of the diminishment and violation against women that is so prevalent on the Internet, yes, but also the world itself. And unless we stand against it, we are all a part of it.
The release of these photos and the rabid fury with which they proliferated is not simply an example of the “price of fame.” If this were the case, where is the furor over photos of famous naked men? Where is the rush to hack their phones? That isn’t to say that male celebrities aren’t objectified in dismissive, damaging ways (see: the fascination with Jon Hamm’s pants bulge), but that sort of thing is far less common, and far less invasive than what happens on a daily basis for women. No, the reason people are so quick to dismiss this photo leak as being trivial rather than criminal is that, for many people, the release of photos like this is part of the price of being a woman. Being a woman—particularly one who is comfortable in her sexuality—means that there will always be people who think you’re to blame for whatever happens to you, that you invited those stares, that you wanted that grope, that you asked for that rape. Being a woman means that you will be blamed for engaging in perfectly typical behaviors—ones that men participate in all the time—and told that it is your fault when things go awry. Being a woman means that you deserve it. Being a woman means that you sacrificed your right to privacy the moment you were born. Being a woman means that you can relate to Jennifer Lawrence after this photo leak, because non-famous women deal with this kind of privacy hack all the time—revenge porn is a real and thriving industry, after all.
And being a woman can sometimes mean keeping quiet, and thinking that you’re protected by doing things like not taking nude photos of yourself or not having those extra drinks or not wearing a tight shirt or short shorts or doing any of those manifold things that women are told make them responsible for whatever happens to them. But every woman who has ever been violated even after following all those “rules” knows that there is no real security when it comes to female privacy. Being a woman means always being on display, always being aware that your body is not seen as just your own. And that’s why being a woman also has to involve speaking out against crimes like the one perpetrated against Lawrence, Rihanna, et al. and calling out the people who think it’s ok to blame these women for what befell them. Because if this is the price of what it means to be a woman, it’s a cost that’s too much for all of us to bear.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen