A mere few weeks after a major dump of stolen nude photos of famous women, it’s happening again. Another bunch of naked pictures, likely stolen from cloud storage, are being released by sleazy operators with an overblown sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. That this is an unconscionable act of privacy invasion that is leaving its victims devastated should be obvious, but one of the victims, Gabrielle Union, put it best in her joint statement with her husband, Dwyane Wade: “I can’t help but to be reminded that since the dawn of time women and children, specifically women of color, have been victimized, and the power over their own bodies taken from them.”
This is sick and harassing behavior and the only people who should be held accountable for it are the people who are sharing the pictures. Should you need any further proof, a quick dip into the discussion forums about this at Reddit should remove all doubt, being as they are a wasteland of racism, misogyny, and a complete disconnect from any sense that other people have feelings worth considering. Or how they game out how to get away with as much of this as possible without running into legal trouble. A couple have a flutter of conscience, but only enough to say that maybe you shouldn’t rub the victims’ noses in it, but not enough to stop sharing the pictures.
But one kind of Reddit thinking has, sadly, gone past that cesspool and broken into more mainstream arenas: The thinking that blames the victims for this because they took the pictures in the first place. At Reddit, the word “victim” is put in scare quotes. One commenter claimed you’re asking for it to take the pictures in the first place: “Maybe because they knowingly took the photos in a digital era and they weren't actual victims compared to someone who has photos of them naked taken by planting cameras or peepholes etc.” Another suggested that the victims are lying: “Some of them probably had a hand in leaking these pics, that's why,” and even complained that they didn’t show him more.
Gross, but sadly a common sentiment. Last time around, Ricky Gervais and the RZA suggested victims somehow share the blame by taking the photos in the first place. This time around, we have the usual prudes putting the blame on the victims for daring to use modern technology for one of its more obvious and sexy purposes:
It’s the nude photo leak version of blaming a sexual assault victim for a short skirt. It isn’t just that it shifts blame away from where it belongs, on the perpetrators. It’s not just because it’s the typical misogynist tendency to assume a woman is to blame for attacks on her. It’s because this attitude is anti-creativity, anti-fun, anti-sex and, in many cases, anti-love.
It’s all very reminiscent of what happened when activist Sandra Fluke testified in a congressional hearing about the importance of including contraception coverage in health-care plans: There was a mad rush of conservatives insisting that contraception wasn’t necessary because women could just avoid sex, apparently for most of their lives (perhaps barring a couple encounters meant for baby-making). Republican donor Foster Friess denied that women ever need contraception, saying, “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” Rush Limbaugh belligerently and repeatedly insisted that Sandra Fluke—and by implication, any woman who ever had sex for non-procreative reason—was a “slut.”
Why take sexy photos on your camera? For the same reason to have sex at all: Because it’s fun. As long as people have been inventing new technologies, people have been finding ways to use those technologies to enhance their own sexual pleasure. One of the very first devices invented to make use of home electricity was the vibrator. Both photography and film were put to use making pornography almost as soon as they were invented.
Even the earliest known art made by human hands, hailing from the Paleolithic period, features a number of “Venus” figurines of naked women. The oldest of these is 35,000 years old. The first thing humans do when we have access to a new technology is ask how we can get off to it. This is as much a part of being human as using tools and speaking language. It makes no sense to shame people over it.
Sure, taking sexy pictures—like having sex itself—is, technically speaking, optional. But so are most things you do for fun or comfort: Sleeping in a bed instead of on the floor, using a toilet instead of squatting outside, listening to music and watching TV, cooking recipes instead of subsisting off nothing but rice and beans, hanging out with friends instead of staring at a wall during your downtime. We’d be up in arms if someone suggested you forsake all right to basic privacy if you use digital technology to stream music, so why on earth is it acceptable to say the same if you use digital technology to enhance your sex life?
It’s not just fun that you’re asking people to give up when you demand they stop taking private naked photos with their smartphones. You’re asking them, in many cases, to give up a form of playful fun that is improving their relationship. A nude photo sent to a partner who is away on business can help remind them that the home fires are burning, keeping the relationship strong during an absence.
But even if you are seeing each other every day, a nude photo can be a nice way to let your partner know that you love them and want them. Americans are forever going on about how we cherish marriage and want relationships to work, but the second people find a way to make that happen by injecting some excitement into their sex lives, suddenly everyone is begrudging them this technological relationship management tool.
Of course, Americans have long had a tendency to begrudge each other our fun, from office cultures where people compete to see who can be the most overworked to hysterical articles denouncing college campuses for their supposed “hook-up culture.” This finger-wagging about sexy photos is just the latest incarnation.
But wouldn’t we be happier if, instead of shaming and policing each other for having fun, we instead chose to encourage and even celebrate pleasure? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we were defending each other’s right to take nude pictures instead of braying on social media about how you’re too much of a prig to have even considered it, as if being a prude was a point of pride? Less shaming and more support would mean more fun in the lives of everyone. Sounds like a goal worth working towards to me.