Women’s Privacy, Over Male Pleasure


Several women had their privacy gravely violated last night. Photos these women considered private, and with a reasonable expectation that they stay private, were stolen and shared with the public. More than a trespasses on privacy, these acts were illegal sex crimes. However, if you turned to social media at the time the events broke, the aggregate tone could be summarized as bemused.

These acts and our individual reactions are important markers of the era we’re living in. More and more of our most sensitive data is being stored on systems not completely under our control. Additional breaches are increasingly likely. And, in an age where the broadcast transmission cost of information approaches zero, the culture driving our individual actions and reactions matter more than ever. So much more so when we consider a woman’s right to equal treatment online, as women have never enjoyed equal treatment – online or offline – and these differences and injustices are carrying over into a new age.

I was surprised to have been asked more than once, “why has this instance gotten you so riled?” Asking in response, “how can it not?” many of the women in my life told me they’ve seen similar events often enough to have become desensitized. They know how it will go, who will say what, and that it’ll happen again. But they also know how they feel about it, how I should feel about it, and how individuals and society should act.

To those who have already intoned these values, a singular event feels like nothing new. While for those who are just arriving, like me, a significant event can cause some things to click into place. This is what clicked into place for me:

1. This is a sex crime

The women were photographed in a sexual context with their consent. However, they did not grant their consent to share their photographs publicly. They were stolen, sold, and shared. Sharing these private photographs without consent, against their will, is a sex crime.

The perpetrator should be prosecuted as a sex criminal. Those distributing the photos should realize they are aiding and abetting one.

2. “Slut-shaming” is disgusting

The data of more than 70 million individuals were stolen from Target and yet not one victim was blamed for shopping with them, no matter how inane their purchase. But if a woman takes a nude photograph and stores it on the cloud she’s asking for it. It’s the on-line equivalent of wearing a short-skirt and traipsing down a dark alley.

The victims took private photos, and stored them on a private system, with a reasonable expectation of privacy. And yet, their behavior has been judged by some as though it were deviant (it isn’t) and public (it wasn’t).

3. This is nothing like Wikileaks

I’ve seen the first two points discussed elsewhere, but there is a third I haven’t seen discussed widely: the appalling public gratitude for being titillated at the expense of the victims.

My sage friend, Lucy Blair Chung, summarized it best:

We’re taught that women’s privacy is less important than male pleasure.

The perpetrator and their accomplices are not Julian Assange. There isn’t any noble purpose in sharing these data; the unlawful act was not committed to expose an injustice: it was a sex crime where real people are its victims.

So what?

Culture is defined in terms of the things we choose to value and prioritize. I want to live in a world where our private lives are protected even over my titillation – not the other way around.

These crimes are only a recent example of the inequities that exist for women online. Sadly, there innumerable other related examples, such as revenge pornography.

On an individual level, learn to spot these inequities and say something. Correct behavior. Be the change – especially if you are male.