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Leslie Loftis: Nude celebrity photo leak. Shame is not just reserved for women


Emma Barnett on the Daily Telegraph Wonder Women page thinks that hackers stole naked pictures of celebrities to shame women. In “Jennifer Lawrence Photo Leak: the big business of shaming women just got bigger,” she writes:

Ah ‘shame’ – its a funny and very cruel one. Despite all of the Wests progress in the gender equality stakes – its a feeling almost uniquely reserved for women.

I am not saying men never feel it – of course they do. But its rarely used as a weapon against them in quite the same way.

However, shame is the exact currency the anonymous hacker who has reportedly managed to gain access to private nude photos of the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and 100 other top celebrities, is trading in with this horrible leak.

First, of course, shame is used as a weapon against men. It is the method by which society moulds them. As the stereotypes go, in the past we shamed them into not crying or being otherwise emotional. Now we shame them for not being emotional enough.

Culture might have changed its mind about what it wants from men, but shame is how we get it. How can anyone reasonably claim that shame is rarely used as a weapon against men after the viral #yesallwomen campaign that tarred every man with the offenses of the few? (And don’t argue that #yesallwomen is an isolated, recent incident. To give but one example, recall the “I’m a recovering male” video, the one with the melodramatic music.)

Second, shame is not the currency in which the anonymous hacker trades. The hack is a game, and the hacker, he trades in power.

He went for the celebrity pictures because they are an attention-getting trophy for his two “wins”. One, he beat Apple, which had been touting its unhackable systems. Apple’s record was more a product of Window’s dominance than iron clad security—Mac systems weren’t a risk worthy target until recently—but the public had the idea that Mac systems were secure, emphasis on the past tense.

Two, he violated the actresses’ privacy. The women who took these pictures did not want them in public circulation. Now the hacker has not only seen the pictures, but by publishing them he made sure others knew what he had done.

He apparently hacked many more accounts, but Jennifer Lawrence headlines these stories because she has name recognition and has refused to appear nude in her movies. (Remember that horrible Oscar song, “I’ve seen your boobies”? Lawrence got a mention because she was one of the few who had not appeared topless in a film.) The hacker just wanted to do something that was forbidden and difficult—and notorious. Lawrence very well might be mortified, but he doesn’t care.

Violation is a power play, something that modern feminists in particular repeatedly fail to recognise. Witness the many campaigns berating anyone who suggests rape prevention tactics for women.

Just last week a quartet of college guys announced that they’d developed a nail polish that changes colours when dipped in a drink laced with the more popular date rape drugs. The polish called Undercover Colors is a great idea. Mere knowledge of its existence might reduce druggings. The hopeful rapist now knows his mark can have him arrested for attempting to drug her. It is no longer a good odds bet to rely on the reluctance of the scared rape victim to go to the authorities and endure a humiliating date rape kit evidence retrieval while hoping that her rapist’s (or rapists’) DNA is on file.

But Undercover Colors didn’t impress feminists. A prime example, again from the Telegraph Wonder Women:

“In the U.S., 18 percent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime,” [the student developers] wrote in a Facebook post. “Thats almost one out of every five women in our country. They are our daughters, they are our girlfriends, and they are our friends. Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.

“All well-intentioned, I’m sure.

“This nail varnish is the latest in a long line of anti-rape products designed to help women protect themselves (remember the anti-rape pants?)

“These students are ill-informed and misguided. Anti-rape nail varnish, that has to be applied at home before setting out on a date sends out a disturbing message (not to mention falling into the tired trope of the female pre-date pampering routine, with the tagline ‘The First Fashion Company Empowering Women to Stop Sexual Assault’)….

“God forbid we talk to young boys and men, have conversations around consent and teach them not to rape in the first place.”

These male students even cited the repeatedly debunked but still believed one in five stat. But they suggested something beyond “teach men not to” and so got tagged as victim blamers.

Leaving aside a not often discussed problem that many of the “teach men not to” tactics assume that all men are potential aggressors, which in turn might lead some men to live down to the expectation, this teaching solution assumes that all men will follow the rules. They won’t. And, in fact, they didn’t. Reddit, the site where the photos originally appeared weeks ago, has rules against such things. The hacker and posters flouted those rules. And as of last night, every time a cease and desist post shut down a thread, a new one started. Rules only constrain those who comply with them.

I think fear plays here. The problem of sexual violation is so horrifying that we want to comfort ourselves with simple solutions. This is why feminist sites decry construction worker cat calls but hardly mention stories like Rotterdam. And its why Apple will take the PR hit for faulty security on this photo hack. Feminists constrain the scope of the problem to fit the comforting solution.

The idea that some men break rules for the thrill of it is an idea too scary for modern feminists to confront because it means that all of the neat little rules for society that feminists have constructed as the self declared smarter and wiser sex, they won’t work.

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Leslie Loftis
Leslie Loftis
Leslie is a once and future American expat, most recently in London. She is also a lawyer and former local political campaign operative turned freelance writer. She currently lives in her hometown of Houston with her husband and their four children. Find her on twitter @AHLondonTX.

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