No Excuses: Responding To One-Handed Reviews

by Madeleine Holden


On Sunday night, a hacker leaked stolen nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence (among a host of other female stars) and dumped them into the Internet’s toilet, 4Chan. As a result, this week the media has been even more obsessed with celebrities’ bodies than usual. The pictures were rapidly disseminated, and it wasn’t long before Twitter was thronging with breathless, sweaty men typing one-handed reviews of the pictures, while other people (women, mostly) exhorted them to have some decency. Perhaps awash in pink-cheeked, post-masturbatory guilt, the men began to defend themselves: “She’s famous!” they wailed, “What does she expect?”, and “The pictures are out now, there’s no harm in looking!” Some pointed out that the nudes were high quality, so Lawrence needn’t feel bad about them, while other thin-lipped puritans chided her for taking the photos in the first place.

These men vomited out the same victim-blaming horseshit they can be reliably expected to spout in the wake of a woman’s violation. We’re all wading waist-deep in a culture that socializes men to treat women’s bodies as though they are property, so it’s not surprising that men felt entitled to look at the pictures and then loudly absolve themselves of guilt afterwards. Let’s look at each of the excuses in turn:

She’s famous! What does she expect?
There have always been a contingent of haters and losers who think that because celebrities live exciting, affluent lives, they’re fair game for paparazzi. Most compassionate people agree that a person can opt in to an acting career without signing over her naked body as public property, but even those who don’t miss a wider point: in 2014, flagrant invasions of privacy are no longer the exclusive purview of the rich and famous. Privacy violations have been democratized in the Internet era. There are many festering forums filled with cheated-on men, vengefully leaking ordinary women’s nudes. (Yes, women can leak nudes too, but we’re not yet free of the double standard: a man’s hapless dick pic will be forgotten in 30 seconds, whereas a woman’s leaked nudes can haunt and potentially ruin her.) There’s nothing depraved about consenting adults sharing naked pictures: it’s fun, it hurts nobody and women don’t deserve to be shamed for doing it. The shame should lie squarely with those who breach the trust by leaking them. Famous or not, women are constantly on-guard that our nudes will travel further than their intended audience; and famous or not, we should be able to expect more.

The pictures are out now, there’s no harm in looking!
The pictures are out now, there’s no denying that; but the problem with having your private pictures leaked is the fact that people look at them. That’s what makes it mortifying to have images of your naked body ripped from the privacy of your Camera Roll and thrust into the public sphere; that’s what makes your sweat turn cold and your heart pump inside your throat: the fact that people look at them. If you think that taking a quick look at the pictures makes you no more than a drop in the bucket, then you’re right: You’re a privacy-violating, consent-hostile drop in a bucket full of other drops, each causing direct pain to real human beings for the sake of egotistical curiosity and jack-off fodder. Good luck with that.

The nudes are good! She shouldn’t feel bad about them!
I’m truly not sure how you should treat the kind of person who earnestly makes this argument. Rip his pants down in front of his family or co-workers, then shrug and tell him his dick looked decent? Same logic, right?

Don’t do that. Just explain to him the stomach-churning dread of having your naked body revealed to the entire world isn’t much ameliorated by the fact that your boobs were on point. Then rub some coconut oil into your tired skin and don’t speak to this dude again.

She shouldn’t have taken nudes if she didn’t want them to leak!
As soon as the news of a leaked nude photo breaks, all eyes dart toward the woman in question: Who did she send them to? What was she wearing? Was she having sex, and if she was, how can we possibly respect her? Then, reliably, the focus broadens, and suddenly we’re discussing what all women can do to prevent similar misfortunes, which always boils down to this: Don’t talk about sex or have sex, don’t wear anything (but don’t wear nothing!), don’t go anywhere or do anything; basically, don’t exist. If you think that the solution to the problem of leaked nudes is telling women to stop taking nudes, you’re dumping a second burden on victims while allowing perpetrators to get off scot free. Oh, and also? You sound like fun.

Sharing nudes can be one of the most light-hearted and mutually-beneficial joys that consenting adults have available to us: it’s a fun way to flirt and build rapport, and it puts us in the driver’s seat of own desires and self-esteem. Yet nude sharing is fraught with the same consent issues that plague our culture more generally. We need to start drawing a heavier line between consensual and non-consensual sexual activity, and we need to publicly side-eye people who refuse to acknowledge the difference; men who consume women’s sexuality by stealth. We should be living in a world where men felt gross and embarrassed about looking at naked pictures that weren’t intended for them, and where blame is heaped on nude-leakers instead of nude-takers.

At this point, we’re a long way away from that model. From men thrusting unsolicited dick pics at women to the constant threat of leaks (and the resulting lack of empathy the victim can expect), it’s a wonder women bother swapping nudes at all. That may, of course, end up being the ultimate price: If you insist on behaving like entitled brats, women will simply stop playing with you.