Friday, September 5, 2014

It's not slut-shaming, it's reality

Anyone who knows me will attest that I abhor the rape culture that has become the world of twentysomething dudes. Instead of seeing increasing respect for young women as self-determined people of fully equal standing, we see an increasingly mysoginistic culture in which adult human females are looked at as collections of eroticized body parts, and judged according to the erotic value of said body parts. I have three little granddaughters and a small grandson, and I fear for all of them; the boy that he might become some over-masculinized sexual predator, and the girls that they may become prey. I fully support the idea that we need to pour as much effort into teaching our boys to not rape as we pour into teaching our girls to not be raped. Rape is never the victim's fault. Period.

But my feminism, if it even is that, does not extend to the arena in which dwells the frankly alarming trend of taking pictures of oneself in the nude and then posting them somewhere online, only to have them suddenly pop up all over the world. I simply do not buy into the idea that a young woman who takes naked selfies and stores them in The Cloud is absolved of all responsibility when some cretin hacks her storage site and passes around the evidence.

I don’t pretend to know why “sexual self-expression” is such a necessary thing among people under 40 these days, but it appears to be, and the smart phone self portrait appears to be the medium of choice for this expression. I do wonder about the misandrist double-standard – if a man takes a naked selfie and shares it, he’s a creep, but if a woman does it, she’s making a sexual statement. I'm a huge fan of the First Amendment, but I doubt that when the Mythical Founding Fathers penned it they had in mind an unclothed Betsy Ross sprawled across Old Glory.

So you won’t be surprised that I have little sympathy for the likes of Jennifer Lawrence since her naked selfies have been shared across the great digital ether. The news stories all depict innocent little J-Law snapping some naughty pix on her smart phone, but some clarification is required here. First, they aren't really selfies; they are tasteful nude photos taken by a professional photographer (come on, do you really think a pampered Oscar-winning businesswoman is going to point her iPhone at her nekkid self? Get real! What would Siri think?) Second, they were reportedly meant as a gift to a Significant Other. Finally, they are no more or less revealing than anything Playboy published back in the mid-1960s. Compared with what some tequila-soaked housewives are posting these days, it’s pretty classy stuff. And no, I won't elucidate how I know that. Let's just say journalistic research is sometimes a thankless, dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

The militant feminists who write for left-wing blogs these days (I’m looking at you, Tracy Clark-Flory) would accuse me of “slut shaming,” as if that’s something bad. They would be wrong, by a country mile. As I have said before, I support any man’s or woman’s right to express himself or herself in any way that doesn't degrade, humiliate, or otherwise harm anyone. So if million-dollar Hollywood starlets want to preserve images of their now-perfect bodies for posterity, I have no argument with that. And if they want to store those images on secure hard drives locked in private vaults, to be shared only with loved ones or those willing to pay-per-view, they’ll not hear a peep from me.

But when they cry “Foul!” when some jackass hacks into the so-very-public “cloud” and then scatters the images along the information superhighway, I call bullshit. Who stores intimate images in anything called “The Cloud” anyway? Its very name suggests an amorphous, porous, ethereal vapor easy to penetrate and violate. I have probably a half-dozen photos stored in PhotoBucket, but they’re photos of my shop projects, Yellowstone Park, and interesting cloud formations. If I had intimate photos of anyone, they’d be on a password-protected external drive locked in a safe.

This isn't to suggest that people, both famous and obscure, shouldn't express their most intimate selves digitally. But just as it isn't wise for man or woman to walk drunk down a dark alley in a strange city, neither is it smart to store photos of one’s privates in the digital equivalent of a bus station locker.

Yes, I do hope the bastard who hacked the photos and released them is caught and punished, either by the authorities for theft and harassment, or by Lawrence and her lawyers for misappropriation of valuable private assets. Either way, the guy is a cad and a heel of the worst stripe. At the same time, however, I also hope pretty people around the world will learn to be a little more circumspect about where they store the images of their sexual self-expression. It’s just not a safe world out there.