WMC FBomb

On revenge porn and shaming women's bodies

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Fourth months ago, a friend of mine — let’s call her “A” — received a strange Facebook message from another friend. Had she messaged him on Tinder? he asked. The user of a profile featuring her name and image been intent on discussing a nude photo shoot she had supposedly done years back with a popular photographer. That’s how A found out someone was impersonating her with the intent to shame her.

When one is trying to shame, embarrass, or call into question the reputation of a woman, exposing her body is often the first weapon used to do so. It seems A’s impersonator had learned that lesson well. In their apparent attempt to shame A, they didn’t choose to accuse her of having hurt someone, engaged in a crime, or been false or dishonest. They chose to expose naked pictures of her body, which, since it’s a woman’s body, should therefore be hidden or only shown to her husband.

This tactic of shaming women based on their sexuality and/or bodies is hardly uncommon. Take the current First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, who faced a similar attack during the presidential election. Nude photos Trump took during her modeling career were salaciously shared by The New York Post in a piece called “The Ogle Office.” Critics pounced on this exposure: They questioned her ability to “uphold family values” and be a role model as First Lady. No matter one’s political opinion about Melania Trump or her husband, it’s undeniable that this treatment was the type of blatant slut-shaming that so many women are continually subjected to in order to minimize any of their achievements or ambitions. Why should Melania Trump have been expected to apologize for or even hide the fact that she took nude pictures as a consenting adult? And why should we pass judgment or shame her for it? Why is it that we admire pictures of a shirtless Justin Trudeau, but deride Melania’s bare body? As the Huffington Post put it, “Ultimately, the nude photos are irrelevant. They tell nothing about Melania Trump’s character or her ethics, and they certainly tell us nothing of Donald Trump’s.”

This type of shaming is a global problem. In Sri Lanka, for example, a young woman named Meliza Leitch has been criticized for the images that she posts on Instagram. Because of these posts, which focus primarily on her body, Leitch has faced name-calling and strangers accusing her of wanting attention and worse. The concept that her reasons for posting these pictures, whether for attention or simply because she is free to display her body on her own terms to whomever she chooses, are not for someone else to decide seems beyond the realm of many of her followers’ understanding. What is even more baffling is why the countless men who have Instagram accounts that feature them regularly posing shirtless are not similarly shamed for taking pride in their bodies. Why aren’t they deemed immoral or “loose” the way Leitch is for doing the exact same thing?

This is especially worth considering given the context that young women’s nude photos are now shared across online platforms with alarming regularity. These intimate images, which are often distributed by men with whom women privately shared them, are sometimes used as public masturbation material, circulated without the subject’s consent. This practice, known as “revenge porn,” has reached staggering proportions. The BBC reports that 20 percent of Australians aged between 16 and 49 have been the victims of revenge porn, and nearly 10 million Americans are victims, according to a 2016 study on the topic. The problem is so ubiquitous that Facebook has even launched a tool to combat the problem.

But rather than place the blame for revenge porn or other related incidents on those who distribute these pictures with the intent to harm another person, many people’s instantaneous reaction is still to shame the women in the pictures for having sent them in the first place. Perpetrators frequently act with impunity; most states and countries still have lax or nonexistent laws when it comes to revenge porn, and even where laws exist, most perpetrators assume their victims will cower under the shame they have inflicted and will not come forward to make a charge against them.

A had not consented to the nude photos that were taken of her. But rather than allow the potential circulation of these photos to instill shame within her, she believes the true shame in this incident lies with those who are using these images as a tool to shame her. Taking pictures without a subject’s consent and/or through coercion should be not only a source of shame, but a widely recognized and enforced crime. If pictures taken consensually are shared without consent, then the sharer should still be the one ashamed and prosecuted. In any scenario, shame should not lie with A and women in similar positions. The shame lies only with those who truly have something to be ashamed of.



More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Online harassment
More articles by Tag: Internet policy, Law, Non-consensual pornography, Social media
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Sharanya Sekaram
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