Posted October 23, 2014 by Sydnie Jones in Editorials

Bedfellows for the Impotent: Stealing Miesha Tate’s Pictures is Misogyny

At the end of August, some super bad-ass people released almost 200 stolen, private pictures from, almost exclusively, famous women. On the tenth of October, word spread that MMA’s own Miesha Tate was one of the numerous victims of this theft and exploitation.*

Obviously, this is heinous. This has always been heinous. But it’s the victims who bear the brunt of the ridicule, their violation and victimization overlooked in favor of salacious overtones of sexuality. Since women are punished for their sexuality, it’s less the existence of private pictures than it is they were taken at all that people take such pleasure in mocking.

Because what kind of woman would do something like that? That’s the subtext of calling these pictures scandalous, which is what they’re always called. The implication further paints female sexuality as something in which respectable women should express no interest. This line of thinking is patently archaic, sexist, and hypocritical. Western culture punishes women for asserting their sexuality while simultaneously demanding that they provide it.

Although attitudes towards female sexuality have improved in recent years, the reality is that not only are women targeted more, they suffer more – despite being victimized and having a crime committed against them – than men do when similar things happen to them. Private pictures being exposed still ruins women’s careers, to this day. Certainly, it can have serious consequences for men, but even then, the reaction, while perhaps one of general disapproval, is not as vicious and condemning as when the victim is a woman. There are different expectations of men in a sexist culture like ours, one of which is that they are incorrigible horndogs who are always DTF. This is as ill-informed as believing a woman’s sexuality is something to be ashamed of, but the result is that when men display their sexuality, it may be newsworthy, but typically it’s not shocking.

Hacking a female celebrity’s phone is a way to punish women and exert control over them. When a culture packages and presents women and their sexuality as fantasies for men, it’s no surprise that capitalist dynamics enter the consciousness of what, exactly, the public should get from them. And we all know what happens when consumers get angry. You don’t want to give us everything we want to see? You’ll pay. We get what we want. We will take what we want. You can’t expect to be in possession of a body we like and then not deliver on (non-existent) promises that we get it all. We get to see everything we want to see, because that’s what we want and you are no one to deny us of it.

Never mind that women’s bodies have been commodified to the point that in most entertainment industries, a woman typically must have conventional sex appeal to be given even an opportunity to try to succeed. And never mind that women operate within a male-dominated culture that not only emphasizes but demands physical beauty from them, will ridicule women who don’t meet their standards, and punishes those that do for not giving enough. Or for giving too much. Indeed, there is literally no happy medium a woman can meet to satisfy what is demanded of her.

And if there were, what many men seem unable to understand is that women are under no obligation to do what anyone else wants. Punishing women for not meeting wholly subjective, specific, dehumanizing, and ever-shifting standards betrays an entitlement so towering the real “scandal” is that it’s gone unchecked for so long. Except it’s not a scandal, just like women taking pictures of their bodies is not a scandal. The entitlement is an atrocity, but an unsurprising one – when the people in power exert that power over the people they oppress, and exploit the oppressed for their benefit, they have no incentive to stop or even question it.

A tattoo proclaiming Christy Mack the property of War Machine

A tattoo proclaiming Christy Mack the property of War Machine

In the most charitable light, this entitlement comes from an unexamined place of oblivious privilege. In reality, its effect is a punitive malevolence that infects our entire culture. It’s a reminder to women that your body is not yours. Your body is not safe. You don’t decide with whom you share your body. Women must not ever believe they have agency over their own bodies. Their bodies are public domain, in one way or another – and when access is requested, it will be achieved regardless of the woman’s wishes. And you can bet there are men who will not hesitate to revel in that illicit access when it’s made available to them. Even the term used to refer to this violation, “The Fappening,” is coined through a male lens of gleeful anticipation, the very thought of having access to all these women liable to send them into uncontrollable masturbatory fits. What do you suppose the victims would call it?

In fact, the message that women are public domain is so pervasive that women can no longer expect to be safe from virtual voyeuristic criminals in their own homes, as Jared Abrahams illustrated by hacking into and remotely controlling webcams to take pictures of women he knew. He then threatened to release them if the women didn’t meet his demands for further exposure. Or, worse yet, it informs and shapes worldviews that, when paired with mental illness, can have fatal consequences. All of these – the stolen pictures, the hacked webcams, the murderous spree inspired in part by a man feeling unjustly denied sex with women – are instances sprouting from the same spectrum, where women are told over and over that they have no control over what happens to them, and the narrative it creates.

The violation of privacy ensures women feel unsafe. The control is wrested from the victim before they even know it, and they only find out when it’s too late to stop it. You are never safe, and you never know when and to what extent you might be reminded of that. If you’re a woman but not the victim, take note – here’s another thing you can’t do if you want to be safe. Add it to the growing list of things women must do to avoid being blamed for what happens to them. The threat of public humiliation now even influences what you do with your body in private.

The question isn’t what kind of woman would take photos sexual in nature. The question is what kind of person either holds such contempt for women, or has such little regard for an individual, that they access and distribute private pictures, with full knowledge of the effects it can have? Does this kind of person feel so powerless and rejected by the types of women he (or, less likely, she) fantasizes about that being denied an all access pass to them triggers a vindictive power play for control? Does this kind of person enjoy making women feel humiliated by exposing their bodies and personal pictures to billions of people? Does this person enjoy violating women and making them feel unsafe?

I don’t know. But it’s that kind of person, someone capable of something so callous for their own entertainment/profit/ego, and the culture that created them, that warrants scrutiny and criticism. Not the stolen pictures, and not the people in them. At best, this violation was sexism, and at worst, outright misogyny. And that’s a shameful thing  to celebrate.

*Jon Jones was also victimized. Needless to say, any invasion of privacy is awful. However, our culture’s double standards for female sexuality mean the consequences, on every level, are typically more severe, which is why this piece focuses on it happening to women.

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Sydnie Jones