When a 4Chan poster hacked into more than 100 female celebrities’ iCloud accounts, leaking naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and others, Lawrence’s representative called the crime “a flagrant violation of privacy.” Of course it did not take long for people to chime in that Lawrence and her ilk had brought this on themselves, simply by possessing the photos in the first place. Vital to this victim-blaming is the claim that, because Lawrence is a celebrity, she’s not allowed to have any photos of herself without sharing them with us. And underneath that is this more sinister, omnipresent insistence that women’s bodies are there for the viewing, for the judging, for the taking. That men who desire an all-access pass to the woman of their choosing should be able to acquire one, whether or not she consents.
That’s the thing: this is news, because it happened to Jennifer Lawrence. But these kinds of violations happen to all kinds of women, all the time.
I don’t think I am alone in reading this not as a scoop on a star but as one of the only times that, in fact, celebrities are “just like us.” If it can happen to her, it can happen to us; for women who have been victims of revenge porn, it already has. And I am done knowing that if I were to take nude selfies and send them privately, to one other person, there is nothing but an easily penetrable wall of 1s and 0s stopping someone from violating my privacy, from violating me, and spreading those images across the internet, like that old fable about how once gossip gets out you never get it back, how you can never put all the feathers back inside a pillowcase.
To see this story is to be so sick of knowing that if anything bad happens to a woman, ever, the immediate reaction of the world will be to list the myriad ways in which she brought the horror on herself—that nothing is ever not her fault, that just by existing she is asking for “it,” for all of the its.
I’ve spent a lot of time today making analogies, like a lot of people probably have. But I am ready to never make another analogy. I don’t want to have to tell people that “if your house were burglarized, no one would blame you for owning jewelry,” or “when someone hacked Target and stole all that credit card information, there was no chorus of men crying out, ‘That’s what you get for not paying with cash!’” or “if your email were hacked, no one would tell you ‘Well maybe you just shouldn’t have an email address.’”
I don’t want to have to do the thing where I walk you through it: what if it were YOUR daughter, YOUR mother, YOUR sister, because honestly that construction is even more insulting. As if the only reason a woman should not be violated is because her dad would be upset.
Funnier women have made comedy over the tragedy that is the never-ending list of things that girls are supposed to be doing, at all times, to protect ourselves. I think we are all over being told that for us to do all of these things—ostensibly in situations, like parties, when we are supposed to be able to relax and have fun; ostensibly in places like the intimacy of a relationship, where the whole freaking point is to feel safe and open with another person—because it is our responsibility to do so, and we are over being told that while that is possible, it is not possible to just have men stop violating women. Because it is more possible for us to do the thousand things than for men to stop doing the one thing, and if we do 999 of the things and they still do the one thing, it will be our fault for not doing that thousandth thing.
One of the most exhausting activities a person can engage in is attempting to navigate the deliberately convoluted privacy settings on all our devices and social media networks.
It is maybe impossible to be thoughtful about any of this and not feel vulnerable. And I don’t want to think about how vulnerable I am, walking home from parties at night, or riding alone in a cab. I don’t want to think about how vulnerable I am on my phone, on the internet, on my street, in my bed. I feel vulnerable everywhere, and I am so tired of this feeling, this molten, roiling feeling.
Christopher Chaney, the last man to leak private, naked photos of female celebrities, was sentenced to ten years in prison, plus three years of supervised probation upon his release. The judge was afraid that this punishment would not be enough, and said “he wished he could sentence Chaney to lifetime supervision.” Don’t we all.
Do you know how many photos of Jennifer Lawrence are already on the internet? Photos she has consented to sharing? Photos in bikinis, photos in bedsheets, photos in backless dresses and crop tops and short skirts. Kate Upton has been on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, she has willingly—eagerly!—appeared in videos, in the tiniest scraps of fabric, dancing and bouncing around. And somehow this is not enough, it is not enough for people who don’t so much want to see these celebrities naked as want to see what these women do not want to reveal. It’s about making these women, making all women, feel like: you can run, but you can’t hide.