The Celebrity Photo Leak, Rape Culture & Reclaiming the Female Body

*Please note: Where ‘men’ are referenced in this article it’s not to implicate all men, but simply the unfortunate minority who let the team down*

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s definitely something insidious and psychotic about the nature of all of those stolen naked photos from the iclouds of Hollywood actresses. Whilst there was certainly nothing shocking or unexpected about any of it – the whole event marching across the same worn down lane that several criminal acts against high profile female figures have walked over the past decade or so – the sheer meticulous level of it was. As though the sad, pathetic bastards who organised the heist were sat there, dicks out in their hands, taking requests for specific women and drawing up blueprints for the hustle like they were George fucking Clooney in Oceans-whatever-number-those-old-dudes-are-filming-now.

The sheer volume of actresses involved – from obscure names to big league – implies that the big bad behind this (and in my head the blokes who committed this crime are like Andrew, Warren and Jonathon from Buffy – the Nerd Trio who desperately want to become supervillains from out of their mama’s basements because they’ve got absolutely nothing else to do with their lives) just did a big old sweep of every woman of a certain age with an imdb page and an Apple device until they found themselves something titillating enough to fill a sock with.

buffy nerd 1

They are essentially the horror movie stalk and slash villain – relentlessly chasing semi-naked, sexy women just so they can dick them about with something in lieu of their own actual manhood (for further reading, please see any of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes in which Michael Myers basically fucks women with a machete). This is classic revenge porn through and through, except where men usually send in compromisingly sexual pictures of ex-lady-friends who’ve wronged them, here we have men just simply getting revenge. On women, on never getting laid, on bitches, on sluts (and these are the sort of people who question why feminists are so ‘bitter’. Yikes). Men who are just damn pissed off they’ll never get to shag Jennifer Lawrence. And like Rob Zombie’s Michael Myers thrusting that machete into sexy women like the Lust suit from Seven, here we have sad, loner hackers penetrating the privacy of women so many depths out of their league that they’d probably need breathing apparatus just to talk to them in real life.

myers zombie

Seeing these women aroused, naked and enjoying their sexuality is not the core point of any of these thefts, but simply a bonus. The achievement was to simply gain access and exert power over them, like the swinging dick around town who deflowers the school virgin, more for the medal of honour, the machismo, the high fives than for any of the actual enjoyment that could come of it. It’s about the entitlement to women’s bodies and their sexualities and declaring power over women and our culture is completely saturated with that entitlement to the point of it being worryingly normalised.

Ask, for instance, the men who still read red top tabloids on a daily basis. Would they really miss the Page 3 girl if she wasn’t there? Would it cheapen their daily news reading experience if there wasn’t a pair of tits waiting there for them every morning to help them through it? Personally, whenever I’ve asked Sun or Daily Star reading men about it they’ve played it pretty cool saying they don’t buy it for the tits, barely look at them, but at the same time they’d be pissed off if the Page 3 girl was suddenly culled from the pages. Why? Not so much because they enjoy the tits, but simply because they believe they’re entitled to them. It’s obviously a comfort for them to open the paper every day and see that nothing’s changed: they’re still King Dick and women will still get their tits out for them. May they never have to open a paper and see a complete stud with 7 inches of homegrown sausage standing there with a twinkle in his eye over their morning coffee. Because that must really suck.

The same goes for women as background decoration in gaming, movies and TV shows. Holy fuck, if I have to sit through another entire scene, season, episode, level or movie that just so happens to be conveniently set in a strip club then I’m going to start consuming media with five pound notes stuffed in my knickers ready for me to throw at my television set just like I’m there. ‘Strip Club’ or ‘Whore House’ is the laziest Mise en Scene, constructed just to satisfy the entitlement of the hetero, male audience. I mean, why use a setting that actually means something to the narrative (and strip club = seedy underworld is tired, guys, give it up) when you can have a nice pair of titties flapping about in the background for decoration? Is it any wonder that women still struggle to land lead roles.

The starting credits of True Detective gave us a good indication of what that show thought about women.

The starting credits of True Detective gave us a good indication of what that show thought about women.

Our cultural entitlement to the female form and female sexuality is sickening. As women, many of us have an unhealthy attitude towards the tabloid stalking of women, consuming those sort of private images with a sort of cannibalistic curiosity. The tabloid photographer is paid to stalk, paid to get the most unflattering or sordid image possible, the kind of photo that could be read in hundreds of unfortunate, scandalous manners: Pregnant? Drunk? Depressed? Suicidal? Anorexic? Dumped? Psychotic? Fat? Drugs? Slut? Old? Exhausted? We sell these images to insecure women who want to feel better about themselves. Compare and contrast. Men aren’t dissected in the same way that women are, and are for the most part seldom seen. We aren’t entitled to the male body in the same way that all of us are entitled to the body of women. You will never see hundreds of leaked photos of celebrity dick doing the rounds on 4Chan.

This kind of presumed entitlement is dangerous not just in the realm of pop culture and mass media consumption but also when we look at exactly how far we’re progressing (or not progressing as the case may be) with raising awareness about issues of consent, rape and other sex crimes.

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Recently the above vile ‘rape awareness’ poster began doing the rounds produced by none other than the NHS which basically warned women – Hey, if you’re gonna get drunk, you might get raped and if you do, don’t come crying to us. That’s the NHS. The people that we entrust our bodies to for help if and when we get do raped wanting us to know that it’s probably our own fault if we were dumb enough to get drunk before it. Men can’t help themselves, after all, and if you’re drunk then they’re kind of entitled to have a go if they want to.

Meanwhile, Emma Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia University in the US, has turned her rape attack into an art project protesting the failure of campus officials to deal with the crime in a responsible manner. Carrying the mattress on which she was allegedly raped, Sulkowicz has admirably and bravely stood up against a system which removes responsibility from the rapist (who had an astounding 3 official complaints made against him by 3 different women completely ignored) for the victim to instead carry on her own shoulders instead (literally in this case).

emma-sulkowicz-carries-mattress

When there is no justice and no support system – when you tell people that it happened and they ignore you – the message reverberates through a community. The entitled can continue. The rest of us might suffer and we will be silent, because even if we speak up about any of it we’ll be ignored.

Sure, there’s a lot worse things happening in the World than the theft of some private naked photos from celebrity women, but it’s acts like that which make you feel weak again. If you yourself have ever been in some way sexually attacked and felt completely at odds, completely defenceless and silent afterwards, completely failed by your community, then you might know what I mean. The leak of those photos wasn’t just some Frat House style prank, it was another reaffirmation that our bodies apparently do not belong to us. That it’s fair game whatever people want with us. That we deserve it. That we’re public property.

Don’t make the mistake of trivialising those leaked naked photos as mere celebrity gossip, because it has implications far wider than that. The way in which our society reacted to it, the way in which certain media outlets still republished pictures whilst condemning them, the way in which so many were quick to critique and quick to voice their ‘if you don’t want sex pictures leaked online then don’t take sex pictures!’ sentiments prove that we still have a long way to go in educating the vast majority about consent, crime and agency. Of how people define an ‘attack’ and how they reasonably evaluate who is responsible for it: the victim or the perpetrator.

feminist death threats

Those pictures were a territorial pissing, a macho howl into the grim embers of the internet where women still receive death and rape threats daily for attempting to speak out against misogyny or for simply daring to have an opinion. It’s the same silencing tactics that make rape survivors scared to speak up right after their attack. The one which makes mothers too apathetic to ask dudes on the bus to maybe close that page of their paper so her kids don’t have to see tits and ass at 8am in the morning on their way into school.

By intruding and making public the private sanctions of the women involved, those photos removed the idea of a safe space. They reinforced the idea that the only places women are apparently allowed are the ones sanctioned for us by men: be it the Subreddits where our private naked photos will be reposted for upvotes and front page status or the page 3 smear of ink wedged in there between half-assed attempts at ‘news’. Be it the short cuts between buildings to avoid the guy your community told you didn’t rape you (lest you cause a scene, young lady!) or the socially acceptable level between ‘tipsy’ and ‘gonna get yourself raped’ drunk or even the background stripper in an important scene of an Emmy award winning crime drama where near enough every main female character is also sexualised (yo, True Detective!), we go where the men tell us we can go. Got that ladies?

We need to reclaim our spaces, our bodies, our sexualities, our identities. We need to reclaim our entitlement to equality and to our safe places, whatever and wherever they be. Howl back and piss in their territories.

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