Women’s issues deserve action, not threats
Author: Sonia Stanger
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the footage of Emma Watson delivering a badass speech on feminism in front of the U.N. last week. Watson was recently named U.N. Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, and is the voice of their “He for She” campaign, which aims to make men a part of the fight for gender equality. The speech has received backlash from some feminist critics who wanted to see Watson express a more intersectional feminism, which recognizes that issues of race, sexuality, gender expression and class are inextricable from issues of sexism. Many have also, rightly, taken umbrage with the “He for She” label, which excludes anyone who does not subscribe to a gender binary. These criticisms merit discussion, but I think that Watson’s speech achieved what it generally sought to: it countered stereotypes, delivered an easily digestible version of feminism, and has been shared widely by those who would not previously have identified as feminists.
The day after the speech began to spread like wildfire, a thread was posted on the message board website 4chan, one of the darkest and most nefarious places on the Internet. It contained a threat to post nude photos of Watson, supposedly hacked from the cloud, as “punishment” for her speech. As it turns out, the threats were a hoax. This hoax has multiple layers and appears to have been some kind of shitty marketing campaign. The curious nature of this case merits its own article, which I don’t have space for here. What I do want to say is that even if the threats were “fake,” the implications are very real. I have no doubt that it matters little to Emma Watson that this turned out to be a hoax. The psychological trauma of being threatened is deep and long-lasting. When one receives a death threat, the fear and panic are real, whether or not it is followed up on. Whether or not the threats against Watson were serious, the notion that “a woman has to shut up or be shown for the slut she is,” as the 4chan thread said, are deadly serious. And that’s what threats like this one amount to.
Users of 4chan have apparently taken issue with being framed for the threat. The Register, a British science and technology online newspaper, cites one user as saying, “4chan holds Emma in high esteem, and while most of us would fap like crazy to real nudes, it’s not us hacking the cloud.”
Hopefully the problem with this is obvious, regardless of whether the threats were issued by 4chan or not. Last time I checked, masturbating to stolen nude photos doesn’t count as “holding someone in high esteem.” 4chan hosted many of the leaked celebrity nudes that surfaced last month, with targets including Jennifer Lawrence and Kim Kardashian. Their willingness to exploit famous women’s private property for their own sexual gratification is clear.
The leaking and sharing of stolen nude photos is a huge problem. That shouldn’t need saying, but apparently it does. Here’s the bottom line: when you look at a naked photo of someone that was not sent specifically for your eyeballs (or, in the case of porn, explicitly created as a product. That’s a whole other can of worms), you are entering into a non-consensual sexual transaction with that person. That is a violation; that is sexual violence. When you add in the question of using this form of sexual violence as a method to silence someone, things get even grizzlier. It is a perverse kind of sexual intimidation. It seems to operate under the understanding that the woman who has taken the photo is a “whore,” and that this fact can be used to punish her. But, it also entirely removes a woman’s ability to say no to being seen. It eliminates her control of her own body and sexuality. It walks a confusing and gross tightrope between condemning female sexuality and forcing the woman in question to be sexualized and objectified by anyone who clicks on the photo – conceivably, anyone.
There is no question that the legal system needs to catch up to technology so that those who are responsible for these privacy violations can be held to necessary account. But, I would argue that anyone who knowingly seeks out stolen naked pictures is complicit in the act. Sexuality should not be used against someone as a threat. It is a healthy and natural human expression. Until women are no longer threatened with sexual violence for speaking out, we need voices like Emma Watson’s calling for change.