By now you’ve heard the news that stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence and a number of other female celebrities have surfaced online. As is often the case in these situations, what followed was a display of both the best and the worst of the Internet (and humanity, in general). The images spread across the web at breakneck speed, and within minutes, major news organizations were reporting that nude photos of the Oscar-winning actress had been posted online. In doing so, these organizations were unwittingly helping the original posters disseminate this illegally obtained material.
Fighting back against our baser instincts were a number of Twitter users who began tweeting using the #ImNotLooking hashtag. The tag—a push back against the ever-rising tide of what we as society will accept from our news media and our willingness to take the bait laid out by those intent on harming others—started a conversation about consent, misogyny, and a right to privacy.
— Sophia Bush (@SophiaBush) September 2, 2014
What’s happening is a conversation about women, privacy and a victim-blaming that isn’t relegated to celebrity culture. In response to news of the photos, Jessica Valenti wrote an essay in the Atlantic, pointing to the “tendency in American culture . . .to shame women for their sexuality.” She added, “I would not be surprised in the days ahead to see arguments as to why this is somehow the fault of the celebrities whose phones were hacked—that these women took the pictures, that they were posing, that generating publicity is part of their job.”
Valenti was right: many have offered up the usual list of victim-blame-y suggestions, stating that if Lawrence and other celebrities didn’t want their photos out there, they shouldn’t have taken nude photos. This line of thinking is the same approach that has been used time and again in which women are told that the onus of preventing a crime, being objectified, or assaulted is on them.
We live in a world where women are regularly told that they need to dress, look, or act a certain way, and that any harm brought upon them for stepping outside of these demands is simply their own fault. There is a comparison to be made between telling a celebrity that if she didn’t want her nude photos to be leaked she shouldn’t have taken nude photos and telling a victim of sexual harassment that she should have been wearing different clothing.
Jennifer Lawrence isn’t responsible for her privacy and bodily autonomy being violated; the user who hacked her account is. And simply looking at those photos is validating a criminal act, and one that compromises the privacy rights of women.
Even called the images “leaked” —as The Wire pointed out—is disingenuous. This was not a leak, it was a crime. A leak is a spoiler for your favorite TV show. This? This is criminal, and I hope we can all begin to understand that framing these tragedies as “leaks” trivializes the severity of the crime being committed.
This is not the first time that stolen photos of female celebrities have surfaced, and sadly, it might not be the last, but it’s important to note that the conversation is shifting and questions are being raised about the ethics of participating in the invasion of privacy of women, why such exploitation exists, and how it needs to change.