Hours after her nude photos were leaked on 4chan by a hacker, actor Mary J Winstead posted the following on Twitter.
To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves.
— Mary E. Winstead (@M_E_Winstead) August 31, 2014
Though remorse or shame are not qualities you would associate with a great percentage of our thriving, abrasive social media netizens, one would have expected that with the wave of protest against the leak, the sleazebags will lie low. However, that wasn't to happen. Because shortly after, Winstead posted this:
Going on an internet break. Feel free to my @'s for a glimpse of what it's like to be a woman who speaks up about anything on twitter
— Mary E. Winstead (@M_E_Winstead) September 1, 2014
She even commented on the micro-blogging site that it was high time she started using the block button. One would assume that most celebrities are part familiar with, part dismissive of the overwhelming social media attention they garner. Assuming that some of it can also be of a sexual nature or might border on being abusive, not many celebrities are known to actively respond to such behaviour or shield themselves from it. It's as if they are expected to treat online harassment as a part of their life's deal and honestly social media frenzy is probably the least of the hassles any celebrity faces. However, it is clear from Winstead's tweet, that this time, it was different.
So here's the gist of the story: a hacker releases private photos of these women, they get shared by millions in the process subjecting their bodies and with it, their life and personality to unwarranted criticism, jokes, comments and expressions of sexual objectification. And when the likes of Winstead expressed disgust at the people who participated in this carnival of sexual harassment, she was probably rudely told by the culprits that she has no right to be offended.
Curiously, you would argue most celebs, especially women, have traditionally been subjects of this legacy of objectification and are probably even aware of that. However, one should note here that misogynistic reactions to their public personality or parts of their lives they have deliberately chosen to make public are probably not as disturbing as conversations around aspects of their lives they didn't choose to share with the world. Especially when it has to do with their bodies - images of which has been extended to millions in a way they were least prepared to deal with.
While the incident has sparked off enthusiastic debates about computer security, one has to remember that is isn't merely an incident of hacking. It's clearly a case of online sexual harassment. The New York magazine aptly summarises the response to the leak: "It’s a power exerted over some of the world’s most successful women, to remind them that no matter how much money or fame or adoration they amass, they are subject to the same humiliation, ridicule, and venom that women online face every day."
The social media, since its inception, has also been relentlessly used as a weapon to strike back at genders, sexualities, races and classes expected to have lesser right to social privileges. In our times, the internet is where attempts to establish and uphold hierarchies of sex, race, religion and class are aggressively pursued. It doesn't come as a surprise then that our breed of practicing social media misogynists saw the photo leak as an opportunity to assert that they still can influence and intimidate the most successful women of their times.
And what is disturbing is that the incident seemed to have sparked a greater concern about cyber security than moral corruption in our times.
Scott Mendelson puts the malaise in perspective when he notes in his editorial in Forbes, "As a society, we deal with violence, especially sexual violence, against women in much the wrongheaded manner that we have fought the war on drugs. We focus on the supply-side, with an emphasis on the things that women must do to “stay safe” instead of focusing on lessening mens’ “demand” to view women as purely a disposable commodity. In short, we emphasize how women can prevent being assaulted instead of telling men and boys not to assault women in the first place."
Shortly after the leak, pop culture enthusiast Sonia Saraiya posted a series of tweets on the professional achievements of these actors - their best films, their most memorable roles etc. While one would say the reaction was a tad bit dramatic, what Saraiya was effectively doing, was trying to turn the gaze back to the persons and their accomplishments. The persons, who in a matter of few hours, had been reduced to body parts being unabashedly lusted after, ridiculed and criticised in an online spectacle.
The leak and the rousing response it got just reiterated a belief that feminism has been trying to counter for ages now : that a woman is as good as her body. Roxanne Gay helps us understand how we have probably made little progress in that department. She notes in an editorial on The Guardian, "It goes without saying that there aren’t many nude photos of men being released. Men are largely free to bare their bodies as they choose without repercussion..."
John Brimingham notes in a comment on the Sydney Morning Herald, "The unknowable number of people who republished those stolen images were not sharing or gossiping or having a bit of fun at the expense of wealthy celebs who should have known better. They were accessories to a crime. Not just of theft, but a form of assault. They debased every woman whose image they shared, and they shamed themselves in doing so."
Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that the internet misogynists are listening.
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Updated Date: Sep 04, 2014 09:31:12 IST