“Revenge porn”: two words in the English language that should never go together.
Alas, those two words are shackled together by malicious idiots looking to ruin the people who had the misfortune to date them, and this weekend we had another outbreak of dickery. Twitterpurge had a bunch of angry exes posting nudes of their ex-girlfriends in an attempt to shame them. As it turns out, there are no laws protecting you from people posting naked pictures of yourself against your will – aside from paying $35 to copyright the photos and filing a DMCA takedown notice.
Some will say that anyone dumb enough to send nudes of themselves to their lovers deserves what they get. To me, that’s along the lines of saying “You should have known not to dress like that, going to that club!” when someone gets raped. Yes, if one never sexts or sends naughty pictures then one can avoid this, but I think that’s a way of suppressing a quote-unquote “shameful” act.
If someone recorded all your arguments over the phone when you were breaking up and then released your crying breakdowns as a podcast, I’m pretty sure the response wouldn’t be, “Well, then stay off the phone.” If after a bad breakup, someone wrote a humor piece published in the local paper on how foolish you looked when you had an orgasm, the answer would not be, “Well, don’t have sex.”
The truth is that we as society deem certain activities acceptable (and thus worthy of protection), and put other activities in the “You knew you were doing something shameful, so really, you deserved that, didn’t you?” And fuck that noise.
Yeah, I’ll say it: there’s nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to willing recipients. (“Willing” being the key word, here. Don’t Anthony Weiner yourself.) In relationships the naughty text is often a form of foreplay, like dressing up in lingerie, a way to ensure your partner is ravenous for you when they walk through the door. Or, in long-distance relationships, a way of bridging the loss of physical intimacy that happens when you’re in separate states.
And whether you think it’s wise or not, pretty much everyone does it. (I was once told by an ex-Genius Bar employee that yeah, pretty much every person dating has a naughty selfie or two hanging about, so they had to be super-careful when checking someone’s phone.) It’s a super-common activity, something that we may not like to admit happens, but does. A lot.
If you’re not comfortable with that, I support your unwillingness to participate. But when you shift to shaming and going, “Well, you knew the risk!” I hear you basically saying, “To avoid all risk of pregnancy or STDs, don’t fuck anyone ever. Otherwise, well… you knew the risks!”
All actions with other people have risks. But again, as society, we think certain people deserve to be punished for taking those risks.
That noise can be fuckenated. Especially in a committed relationship. There is especially nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to someone who has actually seen you naked, who is someone you’ve committed to as a partner, who at the time of the sending is someone you love and trust and care for.
What is wrong is when after the relationship sours, that person posts those pictures as revenge.
The problem is not the person who sent the photos, but the sick fuck who has weaponized them.
By shaming the victim here, you degrade the idea of privacy. What you say or send to someone in the course of a relationship is, and should have, a reasonable expectation of confidentiality. We’re still adjusting to the techno-shift of “Oh crap, what we say is on the record,” but at some point people will be able to dig up really fucking awful stuff about you at any time, and you need to look at the larger picture:
Is anything we do open to the public, where if anything you say happens to get captured anywhere then it’s fair game to be thrown open to millions of people?
Or is there a place where what you say to someone can – and should – reasonably be expected to stay between you two, where you don’t have to live a life constantly asking yourself, “Would I be comfortable with this statement being broadcast on ABC News?”
HINT: Politicians are trained professionally to act as though their every word will be broadcast, and they still fuck it up on a stunningly regular basis.
This is not a “stupid women” issue. It’s actually asking the larger question of “Who’s the jerk – the person who expected privacy, or the person who broached it?” And I think as a society, we really want people to exude that cultural pressure to say, “No, some things were meant to be seen by one person only, and anyone who breaks that seal of trust is a dick who needs to have his ass handed to them.”
So it’s not about naked selfies, in that light, it’s about asking yourself whether you’d like to lead a life where every conversation you have with your friends might one day be Google Glassed out to an audience of millions. This starts, as it always does, by picking on people who we as a society has agreed pretty much deserve it – and hey, that eternal punching bag of “slutty women” never gets a whole lot of respect, why not justify their disrespect?
Or you could – and should – switch your point of view away from “They knew the risks,” which actually is a synonym for “We’re not going to bother to protect your rights,” and move towards “Those guys broke an implicit contract, using what was given in private to try to ruin their lives, and we should do everything we can to stop these sick fuckers.”
And for the record, I think this applies pretty much everywhere. Ben Stein just got outed by a call girl who released screenshots of his texts, and I’m really not fucking comfortable with the excuse of “He’s a celebrity, he should have known.” Even celebrities should be able to have awkward relationships and breakups without people exposing their private data. And even though I think Donald Sterling is a racist nitwit who’s done a lot of harm, I am not comfortable with his ex recording their conversations and releasing them into the public arena to fuck him over.
Yeah, in the case of Donald Sterling, his removal has done a service for the NBA. But I think that sets a dangerous precedent, saying that “Well, we got rid of a racist, so any angry ex is perfectly justified in taking all the embarrassing shit they’ve gathered on their old partner and putting it out for the Internet’s entertainment!”
I think there’s a lot of bad exes out there – and though I’ve never gone on a racist or homophobic tirade during a breakup, certainly I’ve said some shit that sounds horrible in some end-of-relationship arguments. And here’s the thing: if you’ve had a breakup, you almost certainly have too. Breakups are often where courtesy goes to die. Which is why I don’t think “Well, I wanted to get back at someone who was mean to me” justifies breaking the seal.
We do stupid things in relationships. And some of those stupid things, yes, reflect who we really are, but what’s said when a relationship is ending is rarely flattering or a full picture.
What happens when you’re dating should, largely, stay between you. And a mark of maturity when breaking up is not involving your friends, not airing every bit of dirty laundry, and not violating past intimacy by revealing everything you think would fuck them over. (Unless that person is a rapist, an abuser, or other hazard to the community, naturally. I’m not arguing for “Never break the seal,” but rather “To do it rarely and with greater concern than merely revenge.”)
What happens between you as a couple should stay between you as a couple. That’s something I think should continue even in an Internet age. And yes, there’s always a risk sending dirty pictures or having nasty arguments that have you say stupid things or revealing the embarrassing stuff you do during sex – but rather than shaming the person who took the risk, we should overwhelmingly shame the person who created the risk. We should shame them for maliciously leaking the information entrusted to them.
We should shame them flagrantly, consistently, gratuitously, until that risk is as small as any possible risk associated with sex. Which is also not shameful. And anyone who tells you it is should be ashamed.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
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