FB Share
Email This Page
add comment
Print

Filipovic writes: "Send a naughty photo to your boyfriend and when it turns out he's a pig, your image is all over the internet, often with your name, location and links to your social media accounts."

Ex-lovers can now torment women online by posting naked photos of them and other personal information. (photo: Robin Beckham/Alamy)
Ex-lovers can now torment women online by posting naked photos of them and other personal information. (photo: Robin Beckham/Alamy)



'Revenge Porn' Is About Degrading Women

By Jill Filipovic, Guardian UK

30 January 13

 

n the centuries-old tradition of human beings looking at images of other human beings naked, the internet is perhaps the biggest game-changer since the film camera.

Porn sites are some of the most-visited places on the web, and just about anything you could imagine (and lots of things you probably couldn't have come up with on your own) is a mere Google search away. While that's great news for folks who have, say, an unrequited zombie fetish or a deep desire to see old men swaddled in mohair diapers, the almost entirely unregulated buffet of internet pornography also has a whole host of downsides - one of the most odious being the popular genre of "revenge porn".

On revenge porn sites, users upload x-rated photos of women (often ex girlfriends or lovers) without the women's permission. Send a naughty photo to your boyfriend and when it turns out he's a pig, your image is all over the internet, often with your name, location and links to your social media accounts. The purpose of revenge porn isn't to allow regular guys the opportunity to see some naked girls-next-door; it's explicitly purposed to shame, humiliate and destroy the lives and reputations of young women.

Luckily, some of those women are refusing to be shamed into silence. More than two dozen of them have filed a lawsuit against one of the websites, Texxxan.com, as well as its host, GoDaddy.com. Some of the women have lost their jobs; all of them have been exposed and exploited, first by men they trusted and then by entities simply looking to make a buck off of misogyny.

Gender cyber harassment is nothing new (pdf), and revenge porn sites are part of a widespread, deeply sexist online culture everywhere from blog comment sections to YouTube videos to message boards. Anonymous sexualized harassment of women online has been around since AOL chatrooms, and it seems to be getting more mainstreamed, more organized and more efficient. The internet is not a nice place to be a woman - something I found out first-hand, and not just through the ongoing threats, harassment and stalking I've received as a feminist blogger.

When I was a law student at NYU, I found myself the subject of hundreds of threads and comments on a website called AutoAdmit. Reading post after anonymous post about how your classmates and future professional peers want to rape you is not a particularly pleasant experience; seeing those posts right next to details of what outfit you wore to school yesterday, how tall you are or what kinds of comments you made in class feels awfully threatening.

It's hard to explain the psychological impact these kind of anonymous posts have, when these people know your name, face and exactly where you are during the day. You can't walk down the hall at school without wondering if that guy who just made eye contact with you is going to go home and write something disgusting about you on the internet, or if anything you say in class is going to be quoted on a message board as evidence that you are a stupid cow, or if any one of these anonymous commenters is going to take their sexually violent urges offline and onto your body.

My reaction was to shut down. I felt like I was in a fishbowl, so I just refused to look outside of the glass. I'm a very social person, but in three years of law school I made only two friends. I skipped a lot of my classes; when I did go, I kept my head down.

I tried to ignore the online postings, hoping they would go away. When they didn't, and I finally screwed up the courage to write about them, I received a barrage of harassing and threatening emails. One man, a graduate of Georgetown Law Center, claims to have gone to NYU and met with one of my professors to discuss what a "dumb cunt" (his words) I am. Even after I was out of law school and practicing, that same man sent more than a dozen emails to every single partner and attorney at my law firm in an effort to get me fired.

I graduated law school in 2008. Five years later, the process of writing about this still makes me tense up, triggering the same old anxiety, anger and fear. I still avoid going to large professional gatherings, and when I do go, my heart starts to beat a little faster if I catch someone looking at my name tag for what seems like a few seconds too long.

I'm a feminist writer who even before law school was used to receiving my share of online abuse. I get called all sorts of names on a daily basis and usually just roll through it. Yet I was still devastated by those postings.

And I was lucky. I wasn't naked. My job opportunities were surely limited, but I didn't get fired. But there are serious long-term consequences to internet harassment, both professional and personal. It's undoubtedly much worse when the harassment involves naked pictures, your face on a porn site and the permanent stigma of being a "slut".

It's easy to say, "Well if you don't want naked pictures on the internet, don't send men naked pictures" - or in my case, I suppose, just don't be female on the internet. But that simplistic view overlooks the way intimate relationships operate today, and, in fact, how they've always operated.

Within romantic relationships, people have always exchanged tangible things that would be highly embarrassing if publicly revealed, whether that's a sexy note, a suggestive article of clothing or raunchy photo. You're already engaging in an act that involves nudity, exchange of body fluids, the potential for reproduction, two human bodies intertwined skin-to-skin and, one hopes, some level of mutual trust. Once you've been face-to-genitals with someone, sending them a nude picture doesn't seem like it should be such a big deal.

Society sees it differently - at least when the nude photo is of a woman. There aren't popular revenge porn sites with pictures of naked men, because as a society we don't think it's inherently degrading or humiliating for men to have sex. Despite the fact that large numbers of women watch porn, there are apparently not large numbers of women who find sexual gratification in publicly shaming and demeaning men they've slept with.

And that is, fundamentally, what these revenge porn sites are about. They aren't about naked girls; there are plenty of those who are on the internet consensually. It's about hating women, taking enjoyment in seeing them violated, and harming them.

The owners to Texxxan.com practically said as much when, in defending their website, they posted a message saying, "Maybe [sic] the site provided an outlet for anger that prevented physical violence (this statement will be very controversial but is at least worth thinking about)." In other words, these are men who hate women to the degree that they'd be hitting them if they didn't have revenge porn as an outlet for their rage. They're angry because women have the nerve to exist in the universe as sexual beings.

Unfortunately, the law hasn't quite caught up with the internet. I hope these women win their lawsuit. But as Emily Bazelon details at Slate, they're fighting an uphill battle. Our current laws were written with an old media system in mind, and they need to be updated to protect free speech while also defending against defamation and gross invasions of personal privacy.

In the meantime, we can all do small things to marginalize the appeal of revenge porn. Not looking at the sites is an obvious first step; finding a host other than GoDaddy for your own site is another. Refusing to participate in the sexual shaming of women is also key - these sites would never survive without the pervasive view that sexually active women are dirty. Support the women who have the nerve to stand up to these privacy violations. Read, promote and raise up women's voices generally, online and off. And push legislators to modernize our laws.

Right now, the law and our culture are both on the side of those who shame and humiliate women for sport, instead of those of us who just want to go about our normal lives, whether that's going to law school or having sex with our boyfriends, without putting our careers, our reputations, our psychological well-being and our basic ability to trust the people we're closest with on the line. Here's hoping we win the long game.

 

Comments   

We are concerned about a recent drift towards vitriol in the RSN Reader comments section. There is a fine line between moderation and censorship. No one likes a harsh or confrontational forum atmosphere. At the same time everyone wants to be able to express themselves freely. We'll start by encouraging good judgment. If that doesn't work we'll have to ramp up the moderation.

General guidelines: Avoid personal attacks on other forum members; Avoid remarks that are ethnically derogatory; Do not advocate violence, or any illegal activity.

Remember that making the world better begins with responsible action.

- The RSN Team

 
+92 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-01-30 20:49
Thank you for your honesty. More men should read this.
 
 
+20 # Constant Voter 2013-01-30 22:06
I'm surprised that the most basic of defenses against a photo of a person being published - no model release or permission of the person in the photograph - isn't at least a beginning. Maybe the word "publish" doesn't carry over to the web, depending on the kind of website?
 
 
+40 # Emmanuel Goldstein 2013-01-30 22:12
Male violence is a cancer in our society. Revenge porn, described so well in this fine article, is just one more example. We all need to start talking about it, as a way of warning women and shaming the men who want to victimize them.
 
 
-62 # Rick Levy 2013-01-30 22:21
Oh please, women have just as much capability of doing the same thing to their ex-boyfriends.
 
 
+24 # pushingforpeace 2013-01-31 06:05
The evidence is that far fewer women do this than men.
 
 
+32 # larry motuz 2013-01-31 06:31
Betrayal is common among those with no conscience.
 
 
+12 # tishado 2013-01-31 21:31
Even if women do the same they do not have the power of patriarchy to back them up.
 
 
+9 # Rascalndear 2013-02-01 13:09
Quoting Rick Levy:
Oh please, women have just as much capability of doing the same thing to their ex-boyfriends.

The point is that they don't. That is what you need to be thinking about. And nobody is going to go on a site that shows naked men and say, Wow, what a bunch of pricks!
We're looking at a level of meanness that is really hard to fathom. Pr
obably the only answer for women is, don't trust guys.
 
 
+2 # Rascalndear 2013-02-01 13:17
I have always thought it was very unwise to send around naked or risque pictures of yourself (women), let alone post them on the internet (Would you want your kids, your siblings or your parents to see them???). I've never understood why people want to video themselves during sex. (Would they rather watch themselves than BE themselves???) Exhibitionism needn't be part of a good sexual experience. Millions upon millions of people have had great sexual, loving, romantic relationships without ever engaging in any form of exhibitionism. Because exhibitionism has traditionally been associated with prostitution and burlesque/strip -teasing, it's understandable that immature or neurotic men will treat it as such, even on a subconscious level. Why feed it? If your boyfriend or husband needs to be "teased," it sounds like your relationship needs a refresher of a different kind.
 
 
+1 # ghostperson 2013-02-02 18:36
Any why pray tell would a woman want to do it? Men are visual which is why they are the predominant audience for porn.

If a female were to do it for revenge, she wouldn't take a picture of the "member." Being quite innovative where revenge is concerned, a female so inclined would photo shop the smallest penis on record and afix it to the ex's foto then blast it across the internet making sure that the subject and his friends were the first to receive it, making him the laughing stock of his buddies and disinclining women to bother with him.

Men lack imagination where revenge is concerned. They tend simply to be crude. Women on the other hand have no shortage of imagination and are very blatant about having gotten even. Women want men to know that revenge was taken and done well.



At this moment, I happen to be collating for publication true stories about women's acts of revenge against men who have done something bad to them. I am not including mere tales involving unrequited love.

All I can say is that men have no idea who they are dealing with--because it is not whether women take revenge, it is when and women have elephantine memories.
 
 
+1 # Sandy 2013-02-10 11:10
Do these men you're writing about feel threatened, fear rape or harassment? Have they lost their jobs, lives been ruined? Just wondering...
 
 
+1 # Sandy 2013-02-10 11:03
Capability is not what this article is about. As a trend, women DON'T choose to exploit and humiliate men this way. And as the writer points out, even if women did, it's not viewed by society as negatively for a man to have a naked photo on a website as it is for women to be demeaned that way. That's why this article is describing a big problem that's ruining women's lives, while what you're suggesting is not a big problem. Get it?
 
 
+22 # R Miller 2013-01-30 22:21
Any thought to going after the dirtbags who perpetrate this sort of thing against women? The author spoke of one such creep who tried repeatedly to get her fired. What is his name? Does a photo exist of him anywhere? In other words, rather than walk away from this mental case, it's much better to out him to his peers--and everyone else-- and destroy any opportunity he may have repeat this activity with other women. Most women hating "men" understand only power and force, so proper thing to do is ID them to society. Failing that, why hasn't the author sued this cretin personally?
 
 
+3 # Rick Levy 2013-01-31 18:39
Which is what I was in effect advocating, but I got thumbs down for it.
 
 
+3 # Rascalndear 2013-02-01 13:18
This is a tactic that was used against date rapists at one point. It's very effective. Publicly shaming the person who is doing the harrassment, because that's what this is: sexual harrassment.
 
 
-20 # Kratoklastes 2013-01-30 22:48
Yet again, the Guardian runs a story that TOTALLY ignores the legal redress available to people whose privacy is violated.

The common law redress for breach of confidence is always available (relatively recently reaffirmed by the Victorian Court of Appeal in Giller v Procopets [2008] VSCA 236 - an Australian case with IDENTICAL facts to the story - and therefore useful as a precedent in ALL common law jurisdictions).

Journalists are dilettanti, and pretty much everything they ever say about anything to do with (a) the law; or (b) economics; is shallow drivel and nonsense.

Here's the thing, ladies: if you don't want a photo of you with a sharpie in your Chocolate Starfish t oappear on the internet... (1) be more selective in your shoice of partners; (2) don't let anyone put a Sharpie there in the first place; (3) don't let them photograph it if you're stupid enough to let them.

But if they try to 'revenge porn' you, get a half-decent lawyer and you will take their house. (Less so in the US, but in the UK, Oz, NZ and SAfrika, barristers would line up around the block to take you on as a client).

Journalistic dilettantism is the bane of civilisation, because it is the informational equivalent of faeces hurled out of a cage full of chimps... LAZY, ill-informed chimps at that.
 
 
+31 # larry motuz 2013-01-31 06:34
Quite apart from the time and money involved in trying to get legal redress, the damage has been done and cannot be undone.
 
 
-2 # Kratoklastes 2013-02-01 14:22
Here's the thing... reputational damage that results from "Sharpie in the poo-chute" photos (or material of that ilk is entirely deserved. The case at hand involves someone who PERMITTED herself to be photographed in situations of which she would be ashamed if it became known.

Anyone who permits such photos (or any photos of which you would be ashamed) to be taken is a moron.

Note, I'm not talking about folks who are photographed **without** their consent: that's an entirely different matter. But even THEN... if the photos were of someone having sex with a child, would you STILL feel that their 'reputation' had been damaged in a way that was indefensible? Of course not - there would be a public duty served by exposing the 'victim' of the release of the information. (ALWAYS base any legal analysis on what it would mean for the WORST POSSIBLE defendant - not the most sympathetic).

Finally: it is not possible to 'wish away' the time and money involved in legal redress - the only thing that can happen is a SHIFT in who bears the cost (until the determination by the courts - whereupon in most jurisdictions the party whose case is upheld, is indemnified by the losing party [up to a set scale]).

Reputational damage is both more fleeting, and less actually damaging, than most people expect.

EG: I was accused of being the inspiration of the Utoya Massacre - which comes up as the third 'hit' on a Google search of my name. Damage: ZERO.
 
 
+11 # MidwestDick 2013-01-31 09:41
But if they try to 'revenge porn' you, get a half-decent lawyer and you will take their house. (Less so in the US,

This is about the U.S.

What's that you say about ill-informed chimps?
 
 
+1 # Rascalndear 2013-02-01 13:21
I understand the point you made in the first few paragraphs, but really the last one is too childish for words. Don't tell us, Kratoklastes. You showed us well enough. First rule of good writing.
 
 
+18 # grouchy 2013-01-31 00:12
Totally excellent piece! Now we have the task to spread it around in order to help make some changes out there!
 
 
+8 # Rocket1949 2013-01-31 05:31
I wonder if when two people enter into a relationship,wh en they cross that line of casual and enter that intimate territory of closeness if from that point on all that they do and say between themselves is considered intellectual property. Neither can sell, share or profit without the consent of the other. Common decency,dictate s that we do not treat others this way. You would think that with the power of today's software and computers that there would be a program that could track and expose this scoundrel's.
 
 
+13 # dick 2013-01-31 05:33
Controlling the behavior of others is always going to be elusive.
A safer bet is not posing for pictures that would be devastating if posted.
 
 
+2 # Kratoklastes 2013-02-01 14:24
Quoting dick:

A safer bet is not posing for pictures that would be devastating if posted.


THIS.
 
 
-25 # Underledge 2013-01-31 06:20
Sorry, but if you don't care enough about yourself and send a photo of yourself in a pose you wouldn't want others to see, I don't have too much sympathy if things turn out wrong. One might get the idea that the relationship you were in wasn't that great to begin with and the photo was an attempt on your behalf to keep his interest.
 
 
+9 # BeenThinkin 2013-02-01 07:55
You miss the point entirely.

Yes, you should keep your credit cards and other personal information secure. And... with the current risks, images of yourself. But we're talking about UNETHICAL misuse and abuse of others, even (as in the author's case) no questionable pictures were ever shared. It involves a sick attitude that we men perpetuate when we re-victimize the victim.
 
 
-1 # Kratoklastes 2013-02-01 14:47
The writer elides from (1) a bunch of women who willingly participated in activities of which they would be ashamed if exposed... and then were exposed; to (2) malicious material that was posted about her on the web (because it HAD to become about her...) including using images of her without her consent.

The stuff involved in (2) is reprehensible, but it's also actionable - relatively easily and relatively inexpensively. Problem is, of course, that the defendant may have no assets worth acquiring - what then? Cage them (at public expense) as a warning to others? Their heads on a pike at the gates of NYU?

Nobody in their right mind can excuse the writer's treatment at the hands of some asshats on AutoAdmit (and the actions of the site admins seems more than contributory).

Point is, there's no need for new law and no need to 'update' the penalties under existing law. If she was a half-decent law student she would know that and she was a **better**-than -decent student (and her impressive CV and public profile shows that whatever reputational damage she claims to have suffered was fleeting at worst).

I wish straight men could get on the professional victim gravy train - I would not join it myself (too proud, sorry), but several of my no-hoper friends (in Big3 consulting-land and Big6 lawfirm land) would line up for that trough in a heartbeat.
 
 
+8 # DRU2012 2013-01-31 07:55
Yeah, that's the lowest--but it works both ways: Women can do the same thing: Sometimes in similar fashion in RETALIATION, but believe me, there are some twisted ladies out there too, who turn out to be sociopaths and in a heartbeat turn vengeful if/when THEY are done with a MAN...and I don't accept this "If you are of such low character or self-esteem that you send a nude pic of yourself...(bla h blah blah)...you DESERVE it!"-business either. Look, whatever the motivation that is behind one's "flamboyant" use of social networks, excitement or loneliness or whatever, no one "DESERVES" mistreatment or derision--it's like saying "You shouldn't have worn that short-skirt to the bar if you didn't wanna get raped..." Hard enough connecting with each other nowadays--the internet seems to be one of the few places it is "opening UP" rather than becoming "leaner for opportunities" among isolated individuals, the common source of angst in modern society.
 
 
+25 # jon 2013-01-31 08:06
It's really very simple:

A real man never takes advantage of a person in a weaker position than himself. A real man lives to serve those in a weaker position than himself.
 
 
+13 # Glen 2013-01-31 08:58
Thank you jon. I've been saying that for years. Real men have dignity in being a man, just as a real woman has dignity in being a woman. We are losing both, but it has ever been thus. Technology has simply made the loss easier.
 
 
+6 # jon 2013-01-31 09:46
Right on Glen,

I call it - with tongue in cheek - The Code of the West"
 
 
+10 # dsfingers 2013-01-31 08:37
As a lover of erotica, I am disgusted with the direction and flavor of most of the porn. It's always been a pet peeve of mine that there are these cliches that make it into the genre that it appears producers feel they have to engage in. Most of them I find distasteful, especially the currently popular cliche that what's abusive to women is erotic. It ain't. It's just stupid. Some might say evil. I'm not sure what the difference is but I'm inclined to lean towards evil, certainly utterly distasteful and anti-erotic.
 
 
+7 # star53 2013-01-31 09:04
Thanks for talking about it. I do not appreciate the pictures on hotmail, yahoo, telling people how Russian and Asian women
are looking for men. This is pure business using women, many times against their will. I hope the honesty and good will of humanity can curve the use of weaker people in such a way. Also, please think about the animals. They are abused by immoral people. Please help!
 
 
+24 # ghostperson 2013-01-31 10:12
Here is the timeline I have personally observed: 1950s, double standard, lesser status of women not even worthy of mention but assumed as natural order.

1960s, women creeping out from under misogynist thumb, more so in latter part of decade.

1970s, the most egalitarian decade that I observed with birth control a given; better relations between males and females. "Feminism" was about personal empowerment, be all you can be.

1980s, Reagan Revolution ushered in era of "bimbo with a brief case" shoulder pads and kabuki make up. "Feminist" became a dirty word, right along with "liberal."

1990s: "Femi-nazi" was the slur of the day brought to us by the ever-flaccid, grosteque: Rush Limbaugh. "Uppity women" were vilified. "Uppity" meaning smart, professional. "Uppity women" were Hillaryized by the right who perceived smart, talented women as evil.

2000-2008: Misogyny was popularized in rap and hip hop with the term "bitch" achieving societal acceptance as term to be used in lieu of "female" or "woman" instead of condemnation.

2009 to date: Hysterical misogyny runs amok among far right: rape with objects by physicians proposed, contraception opposed, life of fertilized eggs deemed superior to rights of female personal autonomy. Viagra propaganda on every front while prescriptions to prevent pregnancies resisted on every front.

In my lifetime, I have never before seen anything like this era. Enough!
 
 
-17 # vitobonespur 2013-01-31 18:08
To me, this all seems to be common sense: if you don't want your naked body seen on the internet, don't take naked pictures.

And, while I think the article explains "revenge porn" pretty well, my feeling is that the author wrote it more as catharsis for her own demons than as a "word to the wise."
 
 
+7 # GoddessIsis 2013-01-31 22:51
Seems like not only RAPE but PUBLIC RAPE... it needs to be punished and nipped in the bud. Having done a survey of college students recently on this topic, I recorded about 3 - 4 students in a class of 25 saying this had happened to them.
These men need to be castrated and then not only would this stop, but they would be singing a very different kind of tune!@ Falsetto!@ No more revenge!
 
 
+1 # EPGAH3 2013-02-01 12:28
No misandry there, huh?
 
 
+5 # tomwalker8 2013-02-01 16:01
Twould be nice if Anonymous hacked and made a shambles of these sites.
 
 
+3 # ghostperson 2013-02-02 18:15
Hey Tool,

What about those adolescent males and frat rats that take surreptitious fotos of their girl friends in the act who have no idea that it is being done and blast them across the internet. What makes you think its women or only women putting nude images online? The girls are destroyed and "slutted out" while the guys get accolades when they should get prison for sending pornographic material into the stream of interstate commerce. Child porn is so treated.
 
 
0 # ghostperson 2013-02-02 18:45
Tomwalker8: Indeed Anonymous should suit up. Isn't it interesting that the most repressed are the most vocal and usually the first to get their freak on: Jimmy Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggart, Larry Craig.

The hypocrits are to be contrasted with the congressional idiots whose perceived power fogged their brains or alternatively who missed the memo saying that if one takes a nekkid foto of one's self while holding public office and puts it online that that it is going to go viral. Whatever were they thinking? The same thing they were thinking with.
 
 
-1 # barbaratodish 2013-02-04 18:03
Maybe men need to motivate women (and/or vice versa,) to want emotional experiences instead of, or at least in addition to, wanting sexual performances. We ALL need to develop a Zizekian "PERSPECTIVE OF INFINITY" instead of, and/or in addition to emotionless hook ups! First we need to take the risk 2 ENGAGE in SPONTANEOUS ambiguity anxiety(an absolute love/life experience ) to feel that something exists that is before/after, beyond judgment, namely the perspective of infinity, instead of belief in ego and drama contrived and constructed JUDGMENT performance hook ups.
 
 
-1 # fliteshare 2013-02-19 02:42
What women would want to date nice guys ?
 

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.

RSNRSN