Sep 042014

fence with sign 'private property, no public access'

In the wake of the massive leak[1] of stolen, private, nude celebrity photos, it was heartening to see people speak out against privacy violations, particularly those facilitated by prevailing cultural attitudes about women that see their bodies as public property, as commodities to be traded, sold, and owned.

Twitter peeps, Facebook friends, Tumbler folks and writers of all sorts said something — and what they said was important. But even more important than what they said was how they said it:

Unfortunately, it is difficult for some to grasp that women’s bodies, particularly famous women’s bodies, are not public domain, ripe for consumption whenever the fancy strikes.
Emma Gray, Huffington Post


The bigger problem here is that every woman should have complete control over their bodies. They decide what people see or don’t see.


None of these women are likely to give a shit that you think their bodies are “tight, damn”. Despite what society reinforces to us about the public ownership of women’s bodies, we are not entitled to co-opt and objectify them just because we think we can defend it as a compliment.
Clementine Ford, Daily Life


Jennifer Lawrence does not exist to fulfill my masturbatory fantasies. Jennifer Lawrence is not a thing to be passed around like a joint at a party. Jennifer Lawrence is a human fucking being. And she’s not my property, and she’s not your property, and we all need to back the fuck off.

Sure. Most people understand that hacking, stealing, and distributing stolen goods is wrong. In the most egregiously reductive sense, that’s what happened to Jennifer Lawrence and so many others when their private photos were stolen, sold, and distributed online.

But it wasn’t just an issue of someone breaking into Jennifer Lawrence’s house, stealing her silverware set or vinyl collection, and selling it on the street. It was more than that.

While most people get that we don’t have a right to other people’s property, what we still need to learn is that we don’t have a right to women’s bodies — we don’t have a right to see them, to touch them, or to own them. We have no right to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t do with her body. We have no right to tell a woman how she should feel about her body, nor do we have any right to tell a woman how we feel about her body — no matter what her body looks like, and no matter how she chooses to use it.

And that’s why I’m strangely heartened by the discourse surrounding this most recent crime.

The fact that so many people framed their outrage in terms of consent and violation is evidence of meaningful progress toward valuing women’s rights to choose how, where, and with whom they share their bodies. The language means people are starting to understand that a woman’s body is not community property, no matter what she does for a living or what she does in private, regardless of how or when she chooses to use her body in her public or private life, and no matter what her body looks like or how attractive we might find it.

A woman’s body is her own. She chooses when, where, and how she’ll share it.

Full stop.

It doesn’t matter what she does for a living. It doesn’t matter if she takes nude selfies. It doesn’t matter if she’s hot.

Her body is her own. Period.

We’ve got a ways to go, but this is something.

1. Yeah, I know there is some debate over whether it should be called a “leak” or not. According to the OED (the absolute last word on both dictionary definitions and celebrity news), the adjective leaked refers to something secret or private that is purposefully disclosed. For that reason, it’s appropriate to say the photos were stolen and then leaked.
image based on “No public access” by Foomandoonian, (2012). Work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). [modifications: adjusted proportions, enlarged sign, cleaned up lettering]

  5 Responses to “writing (about) women’s bodies”

  1. I wish I could share your optimism.

    As long as billions of people on this planet are locked into irrational belief systems that condone and justify the systematic oppression of women in the name of some unverifiable supreme being, we are a long, long way from our goals.

    Even in so-called developed, secular societies, the cultural backwash from theocratic patriarchy is still very much with us.

    One of the things the internet has revealed is the extent to which the cultural gains of fifty years of feminism have been relatively modest and subject to reactionary pushback.

    • we are a long, long way from our goals.

      No doubt, but I’m not sure I could live without a little optimism on these issues, because everything else is just turning to anger, and older I get and the more live, the angrier I am. I can’t help but question whether all these accusations of misandry might become a self fulfilling prophecy.

      I hate that, but I wonder how true it might be.

      • However far we may be from our goals, you are completely right that this is a sign of progress. Small steps need to be acknowledged and celebrated, and small victories lead to large ones. Or as I say about my own daily struggles “Progress counts.”

  2. “we are not entitled to co-opt and objectify them just because we think we can defend it as a compliment.”

    Loved this statement. So very true. I hope awareness increases.

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