RevengeI’m old enough to remember a time when that naughty photo you sent to your boo was a Polaroid. After all, you couldn’t take it to the pharmacy to get developed.  But those days are so gone.

Digital technology, in particular smartphones, have democratized photography and film.  As of September 2012, Instagram had 100 million users worldwide and hosted 4 billion photos.  Facebook currently hosts a staggering 140 billion photos.  Indeed, sharing snapshots of our lives via any number of internet/social media platforms is extremely popular, inexpensive and hassle-free.

But as history has taught us, developments that facilitate greater freedoms for some can also invite the exploitation of others. And cue Revenge Porn.

Revenge porn sites are a rapidly growing genre of internet pornography. Also referred to as “involuntary porn”, these sites invite users to upload sexually explicit photos and/or videos of women without their consent.  Of course it’s not much of a leap to guess who is supplying these sites with “x-rated” material: scorned and disgruntled ex-lovers or friends – overwhelming men – who are seeking revenge after a relationship has gone sour.

So, for instance, you send a for-your-eyes-only pic to your man, only to later discover that he’s not for you.  Ya’ll break up, he uploads that image to a porn site along with your name, location and links to your social media accounts.  You see, posting a nude photo that you may never know about is pointless: he needs you to know that he’s the cause of your shame and humiliation, and the reason why random men are now contacting you for anonymous sex.  Or threatening to rape you.  Or telling you that they masturbate to your photograph.

Yet, some argue that it’s a safe and harmless outlet for men who without this “safety net” might otherwise, well, shot you.  Hunter Moore, porn mogul and the owner of the “revenge porn” website “Is Anybody Up” was shamelessly more “honest” when he recently stated while using his hands to simulate jerking himself off:

In a perfect world there would be no bullying and there would be no people like me and there would be no sites like mine.  But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Cyber harassment and revenge porn sites are part of a widespread, deeply racialized sexist online culture which includes anything from trolling to the comment sections on YouTube.  It exemplifies twenty-first century oppressions against women, which are often dismissed and trivialized.  But gender cyber harassment profoundly harms women and undermines our autonomy, identity, dignity, and well-being.  Revenge porn, in particular, is too often deemed by the public and sometimes law enforcement as harmless teasing that women should expect and tolerate.  Moore tells us that the world isn’t “perfect”, and others says that women just shouldn’t take naked photos of themselves if they don’t want those images on the internet.  To that I simply say this: women have always gifted material that might be deemed “compromising” if made public.  In many ways, today’s sexually explicit pic or video was yesterday’s handwritten letter that you begged the recipient to burn after reading.  There is no escaping the fact that women are particularly vulnerable to all kinds of online sexual mishandlings, but it is not some kind of moral failing to send a raunchy photo of yourself to someone that you might want to or are already having sex with.

The trivialization of women’s cyber harassment is reminiscent of widespread beliefs about workplace sexual harassment prior to the 1970s.  Much like cyber harassment, sexual harassment at work was deemed an innocuous part of employment culture, which only really bothered uptight women.  It is often forgotten that it was black women who led the charge to not only change attitudes, but to have the law recognize that workplace sexual harassment violated our rights.  Black women workers, such as Margaret Miller, Paulette Barnes, Diane Williams, and Maxine Munford, were among the first plaintiffs to bring Title VII harassment claims (against white and black men).  These black women, and many more, understood that men harassed women workers because of their sense of entitlement, for their personal pleasure and to uphold gender and/or racial hierarchies.  As is so often the case, black women blazed the trail of freedoms that many of us utilize today.

The resistance against cyber harassment and revenge porn sites has already begun.  Women are blogging about their experiences, signing petitions, launching campaigns and fighting not only to have their own photos removed from these sites, but to close them down all together.  Perhaps most encouraging is that last month more than two dozen women filed a class-action lawsuit against the “revenge porn” website, Texxxan.com, as well as its host, GoDaddy.com.  This lawsuit faces an uphill battle because freedom of speech laws are suited to old media systems that are inadequate against gross invasions of personal privacy in the digital age.

While we must always rely on our own personal judgement, we can also work collectively to take a stand against individuals and institutions who derive pleasure from humiliating women.  Not only can we refuse to participate in the sexual shaming of women, sign petitions and push legislators to modernize our laws, we should also raise up women’s voices generally, on and offline.

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  • Mr. Man

    @ D

    Totally agree, been married now for 20yrs and we’ve incorporated some of this to keep things hot, its fun and exciting. like Anthony we don’t NEED pictures but it sure adds a freshness to the fun from time to time. Like you’ve mentioned D when it comes to incorporating tech there have to be protocols and security methods in place to make sure all things are locked down and safe. I too have children and close friends who from time to time get ahold of our phones and the first place they goto is the camera roll. With a little effort though you can find some awesome security apps that hide and password protect such pictures. We also have it set up where it will autodelete after a short while. If you’re going to use tech to play you have to add a little effort and play smart and use common sense.
    One thing I’ve learned about the world we all live in, regardless of whatever rights we may have or feel we’re entitled to, fact is, we live in a very horrible world and it doesn’t care about any of us, it has no concern whatsoever about what’s fair, so we have be smart. Take precautions and be responsible. Its a jungle out there, complete with Lions, Tigers, and Bears.

  • apple

    there is such thing as hidden video/photos you didn’t know were taken that gets released too

  • WhatAcrock

    You know how to end this whole thing? Stop taking pictures of yourself spread eagle in front of a mirror and sending it to guys. Wow, problem solved.

    Saying that revenge porn hurts your agency is probably the most circumspectually void comment I’ve read in years, which is a BOLD statement. You relinquish your agency when pictures of you DJing your pussy leave your possession and become the property of the flavor of the day/month/year.

    The fact that revenge porn is now being called “cyber rape” is disgusting. All actual rape victims should be pissed. It’s like running through a park naked and yelling “rape” when people look. You put yourself naked into the public sphere. You deserve no sympathy.