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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Across #WomensLives: Revenge Porn.

I'm so thrilled to be sharing with you this groundbreaking approach in journalism from BlogHer, SheKnows Media, and PRI Public Radio International called Across #WomensLives. The campaign aims to make the stories of women seen and heard across all forms of news media, as every woman's story is important.

I'm one of the community partners helping this initiative, as not only a feminist, but as a woman who fiercely believes in the incredible power of storytelling. From the post by Lisa Stone, co-founder of BlogHer on BlogHer's site:
These are stories about women's rights and issues concerning health, education, wealth, economic development and combating climate change. (Today, only about 24% of all news subjects talk about women in any way, and only six percent of news stories highlight gender in/equality.)
You guys. That's abysmal. I want both of my kids to grow up in a world where everyone's story is important. I want them to learn about lives that are different from their own, to discover how everyone has or is or will carry their hard battles. I want them to see a need for change and be unafraid for them to act on it because of the humanity they will see that unites us all.

I want my kids to be able to sit with that which they do not understand or cannot explain, and listen.

So with that in mind, I'm so excited to be going on this journey along with an amazing list of bloggers across the globe, which you can check out by clicking on the badge below, or in my sidebar a bit down.

#womenslives

So, let's talk about the very first subject presented by PRI -- revenge porn.

I guess in a way, I'm fortunate that my pre-marriage dating days were before camera phones took photos worth a damn and social media was pretty much MySpace, early had-to-be-a-college-student-to-use-it Facebook, and Livejournal. My late teens and early twenties were still slightly idyllic, just ever so slightly digital. And then I met my soon-to-be-ex husband and for the last nine years I've been living in pretty much a bubble.

Now, I know, many married people send each other "personal" photos and whatnot and that's totally cool if that's your thing. (I fully support it, for real. Whatever goes on between two consenting adults, etc.) For me, though, after finding photos of an intimate nature sent to my husband on multiple occasions that were not from or of me, well, it was hard for me to mirror that specific behavior with him, as it honestly wasn't one that was ever discussed or participated in between us. It made me feel like I was having to stoop to someone else's level to get his attention, which I didn't think I should have to do.

And I'm not above admitting that I seriously considered, in my hurt and anger and betrayal, taking those clandestine photos and making them public to shame the participants for their actions (because trust, it was never just photos, in either case). I wanted to extract revenge upon those who hurt me so badly, and the easiest was I could see to do that was to make public the (awful, truly) compromising photos and email exchanges between the person I thought I loved most in the world, and the women he decided were more worthy of his attention and desires than me.

And this is how I learned about revenge porn. And was subsequently horrified by the stories of women who sent similar photos in confidence -- to partners, spouses, significant others -- and upon the end of those relationships (or in some cases, inside abusive relationships) had those private photos distributed on websites for that specific purpose, often including information like full names, phone numbers, street addresses, and social media profiles.

And I was horrified at myself, for almost perpetrating that cycle of violation.

Because that's what revenge porn is -- it's a violation not just of trust, not just of privacy, but of a woman's ability to hold domain over her own body. And, as we all know, there's a lot of issues within our culture about the proprietary concepts and autonomy (or lack thereof) of a woman's body. I could get into a whole dissertation about women's bodies in the media right here, but we'd be here all week and while I'd love to marathon hang out with you all and discuss the intersectionality of sex-positive feminism, presentation of female bodies in mainstream media, sexual policing of women throughout cultures, etc ... maybe you should buy me a coffee first? Ha.

The point of it is, a woman's body belongs to no one but herself. If she chooses to share it -- in photos, in a relationship, however -- that is her choice. But it sounds an awful lot like people who victim blame women who have been raped because of their "reputation" or how they dressed or the fact that they were drinking or whatever to defend revenge porn by saying that by sending it to one person, in confidence and with trust, somehow that makes it suitable for mass consumption without permission at the discretion of the receiver. You do not sign away your rights to your image once you take a photo and send it, just like you do not sign away your consent for sexual relations by sleeping with (or kissing, or flirting with, or looking at) someone once.

What revenge porn isn't is a First Amendment issue. It is no one's "right" to take photos of a woman and distribute them without her knowledge, sexually explicit or not. As the social media and the internet as a whole embeds (zing!) itself into the fabric of our interactions and connections, we are increasingly in charge of how we present ourselves. And it's not someone's "right" to try and disrupt or tarnish or assassinate that carefully (or maybe not so) constructed existence. We are no longer at a place in our society were we can extricate ourselves from our online selves. Therefore, we need to be able to be in charge of our own images -- whether we're Jennifer Lawrence being hacked or a married man's mistress.

To a greater extent, this goes out into sites like People of Walmart and other exploitation-as-entertainment sites, and celebrity gossip rags and the whole concept of the paparazzi. It all boils down to bullying, instead of taking half a moment to put yourself in someone else's shoes and show a little decency and respect for different choices and morals and life circumstances and whatever.

Because, again, whatever happens between two consenting adults is really none of your goddamn business.

So that's why I'm excited to hear about Congresswoman Jackie Speier from California is working with revenge porn victims like Holly Jacobs to introduce legislation to criminalize revenge porn. It won't solve the issue, but it's a damn good start.

Because our bodies, our mother effing selves -- and it's about time we stood up and demanded as much.


This post is in connection to my participation in the #WomensLives social journalism initiative co-sponsored by BlogHer, SheKnows Media, and Public Radio International. Across Women’s Lives seeks to change the conversation in news media, because women’s lives are newsworthy.