Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Is it irresponsible to be critical of safety advice?

The amount of safety advice that women* are given with the goal of "not getting raped" is extensive, to say the least. It is long, and it just keeps getting longer as new products are marketed to us, and often the individual pieces of advice are conflicting.

As a person who is the target of all this safety advice, how do we navigate what pieces of advice make sense in our lives? Are we allowed to decide what makes sense to us and what is relevant to our realities?

On its face, that's a pretty innocuous question. Putting that question into practice by being critical of the specific safety products or advice, however, I have frequently been accused of everything from not being serious about preventing my own rape to wanting women to get raped to prop up the Feminist Industrial Complex. I wish I were exaggerating.

When I'm critical of safety advice or products, it's because I am very much invested in stopping rape. I am so invested that it is not enough for me that a tip or product provides the illusion of safety; they must actually prove they are worth the time, expense, inconvenience, and potential danger they may pose for me to not only use them for myself but also recommend them to others.

For example, I've been heavily critical of the RapeAxe, and Undercover Colors and the ways using those products themselves can pose serious health risks. Those criticisms don't even mention the current rise in ebola infections. 
"But what if this tip/product/philosophy prevents just one rape? Isn't that enough to give these a pass, if only to save one person the heartache and trauma?"
That kind of statement, while often made in earnest and with good intentions, misses the point by a wide margin and is often made to shut down the conversation about the person's valid and tangible concerns. Maybe anti-rape products will work? Well, maybe crossing the street instead of staying on the south side will prevent me from getting squashed from a falling piano. Maybe singing karaoke off-key for a friend's birthday will result in me being offered my own reality tv show.

Maybes aren't good enough for me. If you want me to alter and restrict my life more than I already do, then I want proof, I want field testing, and I want evidence this tip/product/philosophy does not just work in an alternate dimension populated by people from infomercials.

If you have safety products and advice that you think will help, absolutely share them. But keep your cool if people point out practical issues with them. We're allowed to think critically about the ways we alter our lives for our own safety.

*Safety advice against rape is more often than not given out aimed at women in cissupremecist binary language. When I am referring to "women and girls" in this post, I mean all female-presenting persons who are at the receiving end of this advice.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Stolen nudes and the new Peeping Toms

If you don't think it's a big deal to seek out and look at nude pictures of persons that were taken or shared without their consent, I am going to try to explain in nice and calm words why this is problematic.

This is objectification, where one's personhood and humanity is literally separated from their rights over their body. Whether the picture is of a celebrity or a regular person you may or may not know, it is an absolute violation of their privacy and bodily autonomy to seek out, view, and share those images.

I can understand how people have a disconnect when it comes to nude photos being shared without the subject's consent. In the popular media, it is a common trope that "boys will be boys" and that "boys want to see girls naked." Think of some of the classic and recent movies where boys or men go through various measures to see young women naked without their knowledge or consent:
  • Police Academy - the scene where Lt. Harris catched Mahoney casually drinking a beer while watching the female recruits shower
  • Monster Squad - the boys in elementary school spend half the movie trying to take photos of one of the kid's sister while she's changing
  • Private School - the three male leads dress up as women to get into an all-girls' private school to catch the young women naked and have sex with them (so, rapey as well)
  • Not Another Teen Movie - two of the characters are in the airducts and stop over the girls' washroom to watch a young woman on the toilet
  • Carrie - the entire opening sequence is a voyeuristic wet-dream going through the girls' locker room and hyper-sexualizing young women who we are supposed to accept as being teenaged and under the age of 18
Those are just 5 examples that immediately come to mind (can you tell I'm into 80's movies a smidge?) There are many more examples in popular culture of this trope and free-pass to men to disregard women's rights to privacy. This is one of the major reasons we need to be critical of popular media and the messages it sends. This is one of the major reasons we have to talk about consent in all sorts of scenarios. Has seeking out, viewing, and sharing nude or sexualized pictures taken of someone without their consent come up in your Birds & the Bees talks? They definitely should.

It does not matter if the person's photos were taken from a distance by paparazzi with a telephoto lens, if they were taken from a literal Peeping Tom, if they were taken while incapacitated, if they were taken by their partner, or if they were taken by themselves. It does not matter if they left their pictures in Fort Knox, in their home vault, uploaded to an offsite storage service like iCloud, in their email, on their phone, in their purse, or printed out and in their pocket. If you do not have permission to view those photos, you are disrespecting them, their body, and their rights to privacy. You do not get any free passes because "someone shared it first" or "a million other people have seen them anyways", or any other excuse. Your only free pass is if the subject of the photos gave you their explicit permission.
"If you don't want your naked pictures to be leaked, don't take any. That's not victim-blaming, it's common sense."
Actually, that's victim-blaming. "Common sense" is quite meaningless in this context, because you don't know what you don't know until you know it. Many times the victim is not even the one who took the photo, so the entire situation is out of their hands. Even if the person in the photos is the one who took them and decided how they would be stored, if you don't have permission, you don't have permission. It is still theft, it is still a violation of privacy, it is still an aggressive act of misogyny to seek out, view, and share these photos without this person's consent.

Taking sexy photos can be a lot of fun for consenting adults. Straight up, it can be foreplay, or in the case of long-distance partners, it may be the only type of sexual "contact" they get together. Plus, in terms of lesser "evils" of sexual relationships, sending a nude selfie to your partner is 100% safe from STI's and pregnancy. There are pro's and con's with every action, and let's be honest - there can be a lot of legitimate pro's of these.
"You never put anything on the internet without the expectation everyone can see it and access it."
I'd like to address the underlying assumption that everyone is internet-savvy and understand the myriad of potential security holes in literally everything you do online. Being ignorant of some risks does not mean that you deserve to be victimized, and it does not mean that you are stupid. As I've stated before, "common sense" is meaningless. Since we can flippantly tell someone to Google anything, we assume that they can always find the answers to every question in the universe. That's only helpful if they start out knowing what the question is.

In terms of "everyone can see it and access it" - why do you have to part of "everyone"? What gives you a moral free-pass on this one? Since it's our culture that tells men to disrespect women's rights to consent and boundaries, how about you be part of the change and not participate in this form of degradation?

Once nude photos of someone are released and being spread without their consent, you have as great a power as anyone to stop the spread and to put your foot down. If your friends are sharing them, talk to them about it and ask them why they feel this violation is acceptable. Tell them you're disgusted and disappointed. Be a part of the change in the culture that stops these criminal acts by removing the demand.