Rosie Wang, Resident Blogger (’14, Columbia Law School)
Women being catcalled on the street, paparazzi spying on celebrities’ intimate moments – these are two unsavory, disrespectful practices with unfortunately long legacies and deep roots in our culture. With the modern technology and social networking thrown in the mix, these practices start to intersect and evolve in disturbing ways. Parallels definitely exist between society’s fascination with spy-style photos of Kate Middleton topless on private, secluded property and the power that perpetrators of street harassment feel – parallels that find an overlap in certain internet communities.
Creepshots was a sub-forum of popular link-aggregator Reddit, where anonymous posters upload and comment on photos they take of women’s bodies, taken without these women’s knowledge as they go about their everyday lives. Part of their stated motto was “When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.” The photos’ distribution for mass consumption, the flippant physiological and sexual commentary they produce, and the fixation on the nonconsensual nature of the photos all combine into something supremely icky although probably not illegal.
Now, some have taken to fighting fire with fire. Gawker exposed the identity of a prominent member of the Reddit community who has the stellar track record of starting sub-Reddits promoting domestic violence and sexual attraction to underage girls. Others tracked usernames into other sites that Creepshots users were active in, gathering personal information and then posting it to a tumblr named “Predditors” that has since been shut down, but not before the arrest of a teacher in Georgia [need link]. The exposed people in question unironically invoked both their 1st Amendment freedom of expression to photograph women unawares and their own right to privacy and internet anonymity.
This summer, while interning for LSRJ, one of the most inspiring talks I heard was from Sujatha Jesudason and Tracy Weitz of CoreAlign. They asked why, if reproductive rights is the most funded field in women’s issue, do we still seem culturally deadlocked? One of their major points was that the reproductive justice movement has often aimed for incremental changes – reform rather than radical transformation and immediate rather than long term goals. Calling out individual offenders seems to fall squarely into the immediate and incremental. It is reactionary rather than revolutionary and responds to this particular instance, rather than an overall culture of viewing women’s bodies as public property and fetishizing women’s nonconsent. While it is crucial to have discussions on the individual facts of this situation, how can we proactively work to create a different dominant mindset? Perhaps, start by educating people while they are younger. Perhaps the answer is to build into our public school system a more explicit and complex discussion of the importance of privacy and autonomy. Perhaps the answer is to encourage more open discussions among men as a jumping off point to encourage internal moderation of both online communities and real life social groups.
These tactics have echoes of the Hollaback movement, which posts photos of catcallers and narratives of harassment. Both situations have an element of turning the tables of public humiliation on the offenders. But does posting the name, age, and phone numbers of the perpetrators cross the line? While it has undertones of quid pro quo, poetic justice, and may indeed deter future creep-shooters, these tactics raise questions to ponder: Is this sinking to the same level? Is this perhaps engendering (misguided) feelings of victimhood that may fuel a feeling of entitlement or an alienation from seeing women as people rather than a desire to change one’s way of thinking? What can be done that is productive rather than destructive?