If my phone were hacked, you'd find a lot of Liz Lemon gifs, a bunch of pictures of my dog, and some nude photos. Like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst, photos of me exist in the ether that I would prefer not to be shown to everyone in the world. All of us took photos in the privacy of our homes for our own purposes. But unlike those three, I am not an international superstar, and my phone was not hacked on Labor Day weekend, or on Friday.
Hackers on 4chan posted photos of dozens of female celebrities in various states of undress without their consent on the internet for the world to see. These photos initially appeared on 4chan before spreading onto other sites. The first wave happened on August 31, and the second on Saturday. Since the first leak, 4chan instituted a new DMCA policy and Reddit banned its subsite The Fappening which had distributed the images.
As horrible as the leaking of these photos is, though, the way many people responded was worse. Hashtags like #Ifmyphonewerehacked show a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. These hashtags blame victims under the guise of personal responsibility. By saying #ifmyphonewerehacked you'd see "photos of bands" or "this innocuous selfie," people are really saying that that they, with their lack of nude photos, are above this.
But this isn't about what's on our phones. This is about women being shamed, and objectified, and treated like property. The second release of these photos is a reminder that despite those changes, society still views the leaking of these images as a way to demean and embarrass women.
We use hashtags as a way to place ourselves into a conversation with others — to connect with others. The conversation around #ifmyphonewerehacked, though, was about distancing from others. This was a hashtag created to set people without nude photos on their phone against people who do. Some might call this slut-shaming.
#IfMyPhoneGotHacked they'd find lots of pizza
— Nick DiCinti (@NickDiCinti) September 1, 2014
The view that celebrities (or people in general) shouldn't take nude photos is a widely held and highly problematic one. "Don't take nude selfies" falls into the same category as other victim-blaming arguments. Don't wear a short skirt. Don't have a drink at the bar. Don't smile at cat-callers. Don't have too much cleavage. Don't ever, ever say that you want to have sex. Don't possess your sexuality, society says, in any way, because then you deserve to have it taken from you.
By telling people simply "not to take nude selfies," we are encouraging another form of abstinence education that has been proved not to work. "The digital age has changed courtship in many ways, and this is one of them," Kashmir Hill wrote for Forbes. "Texting nude photos is increasingly part of the sexual repertoire; phones have become sex toys."
In reality, few people are above this. There is nothing wrong with libido, nothing wrong with sending a picture or a video or a snapchat to another consenting adult. What's wrong about these photos isn't that they exist or that they were shown on the internet. What's wrong is that they were taken and distributed without consent from the parties involved.
According to studies recently done by the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of 18-24 year olds have received a sext. That means that almost half of the people in the same age group as Lawrence, Upton, and I have received a sext. We are in the minority, but not by much. And it's possible, since some people may not want to admit that they have sexted, that we are not in the minority at all. You can see this in a quirk of Pew's numbers: far more people report receiving sexts than they do sending them — an obvious symptom of a society that sex-shames.
Just look at the response that Mary E. Winstead, an actress affected by the hack, received:
Like abstinence-only education, the onus is entirely placed on women. For men, there is no repercussion to asking, sending, or receiving a sext. There will never be any repercussions. For this particular hashtag, most of the users were male. They quickly told the world that #ifmyphonewerehacked, we would find pictures of more nude women. The rhetoric around an event that should have spurred a national conversation about the way we treat women's sexuality quickly became about the men who could never be hurt by this.
In a perfect world, these photos would appear on the internet, and no one would give a damn, because we would have accepted sexting as a part of life. But in a perfect world, people wouldn't have stolen these photos to begin with, and these women would still have their privacy.
The response to these pictures is terrifying. It is a perfect, encapsulated reminder that your body can be used as a weapon against you. That slut-shaming is so prevalent and accepted in this culture that you could lose your job, or your boyfriend, or your credibility if a photo you once took was stolen from you — and then you will be the one blamed for it.
There are pictures on my phone that I am not ashamed of and that I took for someone I love as a form of sexual expression that was well within my rights. But like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and the hundreds of other American women that this happens to every day, I don't want those photos on the internet for any male who wants them.
#Ifmyphonegothacked, there would be nude photos there. But would that make me less of a journalist? Would it make me less of a friend, or a daughter, or an employee? Would it make me less of a person?
This hashtag showed us that to some people in the world, it most certainly would.