Columns, Features, Sexy Mac

Bringing Sexy Mac! Depersonalizing sex crimes

Due to some inconsistencies in our Bringing Sexy Mac schedule, it looks like I’ll be filling in this week. I considered what to write about for this week, but given recent events, there really was no choice. I feel inevitably compelled to discuss the recent celebrity nude photo leak, because this act demands a strongly-worded response almost every media outlet ever. So this is The Mac Weekly one.

After the release of celebrities’ naked photos earlier this month, there have been a variety of responses pointing a variety of fingers. Some of the worst reactions came in the form of judgmental warnings against taking explicit pictures. These responses blamed the victims of this hacking scheme for exercising their right to make free sexual choices, saying women should not take such pictures unless they are okay with them being seen by the public. Such a response posits that the hacking, stealing and releasing of private and sexually explicit material is a normal, acceptable aspect of our society, and the responsibility should fall to the subjects of such “scandals” to prevent it. What this fails to recognize is that as soon as we redirect the blame away from the actual wrongdoing, we effectively accept it. We imply that invading someone’s privacy is a timeless, inexorable action which no amount of pressure or blame can alter. And in this case, that excused party is sex offenders.

But this argument was only one place where fingers were pointed. This victim-blaming was challenged by a call to instead blame the hacker who found these photos. After all, he not only stole private property, but also seized control of these women’s bodies and sexuality in an impermissible way.

But I want to argue to add another finger, focusing blame not only on him as an individual, but on the way he was raised. In doing so I am in no way saying that the actions of this man are acceptable or that he should not face the full legal penalty for what he did, but I do want to ask why we should not also be pointing our fingers at something larger and somewhat more explanatory: our culture. I know, not a super original argument. But I think it’s one that makes more progress than only calling out this hacker as a lone case of sexual misconduct and misogyny, because he’s not. As much as we want to say that he’s just a horrible person–which there is little doubt that he is–there’s more than that going on here. To draw a useful comparison, the rhetoric emerging from this debate reminds me a lot of another recent crime against women: Elliot Rodger.

Like in the case of the celebrity photo leak, the Elliot Rodger case was met with many uncomfortable responses. “Why didn’t some girl just sleep with him? Then he wouldn’t have gone on a misogynistic killing spree because women refused to meet his sexual desires!” The victim blame. Then came the personalized blame. “Elliot had suffered with mental health issues!” “He’s an insane maniac killer!” But neither of these pointed fingers fully summed it up – there was another factor. And it was this: we condition boys from young ages to see women as existing to fulfill them sexually. Whether a woman is, time and time again, positioned as the inanimate prize the hero wins at the end of a movie, or as an overly sexualized airhead at the expense of a personality, the dehumanization of the female is an American epidemic. And Elliot Rodger was the product.

Progressive and feminist responses to the celebrity photo leak successfully rebutted the victim-blaming response from many sectors, but almost all then look to the second camp, the personal blame camp, the “he’s a pervert” and “what a messed up individual” camp. Yet none have articulated that, although these perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions and face the full legal penalty for invading someone’s property on such a deep level, there’s another dimension: a society which teaches and enables them to do so.

From where I sit, the perpetrator of these crimes looks like a natural result of our society, like an Elliot Rodger. He grew up in our pornographic culture, being conditioned to think that he could have immediate access to a woman’s body at any time, that this was the value and role of a woman in this world, and he was imbued with the power to take her sexuality from her if he so desired. To look at the perpetrator in this light goes a lot further towards tackling the actual cultural conditions that enable his behavior. How many more crimes against women will go by being chalked up to these rogue individuals? If this many individuals are capable of hating women, maybe it’s our society that truly hates them. We need to treat the disease and not merely the symptoms. Rather than demand justice for the criminal, we must demand justice regarding those aspects of our culture which are criminal.

September 19, 2014

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