Originally published on Cliterati on 4/3/15.
It’s now a crime in the UK to post or send “revenge porn”. A sensible law in keeping with the spirit of existing criminal law and data protection laws, and, as many would agree, long overdue. But law isn’t the only thing that needs to change. Because without certain attitudes prevalent in our society, we wouldn’t even need a law against revenge porn- revenge porn wouldn’t work.
Picture this scene: it is the middle of the day in a large town. The men- young and middle-aged- stand to one side in the town square. Opposite them stand the young women. The women are making speeches about international politics and mocking some of the men for their bad decisions and cowardice. The men keep silent as the women make suggestions about military strategy and how the state should be run. And the women are all naked.
This isn’t a figment of my imagination. According to the first century historian Plutarch, this really happened, and often. The place was Sparta, the year unknown. And Spartan women didn’t just turn up naked to public policy debates; like the men, they also did military training in the nude. They were expected to be tough and physically strong. 300 and its sequel added too much material to Queen Gorgo’s dress; in reality Spartan women’s dresses revealed their bare thighs because the back was not attached to the front.
To the Spartans the nude female body didn’t signify sexuality, shame or even physical weakness. There was no “either or” mentality about women’s intelligence versus their desirability. Women could be taken seriously without copying men. They could be taken seriously in revealing outfits and while naked.
Bur for women today it couldn’t be more different. We don’t get taken seriously in the corporate world if we’re deemed to feminine or sexy; we have to avoid being the dumb blonde. Wearing a short skirt reduces us to being labelled as bimbos or sluts- targets for pick up artists and slut shamers. Never mind criticising military strategy in the nude, we can’t even avoid being blamed for being sexually assaulted if we were wearing an outfit considered “revealing”. That’s because the female body is seen as something sinful or shameful. And that’s why revenge porn works.
If nudity didn’t equal sexuality and shame, victims of revenge porn wouldn’t be upset by others seeing them sans clothing. Therefore, nobody would do revenge porn. In even more repressive times, an ex could humiliate you by publically revealing that you’re not a virgin. But that wouldn’t work now because sexual experience is not shameful. Ditto revenge porn in future.
Revenge porn only works because of our sexualisation of nudity and the attitude that a woman’s body is sacred so nude images of her are shaming. South Park nailed it with Clyde’s mom, who was secretly filmed nude and had the film go viral, saying “I wasn’t ‘humiliated’, I was wronged”. If revenge porn works because of perceived “humiliation”/shame for a woman to be nude, that means it will cease to exist when sexualisation of female bodies and slut shaming stop.
Without these social attitudes, revenge porn wouldn’t exist or even work, as the victim wouldn’t be bothered by it or bullied because of it. It’s very telling that while all genders are victims of ‘revenge porn’, it’s disproportionately women who are bullied, feel humiliated, and kill themselves.
A change in the law is a great first step. But if we truly want to eradicate revenge porn and nude photo leaks and thefts, we need to change our attitudes to women and how we see nudity- especially female nudity.