Why Revenge Porn Works

Originally published on Cliterati on 4/3/15.

Image credit: roboman28.deviantart.com

Image credit: roboman28.deviantart.com

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.

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4 thoughts on “Why Revenge Porn Works

  1. linnetmoss May 2, 2015 at 10:55 am Reply

    You don’t mention which passage of Plutarch you have in mind, but if it’s his Life of Lycurgus, this is something of a mischaracterization. According to Plutarch, Lycurgus decreed that girls should walk in processions naked (just as boys did). Then he discusses the dances by adolescent girls:
    “Sometimes they mocked and usefully chided those who had failed, and again they sang the praises of those who were worthy, arousing feelings of ambition and zeal in the youths, for he who was praised for his manliness and brilliance among the maidens went away greatly honored because of their praise, while the sting of their biting jokes was no less sharp than criticism given in earnest, especially because it was delivered in the sight of the kings, the elders and the rest of the citizens.” (Plut. Lyc. 14)
    Everything we know about these dances suggests that the girls were fully clothed and indeed wearing highly gendered dresses and ornaments. Furthermore, we know that their songs were written by men (Alcman is the most famous of these choral poets and some of his material is preserved). In other words, the Spartan elders were using the girls to deliver their own critiques and praise of the youths.
    It’s true that the ancient Greeks had different ideas about nudity, but Sparta was hardly a feminist utopia. Women there were married off to whomever their fathers decreed, just like other Greek women. Their husbands could opt to “share” them with other Spartan citizens who wanted to use them as brood mares. And Spartan men did not take advice on “military strategy and how the state should be run” from women. Women did not vote and did not serve in political office.

  2. The Brain in the Jar May 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm Reply

    A naked female body is sexual, if you’re straightmale or lesbain. Then again, you’d be sexual even if you wore ordinary clothes.

    The problem is how we merge sex with weakness, as you said. I keep hearing people getting angry – angry! – at women who wear revealing clothes. It’s so ingrained that even in my case it’s the first thought that comes to mind, although I wish more women would act like ‘sluts’. Women have no moral responsibility not to have sex, but what’s the most surprising to me is how angry people get when you say it’s okay if a woman sleeps with a 100 hundred. It’s something to get angry over.

    I also love what you said about how it’s a breach of privacy and private data. Revenge porn would’ve been just as bad even if these were pictures of the woman covered in blankets with only her head’s visible. A person has the full rights to a picture he appears.

  3. Cheggers June 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm Reply

    It is the wearing of “revealing” clothing that “sexualises” women. Anyone who has ever been to a nudist beach will tell you this.

  4. burnseleanor21 July 18, 2015 at 9:01 pm Reply

    I didn’t know that about the Spartans. Never had too high an opinion of them after reading Mary Wollstonecraft (“[Rousseau] exalts those to demi-gods, who were scarcely human—the brutal Spartans, who, in defiance of justice and gratitude, sacrificed, in cold blood, the slaves who had shewn themselves men to rescue their oppressors.” http://www.bartleby.com/144/1.html). Whilst it would be great to believe we had finally got to the stage in history where we could take the decent and moral bits out of all pre-existing cultures, consolidate them, and junk the rest, that fact alone (of the Spartans’ infamous class brutality to the helots) carries the troubling sense that if one form of cruelty is successfully rendered null and void, evil will reliably find another outlet… I suspect there will always be a need for laws, and harsh ones for issues such as this (though I would love to be proven wrong).

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