Don't take nude selfies [Commentary]

There's no safe place for celebrities' naked pictures, so they shouldn't take them

The reaction to the online publication of nude photos of actress Jennifer Lawrence, model Kate Upton and dozens of other beautiful celebrities has run the bandwidth from moral outrage to moral outrage.

Actress Lena Dunham of HBO's "Girls" called it no less than a sex offense. But some men who wanted to see even more of the photos were furious an any attempt to remove them, calling it a violation of their right to free speech. They believed they were entitled to see these women naked.

Both are extreme. Certainly the women's privacy was violated, but not their bodies. And I am not sure the First Amendment covers a man's right to view nude photos that have been stolen.

But the most perplexing reaction was from women commentators — feminists mostly, and I count myself one — who wrote that anyone who said these celebrities should have known better than to keep nude photos of themselves in the vast digital airspace was guilty of "slut-shaming," blaming the victim.

Slut shaming sounds like this: It is not only her fault for keeping photos like that around, it is her fault for being famous and therefore someone we want to see naked. It's her fault. She brought it on herself.

Jessica Goldstein, writing for ThinkProgress, says that's the same as saying that if someone burglarizes your house, it's your fault for owning jewelry. Using that reasoning, Ms. Goldstein writes, "because Lawrence is a celebrity, she's not allowed to have any photos of herself without sharing them with us."

She makes the point that Ms. Upton has appeared in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated in nothing but a tiny scrap of cloth, but somehow that is still not enough for some people. She said the appetite for the nude pictures isn't about seeing these women naked, it is about taking something from them they don't want to share.

Jessica Valenti wrote in The Atlantic that part of the fascination with the photos was that they represented the humiliation of an unattainable woman, a woman out of the reach of the grubby Internet troll. She wrote that if you go looking for these photos, you are no better than the hacker who stole the photos in the first place.

If you want to see someone naked, she said, there are plenty of photos out there posted by people who want you to see them naked.

BuzzFeed's Anne Helen Petersen suggested that Ms. Lawrence just play it off with a wink and a smile, much the same way Marilyn Monroe did when unauthorized nude photos of her were published in Playboy. Great, I say. We are all so cool and modern, we can just giggle when we are exploited.

And several writers suggested that saying these women should not have kept nude photos of themselves or shared them with lovers is the same as telling a woman that she has to hide her sexuality under a feed sack because it might inflame the men.

Stronger passwords or more modest picture-taking habits aren't going to change the fact that millions of mostly men feel entitled to see these women naked because they are famous.

And it has been out there for a while that nothing on your phone or your computer or your credit card is safe from hacking. This can't be news to anyone.

I am sorry to wag my finger here, but if you want to be safe you have to change your behavior. Don't walk down dark alleys alone late at night. Don't get so drunk that you have no memory of what happens next. Don't take nude selfies.

I agree that men shouldn't rape, and men shouldn't hack phones looking for pictures of you naked. But until they all stop doing it, it is not unreasonable to warn young women that their first obligation is to protect themselves. Assume that you are not completely safe and act accordingly.

At the end of the day, if people see photos of you naked, you should at least get paid a lot of money for the pictures. And you should have the right to choose the proofs.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

Correction

In Monday's column on streaming television shows, I incorrectly described Apple TV. It is a device that connects to the Internet to stream shows on your TV or Apple product.


To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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