It’s common in the murkier realms of the web, to claim that ‘there are no girls on the internet.’ It’s an unpleasant meme that is used to celebrate the fact that everyone on the internet is presumed to be male, because women in real life have the unfair advantage of being desired, purely for being women. So, to bring attention to the fact that you are a woman is to state that you desire this advantage once again, and all the male attention that comes with it – so it is right that you are shamed for this audacity, or, at least, so runs the “logic.”
You see it everywhere, from online communities to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Two recent examples are entirely representative of the trend. On one popular online forum, when a particular woman uploaded a photo of herself with a baby owl on her shoulder to a social networking website, she happened to be wearing a vest – and so the moral arbiters of the internet swooped in immediately to castigate her for attention seeking, choosing rather to comment on the indecency of her having breasts than on the cute feathery ball nestled up on her shoulder. A moment later, a man shared a photo of Jennifer Lawrence in a low cut top, the comments all remarked on how perfect her body is.
It seems that women are condemned to be ashamed of their appearance and envious of others, while men are left sharing pictures of women to ogle and creep on amongst themselves. Not even necessarily just men, women are complicit too.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss had a theory about marriage, whereby women are traditionally exchanged between two families in order to cement social bonds between the men of those families. Feminism has (mostly) put paid to that kind of patriarchal nonsense, but what if men trading photos of women between themselves to strengthen their various bromances is just the latest incarnation of that?
It’s all part of a culture that demands that women are gazed at without confrontation, where women’s bodies are there for the sole purpose of being leered over by men. It explains, in part, why selfies are so often derided – a list of the most popular selfies of 2013 mocks women’s self-indulgence, and celebrates men’s achievements. A woman framing how she chooses to be seen poses an implicit threat to this natural order, and must be mocked, or stopped.
This naturally comes into play when referring to explicit photos of women. A woman who posts a photo of herself is a slut, a whore, or any other of those hideous terms designed to keep women in their place; a man who shares photos of his girlfriend or his ex-girlfriend is a hero. When the so-called king of revenge porn was finally brought to justice just before Christmas, it wasn’t for humiliating women, by publishing private candid shots in a public forum, it was for extorting money. His main crime in the eyes of the law was a financial one. Even though his website was reprehensible, at the end of the day, revenge porn is just the most extreme form of a mindset in which we are all complicit.
A petition has been created by a student at the University of York to ban Revenge Porn. It will prove difficult to legislate against when we still find it acceptable to continue to trade in pictures of women, even without malice.