‘The violation of Anne Hathaway’s privacy was repeated by every media outlet and media consumer who circulated or viewed her picture and by every writer or commenter who gave the peeping Tom cameraman a free pass by turning the focus away from his harassment…’
I’d like you to imagine that you have been invited to a party. Not just any party, – a really big deal. Definitely favourite dress, maybe even new dress territory. The evening of the party arrives, and you get ready. Dressed to the nines, feeling great.
Now, let’s push things a little further and imagine that, for whatever reason, you’ve decided not to wear underwear underneath your dress. Perhaps you’re more comfortable that way; maybe you think the dress sits a little better without the cottontails on. It might be a quiet message to a lover, or even just that your favourites are in the wash. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the cab is here, and shortly you’re arriving at the party.
And then, as you open the door to step out of the car, there’s a moment in which your dress slips up, revealing a glimpse of your underwear-less genitals for the merest fraction of a second. But before you’ve had a chance to react, to adjust your dress and protect yourself, you see a camera flash as somebody standing outside the venue snaps a photo. You are shocked, but go in to enjoy the party, trying not to worry about it.
The next day, you discover that instead of apologising or deleting it, the photographer has sold their picture of you and your exposed vagina to a news outlet. And as your vagina goes viral, they ask: was it an attention-grabbing stunt? An attempt to distract from her ‘hideous outfit’? Or do girls just not wear undies anymore?
This, unfortunately, is where the imaginary journey ends. For the scenario above isn’t a daydream gone awry – it happened, last week, to Oscar-nominated actor Anne Hathaway as she arrived at a red-carpet premiere.
Under the circumstances, Hathaway’s response when questioned on the Today show was remarkably dignified:
“It was obviously an unfortunate incident… It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment and rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which brings us back to Les Mis, that’s what my character is, she is someone who is forced to sell sex to benefit her child because she has nothing and there’s no social safety net.”
Her response strikes to the core of the problem. For we do indeed live in a series of cultures in which the bodies of girls and women are under constant and sustained assault, from individuals and organizations treating them as property and sexual objects. Being a celebrity, Anne Hathaway’s case made headlines worldwide, along with the inevitable lines about how celebrities put their lives in the public sphere and should expect this kind of thing. Which is the weakest of excuses, given how many girls and women suffer or even expect ‘this kind of thing’ daily, not because of their status or wealth but simply for having the impudence to live their lives in possession of female body parts.
Of course, it’s not limited to invasive photography- women report a wide variety of assaults and violations, not only without consent, but in many cases without the victim even being aware of what has taken place.
It’s also important to remember that, despicable as the actions of the photographer were, he is by no means the only predator in this situation. The violation of Anne Hathaway’s privacy was repeated by every media outlet and media consumer who circulated or viewed her picture (even pixellated), and by every writer or commenter who gave the peeping Tom cameraman a free pass by turning the focus away from his harassment into “the real question… why Hathaway opted not to wear any panties (did she not learn anything from Lindsay Lohan?)”
This is rape culture 101. First, treat a woman and her body as public property, and do to her as you enjoy or see fit. Then, blame her for not doing enough to prevent what happened. Finally, when discussing the incident, be sure to frame it in terms of how the victim was at fault and how what she did or didn’t do contributed to her assault. Never discuss the person who harassed or violated her, or those who circulated the story or image. She and everyone else must know her place, and exactly who is to blame.
And so, for next time – because there will inevitably be a next time – when a man takes a photograph of a woman’s vagina, without her consent, and then circulates that picture, without her consent, if anyone tries to tell you that the “real question” is ‘why wasn’t she wearing any underwear’, tell them to think again.
Nicole Jameson is an Adelaide-based mother of two and Collective Shout activist. She has a Master of International Public Health. Also by Nicole on the MTR blog ‘TIME mag cover does women nor motherhood no favours’