Several weeks ago, over one hundred men and women of Hollywood’s elite – including high profile figures such as Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence – had their cellular privacy invaded by anonymous hackers. These hackers, after decrypting locks on their phones, accessed nude photos of the starlets and distributed them on the Internet. While most of those affected spoke out immediately against the outrage, Jennifer Lawrence chose to keep her silence – until recently.
In an interview for the November 2014 Issue of Vanity Fair, Lawrence, 24, spoke bluntly and made it very clear that this invasion of privacy goes far beyond the scandal it’s been presented as in the tabloids.
“It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime,” Lawrence remarked in Vanity Fair. “It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity. I can’t imagine being that thoughtless and careless and so empty inside.”
Lawrence went on to label the assault as a criminal offense liable of legal action, denouncing those responsible for it as irreprehensible. Those who sought out the stolen photos were also condemned.
“Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame,” she said. ” … I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.”
When asked how she was handling the scandal, Lawrence spoke candidly.
“Time does heal, you know,” she said. “I’m not crying about it anymore. I can’t be angry anymore. I can’t have my happiness rest on these people being caught, because they might not be. I need to just find my own peace.”
While my sympathies go out to Jennifer Lawrence and the other stars whose photos were stolen and leaked, I can’t help but see this as a small paint spot in a much larger portrait: the dialogue of women’s privacy, the lack of accountability for the male gaze, and a sense of male sexual entitlement that only grows more prevalent with each passing day.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to, find any article dealing with the nude leak and look at the comments. Every article is littered with a plethora of commentary ranging from “Well, if she didn’t want the photos to get out she shouldn’t have taken them” to “Who cares? I got off to them and I’m not sorry for it.”
The plight of Lawrence and the famed elite isn’t an isolated issue, but merely a highly magnified point of insight into a larger problem plaguing the American consciousness: the narratives of victim blaming, male entitlement, and slut-shaming. In the eyes of these commenters and a vast majority of the public, the hackers are rarely at fault – rather, the women are to blame for making themselves accessible for a tech attack. Several individuals even had the audacity to imply that these women deserved it because, as women, their primary function was to pleasure men, and that the hackers were doing them a favor by making their nude photographs more widely distributed. In doing so, these men strip away women’s right to their own sexual agency while reiterating that same-old patriarchal narrative that condemns female body empowerment.
More alarming is the amount of women who seem to agree. Like their male counterparts, there has been a surprising amount of victim-shaming and slut-shaming that occurs within the female community– and even within supposedly feminist groups.
For example, take the popular argument that: “If she was taking nudes, she clearly wanted them to be seen by someone. She should have been smarter/classier/more responsible”. When women hurl these accusations, they say it’s in the name of “needing to face reality”. The subtext is one of fear: If these men are okay with doing this to women of considerable power, what would they be okay with doing to me?
Clearly, we have a long way to go before gender equity becomes reality. Nevertheless, Lawrence’s reaction to the leak is a much-needed beacon of hope for women everywhere. As recently ago as 2007, starlets who suffered similar invasions of privacy were all but required to issue a public statement of shame and repentance (see: Vanessa Hudgens). Lawrence, however, is flipping the script (and the bird). Instead of hanging her head in shame, her response is: “I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.” It is, in other words, a perfectly crafted, thoughtful, eloquent “screw you”– not only to the individuals who leaked the photos, but to all the bystanders who are content to gawk at her body while degrading her character.
Hopefully, we will one day live in a society where we teach young men that they’re better than we have been giving them credit for– contrary to popular belief, men can control their impulses– and where we teach young women that choosing to express healthy sexuality DOES NOT make them shameful, disrespectable, or acceptable targets for exploitation. Until then, we have Jennifer Lawrence. Let us admire her courage, and follow her lead.