On “The Fappening” & 4chan’s Violent Attitude Towards Women

Here’s what I’ve learned about men on the internet who are annoying at best and abusive at worst: They think they know the women they harass. They have access to our ideas and our creative output (i.e. writing, videos, etc.), to our faces, to basic information about us, to a few scant personal details, and from that they concoct for us fictional life stories, fictional personalities, and fictional motivations. It can be terrifying on this end of that interaction, because we don’t know who these men are at all, but they believe they know us and interact with us, talk with us, as if they do.

It’s worse for celebrities, because it’s not just compulsive internet commenters who do this — it’s everyone. We want to be able to relate to celebrities. So we take their movies, videos, music, writing, interviews, press releases, and Instagram and Twitter accounts, and we create a fiction about who they are, or who they would be if we knew them personally. To some extent, that fictional personality is something that they curate and cultivate in order both to create demand and to create distance.

When I told my boyfriend that I was going to be writing about the leaked nudes of Jennifer Lawrence and so many other female celebrities, he said that it was a pornographic impulse, it was merely an issue of wanting to see them naked; that it’s not as interesting to look at porn stars because it’s their job to be naked in front of people. But if that’s the case, then what’s really pornographic about the leaked nudes of celebrities isn’t the naked bodies themselves.

It’s the attempt to continue to cultivate that fictional personality for those women. The 4chan-ers who released the photos want these women’s naked bodies to be part of their public persona, and the celebrities have failed to grant the public access to their private sex lives as part of the fictions they cultivate. They fail to grant us that access because they want some semblance of privacy, because the fictions they create with us are not actually who they are, and they would like to be able to live part of their lives as the complicated and whole human beings they really are and not the personas they create to give themselves distance from the incessant attention they receive. And they fail to grant us that access because they want to be those whole, vulnerable, complicated human beings with the people who they choose to trust, not with random strangers.

I was going to write about this from the perspective of a woman who puts nude pictures of herself on the Internet with some amount of regularity without getting paid for it in any economic way. I don’t think nudity is scandalous or damaging or in any way a big deal. My nudity is absolutely meaningless to me. But in the last day or so, the best (if, unfortunately, not the most voluminous) writing on this subject has treated the pictures that way, anyway — meaningless as far as the celebrities’ characters and careers go, and, rather, violent on the part of the 4chan-ers who released the photos.

And it is violent. Because in real life, when you deny someone access to your naked, sexualized body and they take it anyway, it’s called rape. In real life, when someone digs through your personal belongings because they’re obsessed with you and without your knowledge, it’s called stalking. In real life, when someone takes your property without your permission, it’s called theft.

No one’s going to “leak” nude photos of someone like me, or, if we’re going to talk about celebrities, someone like Amanda Palmer — people who offer up images of our nude bodies freely. It’s not to say that more graphic photos of me (or, I’m sure, Amanda Palmer) don’t exist, but what’s the point of “leaking” photos if it’s not going to be emotionally upsetting to us to be seen naked, or if it’s not a way of altering the way we’re perceived publicly? If this is pornography, if this is a means of sexual gratification, then it’s based on the impulse and the entitlement to violate women.

I’m getting exhausted with 4chan, with /b in particular, with their transparent, childish schemes to take women down a notch, with their blatant and violent misogyny that they continue to claim is not blatant, violent, or misogyny; with the fact that they complain that feminists all have victim complexes but that they seem to be the ones who whine about how the world is so mean to them, how feminists are so mean to them, how the Internet is too overrun with the “politically correct.” It’s not that we’re politically correct, guys. It’s that we’re morally correct, and that we’re legally correct.

Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, and traveler. You can follow her at @rebeccavbrink or on her blog, Flare and Fade.