Friday, October 11, 2013

Naked Selfies Galore

In the new feminist utopia everyone will have naked selfies online. So says Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel. She considers it a great leap forward in the war against shame:

Naked pictures, then, are like tattoos. Everyone's got them and most of them are bad, but no one cares. There's an oncoming deluge of young women with "sordid" pasts forming a slut wave that not even the clutchiest of pearl clutchers can stop. If we're all Hester Prynne, it's kind of like none of us are Hester Prynne. I, for one, welcome our sexy new overlords.

Ryan has stumbled on a truth here. If some young people are mortified by the fact that they sent naked pictures of themselves to whomever, their friends will try to make them feel slightly better about it by saying that everyone has done it.

After all, isn’t shame a social construct? If everyone was committing adultery, a la Hester Prynne, then none of us have done anything wrong. We have merely redefined the norm.

But Ryan does not see the difference between having your naked likeness online and having it distributed to a larger public.

Once the image exists online, anyone who possesses it can threaten you with exposure. Is this really such a good thing?

Ryan was inspired by the case of a Texas schoolteacher named Nicole Deweese. You see, when she was eighteen Deweese posed for Playboy. Thus, her industrious students can, if they choose find pictures of her eighteen-year-old self topless.

Parents have demanded that Deweese be fired. Students have rallied to her defense.

Ryan attempts to ridicule the parents’ argument with a rather lame attempt at humor:

… she [Deweese] provided photographic evidence to the world at large that she has boobies, which means she's forever unfit to be around minors, because everyone knows that breasts are poisonous to children.

If that’s the best she can do, very few people are going to respect her mind.

Dan Solomon of the Texas Monthly offers a better assessment:

Deweese is 21—her photoshoot ran in 2011—which makes her part of a generation that has had the technology to take sexy photos of themselves basically since puberty. Deweese's photos were professionally shot, but according to this poll from 2011 on the women's-interest site The Frisky, only 37% of the more than 7,000 respondents said that they'd never send anyone naked photos of themselves; a 2008 poll from Glamour found that 63% of the women who responded had already posed for sexy photos taken by a man. It's not a stretch to suspect that those numbers might spike as the generations that have grown up with Snapchat and YouPorn start being asked similar questions. Fact is, people are interested in sex, they take more pictures of themselves than ever, and they share hundreds of thousands of photos online every second—at some point, it'll be hard to come up with a pool of teachers who haven't got racy photos out there somewhere.

Of course, the fact that women have had these pictures taken is not the same thing as publishing them in Playboy.

And perhaps the parents are worried less about their sons than about their teenage daughters getting the idea that posing for Playboy is just another lifestyle choice.

Presumably, feminists like Ryan want women to be respected for their careers. Does anyone believe that women who expose themselves in public or who wear more revealing clothing on the job are going to receive more respect for their professional ability?

Obviously, the notion that everyone is doing it—cosi fan tutte—is not merely a way for girls to help protect their indiscreet friends. It has also often been used as an argument designed to talk women out of their clothes.

More than a few Lotharios have uttered these words: Why won’t you take you clothes off? Are you ashamed of your body?

It is fair to notice that if the word "everyone" means something, then everyone is not doing it. Those who want us all to overcome shame are using the word as a rhetorical device.

Once sexting becomes the norm any fourteen year old girl who refused to send pictures of her burgeoning woman’s body will be condemned as abnormal and pressured to conform. Is this what feminists want?

Keep in mind, Deweese was 18 when she did her Playboy photo shoot. What about the underage girls, the thirteen and fourteen year olds? Can they be said to be giving informed consent about the exposure of their nude bodies?

Since many of the offending selfies are taken by underage girls, shouldn’t we be concerned about the distribution of images that constitute child pornography?

As for the war against shame, the fact that such images exist online is not the real issue. If you really want to go to war against shame, as Ryan seems to want to do, why not invite everyone to walk around naked.

Why don't the writers on the Jezebel site post their own naked selfies? They would be striking out against shame. Are they ashamed of their bodies?

As for those who are foolish enough to believe that the culture has “evolved” to the point where it does not care about public displays of nudity, I have two words:

Anthony Weiner.


Anonymous said...

You may not agree with her, but you're missing the point. Her point being, who cares? No one could be "threatened with exposure" if they think naked pics are nothing to be embarassed about, like "tattoos."

You may not agree, but at least read her point correctly.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Actually, I understood her point correctly and presented it correctly. She is simply wrong, because people do care, and will continue to care unless you figure out how to repeal human nature.... The shame instinct is universal and will prevail even if a small number of people want to pretend that it does not. Many children have hurt themselves psychologically by exposing themselves in naked selfies. Telling them that no one cares encourages behavior that might very easily be very damaging.

Cady said...

In the past, the sexual instinct was overly repressed. Today, shame instinct is overly repressed. People fail to understand this since they associate shame with repression, but 'liberation' can be repressive too. If someone breaks wind in public and pretends not to care what anyone thinks, he or she is repressing his or her natural shame.

'Liberation' can be just as coercive as shame, shaming someone for feeling shame.

Also, there is a need for private life, one of the hallmarks of a free dignified society. If shame doesn't exist, private life might as well not exist. After all, what would be wrong with someone prying into your private life if you got nothing to be ashamed about?

As the Anthony Weiner case showed, adults acting like vulgar fools does have social repercussions. Even if we don't stone such people, we tend to lose respect for them.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.