It was my freshman year of college in the U.S., I was 18, and dating a boy who played on one of the school’s more successful athletic teams. In “season” he was more often than not away from campus to compete against other schools. On one of these trips, I sent him an e-mail containing several less-than-clothed photos.
I don’t know how many people have seen my tits. And, chances are, neither do you. Not really, anyway. I think, these days, if you send ‘dirty photos’ to someone, you have to assume someone else is going to see them. Someone shows a friend, someone loses a phone, someone gets hacked, someone decides they’re the interweb’s self-made Hugh Hefner… there are just too many variables for anyone to expect real privacy when it comes to private photos of private parts.
Yet despite so many women — and men — hovering one ill-fated tap of a touch screen away from what we’re religiously (oh yes, pun intended) told will spell Disaster with a capital “D,” we find ourselves fit to scold and slut-shame those unfortunate few whose intimate transactions somehow turn material for public fodder. It will ruin your career! They exclaim. What will your parents say? They gasp. (Funny, though, how no one ever implies that Todd Akin wasn’t raised right, or that his lack of basic scientific knowledge will bring ruin and shame upon his poor family).
It’s a pretty shitty fact, but a fact nonetheless, that this type of shaming is exponentially worse when it’s a female whose sexuality has been ‘outed.’ I say outed, because the female sex drive is meant to stay in the closet where we don’t have come to terms with the fact that a woman can be professional and horny, a loyal patriot and mistress. Men can run companies and countries, and be playboys on the side– but society can only handle women who fit into one category. To accept three-dimensional women more would be too threatening, too much.
Then, when a tragedy like Amanda Todd’s occurs, everyone weeps and wishes that this young girl had known it would get better. This one “mistake” was no need to throw her life away.
Fast forward to stories like Angela Gaines’ in the Examiner that preaches, “This tragic tale unfolds with an error in judgment made by a 12 year old… I’m sure she never fathomed what could happen to her as a result of that unforgettable few seconds of her life, but now we all know.” And then, “In an attempt to feel accepted by someone, she hooked up with a boy who set out to mistreat and use her.” (Because Amanda could not have genuinely liked this boy, could not have wanted to have sex for pleasure’s sake… she’s been categorized as a victim eternal, and that she must remain).
Jezebel’s Hugo Schwyzer gets it so right when he writes that “Gaines’ piece is itself ‘one sad example’ of the way in which Todd’s suicide has been appropriated in the service of victim-blaming slut-shaming repackaged as concern for vulnerable teens.”
He closes the piece with a plea: “Someday in the not-too-distant future, a powerful woman —- a Jobs-like figure -— will come forward… She’ll share what it was like to send that picture out, and what it was like when it was spread all over school. And she’ll talk about how as painful as it was, it didn’t ruin her life.”
Well, I may not exactly be a “Jobs-like figure,” but I do consider myself a powerful woman– one who was President of my university’s Student Government Association, accepted into law schools the likes of Boston College and Notre Dame, and, now, the Managing Editor of an award-winning publication. And I will share my story.
I’ll pick it up again when, a few weeks later, a friend tipped me off that some guys on the team were passing around the photos amongst themselves. When I confronted my boyfriend, he claimed that one of his teammates had borrowed his laptop, happened to stumble upon the e-mail, and proceeded to forward it to a few friends. My guess as to whether that’s really the true sequence of events is as good as yours.
I was embarrassed, terrified, pissed as hell, and knew that I wasn’t going to roll over and let this get the best of me. It took all the courage I had to march into the Student Life department, tell several male administrators over the age of 50 what had happened, and demand that action be taken. I was lucky — not only did they log into these boys’ school-owned e-mail addresses and wipe them clean, they also encouraged me to bring the matter to the Athletic department and press charges with the police. Not once did they blame me.
But I didn’t want to press charges; I just wanted the photos gone forever and for the guys to admit their wrongdoing and apologize. I was taken to meet with their coach to figure out a solution. This is where things took a quick nosedive. He told me that he wouldn’t so much as ask his players to apologize and that, should I choose to take matters further with the school or police, he “would be forced to explain to all the media outlets” exactly why his players were in trouble and include my name. He said that he “bet my parents didn’t know about this” and that they would surely find out if it leaked to the press. I basically politely agreed with him and left the office quietly.
I never got my apology. But, you know what? That doesn’t bother me in the slightest anymore. The guys involved weren’t trying to be malicious, they were simply, as college boys do, thinking with their dicks. That fear, that humiliation, I felt has long since dissipated into nothingness.
But what still literally turns my face red with rage and regret is not telling that coach to go fuck himself for essentially trying to blackmail me with the “make one mistake and it will run your life” and “what will your parents say” strains of slut and victim-shaming. In incidents like these, even when the photos are long gone, the stenches of misogyny and oppression remain.
The problem isn’t the photos. The photos on their own are, well, just photos. The real problem that torments more teen girls and grown women than we could ever know is society’s complete and utter inability to deal with the most natural thing in the world: women’s sexuality.
Sabrina Maddeaux is Toronto Standard’s managing editor. Follow her on Twitter at @sabrinamaddeaux.