thinking that they’re shameful.
LET ME STATE THIS RIGHT OFF THE BAT: Revenge porn is sexual assault. And Katie Hill, the thirty-two-year-old Democratic representative for California’s 25th District who has resigned over nude photos of her leaked by her ex, has been violated as completely as if she’d been raped.
Though you be in sunny Des Moines and I in Toronto, I can hear you think, “Nonsense. Katie Hill suffered embarrassment, but not the physical horror of rape.” And I agree with you.
Nonetheless, psychological horror is as real as physical, and can scar someone irrevocably. Violation is not confined to the physical. Assault is legally described as “the least of touching without consent,” and can also include a threat, if the person under threat believes that the threat is real and imminent. This removes any mitigating idea of degree, that below a certain threshold it’s not assault.
What is being defended here is the integrity of body and mind. To rape is to annihilate a woman’s ownership and control of their own body, to render them powerless, to break them. Rape is negation.
Rape means a woman having to process the contradictory ideas that she is both a victim (weak), but in ways subtle and overt, also the perpetrator, because she “brought it on herself.” In rape, a woman becomes the specific target of generalized male powerlessness turned to rage.
Women enrage men, because heterosexual men are eternally in competition with each other on every level; sexual conquest is a primary way for a man to “win” the competition. In the sexual realm it appears at first that women call the shots, picking and choosing from the roster of strutting competitors.
But male identity is a fragile construct that needs constant shoring up. Men live in a constant state of sexual anxiety, and as they jockey for their place in the pecking order, humiliation is a constant threat. One humiliation too many, and a poorly socialized male with a wounded ego can react with aggression against its perceived cause.
A humiliated male is a dangerous beast.
Don’t try to win this one. Either she was too sexual and therefore an irresistable temptation (a whore), or she was not sexual enough and therefore distant and cold, a rejection ( a bitch). There is no change of women’s behavior that will create safety for women because women aren’t the problem and never have been, except in men’s minds.
Katie Hill, in other words, was asking for it.
It boggles my mind, already heavily into boggled mode as the impeachment circus enters the Big Top, that nude pictures of Katie Hill should even be an issue, especially when there is a US President who enumerates his nauseating sexual “conquests” with nothing less than full macho (insecure) locker-room pride and whose advice to “grab ’em by the pussy” remains his most eloquent, or at least most famous, contribution to modern political discourse.
This gives an extra edge to that bitter joke:
“What’s the definition of a slut?
A woman with the morals of man.”
Women are still judged by a supposedly exalted standard based on the assumption that men get to control, in fact, own, women. They’re judged on virginal innocence and “purity,” especially in North America, where Puritan mores are deeply embedded in our culture.
You must forgive a man his little dalliances (abuse, rape?), goes the idea, because that’s just the way men are; but the unavoidable conclusion is that women are still men’s property, and who wants damaged, or even used, goods?
Women are pilloried when they presume to enter public life. The trope of the dumb blonde emphasizes the role of women as decorative, not useful. You can be pretty or smart, preferably the former, and never both. Incompetence, acceptable if feigned but preferably real, removes any threat a woman might pose to a man’s fragile ego; it’s another infantilizing way to be innocent.
When women refuse to stay in their place, they’re swiftly punished. They’re told to keep their mouths shut, for the sound of a woman’s public voice is always deemed to be intolerable: “strident,” “shrill;” always piercing and unpleasant when she is usurping public space. It’s too much like a harping mother, that original castrator.
Women who insist on being competent pay for that trespass. They’re ugly, they’re lesbian, or, for example, in Michelle Obama’s or Amal Clooney’s case, the rumor begins to circulate online that they’re actually men who’ve had sex reassignment surgery, and their husbands gay, because how could a real woman be so strong ,confident ,intelligent and successful? How could a real man tolerate being married to such a woman? (Apparently, not at all, though the assessment ‘real man’ is entirely in the mind of the troll.)
I never stop mentioning, so I might as well continue, my shock at seeing a particular meme of Hilary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. It had been posted by a young male Sanders supporter and pictured her speaking into a cell phone, with the caption, “Shut the bitch up.”
It doesn’t matter what you think of Clinton’s campaign or policies, because obviously that’s not what shut the bitch up is about. It’s about the outrage of a man that arises from the idea of a woman occupying a man’s rightful place.
Forty years of feminism, I thought, seem to have been for nothing. Powerful women are still “bitches” (a female dog, literally; compare “subhuman” and “infestation”) and that imperative to shut them up carried a not-so-subtle undercurrent of violence, because how, exactly, does one shut the bitch up when apparently she has no interest in doing so of her own accord?
I see this happening right now, all over again, with Elizabeth Warren. The Twitter and YouTube trolls are lined up at their computer keyboards like the elves in Santa’s workshop, chipping away at her credibility and character. Who’s she compared to? Narcissistic, unelectable Bernie Sanders, another old white entitled male, because anyone but a woman, although it’s framed as “there’s no money for her policies” i.e. “socialist.” And Bernie isn’t?
She stands head and shoulders above the other Democratic candidates (and I’m gay, if I thought Pete was better I’d damn well want to say so), she’s done her time in the trenches and she’s fierce in speaking truth to power.
That’s the problem.
In a just world, Katie Hill’s ex-husband would be charged for the vicious act of sending these images without her consent, the public would be outraged by his violation of her privacy, and a woman would enter relationships with the same freedom as a man, without it affecting her career prospects or being judged “sinful.”
For make no mistake, workplace ethics and power differentials be damned: this is about sin, and Katie Hill is wearing the scarlet letter with more eyes fixed upon her than Hawthorne could ever have imagined possible. Mike Pence must be singing hallelujah.
In a just world, consensual sex between adults would be seen as natural, normal and good, and unworthy of comment, so that the very idea of shame in this context wouldn’t even arise. Ditto our frail, marvelous, imperfect human bodies. We’d have nothing to hide.
But maybe I meant to say in a perfect world.