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A Case for Empathy Amid the Celebrity Photo Hack

118464PCN_Xmen022When Dame Helen Mirren stepped out in London at the premiere of her new film, The Hundred Foot Journey, she opined on the recent hacking scandal which saw hundreds of private images of celebrity women, including Jennifer Lawrence, posted online.

“I think privacy is almost a thing of the past, isn’t it? It’s been a thing of the past for a while,” she said. She added, “I think we’re all in a learning curve about what is appropriate to put on your phone and what isn’t and I think people will be far more careful in the future. And also I think the protections will get stronger, I presume.”

Mirren was perhaps more tactful than comedian Ricky Gervais who tweeted, “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you, by not putting nude pictures of yourself on your computer.” After facing an enormous backlash, he quickly deleted the tweet, adding, “Of course the hackers are 100% to blame, but you can still make jokes about it. Jokes don’t portray your true serious feelings on a subject.” Later he continued, “Making a joke out of a thing doesn’t mean you condone that thing.”

Lena Dunham was quick to respond to those who were blaming the exploited women, tweeting,“The ‘don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online’ argument is the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ of the web. Ugh.” Dunham also defended the women, calling for people to not look at such pictures. “The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE. Support these women and do not look at these pictures.” Dunham continued, “Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It’s not okay. Seriously, do not forget that the person who stole these pictures and leaked them is not a hacker: They’re a sex offender.”

Over 100 celebs were targeted by a hacker who took advantage of an alleged iCloud leak.  Women on the list (although not all have had photos yet surface) include Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Mary Kate Olsen, Cara Delevingne, Kate Bosworth, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Kaley Cuoco, and Cat Deeley.

The day the story broke, tweeters made endless crass and vulgar comments at these helpless women’s expense. Harry Potter star Emma Watson felt that this was as bad as the hackers themselves. She tweeted, “Even worse than seeing women’s privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.”

Lawrence meanwhile has kept silent, save for her publicist confirming the photos were not fakes and her spokesperson telling the press, “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”  Thankfully in the wake of this, many sites and tweeters quickly deleted all the pictures they had uploaded.

What disturbs me is how women are always the victim when it comes to hacking. Photos of naked men are seen as something of a joke, something to almost enhance their male prowess, whereas women’s photos are objectified and used to degrade. (Remember when photos of Prince Harry playing pool naked surfaced? He was almost given a pat on the back for being a bit of a joker.) All I could think about on Monday was poor Jennifer Lawrence having to face an entire crew and cast on a set somewhere, then having to face her family, friends, and the rest of the world knowing they could have seen intimate pictures she took with a lover. Pictures that were never meant for public consumption; pictures that were completely private. Her privacy has been invaded to the highest level possible, and every single person that retweeted the photos or downloaded them or shared them should be culpable.

Have you ever had your privacy violated? Cast your mind back and remember just how horrific that felt, on presumably a far lesser scale than what Lawrence is currently going through.

When I was 13 at a Christmas party at my house, two boys from school managed to read my diary. It was full of the usual teenage stuff: crushes, health worries, body issues, etc. One of them later spread everything he had read around my school. The violation of my privacy and the relentless taunts I received made me ill. The only way I saw around the nightmare was to gather all the girls together in the locker room and tell them what I had written and why; they immediately shunned this boy and the abuse thankfully stopped. My invasion of privacy was, in the grand scheme of things, pretty small. Jennifer Lawrence and all the other violated women have to contend with such embarrassment on a worldwide level, in an age where images are not “today’s papers, tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers.” Nope, in this digital age, those photos will haunt them forever  especially when tweeters joyfully remarked how they had downloaded them and even planned to get T shirts printed with them.

Remember that famous scene in Notting Hill when Julia Roberts’ character Anna Scott arrives at Hugh Grant’s character Will’s house, distraught at old naked pictures of her surfacing in the papers? In the scene she weeps as she explains how they will follow her around forever, be brought up in every interview  that she’ll never be able to leave them behind. This, of course, was just a movie; now all of these women are in her shoes for real. Imagine it was your daughter going through this. Your daughter who hasn’t done anything wrong, was just going about her life (albeit one in the public eye), and all of a sudden  boom! Her most intimate moments are everywhere, with every person you know able to see them.

Cameron Diaz, who is ironically promoting a comedy film called Sex Tape, commented on ITV’s This Morning: “I think that people really need to look at … how would they feel if it happened to them?” She went on, “Whoever has done it, they will be caught and made examples of. This can happen to anyone. If these guys can do it to this group of people, then everyone’s vulnerable to it.” Her co-star Jason Segel called it “a terrible crime,” adding, “It’s very easy when you use the word ‘celebrity’ to take away the human aspect but there is an actual person with a life.”

So everyone who gleefully poured over those private photos, remember that person in the picture and all they are going through. Or better yet, don’t click on them at all.

Photo credit: PCN Photos

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