Saturday, 22 September 2012

Public Women, Private Women

I so do not belong to what this Guardian article calls paparazzi culture. Don't own a camera or cellphone. Don't do Facebook (I did for a period around the 'No Prorogue' stuff, but under my bloggy name). I have never liked having my photo taken -- the front-tooth-less bathtub shot (haha, Mom) was a heavy straw on that camel's back -- so there are just not a lot of pictures of me.

I have uploaded exactly one photo of myself -- that a couple of weeks ago onto LinkedIn. (I had and have severe misgivings about it, but hey, I need work.)

I had never heard of 'creep shots' and 'revenge porn'.

I had of course heard of the Royal Breasts Kerfuffle. But I didn't know this:
I suspect the most arresting photograph of the scandal will actually prove to be the one that shows where the photographer was apparently standing. An 'x' marks a spot on a public road, so far from the chateau where the couple were staying that you can barely make out the building itself. The perspective makes any argument against the right to privacy seem laughable, yet they continue. The editor-in-chief of Denmark's Se og Hør magazine, which published a 16-page supplement of the photos, has implied Kate must accept some responsibility for "willingly revealing her breasts towards a public road".
Really? Towards a public road?

The article describes creep shots and revenge porn and the Internet sites devoted to them. It details the harrowing experiences of young women caught by the creeps. And not just celebs, but ordinary women as well.

But really, this isn't surprising. It's just new technology applied to the male compulsion to control and dominate women, especially our sexuality.

This bit, however, jumped out at me.
The story prompts questions about why there is such a market, and therefore audience, for these pictures. As others have pointed out, it is not as though there is any dearth of bare breasts, consensually exposed and shared, on the internet. The answer involves a familiar combination of desire and humiliation. There is an interest in seeing not just any breasts, but all breasts, a sense that female bodies are public property, fair game – to be claimed, admired and mocked.
All breasts. All women as public property.

That made me think of Gerda Lerner, feminist historian and author of The Creation of the Patriarchy (1986), which I read avidly back then, being as perplexed as anyone as to how the hell it happened.

From an undated interview:
MISHLOVE: You're very explicit about this in your analysis of the ancient cultures that grew up in the Middle East, in ancient Mesopotamia. You point out that the subordination of women's sexual rights preceded even the creation of private property.

LERNER: That's right, and it in fact in my opinion led to what I call the invention of slavery, because it is a fact that has been acknowledged by every historian of slavery that the first slaves in every civilization that we know were women and children. But other historians have stated that fact, but they have never asked the simple question, well, why was that so? What does it signify? And I have occupied myself with that question very thoroughly and studied it.
While her book makes plausible arguments, it's a little short on hard evidence, natch. Until she comes to the Code of Hammurabi.

The Code concerned itself with contracts, property, and family relationships. What struck Lerner was that very harsh penalties were reserved for women who veiled themselves without proper authorization.

Because to be veiled was to be protected.
Since recorded history in Mesopotamia and Persia, the veil was a sign of nobility and seclusion for respectable and noble women.
. . .

Gerda Lerner cites the Code of Hammurabi as the institutionalizing of patriarchal control in the family. The state now controlled who must wear the veil and who must not wear the veil. The veil was a sign of the delineation between elite and common women.
Or between private and public women. To claim privacy for oneself was a serious crime.

The Code dates back to about 1772 BCE.

So, how far have we come, baby?

Judging from the creepsites, revenge porn, Royal Tits, shrieky reactions to Slut Walk, and the current tussle over reproductive rights represented by Woody's Wank, not very fucking far.

We are all still public women. And with new technology, more public than ever.

I watched the debate on M312 yesterday and followed along on Twitter during and afterwards. I read the reports and the comments on them.

I was dismayed by the ignorance and credulity. But what is most dismaying is the rage. Rage that women want to control their own lives. Rage that women want to own themselves. Rage that women want to grant themselves the status of private woman.

Middle-age has granted me a sort of veil. I have a red sun-dress that attracts double-takes. A male glances, registers 'Red Dress and Skin', looks back, registers 'Oh, Old Broad'. I grin at their disappointment. If I'm lucky, they blush.

That's my version of revenge porn.


Chris said...

This is such a fabulous post, it made my night, sister.

Someone slipped the middle-aged veil over my head too, while I was looking the other way. I find it so much fun.

Last week when it was cool out, I took a walk around downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park. I had on a long, loose shirt over my T and I had my camera around my neck and under the shirt.

At one point, a car full of yahoos drove by and hooted a number of rude things aimed at what they thought of my apparently youthful arse. As they got past me, the caught side of the bulge under my shirt, which looked remarkably like I'd come down with a case of the babies. It seems that idea was so repulsive that they hooted a whole new set of obscenities. And then they got a look at my face and my grey streaks and their heads exploded. All over their dashboard. And I just smiled.

I love life sometimes.

fern hill said...

Thank you for that story. :D

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