2 MINUTE RANT: Jennifer Lawrence, liberty, and victim blaming

People get so confused about what freedom means. The leaked photos of naked celebrities (including, most famously, Jennifer Lawrence) is one of those stories that exemplifies so perfectly that double standard – although it’s far from the first. Dismissing the story because it’s celebrity news, or because talking about it is publicising the existence of the pictures still further, is missing the point (and the latter verges on victim blaming).

The double standard I’m talking about of course is the unapologetically oppressive way victim blaming serves to control and restrict individual liberties, yet at the same time, those that perpetuate it so often pretend to be on the side of “freedom.”

I have free speech, cry the misogynists who like to shout at people they don’t know in the street about the shape of their bums or breasts. I have freedom of action, whine the creeps who like to grope strangers in clubs, insisting to themselves that she’s up for it even as she tries to edge away from their sad little grasping hands. I have the right to look at naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, if I want. And if she doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t have taken them anyway. I have a right to look at them, without consequences, but she doesn’t have the right to take them in the first place, not really. Not without consequences. That is what “freedom” means, apparently.

This is just one more way that the extremely important concept of “freedom” gets hijacked by the mean and selfish, who care only for their own freedom, and not a jot from “freedom” as a concept; as a fundamental right that others, as well as themselves, are also entitled to. Only in the world of victim blaming are you entitled to hack, steal, violate, impinge upon others’ freedoms, then demand that they modify their behaviour (behaviour which impacts you in no way whatsoever) if they don’t like it. It’s just such an obvious lie.

It’s not just the prudish wankers (if you’ll excuse the pun) that ring alarm bells. There’s been a disconcerting amount of Liberal Dudes, some of them self-defined feminists, lamenting the need to be so uptight, puritanical, prudish about “nakedness.” It’s just a human body, they cry! It’s just sex! Why can’t we all chill out! Those Liberal Dudes can go sit on several pins. Feminist women are always being blamed for putting people off feminism. I say that the prevalence of Liberal Dudes is what alienates so many women from sex positive feminism. It gets associated with guys like you, blazing into discussions about consent and boundaries and privacy to bully women, sometimes by calling us outright misogynistic words like prudes or frigid, sometimes throwing around cleverer coded language like “Mary Whitehouse”, “pearl clutchers,” or “nanny state.” (Why is it always the ‘nanny’ state, a word associated with women, when the laws are overwhelmingly made by men?) You think the issue here is sex, and we can only assume that’s because you don’t know the difference between consensual sexy times and violating someone. You think when a woman says “no, I didn’t consent to this,” an acceptable response is “oh, relax, it’s just sex. Stop being so uptight. Let me liberate you.” You Liberal Dudes, you are creepy as hell. You are why sex positive feminism gets a bad name. I wonder how many of these guys would be happy for pictures of themselves fapping over the leaked photos to be posted online? I mean, it’s all just sex, right? Come on, stop being so uptight.

Here we have an impossible-to-misinterpret-unless-it-is-wilful example of the difference between sexual objectification and sex. Jennifer Lawrence expressing her own sexuality by sharing naked photos of herself with another party consensually is a sexual act. A stranger banging one out over those photos, when he knows they are not for his eyes, even after she has said “no, I didn’t consent to this”, because she’s no longer a person with rights – that’s objectification. And, in this case, potentially a sexual offence.

Some of the victim blamers are pretending that it’s okay because Lawrence is famous, or because she’s been naked, or partially naked, in films. Some of them dress up their victim blaming as moral or intellectual superiority. They don’t care about silly celebrity gossip like this (something that seems, incidentally, to be much more frequently hurled at celebrity gossip relating to female celebrities than male ones). But this isn’t just something that happens to celebrities. This is just a celebrity experiencing something that ordinary women experience all the time – from ‘revenge porn’ to the doxxing of sex workers and trans women, this entitled attitude manifesting itself through technological means is happening to lots of people, many without expensive lawyers, and it’s not going away just because you shake your head and call famous women foolish. It’s not going away until people shout back, and make it much more socially unacceptable than it is now to violate other people’s privacy and make demands on their personal freedoms this way.

To see just how ridiculously obvious the “freedom” double standard is, let’s take the victim blamers classic – the analogy of a sexual offence, and stolen property. (You know the one. Don’t drink, don’t get in a taxi, don’t walk home, don’t wear short skirts. It’s just good sense. After all, you wouldn’t leave a car door open/iPod on the table/wallet on display.) This logic says, if Jennifer Lawrence didn’t want the pictures hacked, she should never have taken them or stored them online. Okay. So, extending this same analogy, if you use online banking, it’s fair game for a hacker to post your bank details online – and for people who see that posting to use them. Right? If you access counselling or other confidential health support online, it’s fine for a hacker to sneak into your emails and publish the details online. If you shop online, expect credit card theft. If you gamble online, or watch porn online, or do, well, anything else online, then it’s perfectly acceptable for the details of all that information to one day be shared with your colleagues, family, friends, and several million strangers. Right?

Except that analogy never gets reversed this way, because we don’t believe other people have an entitlement to access your property or money or health records in the way we far too readily accept an entitlement to access women’s bodies. Remember that next time somebody tries to conflate their victim blaming “common sense advice” with freedom; remember the hypocritical, stark staringly obvious way it’s used to control behaviour. It’s the opposite of freedom, and anyone with any genuine concern for personal liberty in any meaningful way will never engage with it.

Unless, of course, they don’t really see women as people.

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Employers shouldn’t demand employees trust them with private information without asking why so many do not

Employers shouldn’t demand employees trust them with private information without asking why so many do not 

Two seemingly unrelated stories were published this week. In the first, a young woman claims she was denied employment by Emirates Airline because she has a history of depression. In the second, a local council has demanded all staff members notify management of any relationships between themselves, to avoid accusations of favouritism.

These are two different cases, involving very different employers, yet both show a similar culture of entitlement on behalf of employers towards employees. In America, employers in some states already have an entitlement to access private details about prospective employees, particularly if they are also the employee’s source of healthcare. In a world where digital advancements put private information at the fingertips of those who have means to find it, perhaps it’s time to finally take seriously the fact that privacy and liberty aren’t just things we need to protect from the state, but increasingly, something we need to protect from powerful private companies, and our employers, whether public or private.

Telling employees to notify their employer about any intimate relationships might not seem like a very invasive thing to ask, but it is by extension commanding a lot more information than just the name of a partner. It compels employees involved with a colleague to disclose their sexual orientation directly to their employer – something many employees still do not feel comfortable doing. It compels employees in polyamorous or open relationships and marriages outside of work to discuss the details of their relationship set up with their employer. It compels employees sexually involved with more than one colleague to discuss their ‘promiscuity’ with their employer – something which many people, particularly women, still find themselves judged for.

Let’s not pretend that all participants in all types of relationship get viewed and discussed in the same way. We all know how depressingly predictable the double standard still is between women with a sex life and men with a sex life. And let’s not pretend that everybody trusts their boss, either in terms of the conclusions they may draw themselves, or who they may ‘confidentially’ share the information with.

Of course, it’s technically illegal to discriminate against an employee for, say, having a same sex relationship. But it’s not illegal to develop a vague perception of someone as irresponsible or easy (women who have casual sex), or immature and indecisive (bisexuals), or volatile, irrational and weak (people who battle mental illness) and subconsciously factor these assumptions into the overall treatment, including that which directly relates to career development. This is the kind of thing that can be extremely hard to identify or pinpoint, because it is part of a broader tapestry of perception about an employee. So, it’s not surprising that some employees may prefer to not disclose information about their sexual orientation, gender identity, sex life, or mental health.

As the law stands, it may well be deemed entirely legal for a UAE employer like Emirates Airline to discriminate on the basis on mental health. The airline has been enigmatical about their reasoning, which leaves a very hard situation to speak up about or prove.

It is a common scenario: applicants are repeatedly finding themselves turned down for work, which may or may not be a result of anti-mental illness discrimination, so try not disclosing their mental health history, get accepted for a job, and then get in trouble or dismissed because they didn’t correctly disclose the mental illness. The applicant will, of course, be assured that they’re not facing discrimination for mental health or disability, but for failure to disclose. If that’s true, what are we to make of all the rejections where they do disclose? And why demand people disclose a part of their medical history at all?

The double standards around mental health issues like depression are enormous. When accessing state support – benefit or NHS counselling, for example – the slightest suggestion that you might be okay, really, can deem you fit for work and totally fine. So in order to access support – sometimes the very support that makes it possible for you to work at all in the first place – you must emphasise the very worst of your dark episodes. Yet at the same time, in applying for and holding on to jobs – sometimes through the very same Job Centre – you must hide your depression, because you have no guarantee that employers won’t form quiet, even subconscious, judgments about you for it. And if you don’t disclose the depression, and make them aware of it, well, that’s your fault too.

I’m reminded of a friend I had at school, who used to make casually homophobic jokes. When I eventually came out to her, she was insulted that I had kept it secret from her for so long.

If you want people to disclose things, then you need to be someone they can tell. When ‘slut,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘mental’ and ‘schizo’ get thrown around in casual conversations, including in workplaces, don’t be surprised if some employees occasionally call in with headaches rather than telling you they’re experiencing a depressive episode, or feel less than enthusiastic about having to inform their boss about a fling with a colleague. If it’s okay for the ‘World’s Favourite Airline’ to remove an offer of a job because the employee has a history of sporadic, situational depression, then don’t be surprised if your employees aren’t rushing to notify you of the full details of their mental health. You want the right to know about our personal lives? Earn it.

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