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This only makes the problem worse.
Earlier this week, Vanity Fair teased its cover story on Jennifer Lawrence, marking the first time the actress has spoken publicly since her hacked nude photos were posted on the Internet. In the piece, Lawrence speaks frankly about Celebgate and its impact on her career and personal life, referring to the hacking as a “sex crime.” She also opens up to Vanity Fair contributing editor Sam Kashner about her motivations for taking the photos themselves:
She had been tempted to write a statement when news of the privacy violation broke, she says, but ‘every single thing that I tried to write made me cry or get angry. I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for. I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship [presumably with English actor Nicholas Hoult] for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.’
Although Jennifer Lawrence’s statement seems to reflect a somewhat limited understanding of the male biological capacity for orgasm—Who’s to say he can’t get off to porn and to you? Why does it have to be one or the other?—for the most part I could sympathize and relate to what she was saying. I, too, have been in long-distance relationships at various points in my life, swapping many X-rated photos and videos in the process, including a manger scene tableau featuring genitalia surrounded by miniature biblical figurines that I’d thought I’d deleted but was stunned to find on my hard drive just last month. If anyone ever saw those photos, I’d hide in bed and wouldn’t come out for at least four presidential administrations, so kudos to Lawrence for breaking her silence a mere month after Celebgate.
That having been said, there was something about her statement that I found irksome, particularly the second half of it. While Lawrence correctly says she doesn’t “have anything to say I’m sorry for,” she then follows it up with an apology of sorts by offering an explanation for why she took the photos: Because she was in a loving, healthy, monogamous long-distance relationship. That might sound good from a PR perspective, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Jennifer Lawrence took the photos for her boyfriend or boyfriends or girlfriend or girlfriends or for the polyamorous otherkin couple she regularly swings with in Laurel Canyon. Whoever they were meant for, they clearly weren’t meant for us, and neither the public nor Vanity Fair deserves an explanation beyond that.
Of course, it’s totally understandable why Lawrence would feel the need to provide an explanation for the photos in the first place. Since the dawn of the nude photo leak, when frustrated young men started climbing out of the primordial ooze that is 4chan and Is Anyone Up? to make a career out of preying on young women, there has been this unspoken idea that there is such thing as a “good” or “bad” revenge porn victim.
In one corner, there’s women like Lawrence, or fellow Celebgate victim Kate Upton, or one of the earliest high-profile victims of a nude photo hack, High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens. This is the girl in a loving, healthy, monogamous relationship, the girl who wants to keep her baseball player or cheesecake heartthrob boyfriend happy while he’s shooting movies or on the road, the girl who takes a few demure, over-the-shoulder nudie pics not to celebrate her own sexuality, but to satisfy the urges of her virile male partner, the girl with a PR team that, when the photos leak, will come running to defend her honor by saying they were meant for one person and one person only, and an assistant who’ll take her aside when the scandal blows over and teach her about the importance of two-factor authentication.
And then, in the other corner, we have “bad” victims, women who did not send these photos to a monogamous partner that started for the Detroit Tigers or starred in a Disney musical, who do not have the benefit of attorneys to teach them about their state’s revenge porn laws, or publicists to craft good-girl-victim narratives for them. We have women like Holly Jacobs, a Florida teaching assistant whose life and career were ruined when a disgruntled ex-boyfriend posted videos and images of her masturbating on porn tube sites, or Kayla Laws, who sent a topless photo to herself which was posted on Is Anyone Up? after her e-mail was hacked, or the young woman known as “Magaluf Girl,” whose father was harassed on 4chan after a video clip of his daughter giving oral sex to bar patrons on a Spanish island went viral.
Like Lawrence and the other victims of Celebgate, these women did not consent to having their private sexual images put up for public consumption; like Lawrence and the other victims of Celebgate, these women are blamed and shamed on a daily basis for their actions, because didn’t they know better than to send that guy a nudie photo, or give that guy head, or, I dunno, have a vagina and an Internet email account? But unlike Lawrence, for the most part these women cannot go to Vanity Fair and proffer a “good” explanation for why and how this happened to them.
Ultimately, the divide between “good” and “bad” victims of revenge porn, or sexual assault, or whatever horrific crime is enacted against women on a daily basis, comes down to this: Those who have pat, PR-approved sexual narratives, and those who do not. Whether Lawrence realizes it or not, by justifying sending her nude photos to her healthy, loving boyfriend of four years in Vanity Fair—or by offering any justification for sending them at all, really—she is furthering that divide, making the chasm between “good” and “bad” victims of sex crimes wider and wider.
Photo via HotGossipItalia/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.