What the Leslie Jones hack has in common with the burkini ban
Are you familiar with Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones? On intimate terms with her? Has she turned to you and said, "Here are some photographs of me in the altogether which you may peruse at your leisure?" Alternatively, has Leslie Jones participated in a nude photo shoot intended for public consumption? If the answers to questions 3 and 4 are "no," then you have no right to see nude pictures of her. Period, full-stop.
On Wednesday, news broke that the actor-comedian's Tumblr had been hacked, its content replaced with personal information (such as her driver's license), racist images, and nude photographs.
This isn't the first time a woman's body has been flashed among strangers without her consent. One famous case involved Jennifer Lawrence; earlier incidents involved Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, and Kesha. Then there are cases like that of the Steubenville rape victim, who discovered she'd been raped when her schoolmates started talking about the pictures. Revenge porn falls along the same continuum, as do upskirt shots. So too, I would argue, does this week's case of French police forcing an observant Muslim woman to publicly remove her body-covering swim attire in order to enforce the country's burkini ban.
For all the differences between these cases, though, in each one, somebody used a woman's bareness as a tool to advance their own agenda, whatever that agenda might have been. A woman (or in the Steubenville incident, a girl) was stripped of agency over her bared body — an act which, simply put, is a sexual violation.
There's been a heartening level of outrage expressed in response to the hacking of Jones' Tumblr. Many people have expressed their admiration for the actor and her work, invoking her enormous talent (undeniable), her beauty (ditto), and her inner strength (which first became apparent the first time she was viciously harassed this summer) — but while all the affection is, to my mind, entirely deserved, it is also entirely beside the point.
Not, of course, to Jones herself. I hope she's taking real comfort in the outpouring of support, and that the people she loves are helping her grapple with the attack and its aftermath (and aiding in the Homeland Security investigation).
In the broader scheme of things, however, it doesn't matter how famous or anonymous a woman is, how beloved or reviled, talented or hacky — her body is hers alone, not a means to an end or a delivery mechanism for the ideas of anyone else.
It can be easy to see the Jones hack in isolation, or as a cautionary tale about fame or the internet, just as it can be easy to see high school rapists, upskirt pic snappers, and women forced to comply with European notions of secularism as individual issues, limited to assholes, perverts, and politicians who don't understand freedom of religion.
But there's no such thing as "limited to." Such incidents are neither isolated nor unrelated, being instead a variety of expressions of the broadly-held, largely-unspoken understanding within human society that a woman's body is not wholly her own.
Sexual assault is, of course, among the most egregious expressions of this understanding (surely the Steubenville survivor's worst violation was the assault itself) — but so too are the literal and metaphorical policing of women's clothes, bans on birth control or abortion, and the leaking of nude pictures. My body is mine — it doesn't belong to my husband, the state, or any rando who might hate me or get a thrill out of gawking at women without their consent. Leslie Jones' body is hers. Every woman's body belongs to exactly one person: herself.
For all that I dearly and sincerely hope Leslie Jones never again faces such ugly abuse, the abuse isn't unique to her, the internet, or Hollywood. The only way to stop it is to struggle toward a new understanding about women and our bodies, one in which treating women as anything less than fully human is taboo — behavior for which the perpetrator can expect to be scorned and shunned, rejected by society at large. And maybe thrown in the clink.
My body is mine. Leslie Jones' body is hers. And your body is yours, and yours alone.