“Ladies, please cover up your ankles.”
“If you wear a short skirt, they’ll think you’re a slut.”
“What’s it going to take for women to get the message about taking and sending nude photos?”
My, we’ve come a long way, haven’t we?
Women are still being judged for what they do – or don’t – wear.
These images were on private Facebook pages, or in the hands of intimate partners.
Now, they’re available for download on a US website.
This is cyber sexual assault, perpetrated by vengeful ex-boyfriends who submitted the pictures, and criminals who say there’s nothing we can do to stop them.
But instead of focusing, as Independent Senator Nick Xenophon suggests, on strengthening the laws, we’re indulging in another round of victim blaming.
Channel 7’s Sunrise has replaced its initial blame-and-shame Facebook post, with finger-wagging: “A stern warning for people who share risqué photos online.”
In other words, women should modify their behaviour so men don’t exploit them.
“The 1950s called: they want their attitude back,” I mused, while boiling the kettle that morning.
Then, I overheard this exchange, in our loungeroom.
“Now, this is a very important story, Grace,” hubby told our eight-year-old daughter.
“When you’re older, you’ve got to be really careful about what you put on the internet. Look what happened to these girls.”
I almost choked on my coffee.
My husband is a feminist (although he prefers the term, ‘equalist’).
He was trying to do the right thing, protecting our daughter.
But, surely, as a young woman, she should be able to do whatever she likes with her own body, in a private setting?
Surely, the focus should be on the offenders.
And, surely, we should be sending this message to our son?
“Taj, this is a very important story. Some men take revenge on their ex-girlfriends by stealing photos. Others become hackers, to make money from women’s intimate pictures. This is never, ever acceptable.”
Or, to paraphrase the former Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.
The Sunrise comments prompted commentator Clementine Ford to post a semi-naked picture on her Facebook page, defending women’s rights to live free from sexual degradation, shame and assault.
But she’s also doing it for men: “When I condemn victim blaming, I’m condemning a culture which sees men as base creatures unable to control themselves and not fully formed human beings capable of making healthy, respectful decisions.”
These beliefs have been around since Adam and Eve.
The woman is the temptress; the man cannot help himself.
She is to blame for the sins of the world.
Sadly, this narrative continues through the growing – and lucrative – girls’ empowerment movement.
Last year, I was contacted by a young woman about, “a program encouraging teenage girls to explore self-esteem and identity through creativity”.
Always keen to help, I advised her on how to market the program, offering some social media support.
After one Facebook post, I was mortified to receive this private message, from a concerned friend: “Be really careful about Esteem Designz. It’s run by a conservative Christian pastor, who believes in celibacy before marriage.”
None of this is explicit, in the material sent to schools.
Watch Tracey’s TED Talk about stripping away her day-to-day routine here:
Digging deep into the website, I found this: “A comprehensive and targeted resource designed to champion girls (pre-teens to young adults) to know and be confident in their TRUE identity and value in Christ, as well as see and encourage the value of others. Girls are equipped with key skills and tools to flourish in life – all through CREATIVITY and God’s Word.”
Yeah, right. Because the church has always been a bastion of women’s rights.
This course has been implemented in 170 schools, to more than 1300 girls.
It’s part of a religious backlash against the true empowerment of teenage girls: the enjoyment of their burgeoning sexuality.
Trying to repress this stuff is futile.
Instead, we need to teach them to take charge of their own bodies; and teach boys not to exploit them.
We need to ditch the father-on-porch-with-shotgun style of parenting.
And we need to stop judging women and girls on how they appear.