If you’ve spent any time as a woman on the internet, the message sent by the 4chan poster who hacked into over 100 female celebrities’ iCloud accounts to obtain nude photos is startlingly familiar: As a woman — especially a woman in the public eye — you will never be safe from harassment, ridicule, or public degradation online.
Perhaps nobody knows this better than Anita Sarkeesian, the Canadian media critic who has for years been the target of unrelenting rape and death threats for daring to speak publicly about sexism in media.
Last week, horrifying threats lobbed at her by anonymous Twitter and 4chan users forced Sarkeesian from her home after she uploaded the newest installment of Feminist Frequency, her YouTube show that highlights sexist tropes in video games. Users Photoshopped her head onto photos of women’s mutilated bodies. They told her they wanted to rape her corpse. As the Washington Post put it, Sarkeesian is “a woman who dares exist on the Internet and have an opinion that some men find objectionable.” For those crimes, she was brutally punished.
The massive celebrity nude photo leak is the logical extension of the type of abuse that women like Sarkeesian face on platforms like Twitter and Facebook every day. Hackers obliterated these celebrities’ right to privacy and reduced their bodies to strings of ones and zeroes to be offered up to the greedy male gaze. Last night, before the backlash really began to mount, Twitter morphed into a platform for assessing the individual body parts of accomplished, influential women. It’s a power exerted over some of the world’s most successful women, to remind them that no matter how much money or fame or adoration they amass, they are subject to the same humiliation, ridicule, and venom that women online face every day.
There has long been a dubious conventional wisdom that A-list female celebrities must grow accustomed to this kind of harassment as the "price of fame." But creating and maintaining a popular persona doesn’t automatically grant strangers access to the intimate parts of your life; the attitude of entitlement that dictates otherwise is just another manifestation of many men’s belief that they have a protected right to view, touch, and comment upon women’s bodies, consensually or not.
To be clear, it’s not just the hacker who’s guilty here. It’s also the fault of administrators and vocal male users of platforms like 4chan and Twitter that cling to misinterpreted notions of the First Amendment to excuse the systematic harassment of women online, who blatantly favor the protection of misogynist hate speech over the well-being of women. It’s the fault of people who tweet the photos or users who re-upload the cache of images to sites like Imgur with no regard for the victims (and make no mistake — the women in these photos are victims).
And it’s the fault of those who actively seek out those photos, who link to them on blogs or upvote them on Reddit or even run a simple Google search for them. You, too, are complicit in perpetuating the cycle of abuse, shame, and sexual violence that women are forced to fight against every day.