It’s World Cup season and social media has been flooded with stories, posts and tweets about football. As with any sporting event, photographers seem to be paying a great deal of attention to “hottie” spectators. Unlike male spectators, there is obviously something incredible and news-worthy about an attractive woman enjoying football.
Around last week, a Facebook friend was posting pictures of his World Cup holiday in Brazil.
First, he posted a photo of himself with two women wearing Brazil t-shirts and friends commented saying things like “Wow you are so lucky to be in Brazil yaar”, “You are fulfilling my teenage dream”. Typical behaviour, nothing harmless. Then, he posted a photo of two women on the beach, captioned with the lyrics “Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking”. Both women had their backs to the camera. One of them was wearing a thong bikini, which made it obvious that the subject (or rather, object) of the photo was her bottom. The guy tagged his friends (who were male) and commented “This one’s for you”. There were some comments and jokes about big bums. I was annoyed about the photo, but what I found horrifying was that he tagged his friends and “gave” them something that wasn’t his to give in the first place. To give him the benefit of doubt, I commented, “Hey, just wondering if you asked for their permission before taking / posting the picture?”. I almost deleted my comment, because I didn’t want to seem like I was over-reacting. And I didn’t know those women or the situation (in fact, I barely knew the guy), so who was I to comment? But I refrained from deleting and waited for a response. When I checked back in a couple of hours, my comment had been removed and the photo had gained more likes and admiring comments. I reported the post for sexism (which felt like the closest offence) to the Facebook police and de-friended him. Facebook responded saying that they didn’t think the post violated their Community Standards and I should de-friend the person if their content offends me. Needless to say, I was disappointed with the response. This isn’t just about offending me, it is about violating someone’s right to privacy…or so I thought. The photo potentially violated at least two of Facebook’s standards, Identity and Privacy and Intellectual Property. Identity and Privacy: On Facebook people connect using their real names and identities. We ask that you refrain from publishing the personal information of others without their consent. Claiming to be another person, creating a false presence for an organization, or creating multiple accounts undermines community and violates Facebook’s terms. – The photo was potentially published without consent of the women. Could Facebook have verified consent? Even if the photo was investigated, what are the consequences of lying about consent to the Facebook police? Intellectual Property: Before sharing content on Facebook, please be sure you have the right to do so. We ask that you respect copyrights, trademarks, and other legal rights. – So, I take it that privacy must fall under “other legal rights”. It is easy to disregard this standard, not only because rights are difficult to monitor, but also because privacy rights often come in conflict with the right to freedom of speech, and precedence over one or the other is established on a case by case basis. I discussed the issue with friends, who expressed concern but also seemed incredibly blasé about the issue. I understand their reaction – Undoubtedly, the guy was a creep, but we have bigger battles to fight and it seems near impossible to stop this behaviour. Some of their responses were: “Boys will be boys” “How immature” “If the girls were walking on a public beach with their bums uncovered, do you really think they care about having their photo taken” “Isn’t this the same issue as the girls on Page 3 and lads’ mags?” “How does this compare to upskirt shots of celebrities?” The over-arching point we’re missing here is privacy. As private members of society who are not of public interest, the women should have some reasonable expectation of privacy. Obviously, there are issues with paparazzi culture but I’d like to set aside and look at it from an ordinary person’s perspective. As a private member of society, I absolutely do not expect to be photographed without consent – I could be wearing a thong or anything else. I realise that the public is much divided on the privacy vs free speech issue. Many feel that people should expect to be photographed without consent if they are in a public place, or if they are hanging out in their home with the curtains undrawn. Courts have defended this behaviour under free speech, saying that certain kinds of art “needs no consent to be made or sold”. As celebrities will know, there are few laws that will protect you from being photographed in a public place. In the US, it is legal to photograph anyone or anything as long as it is on public property. You do not need consent. So legally, there is nothing wrong about the photograph the guy took. The other element to consider was consent. Consent is important because it is so difficult to establish intent in these circumstances. Women, as private members of society, should be able to exert control over their image. But in this case, control has been taken from them and it feels like some power has been given away. The guy could use the photo for his masturbation bank, or herald it as art. The women have no control over what chooses to do. If the women knew he was going to proudly present it to his friends like a birthday gift, would they have given consent? I also think the photograph is wrong because it objectifies the women in a sexual way. Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory says that women in film are presented as an object to be looked at, from a male perspective. The offending photo is set in the male gaze and focuses on their buttocks. It attempts to sexualise the women purely for the viewing pleasure of other straight men. The photograph can send a number of alarming messages: Who are the women, what do they do and would they have wanted to be photographed in this way? Not important. You can’t see the women’s faces, which dehumanises them. It is unclear whether they even know the photographer, which strips them of any independence. The women have been turned into objects, and what are objects if not dispensable? Perhaps if the photograph featured a couple having a romantic walk on the beach, it wouldn’t feel so wrong. What are your thoughts? Am I having a prudish reaction? I think women should have the right to walk in public without being objectified in this way…unless they want to! I appreciate this may not seem like the end of the world but imagine if it became the norm and thousands of people took to taking such photographs without consent. Imagine yourself as the women in the photograph. I explained all of this to a friend, and he said “So, we can’t take random photos of women anymore?” You can, but why would you want to? Further reading: I came across interesting material while writing this post but I couldn’t use all of it. Linked below: The art of peeping: Photography at the limits of privacy All you need to be a modern digital stalker is a smart phone Aberdeen man admits taking photos of 70,000 women Creepy dudes photographing women on the beach is the worst trend ever Yes you can take creepy photos of women in public, but please don’t Court acquits man over secret beach pics