The picture is of a couple, from behind, walking away from us. We think we recognize her hair, his bald spot, the ubiquitous jean/blazer combo. It doesn’t matter who they are. The wind has scooped up the hem of the woman’s dress and revealed her bare buttocks.
An acquaintance shared this photo with a lewd comment about the woman not wearing undergarments. I challenged him.
Would you — I asked — share a similar photo of your own wife?
Of course he wouldn’t… not *his* woman. But over the course of the next five messages, the litany of excuses began:
1) She’s famous. Somehow, women in the public eye are undeserving of respect to their bodies. I recognize that my ideal of a famous or non-famous woman being able to lay topless on a beach without fear of someone snapping and sharing an image is unrealistic; however, I think we can all agree that this woman did not intend for her dress to go up and her derriere to be made public. Therefore, we should respect her intent.
2) She should have known better. Should she have known that the wind would blow? Or that a crass photographer would exploit her bare bottom without her permission? Or that a newspaper would encourage the photographer by paying for the photo? This is so close to an examination of a rape survivor’s clothing and route choices that it gives me goosebumps. Somehow, it is her responsibility to control a photographer’s trigger finger. Or the newspaper’s buying policy. It’s her fault.
3) I didn’t take the photo. The implication here is that since he didn’t take the photo, he bears no responsibility for sharing it. That perpetuating a little violation against a woman is not as bad as originally committing it.
I continued to push and the conversation devolved into what it always does online, a bunch of people shouting me down with increasingly bizarre and misguided arguments. One man cried out that “butts” were not his pleasure, and that ears were his fetish… complete with a recurring description of how exactly ears turn him on. One woman said she blamed the amorphous “media” for publishing the photo, but our friend sharing it was no problem at all. Another woman jumped in to belittle my focus on institutional misogny — claiming that I was fiddling while Rome falls. Someone else started talking about eugenics… I left before someone invoked the ghost of Hitler. But I spoke up. I tried.