Cameras, Consent and Conservative Rapeyness

Originally published on Feministe and cross-posted here with permission.


Women deal with violence or its threat all the time. Women who defend themselves make people pause, however. Violent women, especially, disturb people. They upset the “natural order” and cause no small amount of unease.

If a woman’s defense of herself enters the courts, well, that is always enlightening for the degree to which male norms are revealed to permeate the justice system and she is either re-victimized, criminalized or pathologized for defending herself.

Now, in an interesting modern twist on old themes, enter the camera and its intensifying and catalytic effects – both real and metaphorical.

Recently three seemingly unrelated events illustrate how violence against women, ranging from the seemingly benign to the most extreme, is perpetuated and exacerbated through the use of technology and the law: A topless Kate Middleton hit the ether, Paul Ryan entertained Values Voters and a woman in Turkey decapitated her rapist.

I bet Paul Ryan and “stock language forcible rape” “values” voters think that taking pictures of a girl or a woman without her consent, especially of her naked or half-naked, is obviously wrong.

What about a woman who’s being blackmailed with nude photos by a rapist that’s forcibly inseminated her? Does she have the right to take his camera? Have an abortion or get child-care support if she carries to term? Should she be forced by the state (more than 20 in the US) to have a medically unnecessary ultrasound (also a coerced photo of her body)?

People take pictures of girls and women, without their consent or desire, for public consumption and review, all the time.

What does this have to do with conservative rape qualification and women’s reproductive rights?


To begin with there is privacy. Or lack thereof.

And consent. Or lack thereof.

Then there is volition,


bodily autonomy,

actual freedom,

and, yes, elusive-to-females, basic physical security.

This type of thing happens on a smaller scale to girls and women everyday. Just a few weeks ago, as my early-teen daughters and I stood outside of our house, a truckload of men driving stopped to hoot. One yelled, “Smile for the camera, ladies!” and snapped a picture as they drove away.

But, woo-hoo, it got even better. Behind them in another car an older man stopped to scold my children for wearing bathing suits, beach cover ups and flip flops for the walk to the car from the front door. “You see! You see what you did? Put some clothes on!” Bundling up in 98 degree weather just didn’t make sense to any of us for what would be no more than a 30 second sprint to the car.

Clothing is irrelevant, of course. Even girls in hijab and chador have these experiences.

Photos. No consent. Harassment. Shame. Blame. Whatever.

Female bodies are communal. Men’s bodies are their own. Taking pictures of girls and women and sharing those pictures without their consent is an extention of the same attitudes that inform harassment and violence – real and legislative – to begin with.

If you are a man, pretend to be a woman, say, like {Unwinona} (really, read it). Imagine going through your day with random, occasionally threatening, people sharing what they think about your legs, your hair, your chest, your face. Or, telling you what to do with your body so that they can enjoy it more.

Contrary to popular opinion, this is not fun. It’s even less fun when they use a camera to enhance their experience or use of your body without your consent. Even someone who feels flattered knows to feels a queer unease when a stranger snaps an artsy shot without asking.

And this has zero to do with economic status, education, race, nationality, ethnicity or social class. Mark Zuckerberg uploaded photos of female students (without their consent), while at Harvard, to be viewed, compared and rated by classmates in the alcohol-fueled creativity that yielded Facemash, the precursor to Facebook.

His “mistake.”

This type of activity happens regularly. Boys will be boys. Until they are confronted by “shameless” girls and women who fervently defend themselves.

The boys who shared a video of Cole probably will not repeat their actions. Last Fall, the 14-year old engaged in oral sex with a boy, which others watched, videotaped and shared with viral child porn results on YouTube. All without her permission. As Latoya Peterson, editor of Racialicious asked, “Where were the letters to the boys?” There were no letters, but the boys were arrested.

Harassment. No consent. Nudity. Invasion of privacy. Video. Shame. Blame. Arrest.

Dietrich is the Louisville, Kentucky teen who took to Twitter earlier this year to protest a lenient judgment against two boys who assaulted her. The boys got community service because they regretted thinking that photographing themselves sticking their fingers into her vagina while she was unconscious, and circulating the photos among their friends, was hilariously funny.

Was the fact that the prosecutor was an alumnus of the boys all-boys school relevant to their sentence? A lawyer for one of the defendants insists that Deitrich ruined the boy’s life: “He was on course to a scholarship to an Ivy League school to play sports and that may be jeopardized…He’s just overwhelmed and devastated by what started from the conduct of this young girl…”

Just WOW. Maybe the next athletic, scholarship-potential duo will understand why it’s never funny to use other people’s bodies without their consent for your own entertainment or salvation – either popular, political or eternal.

What we need is for children, boys and girls, to understand reflexively, from an early age, that using other people’s bodies IN ANY WAY without their consent is NOT OK. Otherwise, well, they grow up to be rights-stripping legislators who don’t understand that women have this basic right.

You know who will pause for sure? Any man in Turkey who thinks he might get away with raping and blackmailing a neighbor for almost a year. Week before last 26-year old, mother of two, Nevin Yildirim decapitated a rapist who did just this. A man who also took pictures of her naked, without her consent. The photos intensified her multiple violations exponentially and expanded the scope of her shame. She gives new definition to “honor killing.”

Harassment. No consent. Violation of bodily integrity. Photos. Violations of privacy. Shame. Blame. Decapitation.

To make it all worse, however, while his head was still attached, he inseminated her, also against her will. Add Forcible insemination to the list. Which brings us to back to conservative rapeyness so exquisitely elaborated on by Paul Ryan, who believes that Yildirim’s rape impregnation is another “method of conception.”

This is true.

In exactly the same way that castration is just another “method of contraception.”

How do people pervert their humanity in this way? When I hear a man with his power say something like this with such an earnest, straight face, I think of Brian Greene, because somewhere in the multiverse there is a woman named Paula Ryan proclaiming on an alternative universe NBC that women’s involuntary castration of 32,000 men is an act of merciful divine provenance.

Like many women in her position, Yildrim is unwilling to turn “lemons” into lemonade. Decapitating her rapist after shooting him 10 times and dragging his head through her village would imply that, despite getting pregnant, she did not enjoy her rape as suggested by Todd Akin and Mitt Romney’s self-described “important surrogate” John Willkie. It’s too late for her to get a safe and legal abortion in Turkey and even though she’d rather die than give birth, she probably won’t.

Harassment. No consent. Violation of bodily integrity. Photos. Violations of privacy. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Blame. Fear. More Rape. Control. Loss of Honor. Forcible insemination. Decapitation. Honor Restored. Loss of freedom (she will go to jail, right?) Rapey legislation. Compounded injustice.

“Pshaw, not our problem, that this is ‘Murica!” If Nevin Yildrim lived in the US and had not dispatched her rapist so effectively, he would, in more than 30 states, are in no way impeded from suing for custody and visitation rights.

Last week Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, tried to insert “forcible rape” language into state child-care assistance requirements. She quickly withdrew the term once confronted by the poor aesthetics of the insertion.

If she lived in a “forcible rape” state in the US, could she prove that it was forcible enough? I mean, when a man is going to kill you or your children if you fight back, maybe you don’t fight back.

Is it self-defense if you kill him seconds after he climbs a wall into your house but before he actually rapes you or do you have to wait until he is raping you? If he is himself the weapon, do rules of proportionality apply? Can you disarm him? Are you allowed to take his camera and delete the photos at the very least? Will he charge you with theft?

What about child care support? In Turkey the state is ponying up money for care of children born of rape. But, here? I mean, it did go on for EIGHT MONTHS. She must not have really wanted to stopped it. “Forcible” enough for her to get an abortion or child support in Blue states or if Romney/Ryan win? That’s questionable.

Sounds insane, right? Well, what do people think happens to girls and women if they have to prove that they meet the “forcible” requirement? Don’t you have to discuss details like these with people who will decide if you were raped enough to get child care for a child?

It’s no different from women in Georgia who face legislation stating they need to prove their miscarriages were “natural” or be charged with felonies. How else can women meet the criteria being used to establish laws and distribute rights, justice and sometimes benefits?

These regulations (remember, to regulate actually means not laws, but control), rape qualifications and rights for rapists are the brutal acme of patriarchal control of reproduction. I could have written male control. But that’s not accurate. There are lots of men who understand why patriarchy fails everyone. But, they’re not, at the moment, actively involved in the leadership of the Republican party’s dismantling of democracy.

And, I know, too, that there are women like Martinez and Angle, (roughly half of half of the 17% of legislators who are women). This super-slim margin of women with limited power who self-servingly repeat self-annihilating gibberish are irrelevant, no matter how visibly they are trotted out by the Peckerhead Patrol.

The short story is that we live with a deep and persistent societal tolerance for the use of our bodies by others for their own purposes, profit, political gain and entertainment. Just to be perfectly clear: am not in any way, shape or form, advocating violence.

I am just describing violence without any “family friendly” sugarcoating. Rape, sexual assault, “domestic abuse” are hard topics. They are ugly and frightening and no one wants to write about them, read about them, think about them.

Well, no one wants to experience them either and burying the reality of their ubiquity – with words like “sex scandals” and “child brides,” has failed us all miserably.

Cameras and harassment are the tip of an iceberg of male regulation of women’s bodies and behaviors. Legislation, based on a cultural acceptance of women’s bodies as public resources, is much more pernicious.

Maybe next time you are standing in the grocery store checkout line and you see a blurry photo of Kate Middleton’s breasts you might think about whether or not you want to see the government of THIS country violate even more girls and women in these ways.

Soraya Chemaly writes about the role of gender in culture, politics, religion and media. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Fem2.0, The Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Alternet, among other media. She has appeared as a guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Sirius XM progressive radio, and is a frequent HuffPost Live Panelist. Follow her on Twitter at @schemaly.