Friday, March 6, 2009

Upskirting an "outrage"?

I was mildly amused this morning when I came across this self-righteous post on HuffPo, in which the author a) amazingly just discovered the "upskirt" phenom and b) sees it as a personal outrage and disgusting offense against women. I mean, how dare we put a woman's panty-clad puss on the internet for a bunch of pervs to whack off to?

In her defense, she's ignorant of this sub-sub-niche of Exhibitionist porn and doesn't understand it's nuances. Actual data is impossible to produce, of course, but if I would hazard a guess (and, what the hell, I do) I'd say that the majority of upskirtting pix on the internets are taken voluntarily, with the permission and active participation of the lady in questions. Plenty are staged -- I know that for a fact. And while there is a certain mystique among upskirt aficionados about the "wild capture", denoting an upskirt shot taken with the woman completely unawares, in almost all of these cases there are no means of identifying the woman in the picture.

But the author (Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch) says that this is a violation of women's right to privacy. That it's an affront to her gender and a sign of sexual inequality running rampant in our society. She has waved the flag of victimization, even while admitting that the practice seems innocuous enough:

The practice of upskirting may seem innocuous enough, particularly when compared with some of the other on-going violations of women's human rights. After all, if a woman doesn't even know that intimate photographs have been taken of her, and no-one can identify her, what harm has she suffered? But as one woman who discovered that she had been photographed and the photographs posted on the internet, stated, "I feel violated."

Fair enough -- don't want anyone to feel violated . . . unless they want to feel violated. Some women don't like being treated as a sex object, and I can respect that as a basis for our civil society. But as usual she has taken one perspective on the subject without condemning or even making note of the analog from the male perspective. For example, she doesn't call out the practice of a single woman (or hell, a not-single woman)inquiring about a man's financial status, job, house, or car within the first five minutes of conversation -- all means to use him, in her fantasy mind, as a "success object".

It might seem petty to call that out -- after all, aren't women supposed to rigorously screen every male they encounter for potential mating, if not for themselves then for their friends? I've caught more than a few of my female pals quite cavalierly investigating a potential date's most intimate details online before they'd even had coffee. One was obsessive enough to get a copy of his criminal record, credit report, vehicle history report, and a Google Earth picture of his house. This is before they had even met.

Now, I'll allow that a surreptitious shot of a panty flash, and especially a concerted effort to grab an upskirt picture using mirrors, cell phones, etc. are a little intrusive into a woman's privacy, and might, indeed, make her feel "violated". But I assure all of you ladies that finding out that your entire personal history has been explored by a woman before your first date is more than a little off-putting . . . it's downright violating.

I don't want to hear any complaints about how different and unfair the comparison is -- it isn't. Some guys get their jollies over anonymous pictures of upskirt panty shots and you feel affronted for the poor woman victim. Some women get their jollies over investigating a man's ability to provide security for her (or her sister, BFF, or some other single woman she knows) and his suitability for further mating. Both are intrusions into the privacy and affronts to the dignity of their respective victims, but the sexist perspective that one is a crime while the other is just "harmless curiosity" is pure bullshit. The principle of violation is the same. The privacy is the same. The sexual impulse, allowing for gender differences, is the same.

One such female offender recently tried to defend the practice to me with the old excuse of "I wanted to make sure he wasn't a child molester or something." That sounds reasonable -- but that didn't explain the need for a Google Earth picture of his house, his credit report, or finding out what kind of car he drove. None of those things are germane to the "child molester" argument, they're just pure intrusive snooping. I called her on it, too, and she pulled the "harmless curiosity" meme and tried to look innocent. I wasn't buying it -- she's husband hunting, pure and simple. Had a single male friend of mine showed me an upskirt picture and said that he just wanted to make sure that the woman in question wasn't a preoperative transexual before he dated her, I think we can all agree that that's a bullshit excuse. Privacy is privacy, and invading it for the purpose of sexual exploitation must be wrong for BOTH genders, or it is wrong for neither.

Oh, but women are special, apparently:

Upskirting violates women's rights to privacy and bodily integrity, rights that are recognized and protected by international human rights law and that require governments to take action to protect persons from the acts of others. Upskirting reinforces the old, problematic idea that women's bodies are a terrain of struggle for ownership and possession, rather than an inviolate site, safe from mistreatment, cruelty and exploitation.

OK, a fair -- if obtuse -- point. But again, the converse is also true: Intrusive investigation into a man's financial and legal history violates HIS rights to privacy and economic integrity. It reinforces the old, problematic idea that a man's earning potential and ability to provide security in a relationship is a terrain of struggle for ownership and possession, rather than an involate site, safe from mistreatment ("Gosh, I love diamonds!"), cruelty ("I don't think I could date a man who only owned a Chevy -- sorry!") and exploitation ("So do you think maybe we could go out someplace really nice tonight? You just got paid, didn't you?"). And yes, all those are actual quotes from actual women of my acquaintance.

Of course, it's OK to beat up on male sexuality in our culture -- porn is "dirty and degrading", our sexual impulses are "base and uncontrollable" and our concerns about our sexual health are regularly held up to ridicule. But that's OK, because the oppressor cannot be oppressed in some people's minds. Men have everything, so we don't need real rights. Equality is OK as long as it means that women are more equal than men, sexually speaking.

Ms. Liesl's perspective that ALL such upskirt pix are such violations just doesn't hold water. I've been flashed before, myself. Voluntarily flashing your panties at a man has been a staple in the female flirtation arsenal for thousands of years, and going aghast that a man might actually enjoy the view, even pursue it in his choice of porn, is just silly nonsense. It certainly isn't a violation of human rights.
And considering the large number of female exhibitionists who display their panty shots online for the express purpose of getting whacked off to, separating the "voluntary" shots from the "involuntary" shots is impossible.

With serious issues like female genital mutilation, pay inequality, sexual abuse, battlefield rape, health care, reproductive rights, etc. being so urgent in our world, I'm a little appalled that something as silly as upskirting dominates the thoughts of this protector of human rights. One might think that her efforts could be far better focused elsewhere, such as supporting Equality Now and other organizations that really defend women from real abuse, not dance around complaining about softcore porn.