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So it turns out that it wasn’t 4Chan behind the threat to publicly disrobe Emma Watson as an act of vengeance for her speech to the UN after all. Apparently it was a hoax perpetrated by a group claiming to be called Rantic who want to have 4Chan (the anonymous forum site where hacked photos of naked celebrities are posted) ‘shut down’. If there is anybody out there who actually believes in the alleged philanthropic intention of these feckless, avaricious parasites then congratulations on being the only people in existence who are more intellectually stunted than they are. What their publicity stunt has actually done is to elicit a dissection that has revealed the cancer lurking beneath the skin of their (and many others’) actions.

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Rantic – or whoever they actually are – took the viral popularity of Watson’s speech and used it in conjunction with 4chan’s ‘The Fappening’ (a naked celebrity photo hacking controversy) to create an online maelstrom, a perfect storm of colliding, morally dichotomous worlds representing click-whoring of the most immoral and deceitful kind. It is the digital equivalent of parasitic consumption; it is shameless, reckless and destructive exploitation. And that is the key word. Exploitation.

Rantic have exploited Emma Watson’s gender, celebrity and position as an honorary U.N. dignitary. They have exploited the misogynistic, woman-hating anthropoids who waited with dark antipathy, drool ridden leers and cocks in hands for the supposed corruption and symbolic deflowering of a woman who had dared to speak about equality in a public forum. They have exploited gender stereotypes whilst trading on anachronistic and inhibitive notions about women and sexual freedom. In fact, they have exploited all women, and knowingly used the vitriolic bile spewed forth in response to Watson’s speech as the umbilical cord in the birthing of their monster.

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The concept that the exposure of the naked female form is the ultimate form of shame lurks at the vile heart of the threats that were levelled at Emma Watson. Initial progressive responses to the speech, such as the letter of support from 15-year-old schoolboy Ed Holtom, have been diluted by the violent sexism that has seeped like pus from a festering wound on the 4chan and Reddit forum boards:

“That feminist bitch Emma is going to show the world she is as much of a whore as any woman,”

“She makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH,”

Regardless of the fact that the campaign proved to be a cesspool of erroneous detritus, the people behind the hoax bought into what they believed were commonly held assumptions about women, channelling the 4chan mind-set in the creation of their viral marketing campaign. They trade on the concept that female nudity, whether it be public, private, brazen or intimate should be a source of humiliation and dishonour, and buys into the concept of victim blaming, or, to borrow a neologism making the rounds at the moment, ‘slut-shaming’. The implication was that if nude photos of Emma Watson did exist, then this was indicative of her loose sexual ethics, confirmation of her reduction to the role of a ‘whore’ (as mentioned by the troll above) and would consequently negate any messages that she had passed on about feminism or women’s rights.

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This is a troubling notion – that the perception of women’s gendered roles is so narrow, and the understanding of what constitutes a feminist so limited, that the greed-driven misogynists who perpetuated this effluence are completely oblivious to the fact that a woman can enjoy her own sexual freedom and expression – from lesbianism, to missionary, to naked selfies – and still remain a feminist, still believe in her right to both enjoy equality and campaign for it. The issue is one of power, control and choice being engaged in an antagonistic tug-of-war with social perceptions and prescribed gender roles.

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The manacles of shame that are chained upon women for what is perceived as deviating from gendered sexual norms hang like albatrosses around guiltless necks. Until women are freed from those shackles and enjoy the same sexual liberties – and the same parameters for judgement – as men, then the depressing truth is that the societal mystification of female sexuality and the social prison of gender conformity will give morons like 4Chan or Rantic leverage and motivation to invade people’s privacy, cast aspersions on their morality and make money off of something that every single woman and man in the world share: a body. After all, it’s not as if it is a surprise that underneath their clothes celebrity men and women have cocks, tits and vaginas as well.

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Emma Watson rightly pointed out that, like all civil rights movements, women are simply striving for equality. Not supremacy but equality. For example, one-night stands, sexual promiscuity, threesomes, emotionally detached intercourse, masturbating over porn – these are all behaviours that when undertaken by men are not only condoned but also a source of congratulation, badges of honour – affirmations of masculinity. The censure of male deviance from norms is utterly non-existent. Whether or not we agree with, or even undertake, any of the aforesaid practises the immutable truth is that women cannot currently engage in them without having the branding iron of social condemnation seared into their flesh.

This inequality is demonstrable in the discrepancy between the number of male celebrities who have been the victims of ‘The Fappening’ compared to the number of female. On the one hand this is an example of the on-going desire of men to subjugate women, forcing them into roles of surrender; had Emma Watson had her phone hacked it would have been the equivalent of a sexual assault, forcing her into a role of submission – left helpless having been shorn of the power and control of choosing who she did and didn’t wish to share her body with. On the other hand, thanks to a more liberal and judgement-free definition of what constitutes their gender, men are less likely to both experience, or fear, the exposure of their bodies in a public forum, as typified by Kanye West’s claim ‘You cannot imagine how disappointed I was…that I got cut off!’ in response to nude photos of him that had been leaked online but cropped out his genitalia and lower body. Contrast this with his fury about his wife being a victim of ‘The Fappening’.

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Other responses to the hoax exposure of Watson’s pictures have underscored one of the central messages of her speech – the need to create cognitive dissonance within large swathes of the male population. She has been criticised by feminists in some quarters for delivering an anodyne, watered down message and for feeling that men should form a part of a gender recalibration, but if feminism is about equality rather than one dominant group being supplanted by another – in the style of a country thrown into disarray through a never-ending cycle of coups – then I can’t help but feel she is right. Although there are many depressingly misguided women who misinterpret feminism thanks to their impressionistic, ill-informed and egocentric stances, it is predominantly men who recline back in the safety of their armchairs of passive ignorance. It is the indirect sexism that poses the biggest challenge to Watson or any other feminist for that matter.

The raft of tweets and comments underneath all of the news items regarding ‘Emma Watson You’re Next’ and ‘The Fappening’ reveal the roadblocks of ignorance currently blocking the path to equality:

‘If you are dumb enough to let someone take pics of you in the buff then don’t moan if they end up somewhere unintended.’ Written in response to the news that lawsuits will be taken out against the hackers and posters of the nude photos.

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In Mary E. Winstead’s tweet that represented her response to becoming another victim in the photo-hacking scandal “To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves” she received the following replies:

‘y do u care so much seriously. It wld b one thing if u were a 800 pound pig. But ur pretty hot so just suck it up.’

‘She should just let it go.   She’s in the public eye and she’s surprised at this? Her reaction makes it worse.’

‘why would one even take a nude picture, unless she is a porn star!?’

Gone r the days when women had more class than 2 base their identities on what they look like naked & need photographic proof’

‘Wow, talk about displaced blame. Sorry, but if you take nude photos of yourself you’re a moron.’

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So, women are supposedly responsible when other people, who – let’s be clear – are looking to exploit their bodies for their own financial gain – actively, and illegally steal sensitive images of them – their private property – for mass redistribution. So by the same logic, presumably because America and Russia possess atomic bombs it would be ok for a third party to annihilate another country with them, just because they exist? Would we think it was ok for a man to walk up to a woman in the street, lift up her blouse and expose her breasts on the premise that she possesses them and therefore they are fair game? Would it be ok for a pervert to sneak into a house and film a couple having sex because, horror oh horror, they have both made the choice to do it? This rationale of twisted thorns, this casual deference of blame, is, in principle, the same as blaming women for being raped because of the clothing they wear. Check out the statistics on rape in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran and then see how much impact the amount of clothing a woman isn’t wearing has on her chances of sexual assault – would these morons then argue that a woman in a burqa is ‘asking for it’ too?

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These idiotic assertions also strike at the heart of the issue of choice, which in turn is central to feminism and gender equality. If a woman, or man for that matter, derives excitement from taking a nude photograph of themselves and they have freely chosen to do it without coercion then that is their prerogative. So the answer to the question ‘why would one even take a nude picture…?’ is a simple one: ‘because one wanted and chose to’. The equating of this with the porn industry – where people have consciously chosen to be filmed naked and performing sex acts for mass distribution, fails to acknowledge the fact that someone’s private choice has been stolen, warped and repackaged for public consumption without consent, and there is a word for taking sexual advantage of another human being without consent. It is rape. As for the Neanderthal who is harking for the days of yor when women didn’t feel defined by their appearances – I can only hope he is being ironic – one flick on of the TV or one look at a magazine any time over the last century would have shown him that the media is just another zip on the strait-jacket constraining and suffocating women.

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And this is why Emma Watson called for an army constructed of both men and women. Sexism is so culturally transfused and hardwired into men (and some women), the concept of masculinity so closely linked to the creation and subsequent rejection of ‘femininity’, and the social constructs of gender so inextricably linked to identity, that men must be involved in correcting a problem that is almost exclusively of their own making – working with the women who have wrongly been left to rectify their mistakes. Without this, the best hope would be a cycle of revolution and counter-revolution in which the original problems are never eradicated, merely recapitulated and repappropriated.

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One blogger suggested that women need to move forward on their own (and after so many years of sacrifice for progress, followed by unjust setbacks instigated by men, it is easy to see why). However the evidence they supplied to support this was disingenuous. It was claimed that the instigation of a ‘white4black’ movement by black civil rights activists wasn’t what crushed racism and apartheid, however this is only partly true. Martin Luther King, arguably the greatest advocate for black civil rights, constantly stated (and even alluded to in the imagery in his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech’) that mutual respect, collective action and the pursuit of black-white equality were the only ways forward for his community. His commitment to non-violent reform lit the touch-paper for constitutional amendments that changed the lives of black African-Americans. Likewise, for all of the militant activity of the ANC under Nelson Mandela, it was diplomatic, non-violent sanctions, instigated by a sympathetic world (the majority of whom shared ethnicity with the white oppressors) that led to the abolition of apartheid.

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If this teaches us anything it is that, even if Emma Watson’s message was temperate and overly-simplified (and let’s not forget it is the media who have portrayed it as the ‘game-changer’ that insultingly overlooks a millennia of the blood, sweat and tears shed by women’s rights activists and feminists) that she may just have a point. Regardless of her naiveté or omissions, she has volunteered to step into a highly visible position – where she couldn’t possibly hope to please everyone – to campaign for better lives for women. I can only wish her (and every other woman) the best with turning her optimism into genuine progress, and I hope that in the unlikely event taking naked selfies is her thing, then she gets to carry on doing it without intrusion and more importantly, without judgement.

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