Curiosity has a strange effect on sexuality. We have a tendency to remain silent about the darker parts of our impulses, but I think it’s important for a conversation to be had. Sexuality and attraction are both bolstered by curious impulses. Seeing someone attractive walk by yields questions of what they might look like in a more intimate setting. However, what’s alluring about curiosity is the curiosity itself, the anticipation before satisfying the urge, the second before the picture is fully loaded, when only the first half can be seen, just a face posed for the camera, expressing something to someone else. The anticipation itself is what we’re after, and the satisfaction of that feeling is often disappointing. And with pornography as available as it is nowadays, we’ve become pretty numb to a lot of images, and what those images mean when we enlarge them on our browser. We need to understand that, particularly with leaked nudes, in the seconds leading up to exposure, we’re actually shoehorning our way into a private exchange. We’re something different. We’re something criminal.
Your opinions on the person you see shouldn’t even factor in. Looking at a nude implicates you in a crime that’s often swept over for a lot of reasons. Slut-shaming is usually number one, as anyone “stupid” enough to send a compromising photo, or with as little “respect” for themselves as such a photo might imply, deserves the nightmare of the world’s knowledge, of the impossibility to control private data after it’s been released into the cloud, right? Wrong. It’s this rejection of the victim’s narrative that keeps the problem alive, propels it. The division is the same as it’s always been: my entitlement vs. their lack of precaution. This is where my personal identity becomes important.
I am a cisgender straight male. I also identify as a feminist. However, as a straight male, to enter into any discourse that revolves around women, I first have to acknowledge that I have been a part of the problem, I am still a part of the problem, and until the world looks vastly different than it does now, I will be a part of the problem. And then I will be a remnant of the problem. This problem does not exist separately from me, and if for a second I thought that it did, then I should remind myself that I just looked at leaked photos. It is important to understand my role as a male feminist, which is often to stand quietly and listen to women. My response to, “I hate men,” should not be, “We’re not all bad,” because then I have just claimed the narrative. So instead I ask, “Why?”
It’s easy for me to shoo away anything that I do in private, safely secured behind a keyboard. I’m a feminist. I’m always considerate, right? But I’m not. I fuck up a lot. And the least I can do is remain more aware of myself than I have been, because this problem is something that can only be dealt with by endless effort. The computer is the new peeping tom’s tree, the google search the quiet and desperate climb, the click to enlargement the binoculars. This is voyeurism, which seems urged by curiosity.
Now let’s consider the contradiction of satisfying curiosity. In seventh grade, a friend of mine named Jamie came up to me and asked, “Do you think it’s weird that I find girls in lingerie more attractive than when they’re completely naked?” We had been respectively looking at porn for the first time and were slowly discovering what we liked. I replied by shaking my head, and then thought about why. Though I don’t think he phrased himself well, he was referring to the large role that anticipation can play when it comes to sexuality. Not knowing what comes next is always exciting. When the clothes are finally removed, there’s nothing else to wonder about. When that final article is tossed to the floor, I’m usually reminded of everyone just having a body, one that’s not incredibly different from my own. I think, “Oh yeah, we’re all pretty similar.” Which isn’t to say that I, or anyone else, don’t have the same amount of attraction for the other person, but it’s a more comfortable attraction than that surrounding the whispered questions of intent, the nervous fumble of fingers at zippers and straps, the neck biting and heavy breathing.
It’s the same thing with leaked photos of celebrities you’ve always wondered about. When you finally scroll through the results, it’s not terribly mind-blowing or revolutionary. It’s a body, much like your own, and it doesn’t glow because it’s famous and in fact still has blemishes and history. And yes, it’s still beautiful, maybe even more so with all those details kept intact. If you’ve ever felt underwhelmed by a celebrity nude, then you know how stupid body-shaming is. If seeing what our culture and society deems the most beautiful can still result in indifference, then so should the opposite end of the spectrum. Which isn’t to say that we’re all disappointing, but rather that we all look so good when naked that there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of space between the arbitrary poles society would like us to racket between.
I also want to remind everyone that being at this college doesn’t exempt us from doing the wrong thing. Here at Sarah Lawrence we pride ourselves on progressivism and respect, and sometimes it gets difficult to acknowledge the things we’re doing wrong. I’m certain that some of us are afraid to have a conversation about these kinds of things for fear of being perceived poorly, or as a pervert, or as anything against our general vibe of acceptance and awareness. If you’ve kept up with the Jennifer Lawrence story, then you know how frightening the headlines have become. And they should be, because this is a serious offense. But I looked at the photos, multiple times. I even helped a couple of friends find them. The difference is that for the first time, I feel really guilty. I’m not happy that it might be due to the backlash that this singular event received, or that the magnitude of this event sort of shook me from my apathy. Regardless, I finally thought about it. They’re not my photos to see. I am not entitled to the visuals because they’re available. I’m literally not entitled to a single thing in this world. That’s important to remember.
Male, female, or anyone beyond the gender binary, we have to be wary of the problematic manifestations of entitlement, curiosity, and anticipation (mostly males though). My hope is that the next time I hear of celebrity nudes being leaked, I refrain from the allure of incognito windows and demystification. In a lot of cases outside of sexuality, not knowing makes something better. That applies here. It’s so much better to not know.