Celebgate: Why aren’t we talking about pornography?

The beginning of this month saw the mass theft and unapproved release of many female celebrities’ private nude photos in what has been obnoxiously labelled Celebgate. Now, as of last Saturday, a second post has gone up on various sites around the Internet with even more stolen images. The newest post adds Aubrey Plaza, Avril Lavigne, Kim Kardashian, and others to a growing list of victimized women.

The FBI claims to be on the case and looking for suspects, but thankfully men the world over have decided to lend a helping hand in finding out who is truly responsible: Women, of course.

The three most common reactions from men seem to be 1) masturbation, 2) arrogant, self-righteous condemnation, or 3) masturbation followed by/occurring alongside arrogant, self-righteous condemnation. (Misogynists are nothing if not multitaskers.) The dude chorus calls out, “Come on, what did you expect?” And when the women involved respond, “Basic decency? Privacy? Human rights?” they respond with a sarcastic emoji or maybe a rape threat.

Of course, the victim-blaming bullshit factor here is incredibly high; men grilling women on exactly why they had the nerve to assume we wouldn’t violate them is disgusting. But throughout the last three weeks of watching men discuss Celebgate, I’ve found myself wanting to ask the exact same question to pro-feminist men and the entire culture of the Left at large: Come on, what did you expect?

The intentional, targeted assault on women’s dignity through the sharing of stolen nude photographs isn’t some bizarre hobby pursued by the depraved. It’s just a slightly different expression of the desires that drive men as a class to consume billions of dollars’ worth of regular ol’ pornography every year.

Men download a blurry selfie of naked Jennifer Lawrence for the exact same reason they download Black Teen Punishment 5 – because for a lot of us, arousal has way more to do with domination, violation, and degradation then it does with anything that could be easily recognized as actual sex. And when eroticism becomes defined by humiliation and control, tearing down a woman’s dignity does the trick just as well as tearing up her body; masturbating to a woman’s photo against her will is just the physical domination of pornography applied to the emotional realm.

I’ve repeatedly heard people online say that Celebgate isn’t about sex, but violence and abuse. What they fail to realize, of course, is that the two are inseparable in a sexuality constructed by pornography.

Despite this seemingly obvious fact, in the last two weeks I’ve seen no less than a half-dozen folks on the general Left attempt to prove their feminist credentials by recommending that men avoid Celebgate photos and instead pleasure themselves with “consenting” women online. A few even expressed some kind of bewilderment regarding men’s motivations. After all, why look at a boring old nude photo of Hillary Duff when you could watch all sorts of painful, body-punishing sex acts played out against women who really want it? Aren’t you a feminist, dude??

No man can see a female celebrity’s illegally obtained photographs posted online and enthusiastically click the download button, tissues in hand, without first being trained in a very specific sexualized disregard for women’s boundaries – an eroticism where the thrill doesn’t come despite the knowledge that the women involved is horrified and ashamed, but because of it. And while this eroticism has been around for thousands of years, pornography has allowed men and boys to be indoctrinated into it in a way that we’ve never seen before.

The struggle against a pornographic culture is central to the dismantling of men’s weaponized sexuality. And yet pro-feminist men (and just about anyone else discussing the issue) are still hesitant to make any kind of connection between men watching sexual abuse on the internet and men, you know, perpetuating sexual abuse on the internet.

The greatest offense comes when I see women press pro-feminists and ask us why we largely refuse to condemn pornography or at the very least consider the link between porn culture and sexual violence. The most common response? “Well, some women like pornography and I don’t want to speak out of turn.”

Sigh. The male pro-feminist movement might not be great at stopping rape, but I will say one thing: It is great at creating ideal models of allyship that just happen to maintain our access to unrestricted orgasms.

Stealing a female celebrity’s private photos and uploading them online is a uniquely disgusting example of the lengths men will go to express their hate for women, but no one can possibly understand the motivation and desire of the Celebgate hackers without first confronting the way pornography makes contempt sexy and cruelty a thrill.

Until we as a culture — and especially as men — develop the bravery to name the source of the violent and abusive sexuality that defines male eroticism, we can expect to see violation after violation occur online. And when we do, we might feign confusion – but somewhere in the back of our minds, we’ll open up our collective Internet histories and ask…Well, what did we expect?

Jonah Mix is an American activist focused on developing effective male solidarity movements to combat pornography, prostitution, and other forms of sexual violence. He tweets @JonahPMix.

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