A few days ago business writer Bruce Kasanoff wrote an article titled “Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Breasts Confuse Me” and journalist Felix Salmon made a similar point on Twitter, so I felt compelled to write a response.
Leaving the fact that he addresses the breasts and not the person for another discussion, his basic premise is that “If someone outraged me” (own emphasis) by leaking my nude photos online, it makes no sense to pose in a magazine with the top of my breasts exposed, “especially with a cockatoo” in the shot. The trouble is that Kasanoff couldn’t know what it feels like for an A-list female celebrity to have her body become public property. One does not have to look far to spot the differences in attitude to male vs. female nudity. At its core, his statement is blatantly judgemental and unempathetic, and it can be interpreted as slut-shaming. Importantly, it shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of consent.
Kasanoff believes that if you are truly disturbed by having your nude images stolen and published, you shouldn’t be happy to pose for a magazine with parts of your breasts on show. This further implies that she could not have been that negatively affected by the photo leak if she posed for Vanity Fair (or, equally, that if she really was affected, she should not be happy to pose for the shoot). He fails to differentiate the former scenario as a sex crime, in which a woman was sexually violated and her body used illegally without her consent, and the latter, in which she actively chose how much flesh to show, and consented to the whole thing. Not to recognise the difference shows an astonishing lack of insight into the victim’s experience.
This is not a conversation about nudity – it is one about consent, sexual agency, and respect of these rights. Yet Kasanoff defines Lawrence’s magazine images by the skin shown in them, and compares this to the fully nude leaked images. He implies that because she has been previously ‘shamed’ and denied control over certain images of her body, she can no longer exercise control and ownership over future such images; she should therefore be forever ashamed of showing her body. This is a variant of a positively ancient attitude toward female sexuality.
The same principle is behind beliefs that a woman’s honour is written on her naked body, so if her body is exposed to a man, her honour is somehow permanently lost and out of her control. Likewise, the concept of female virginity is contingent on a heteronormative sexual exchange, whereby a man permanently takes a way a key part of a woman by having sex with her. A similar idea is behind the belief that once a woman’s body has been seen, there is nothing interesting or important left about her, because her value was in her concealed nudity.
Of course, this is not about Kasanoff or Salmon or Lawrence. It’s about the fact that we still haven’t moved on from warped misogynistic, patriarchal attitudes toward female nudity and sexuality. We live in a society in which it is the norm for a female celebrity to publicly apologise for being criminally sexually violated. No wonder people are confused.
Thank you, Jennifer, for not apologising and holding your head high.