Two things that popped up in my emails recently have reminded me that “revenge porn” can still be used to harm women. Someone with an obviously fake feminine name said she had found my “self-pleasuring video” and would send it to all my friends, relatives, and coworkers if I didn’t pay her off in bitcoins.
I would really like to see my “self-pleasuring video.” I was tempted to ask whatshername (Elise? Amanda? I really can’t remember) to send it to me. If I were to make a hot video of myself masturbating, I would try to avoid showing the cellulite on my aging thighs, and that might be hard to do. It might even require a level of skill in using Photoshop that I never acquired.
I’ve definitely written about masturbation, and I’m obviously not ashamed of those stories. I’ve even been paid for them. I’ve never tried to keep my stories out of the hands of willing readers.
I deleted the email, and hoped never to hear from the sender again.
Then I saw the latest issue of “Medium,” an on-line collection of essays (or e-zine) that I subscribe to. One of the articles was about a woman’s discovery that her ex-husband had posted sexy videos of her on a porn site, from where they were available for download for about three days until the woman found them and was able to force their removal. However, she was unable to get this stuff completely off the internet, let alone out of the private stash of individual porn collectors.
The article was a grim warning about the limits of the law and the potentially eternal, ubiquitous nature of anything that has ever been posted on-line. (Actually, “revenge porn” sounds amazingly close to the kind of curse that witches were accused of casting, circa 1480-1700.)
The unwilling porn star was writing under a pen name, and said it has not been safe for her to appear in public or to use her real name anywhere since her ex decided to trash her reputation beyond repair. She explained that some of the videos show her naked body, and some show her being pleasured — presumably by her husband at the time. So why would the widespread display of this material harm her immensely, and not harm him at all?
Apparently this is the kind of thing that predators like my surprise correspondent hope women will do anything to prevent. “Revenge porn” is assumed to be a kind of assault that can cause more lasting damage than a physical violation.
I remember the heady atmosphere of the 1960s, when the guys I dated all told me that a “Sexual Revolution” was happening, or had already happened (they were usually vague about the timing), and therefore I had no reason to worry about a bad reputation or an unwanted pregnancy. One of their slogans was “We’re in this together,” and they encouraged me to trust them.
Remembering my youth, I’m so glad I never starred in a sexually-explicit film or photo. The only person who ever invited me to do this was my pimp in the 1980s, when computers were just beginning to pop up in local offices and cafes. Even though the man was in the sex biz, he didn’t pressure me at all. He asked if I would be interested, and I said no because I was working on a Master’s degree, and I was afraid this kind of evidence could turn up to damage my future academic career. He graciously accepted my refusal because he wasn’t planning to make films himself; he only wondered if I wanted him to introduce me to someone who did.
It seems I dodged a bullet.
“Blackmail,” as it was called in past centuries, was often associated with sex. Either the sex was the payoff to prevent someone from exposing a secret or a crime, or the sex was the secret that could be used as leverage to pressure someone into spying for a foreign government or embezzling funds or any other thing they didn’t want to do.
Victoria Woodhull, a colourful character who ran for President of the United States before women had the right to vote, apparently encouraged single women to respond to sexual harassment by married men by demanding money in exchange for not exposing the lechers to their wives and associates. The implication was that men, like women, could lose friends, families, careers and fortunes if they were known (or even believed) to have behaved badly.
The word “mail” originally referred to a bag that could carry correspondence or money, and it came to be attached to the renting of farmland. “Whitemail” was rent paid openly in money, or silver coins, and “blackmail” was “rent” paid in livestock (e.g. Black Angus cattle), usually to cattle rustlers who would otherwise take even more than the tenant was willing to give. So “blackmail” came to mean something like “payment for protection,” and seems to have a surprisingly non-racist genesis.
“Blackmail” is no longer a legal term. It has been replaced by “extortion.” What surprises me more than the change in definition is that anyone can still be persuaded to cooperate with an extortionist, and also that consensual sex and even nudity can be used as weapons.
Who would trash a woman who 1) has a naked body under her clothes, and 2) used to enjoy sex with her husband? Whatever happened to the Sexual Revolution? And who first defined nonconsensual porn as a form of “revenge?” Are hordes of Christian men still furious with women for being “daughters of Eve,” who supposedly persuaded Adam to join her in eating forbidden fruit?
It all seems as repulsively retro as the slave trade. But that is a whole other topic.