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Online culture degrades women

THE internet is naught but an unfettered buffet of sites hosting photographs of women.

Women pictured, unawares, as they queue at airports (this is a blog), peruse the aisles of the supermarket (ditto) and eat on the London Underground - Women Who Eat On Tubes.

Online there are hundreds of websites and thousands of photographs featuring women going about their daily business: in shops, at the bus stop, walking down the street; the camera horning in on their bums, breasts and crotches.

They exist to catch women off guard (but who should ever be on guard against a camera being clicked up their skirt?) and shame them, to take something private or normal and use it to humble them.

The founder of Women Who Eat On Tubes says he set up the Facebook page as "art" (his Turner prize presumably in the post) or "wildlife photography". Campaigners plan to hold a picnic on the Circle Line on Monday (Yorkshire puddings on the Northern Line? Victoria Sponge on the Jubilee Line?) to reclaim their right to eat wherever they want.

The response to Women Who... has mostly been that women who don't want to appear on the internet munching an apple on the Bakerloo Line shouldn't munch an apple on the Bakerloo Line.

Sadly, I expect this will very much be the response to the news that Scotland could become the first country in the UK, should Lord Advocate Frank ­Mulholland follow up on his expressed concerns, to pass laws dealing ­specifically with revenge porn.

On revenge porn sites, users upload naked images of a partner or ex-partner, without permission. Often these are accompanied by the victim's social media details and name, making them easy to track down - both online and off. It is an extension of domestic abuse; it is an attempt to control, ­dominate, shame and harm women.

So, OK, don't share photos of your naked funtimes. Simple.

Not so simple, not if you understand anything about relationships. In ­intimate relationships all sorts of things are shared that would be embarrassing were they to become private - letters, gifts, occasionally nude photos. In most intimate ­relationships there's a fair bit of nudity. For the nudity to happen you need trust and when you have trust, your first thought is not going to be that your partner will post the private moments of your relationship to the internet where they can almost never be removed.

On the internet women are preyed upon. Revenge porn sites are part of a wider sexist online culture where women are targeted in blogs, comment sections and on message boards. Men very rarely feature on revenge porn sites. We don't see it as humiliating for a man to be naked.

Currently, there are laws to ­prosecute men who engage in ­humiliating women online. However, without specific legislation, the law is basically on the side of those who taunt women for fun.

Publishing embarrassing photos of women eating in public is a world away from publishing revenge ­pornography, yes. But both gain ­notoriety for the same reason - a desire to embarrass women for ­everyday behaviour. For websites such as Women Who... we currently rely on common decency - for people to report them or ignore them.

Revenge porn is fury against women as sexual beings in their own right, with agency and control over how they exercise those rights. Online culture says this is OK. Offline culture is they get what they deserve. It needs the force of the law.

This is a valuable step from the Lord Advocate, to blame the perpetrators and not the victims. Let's hope his call is now followed by action.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sex

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