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December 16, 2009

Betrayal/Humiliation, Continued

Cassy Fiano makes an interesting point about the piece on humiliation I linked the other day:

Men will look at online images of a woman without stopping to consider for one moment the strong possibility that the woman wasn’t a willing participant. She is every bit as much a hostage to male indiscretion as the husband whose wife feels it necessary to write long, rambling puff pieces for the NY Times detailing her sexual boredom or the man who goes on and on in public about how hot other women are or how frigid his wife is (both pretty common occurrences in today’s world). For me at least, it’s hard to separate the women who blabs all from the man who tells everyone around him that his wife can’t satisfy his raging sex drive.

I respectfully have to disagree with Cassandra. It isn’t that sharing photos or videos isn’t as bad; it’s arguably worse. It’s that there’s usually a large difference between who has a tendency to do what. You usually see ex-boyfriends or casual hook-ups sharing videos of their ex-girlfriends or one-night-stands. I can’t think of many examples of men who are sharing naked pictures or sex tapes of their wives that they’ve been married to for years and years. Men are much less likely to humiliate their wife and partner in such a way, because today’s husbands simply have more dignity and class than today’s wives do. While it surely is humiliating and degrading to have naked pictures of a woman posted on the internet by her ex-boyfriend, isn’t it a much worse betrayal for a wife to humiliate her husband by ridiculing him before millions? It’s common knowledge to never let a man take risque photos or videos of you, especially a man you barely know. It’s just a common sense way of protecting yourself. However, there is no such protection a man can take to keep his wife from humiliating him in print. Which is really a worse betrayal?

I agree that, in general, the motivation for women who over share online may be different from that of men who post revealing footage of their partner. But I'm not sure it's as different as Cassy thinks it is. After all, there are entire web sites dedicated to voyeuristic exploitation of women who either didn't know they were being filmed or allowed such footage to be taken with the understanding that it would remain private. This isn't accidental - it's the entire purpose of such sites.

But there's another aspect here that is suggested by this part of Cassy's comment:

I can’t think of many examples of men who are sharing naked pictures or sex tapes of their wives that they’ve been married to for years and years. Men are much less likely to humiliate their wife and partner in such a way, because today’s husbands simply have more dignity and class than today’s wives do.

I think there may be something else at work. As has often been observed, men and women view life and relationships differently. Men, in general, are more competitive and status conscious than women. They are also more likely to view women as objects to be possessed. Just as the term "slut" is routinely applied to women who sleep around but not to men, so the term "trophy wife" has no masculine equivalent. Certainly not all men view their wives this way, but a significant number do. These men have more built-in incentive to guard their wives' reputations because they are, in essence, guarding their own possessions; protecting their own status and reputations.

As I said in the post the other day, I think there are a fair number of women who share intimate details of their relationships because they truly don't understand what a violation of trust such revelations are. After all, *they* don't mind sharing their innermost feelings and most private moments with millions of readers. If it doesn't bother them, why should their husbands object? In a sense, they're applying a particularly self absorbed and clueless version of the Golden Rule: treat others as you don't mind being treated.

In the same vein, though many men who share naked footage of their lovers do so for revenge after a breakup or as a form of bragging, there are also men who genuinely don't understand what's wrong with sharing nude photos of the woman they're with (even if she never consented). An example of this occurs right in Cassy's comment section:

...with regards to guys sharing pictures/videos/intimate details about their significant other…that is just deplorable and stupid as well. A good friend of mine started dating this girl a little over a year ago. About two weeks went by and I hadn’t met (or seen) her yet. I stopped by his house for a visit and we were talking about her and I asked what she looked like. He pulled out his cell-phone and I thought he was just going to show me a picture of her…instead it was a fully nude female body from the neck down. The first thing I thought was “What kind of whore are you dating that lets you take naked pictures of her after only a few dates?”. The second thing I thought was “What kind of guy are you to show these pictures to people?” Of course, they kept dating for a few months and she wound up pregnant. She moved in with him and they just had their baby last weekend and I assume they will get married soon. So is that what he wanted? To be able to say years from now “Hey, she’s my wife and the mother of my children…remember when I showed you that full-frontal picture of her? Nice, wasn’t it?” He’s still my friend but I lost respect for him (and her) after that.

Another case in point was the reaction of many men to the Erin Andrews peeping Tom controversy. I was stunned at how many guys, rather than admitting that what was done to Ms. Andrews was wrong, responded by saying, "Good! Hopefully now she'll just pose nude for Playboy." They were incapable of understanding that most women find having unauthorized nude photos splashed all over the Internet to be deeply offensive, humiliating, and painful. These men showed no recognition people have the right to erect boundaries - that they don't have to share something as private as nudity or sexual acts with millions of readers they don't even know.

I've read several posts by male bloggers who say they've been shown such photos by their friends while a relationship was still ongoing. I've never understood why anyone would remain friends with a person who acts this way, but at the point where it's happened more than once one has to suspect these guys don't really see anything wrong with it.

I do think the phenomena are different in nature but the root of the problem in both cases is a refusal to respect the other person's privacy/boundaries. When one stops to think about it, the Internet has blurred or even erased our respect for limits of any kind. There is so much oversharing online that it has changed our perception of what is normal. The Internet has eroded the distinction between public and private behavior.

On Twitter and Facebook, we routinely reveal all sorts of private information with our online "friends". Yet there is little or no recognition that this kind of online sharing isn't anything like trading confidences with a trusted friend in real life. Likewise, news sites like Fox News and ABC now prominently feature content men have always looked at ... in private. I never thought I'd see the day when respectable news sites contained daily links to barely dressed women and trashy stories about infidelity, promiscuous sex and other edgy fare. While I've never objected to others reading such fare, I do object to having it shoved in my face in a venue where it isn't appropriate. It seems as though our sensibilities and sense of propriety are being deliberately challenged: it's no longer a question of tolerating other people's choices so much as being asked to endorse them.

Finally, I've gotten the impression several times while reading this type of personal memoir that the writer was engaging in a bit of payback or one-upmanship. I think that is what has made me so uncomfortable with tell all essays - the sense that, at least in part, such seemingly casual revelations were motivated by something ugly; meant to even some invisible score: to punish, humiliate, or control.

I think Cassy and I are mostly in agreement that this sort of thing - no matter who does it and no matter how it is done - is a violation of trust. My intent was not so much to say, "Men are just as bad", as to take issue with the WSJ author's statement that "Men would never do such a thing."

They demonstrably do, albeit possibly for different reasons. At any rate, Cassy's thoughts are well worth reading. Go check out her post!

Posted by Cassandra at December 16, 2009 08:09 AM

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Comments

"Men would never do such a thing."

Does that category even exist?

Posted by: Russ at December 16, 2009 01:10 PM

I'm glad you understood my point, Russ.

I'm very no less suspicious of the "men would never do such a thing/men are morally superior to women" meme so often put forward by the right as I am of the "women would never do such a thing/women are morally superior to men" meme put forward by radical feminists or the Left.

Painting with the broad brush makes us feel smug, but is rarely justified by reality. Misbehavior by one group doesn't justify retaliation/misbehavior by another group, and that kind of argument (or the related, "Yes we're not perfect but we're not as bad as THEM") is all too often used to gloss over problems we ought to acknowledge and deal with honestly. I like men a lot, but some men are capable of truly atrocious behavior.

And so are some women. I prefer to evaluate men or women as individuals, not as members of some oppressed gender demographic :p

Posted by: Cassandra at December 16, 2009 01:16 PM

Does that category even exist?

There's a reason Internet Rule 34 exists.

That being said, I don't think the example you pulled from the comment section refutes Cassy's point about who does what.

Cassy says "I can’t think of many examples of men who are sharing naked pictures or sex tapes of their wives that they’ve been married to for years and years. Yet the comment excerpted is "About two weeks went by and I hadn’t met (or seen) her yet". Cassy explicitly mentioned that that demographic was a routine offender: "You usually see ex-boyfriends or casual hook-ups sharing videos of their ex-girlfriends or one-night-stands."

You are correct to point out that the girl very well may have thought 2 weeks was a relationship, but, as you also point out, that the guy most likely would not.

And thus from the offending party's perspective, I think Cassy has a good point. Men tend to betray/humiliate partners from relationships that are not now, or are no longer meaningful to them while women tend to betray/humiliate partners from relationships they (at least) claim are still meaningful.

The former is inarguably worse as it's motivated by something ugly (spite or apathy vice ignorance). But as you say, "Yes we're not perfect but we're not as bad as THEM" is no excuse to laud the publication of humiliation just because the author is ignorant instead of spiteful.

Posted by: Blue Alice Cult in Chains at December 16, 2009 02:32 PM

Opps forgot the /bold tag at the end of "that they’ve been married to for years and years".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 16, 2009 02:37 PM

Men tend to betray/humiliate partners from relationships that are not now, or are no longer meaningful to them while women tend to betray/humiliate partners from relationships they (at least) claim are still meaningful. The former is inarguably worse as it's motivated by something ugly (spite or apathy vice ignorance).

Well, I wasn't lauding either side. To me, a betrayal of confidence is wrong no matter whether you're in a relationship or out of it. I'm arguing that the same standard ought to be applied (betrayals of trust are wrong no matter who does them) rather than to say, "Men do it but it's not as bad" (which to be fair is not what Cassy argued, but something I've often heard) or "Men don't do that kind of thing at all".

Posted by: Cassandra at December 16, 2009 02:45 PM

Well, I wasn't lauding either side.

Sorry, if it sounded like that was directed at you. It was meant to be directed at places like The NYTimes, The Atlantic, etc.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 16, 2009 03:15 PM

No biggie :) I just misunderstood, that's all!

Posted by: Cassandra at December 16, 2009 03:18 PM

Just as the term "slut" is routinely applied to women who sleep around but not to men, so the term "trophy wife" has no masculine equivalent.

Just so you have the facts, I believe the male equivalent of "trophy wife" is "boy toy" (re: Ashton Kutcher). A dissimilar concept, but somewhat relevant is the concept of the "sugar daddy". Not saying you're wrong, just giving you more information. :)

Posted by: MikeD at December 16, 2009 04:12 PM

"I'm very no less suspicious of the "men would never do such a thing/men are morally superior to women" meme so often put forward by the right ..."

Oh? Did I miss that memo?

Posted by: Ilíon at December 16, 2009 06:07 PM

It's everywhere, Ilion. In fact, Cassy said something on that order in the linked post:

Men are much less likely to humiliate their wife and partner in such a way, because today’s husbands simply have more dignity and class than today’s wives do.

I have to say that I haven't seen this at all.

Of the married couples I have known for the past 3 decades, the number of self absorbed/immature husbands/wives is roughly equal. Often they're both that way.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 16, 2009 06:18 PM

I was thinking about the guys reading these intimate confessions from their wives in magazines or on blogs or whatever and thinking:

"Why didn't she tell me? I would have been totally cool with taking her from behind smacking her butt with one hand while waving a little American flag with the other, singing the 'Star Spangled Banner'!"

Posted by: Tony at December 18, 2009 03:49 PM

*snort*

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2009 03:52 PM

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