As I have said before, we are living in a very interesting time for gender politics. Every week it seems we are offered another titbit, usually involving celebrities or badly acting men to mull over as part of our unconscious working through of the quagmire that is gender politics at this time. This last week for instance, not one but two leaks of celebrities’ untouched fashion photographs hit the web causing quite a stir.
The first set of photos was of model Cindy Crawford’s shoot for Marie Clare magazine that shows her in glamourous underwear replete with the type of skin on her belly and thighs you might expect of someone at 48 years who has had children. Though heavily made up and styled, she showed quite a lot of sun and baby ‘damage’ to her body, which I have to admit shocked me. The story was that she had released them deliberately in order to show other women she was in fact not too dissimilar to them. The overall response was one of awe and respect for making such a brave move, and it was brave, that’s for sure, especially for someone whose sole income is derived from the way she looks.
The second set was of singer Beyonce, whose facial photos showed a slightly spotty complexion, really nothing out of the ordinary. The photos chosen were also less ‘perfect’ than Crawford’s in that these were never going to be the ones chosen, her expression being less than ideal, eyes slightly shut, etc. meaning these images were specifically chosen to make her look bad, leaving the better poses (the ones Crawford had) out. These, we were informed were a leak and the response ranged from disbelief at the Flawless singer’s normal skin (what were these people expecting?) or disbelief that such pictures even made the news.
In reality, both sets of images were leaks. It turns out that Crawford’s pictures were not part of a feminist message to women, rather she was the victim of someone else’s campaign. Still, people praised her as though this tiny little fact made no difference whatsoever to the meaning of the images. But it does. How does such a revelation change the meaning of the Crawford images exactly? Well, we can think of her as a victim – something not even offered to her black counterpart Beyonce – but that would ruin our feel good glow and make us feel guilty about devouring and desseminating the images. Yet, surely if Crawford did not want the images leaked she remains part of the problem, the media that sells women a lie in order to make them feel bad enough to consume cosmetics? If we are angry about the media’s use of female beauty we should be blaming her right? No, only black singer Beyonce is trying to cheat us, apparently…
What I really think is interesting though is the very recent use of leaking and faked leaking of images, real and staged that try to pull our feminist strings. Whether it is videos of a woman being cat called on the streets of New York, which was originally sold as a feminist made video aimed at highlighting men’s misogyny, but actually turned out to be staged, or fake hate campaigns like those against actress Emma Watson after her inaugural UN speech asking men to take the reigns in stopping male sexism, one thing is sure we now have to think twice before we believe anything about supposed feminist inspired stories in the press. Is it feminists or anti-feminists who make these campaigns? Is a campaign being unearthed as staged or untrue part of the design aimed at decreasing empathy for the subjects of them?
There was a time when those who campaigned on behalf of the under trodden were largely believed and therefore treated with impunity. Such people were motivated by good and could therefore could expect more lenience than the rest of the political world. One good thing to come out of the last twelve months or so, which has seen a number of supposed campaigners to be either naive in their falling for scams or found to be manipulating themselves, is that we are now beginning to question not only the individual campaigns but the overall epistemologies of those who claim to be doing good. Can they see the difference between true and false or right and wrong?
Such questioning is surely is an intelligent thing to do as there have been some horrendous abuses of trust by some groups, especially by NGOs or rescue industries, who are more motivated by their will to power than to genuinely help those they aim to save (Bono, for instance). The best example of this is the anti sex work campaigners who refuse to listen to women who do that very work, especially those that don’t want to be ‘saved’. Anti porn campaigners like Gail Dines and Shelley Lubben who refuse porn actresses’ agency are other examples.
The trouble is though, that not all campaigners are bad and we risk losing their voices too. Must we now always question awareness campaigns for their verity and if so what will be the long term effect of this? Surely we will become skeptical and eventually desensitised, choosing to save face and disbelieve rather than get wrapped up in something which turns out to be a red herring? I’m sure we have all felt the shame of forwarding a facebook hoax, or equivalent. I have thought a lot about this and I personally have decided to risk being gullible in such situations, it is the better evil of the two.