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The condescending and degrading #JugCam critics

Just when I thought this #JugCam meme had fizzled away into the background, I read Robert Miller’s post titled “What does NO mean in SA“. Reading some of the #JugCam criticism it struck me that critics have implicitly portrayed women attending cricket matches as fragile little ladies who are being oppressed and victimized by forceful and utterly offensive men and should be protected from such things as #JugCam for their own good. Miller’s post just reinforces gender stereotypes which underly many of the societal ills he raises concerns about.

Lady C. Stewart Richardson (LOC)

In the first place Miller portrays #JugCam as a men versus women issue with men oafishly in favour of this degrading practice and women united in their opposition. In fact, both men and women opposed, were neutral about and favoured #JugCam. Both men and women expressed their views about #JugCam, some fairly strenuously, on Twitter and elsewhere on the Web. Reading Miller’s post you would be excused for thinking those same poor “girls” who, united in their opposition to #JugCam and who spoke out against the meme, were shouted down and belittled by those men. You’d be excused for thinking that if you weren’t actually following the debate. The truth is a little different. Both sides had equal opportunity to express their views and did so. Critics and proponents tweeted their thoughts, retweeted each other and took shots at the other side. Two commentators made similar points in response to my blog post and I wrote the following in reply:

That said, it is disingenuous to play the victim here and now claim that opponents are being denied their right to freedom of expression because they have enjoyed the same opportunity to voice their opposition as those who are neutral on or even approve the meme.

Just because you express a view, doesn’t mean other people should agree with it. What has come out pretty clearly from the tweets and comments is that some people oppose #JugCam and think it is a serious rights violation, others may not approve and think the opposition is over the top and others think it is fun (men and women, by the way).

#JugCam has opposition and I think that is important from the perspective of free expression and the freedom to have your own ideas. The same applies to people who favour it. People like @fleabeke should be free to voice their opposition to practices that offend them and to have that opposition respected even if many disagree.

Miller’s black and white perspective perpetuates the fallacy that women can’t stand up for themselves effectively and are still subject to male dominance. While his post is an (insulting) attempt to set the guys favouring #JugCam straight on how to treat women, it seems to be based on the premise that guys are just generally insensitive. He doesn’t mention the men who spoke out against #JugCam or the women who either thought the criticism was overblown or even favoured the whole thing as some fun. Instead, by typecasting men as the bad guys and women as the hapless victims of this degradation, he disrespected the people whose views didn’t match their gender stereotypes. In fact, its worse than that. By sticking with these two stereotypes of men and women, Miller undermines the men and women who are empowering themselves and making different choices: the men who oppose #JugCam as degrading and the women who play along, secure in their sexuality and sense of self. He probably does more harm to women’s self-empowerment with these stereotypes than #JugCam ever could.

Another aspect of Miller’s post which I find alarming is that little two letter word NO. At no point in the debate was there a suggestion that any women photographed or approached said “no”. Of course, most of those women weren’t given the opportunity to refuse permission and that is a valid criticism. That said, there is merit in the argument that these women’s consent isn’t required and that they don’t have an expectation of privacy in this context. Leaving aside the legalities, asking for permission is always a more respectful approach but that doesn’t justify this little tirade:

Seriously guys, yes this article is going to piss many of you off but at the end of the day you have to go back and think about one word, NO.

It seems from this last week that we as South Africans have a huge problem with the word NO. SA girls for the most part are ignored when they use it and a lot of SA guys see it not as something that must be listed to, but rather as an opportunity to show their dominance and to just bully the girls into submission. There is a word for that and it’s not dominant, it’s called abusive!

I have little doubt that if a woman said “no”, her wishes would be respected. Miller is being sensationalist and is implicitly associating the act of taking a photograph of a woman in a bikini with sexual assault in which context the common slogan is “No means no”. This belittles sexual assault and the harm women suffer when they are victims of sexual assault by linking it to the relatively harmless act of taking a photograph of a woman in a bikini in a public space and publishing it on Twitter where its shelf life is about 10 minutes. There are far worse and offensive practices on the Web, let alone in the real world.

If I were a feminist or anyone who took a stand on #JugCam and didn’t fit neatly into Miller’s Bad Guys vs Victimised Girls stereotype, I would be insulted by Miller’s post and the perspectives it represents and perpetuates.

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From privacy to publicity and the #JugCam debate

The #JugCam debate is a minefield and its probably not a good idea for anyone other than a woman feminist to say or write anything about it. Any perspective other than a feminist one is sure to be as incorrect as any answer to the dreaded “Do I look fat in this?” question.

If you haven’t discovered the #JugCam meme yet, its pretty simple. The idea is to tweet photos of women in bikini tops at cricket matches in an effort to spice up the game a bit. I believe the person who came up with this idea is person tweeting as @followthebounce (almost certainly a guy). A couple guys responded to the idea with tweeted photos of women at cricket matches in bikini tops. One or two photos were of women who posed, a couple were women in the crowd and a number were screen grabs from the TV feed.

Fleabeke: I don't usually start argu ...

I went back a bit and as far as I can tell, the woman tweeting as @Fleabeke sounded a call to action against the #JugCam meme and declared her intention to fight it. A number of people (primarily women) joined the Twitter protest against the meme on the basis that it is illegal (I doubt it); exploits women; encourages photos of women’s breasts being published without their knowledge and consent and is downright sleazy. Intellectually I understand some of the arguments and where they come from. To me the arguments against #JugCam resonate a little with some of the ideas behind the Slut Walk movement (my favorite slogan is “Its a dress, not a yes”). I don’t really agree with the protest against #JugCam.

I am going to throw what I am certain will be an unpopular argument against the wall. As the Twitter debate evidences, we live in a time when we are increasingly online, socially connected and capable of publishing a dizzying amount of content on the Web for virtually anyone to see. This is not new. We’re had the ability to take photos with out phones and upload those images to the Web for several years now. As more people use more capable smart devices we will share even more of our daily experiences online. Often this sharing will be inappropriate and perhaps even malicious. For the most part people will just share stuff because they can. We are getting to a point where you can’t go anywhere without seeing smartphones or other devices being used to take photos, record video and publish that content to sites you have no control over.

When it comes to the #JugCam meme (which is an organized version of what guys have probably been doing at sports events for some time now), we have to start making decisions about how we behave in such a connected world. I know how this next bit sounds but I think it has to be said and really does have some merit as an argument: women who wear bikini tops at public sports events like cricket matches must be aware that their photos could be taken and uploaded for broader consumption. I’m not saying its ok for that to happen, it is a little creepy, but it happens. Arguing that people (ok, men) shouldn’t be allowed to do this in public spaces without express permission is a little disingenuous. If a woman is opposed to being photographed in a bikini top and having her photo published online then she should reconsider wearing a bikini top at these events. Women should also be free to express outrage at their photo being published and demand that it be removed but whether that actually happens will likely come down to a decision based on the rights to freedom of expression, dignity and privacy being weighed up. I suspect the legal position will be something along the following lines: women in public wearing bikini tops have no real legitimate expectation of privacy when they are in public and can’t complain if their photo is taken and published online, particularly where they are aware that this could (and does) occur.

@magependragon: Giggling at #JugCam outcry ...

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this debate is a minefield. It includes elements of historical gender-based discrimination and objectification. It touches on how men, generally, tend to treat women as means to satisfy their own desires without consideration for women’s feelings and sensibilities. It also touches on notional privacy issues and the idea that “its a dress, not a yes” (although there is no suggestion that taking photos of women in bikini tops and tweeting the photos is directly and necessarily linked to sexual assault). Another argument is that women should bear in mind that wearing a bikini at a public and televised cricket match can draw attention from smartphone toting guys who have an impulse control problem.

I think our privacy norms are changing and we are becoming accustomed to being a little more public. I also think the vocal feminists on Twitter are going a little too far with their protest. They’re entitled to oppose what they view as offensive but its practically fashionable to assume we don’t live in a world where people don’t always behave with utmost respect and where women (justifiably) dress as they please but in a fictional world where doing so doesn’t attract any unwelcome attention, whatever that may be (it still amazes me how men are expected to just know what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t without being given much guidance and I’m not talking about obviously offensive comments, touching and assaults – those guidelines are pretty well established).

The Web and all its bits and pieces have changed how we live our lives and relate to each other. We have to start making more decisions about our publicity levels and act accordingly. Perhaps women who object to being photographed in bikini tops at cricket matches shouldn’t wear bikini tops at those matches. Perhaps people should be discouraged from taking the photos of bikini clad women in the first place so women feel more comfortable wearing less at these matches for whatever reason. Or perhaps we should reassess our norms when it comes to our privacy expectations and publich sharing on the Web.