Like many women of this generation, I’ve sent the occasional sexy selfie (sorry, mom) to a guy I thought I could trust, a boyfriend whom I believed would keep that sexy selfie for his viewing pleasure only. And while women like me are initially cautious about releasing that sexy selfie out of our camera apps and into someone else’s messaging app inbox, we quickly ignore those fears and choose to operate on the belief that the man we’re about to send said sexy selfie to would not be so much of a dick that he would pass it around to his friends, or worse, to some Facebook group of faceless creeps. Surely, if we’re dating the guy, we can trust him, right? What could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, a lot.
The news of the rise of “pastor” culture—a movement that has mushroomed on Facebook through pages and groups whose members share and feast on everything from mainstream porn to revenge porn, from female celebs’ photos to random women’s snapshots—appals us, and makes us feel scared.
Because now it’s clear that we can’t trust men with our photos just like that—not even ex-partners, who, consumed by a vindictive rage, could spread these intimate images with so little regard for the reputation and emotional health of the women depicted in them.
And not even our profile photos and bikini pics are spared from this sexual free-for-all. What we intended as pictures illustrating how fit, stylish, confident, fun-loving, or well-traveled we are can be grabbed without our consent and sold like meat in this online marketplace for anonymous perverts.
And who is shamed when this happens? Even if women report to the authorities and they catch the bastard who spread the images, we’re still shamed. Our photos are still lying somewhere in the dark corners of the Internet or secure in the screenshots folders of nameless men, the number of which we’ll never be able to accurately account for. And even as this shame remains, we are also blamed for bringing it upon ourselves:
“Why did you even send or upload that photo in the first place? Don’t you have any self-respect? Wala ka bang hiya?”
The long and short answer is this: We thought we could trust the lover we sent it to. We thought we could trust the people in our Facebook networks to not be creeps (although surprise, surprise—some of them are actually card-carrying members of those abominable “pastor” communities). We believed far too much in the goodness of other people, and now it’s clear that we shouldn’t have.
For women, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t. We’re brought up to be “modest,” “conservative,” and “demure,” yet called a “prude,” threatened with a breakup, or warned that we’ll never find a man if we don’t put out. Then once we own our sexuality and act the way a hot-blooded human being would, we’re slut-shamed, blackmailed, and reduced to just a body with no feelings and no agency—just tits, vag, and ass. For all the strides we’ve made in securing equal rights for women, apparently to many men, we’re still no more than sexual objects.
I haven’t even gone into the criminal aspect of the distribution of such images, which of course is important, and you can read about it here. I’m just so blown away by the lack of human decency, the realization that we should expect so little from men we had generally assumed were just as respectful as we are, to focus on anything else. And it seems to be a universal sickness: A study published in 2013 on the sexting behaviors of black and Latino teens in Texas showed that teen boys were almost twice as likely as their female peers to publicly post their own explicit photos online, but when they received one privately from someone else, they were almost twice as likely as their female peers to forward it to other people.
Should women never feel safe at all, not in the virtual sphere, and certainly not in real life? Are we always supposed to be on guard wherever we find ourselves, whether on social media with pervs ready to pounce on our profile pictures or on the streets with catcallers undressing us with their hungry eyes? Is there no hope for us, and for future generations of women, to live a life where we’re not constantly sexualized? I don’t know. I don’t know.
I would like to be someone who can actually trust men and not be so damn suspicious of them all the time, but I guess that’s too much to ask for.
Ladies, if you dare send out a sexy selfie, keep your face out of it to be safe. You never know whom you can—or rather, can’t—trust it with.