Creep Shots and Predditors and Cat-calls, Oh My

Brace yourself folks, I’m writing about creepers again.

I’ve heard from a number of folks asking just why I talk about creepers so often, and the answer is simple:

I’m totally angling for a staff writing job at Jezebel.

No. Really.

OK, not really.1

The real answer, is because my blog’s purpose is to help people be better, more confident, charming, socially adept and attractive individuals. And a big part of becoming a better, more confident, charming, socially adept and attractive individual is to not be an asshole.

One of the traits that women find almost universally attractive in men is respect for women; not in the guise of paternal protection or “I totally respect your right to be slutty as it may lead me to getting a blow-job on the first date that I will later judge you for,” but genuine, honest respect. Respect for them as people. Understanding the shit that women deal with on a daily basis that men do notby sole virtue of the fact that they are women and trying to make the world a little better and a little fairer.

Believe me, as much as I appreciate the comments and traffic I get when I write about dudes being creepy, I’d really rather not have so much material to work with. But we all have to pick our windmills to tilt at; this issue happens to be one of mine.

Creepers gonna creep, yo.

Which brings me to today’s topic: the infamous subreddit /r/creepshots.

Whole Lotta Creepin’ Goin’ On.

For the very few of you who read my blog and don’t know much about Reddit, it’s a a social network that is subdivided into user-created, topic-specific forums, called subreddits. You can find subreddits on just about every topic imaginable; one of the more perennial ones is the Ask Me Anything subreddit, where various people – celebrities, political figures and people of interest – come to participate in free-for-all Q&A sessions. Others revolve around social justice, politics, My Little Pony fandom… and still others revolve around less savory aspects of the human experience such as rape, racism and borderline pedophilia and hebephilia.

Reddit itself maintains a philosophy of free speech and expression; as long as it’s legal (occasionally stretching the definition of “legal” to near it’s breaking point; Reddit has had problems before with an active pedophile community), then the Reddit users are more or less left to run their subreddits as they so choose. The price you pay for an Ask Me Anything with the President of the United States, suicide counciling or fighting back against SOPA are subreddits for gawking at pubescent tweens in bikinis, complaining about how women keep accusing men of rape or talking about how minorities are ruining the world for white people.

One of these subreddits, /r/creepshots is all about taking and disseminating photos of attractive women – particularly upskirts, panty shots or down-shirts – without their consent or awareness.

“Hidden cam in the clipboard. BOOYAH!”

This is the most important part of a “proper” creep-shot; staged upskirts or girls posing provocatively is a big no-no.

The fig leaf that the subredditors hide behind is the idea that women out in public have no expectation of privacy; by being in the public space you – assuming that you’re an attractive woman – are giving up your right to not have photos taken of you. Morally and legally, they insist, there’s nothing different between what they do and paparazzi taking photos of celebrities to be posted on TMZ or the Daily Sun.

Let’s be honest: when you’re defending yourself by insisting that you’re morally equivalent to paparazzi and are “technically legal”, you know you’re on some sketchy goddamn ground.

Somehow “other people are totally as scuzzy as we are” fails to make it any better.

(Side note: this also isn’t strictly true; the federal Video Voyeur law of 2004 prohibits the taking or disseminating photos of people’s crotches, butts or breasts taken without their consent even in public space and most states have similar laws. However, not only is Dr. NerdLove is not a doctor, he’s also not a lawyer or in any way a legal expert and isn’t going to even try to parse the legality, technical or otherwise, of r/creepshots.)

/r/creepshots has already had it’s share of problems; one participant turned out to be a substitute high-school teacher posting photos of his students. Let’s stop and think about that for a moment; a person in a position of authority taking surreptitious photos of the children in his charge so that other people on the Internet can rub one out to them later.

“Hey, technically it’s legal!” doesn’t really seem to cover the rather massive violation of trust this represents.

Over 150 million cameraphones matched with the anonymity of the Internet and the determination of a group of people to make women a part of their sex lives regardless of consent. Taking away a woman’s privacy or security in the idea that she can go out of her home without being exploited against her will.

Think about living like that.

“Hey, technically, it’s legal!”

Remember Last Week When You Asked Me What The Definition of Irony Was?

Amusingly, as much as the denizens of /r/creepshots like to hide behind the idea of freedom of speech and legal technicalities, they seem to have a problem when they’re in the crosshairs.

One anonymous blogger created the Predditors tumblr, dedicated to outing the identities of creep-shot contributors which causing no end of drama for the poor, misunderstood lads. Meanwhile, after forgetting that “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean “freedom from consequences”, /r/creepshots was shut down in a panic over rumors that Gawker was preparing to expose the identity of one of the moderators.

Suddenly, free speech and the libertarian ideals of the Internet weren’t as cool as they were when it was about jerking off to women who didn’t know they were being turned into sex toys. One would think that someone hiding behind the idea that “technically, they’re doing nothing wrong,” would have no problem owning up to his actions. Instead, various subreddits have declared “war” on Gawker2 for daring to report on a person overseeing a forum dedicated to rewarding creepy behavior towards women.

“Wait, you mean someone’s about to use *my* image and information without my express permission? Oh irony, you are a fickle mistress indeed!”

I have to admit: there’s a certain level of schadenfruede to be found in people being hoist by their own petard. After claiming that being “no expectation of privacy” and “public space” to justify taking creepshots of women, men are finding themselves similarly exposed – metaphorically – because of information that they themselves released into the “public space”. But as much as I believe in accountability and enjoy laser-guided karma, I’m not generally a fan of Internet Mob Justice.It almost always proves to be impossible to control or even kept to it’s stated goals and the wrong people get caught in the crossfire.

“Hey, did we even check to see if these guys were involved?” “Fuck if I know.”

Too often, the bar for the vigilante mob’s attention gets lowered from “posting voyer pics of underage girls” to “Didn’t apologize sincerely enough”, the punishment goes from “name and shame” to “actual threats of violence” and this week’s ViolentAcrez ends up being next week’s Laci Greene.

“Your Body Is Public Property”

Lots of pixels will be spilled and spleens will be vented over whether what Predditors does is right or an overreaction to something people have a technical right to do.

But whether it’s legal or not is beside the point – at least for the purposes of discussing it here. The issue with creepshots and it’s copycat subreddits isn’t finding women attractive or wanting to ogle them;  it’s the fetishization of the non-consensual aspect of the interaction and everything that says about the attitude displayed towards the erstwhile subjects. Complaints about the subreddit’s existence or demands that photos be taken down are met with jeers and whining. How dare the Internet Moral Police come and try to ruin everybody’s innocent fun! You were out in public, you can’t complain when we decide to appreciate your body. You should feel flattered!

The message of /r/creepshots and it’s imitators and replacements is simple: “our desire to make you a sexual object for our pleasure is greater than your right to not be harassed, photographed or otherwise forced to take part in our sex lives.”

This, unfortunately, is a symptom of a wider, societal view that a woman is not allowed ownership of her own body. Women – by virtue of being women – are told that they have no right to control access or use of her body. We have no problem publicly trying to shame them for being “too fat” under the guise of “concern for her health” or dressed too provocatively or being too sexual. Women are subject to unwelcome attention, harassment and catcalls for the crime of being a woman in public.

The stereotypical construction workers wolf-whistling and shouting come-ons at the women who walk by, the drive by “hollas”… these aren’t people who mistakenly think this the best way to get a woman in bed; these are the actions of people who want to make women uncomfortable, to reassert their dominance over her by provoking a reaction from her.

Even the more innocuous of interactions – telling women “Hey, smile!” – carries the implication that women are public domain. Just because the man telling her to smile thinks he’s paying her a compliment  – “I just want to see that you’re happy”, what he’s really saying is “your expression should be as aesthetically pleasing to me at all times,” whether he realizes it or not.

What makes /r/creepshots – and it’s close cousins: revenge porn, ex-girlfriend sites, voyeur porn, slut-shaming blogs and Facebook groups etc – especially despicable is the glorification – the fetishization, really – of the non-consensual nature of it all. After all, there are plenty of sources for “upskirts”, nipslips, sideboob or voyeur porn where everybody involved is doing so of their own enthusiastic free will.

But that’s not they’re all about

Creepshots and it’s related genres isn’t about appreciating someone’s looks. It’s all about robbing the victims of their power and agency. The message is “you don’t have the right to refuse to gratify our needs if we want it badly enough.” You will be their sexual object because they said you will and you don’t have the right to control access to your person.

To make it even more insulting, women are told that it’s their fault. Women who suddenly find their private photos being spread about the internet without their consent or approval are told that they were “stupid” for having taken them in the first place or for having placed their trust in someone.  Kate Middleton committed the crime of being not just a woman in public but a famous one is castigated for ever being in a position of being naked in a place where someone with a massive telephoto lens half a kilometer away might possibly be lurking. Paparazzi literally fling themselves to the ground in order to try to catch photos of celebrities not wearing panties and hack into cellphone accounts in order to fish for intimate photos. We may cluck our tongues disapprovingly that Egotastic posted the photos even as we download them, but most of our scorn is held for the women who dared to be sexual in private and not for the people who violate their privacy.

Just as the general discussion about women’s safety is to tell them “Don’t get raped”, rather than telling men “don’t rape”.

Tired of worrying about being creepy? Sick of hearing about guys being creepers? Then you need to work to build a world where these beliefs and behaviors are unacceptable.

When I write about male privilege, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Men don’t face this the way that women do.

/r/creepshots and all of these other sites are the symptom.

It’s the attitude, the sense of entitlement that’s the problem.

  1. Unless you’re gonna hire me. Then I’m TOTALLY serious. []
  2. for suitably small definitions of war… somehow “banning links to Gakwer” doesn’t really reach the level of, say, Sherman’s march to Savannah. []