There’s not a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said over and over again about Reddit and CreepShots and the “doxing” of Violentacrez (for background, read this article). For the uninitiated, ViolentAcrez is a man who moderated a significant amount of despicably themed forums on the Internet behemoth, Reddit. He worked anonymously, but there was enough publicly available information to connect his real life identity – Michael Brutsch – to an online alter ego that posted upskirt pictures of women and moderated a forum of “jailbait” pictures of underage teen girls. Since the article's debut last Friday, he has lost his job.
Needless to say, having real life consequences for online internet activity changes the game a little, but it does not change it entirely. We like to think that people like Violentacrez (herewith “VA”) are anomalies, that “normal” people in our lives are not viewing women with dehumanized objectification in the way he clearly did. We really like to characterize these types of internet lurkers protected by anonymity as “those guys over there” rather than the man in the next cubicle over.
But what is so frightening about the VA incident is that he is not abnormal. He had a full time job. He worked in an office. He wasn’t lurking around in dark street corners and alleyways. He has a wife and a son. He is – by most societal measures – “normal.”
And this, fundamentally, is the best explanation of rape culture I can find. When VA was outed for doing things that would disgust most people, lots of fellow Redditors came to his defense. The site itself instituted a site-wide ban on the Gawker article, effectively coming to the defense of VA. VA had connections and endorsement at the highest levels of Reddit's administration and was well-respected and encouraged by both fellow moderators and the populace of the site. And he did not work alone – without the traffic from other “perfectly normal” users on the site, VA never would have been able to push the boundaries of speech as he did. CreepShots never would have existed.
Let’s discuss CreepShots for a second. It was a forum dedicated to posting upskirt photos of women in public places. One man who posted on the forum was arrested after it was revealed that he had been taking pictures of his female students in his classes. Countless other women have ended up on the site simply for being on the same subway platform as one of the users. There were Creepshots from workplaces, from public places like subway platforms and restaurants, from classrooms.
When I found out CreepShots existed, I instinctively crossed my legs and pulled up my shirt.
This is the water in which we are swimming. It is perfectly normal men violating the privacy of women, and then being defended by others when they are called on it.
I’ve heard numerous arguments in defense of VA this past week that have made me sick to my stomach. One read: “A woman forfeits her right to privacy when she enters a public place.” Yet another: “Adrian Chen [author of the article] is now responsible for ruining this man’s life.” And yet more claimed that VA was protected by freedom of speech and didn’t deserve to be outed.
The amount of white-hot white dudebro/nerdbro outrage here is not entirely shocking.
This is rape culture: a man who facilitates and encourages the violation of consent and privacy for women all over the world becomes a martyr, victim and hero rather than an ostracized sleazeball.
Women are told, once again, that they are public property, that their right to bodily autonomy doesn’t even extend to our daily commute.
The takeaway from this, for many women, is that we cannot expect that even the “perfectly normal” men around us to respect our right to bodily autonomy. We cannot expect that even people we think we know still respect us as women.
An example: this past weekend, I discovered something that almost made me delete my online dating profile. Back in July, I’d gone on a few dates with a relatively nice, 23 year old man. Things ended when he told me that he was looking for a more casual “open relationship,” which is something I don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing. We went our separate ways respectfully and I was pretty proud of myself for what I considered a dating achievement.
Then, when I was looking at my matches, a man who looked very familiar popped up. It was this dude, only he was advertising himself as 30 years old and straight (when he was dating me, he was listed as bisexual). I checked the profile he contacted me on, and saw that it was still active and still being updated. So now, someone I had once semi-trusted and respected, was representing himself as two different ages and as essentially two different men. And I don’t know that I would have suspected it had I kept dating him, because he was that good at presenting himself as “perfectly normal."
VA, to his (former) coworkers, probably came across as “perfectly normal.” Many of VA’s virulent defenders – the ones calling women cunts and bitches online while defending paparazzi style upskirt photos – are probably “perfectly normal” to the people in their offline lives. And that is the danger of rape culture – those promoting the dehumanization of women are not men lurking in alleyways with a big knife and a ski mask. They are people we pass by every day, people we have conversations with and sit next to on the train. They are perfectly normal until suddenly they aren’t.
We aren’t afraid of the monsters we know. We’re afraid of the ones who are so very good at hiding.