Why outing senders of unsolicited dick pics is not the same as 'revenge porn'

Date

Penelope Wilson

Men who invade women's privacy with unsolicited dick pics can't expect their own to be respected, writes Penelope Wilson.

Men who invade women's privacy with unsolicited dick pics can't expect their own to be respected, writes Penelope Wilson. Photo: Stocksy

 Last week, Los Angeles artist Whitney Bell received a great deal of attention  over her recently opened show, titled 'I Didn't Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics'. It's exactly what it sounds like: an exhibition composed almost entirely of unsolicited dick pics, curated by Bell from not only her personal stores, but also the stores of her friends and acquaintances.

As the news of the show circulated, cries from the stands of Facebook threads everywhere began to call hypocrisy: How could this be any better than the scum who share their ex-girlfriend's nudes? Isn't it the exact same thing?

Well, no. We're dealing with two very different situations here, coming from very different lived experiences and carried out with completely different intentions.

When two consenting adults send explicit images to each other, it's an act that is presumably done in confidentiality. It should go without saying that those nudes are for the eyes of the receiver only, and sharing them without permission is a breach of privacy.

Advertisement

On the other hand, sending unsolicited dick pics is an act of sexual harassment. It's performed by men as an exertion of power over the receiver; they are not asked for, they are not consented to, and they are certainly not welcome. 

In an interview with Vice, Bell talked about what she found when she approached men and asked them why they sent these photos: "It's not about sex. It's about power. It's about these guys wanting to exert that control. These guys, they get off knowing that they forced some girl to see it."

The point of her exhibition is to show just how pervasive the dick pic culture is; so common that they become as familiar as a piece of furniture, sinking into the background of our everyday environments just like the one she has installed to present them in. 

And that's not to say that dick pics are never welcomed by women. As Bell so aptly states: "The thing is, this isn't dick-hating or man-hating. I love a good dick. I just don't love harassment. That's what this needs to start being seen as."

It's also important to note that the perpetrators both of sending unsolicited dick pics and engaging in revenge-porn are overwhelmingly men, while  the victims of this harassment are mostly women.

That's not to say this doesn't happen to men as well (more often than not, also by a male perpetrator), but that it disproportionately impacts women. In fact, in a recent report on the takedown of a secret revenge-porn Facebook group, Dr Lauren Rosewarne observed that the attitude towards the men and women who appear in revenge-porn varied greatly: "Men and women are both in [revenge-porn] videos, but it only functions as revenge [against] women, because we are a culture that judges a woman's sexual activity in ways we don't judge a man's."

So when someone who has received an unsolicited dick pic decides to speak up about it, they are finding empowerment in controlling the end result of a situation in which the actions of a male - often a stranger - had taken control and invaded their privacy.  Whether that's by warning their friends, reporting it to the police, or holding a public art exhibition.

This is completely different to the intentions of those who engage in acts of revenge-porn, who are seeking to slut-shame and degrade their exes through an abuse of their trust and a disregard for their consent. And the consequences to it's victims can be extreme: the communities built around the circulation of revenge-porn are swarming with members who are quick to back each other up in providing ongoing sexual exploitation of their prey.

While the former is the reaction to sexual harassment, the latter is an actual performance of sexual harassment.

To expect women to stay silent about the private sexual harassment of dick pics implies women harassed in private should just keep it to themselves. And this is not a narrative I can support in a world that already too readily silences and blames women for speaking up about the men who have harassed them.

Those who send unsolicited dick pics believe that by doing so 'privately', they will remain private. But if you have not mutually consented to this, then there's no contract of privacy there to be broken. You do not get to preserve your own privacy when you have just invaded mine.