North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

A Penny for your thongs?

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From The Martlet, the student newspaper of the University of Victoria: shows women in recognizable UVic locations such as Felicita’s, the University Centre, campus benches, the Petch fountain and study tables and cubicles in the library. The pictures are taken from behind with a digital camera, and in most photos the woman’s thong underwear is exposed.

Says one of the students:

“It’s just shocking to see that someone would do it because it is such a breach of personal space and boundaries,” added Sarah Salbati, a third-year student.

From the campus Women’s Centre:

“I would call this sexual assault and voyeurism,” said Caitlin Warbeck, the outreach coordinator for the UVSS Women’s Centre. “These aren’t posed, meaning these women didn’t know they were being photographed.”

None of the student reaction makes any sense to me. Let me try an analogy. There is a sudden trend at school where it is cool to wear bowler hats. I wear a bowler hat to school. I want people to see it, so they will know how cool I am. I go home and find out that two people have taken my picture while I was not looking. In one picture I am wearing my hat, and in the other I am not. “How dare he have taken that picture of me in my hat!” I yell at the screen. “I did not consent to that.”

What is the difference between the picture of me wearing the hat or not wearing the hat? Did I not voluntarily get the hat and wear it in public so that everyone – including strangers – would think I was cool and trendy? If I was unaware I would be seen by strangers, my thinking and my social skills are way off. Obviously, hat/no hat has nothing whatever to do with my outrage. The thong is different because it is sexually charged. But flaunting sexuality is in fact the real trend here – the thong is only one of the means to that end.

The reason I do not find these women’s predicament very sympathetic is that when they are walking about the campus, tying their shoes, going down the stairs, etc, they are flying their flag for anyone to see. That means everyone – everyone from the fat sixty year old janitor, to the cute jock the who’s attention they really want, to the pimply lesbian. In public, they cannot control who sees them. A photo posted to the interent is not any different. Once something is public, you have lost control of it. If one takes offense at being viewed in such a manner, one should not place oneself in harm’s way. On the other hand, if you are ok with it, then you should not complain about the pictures.

To call this assault is more than a little rich. “I wore this to get attention, but not from you, so stop assaulting me!” This situation can’t be compared to cameras looking up a girl’s skirt or any other situation that can reasonably called private. The thong is right out in the open, with no attempt whatsoever made to conceal it or otherwise claim privacy.

If that is not acceptable to you, you should take steps to prevent it from entering the public sphere. Don’t wear thongs to school. If you must (!), wear pants that come up higher on the waist. Wear a sweater that covers your middle so that you can safely tie your shoes.

One point that is in the girls’ favour is the newness of the technology that makes taking the pictures and posting them so easy. Perhaps they just didn’t realize how technology is collapsing privacy. There is less and less that can be called private these days and what there is must be actively protected and not simply assumed. I think privacy is a good and valuable thing and that is why I advocate taking steps to protect it. “Don’t give you PIN number to strangers” and “don’t wear thongs and low rider pants in public” are equally valid and equally wise statements in my mind.

See also here.


Written by Curt

February 5, 2005 at 11:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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