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By Inti Maria Tidball-Binz & Ju Santarosa (Hollaback! Buenos Aires) & Sharon Haywood (Adios Barbie & AnyBody Argentina)
Every day, as women, we walk the streets, travel to work, visit our families, go out with friends, do our shopping, always knowing there is a possibility that they’ll catcall us, lean up against us/cop a feel in the subway, or follow us. Furthermore, knowing the reality of human trafficking, many of us live with the fear of being abducted off the street. If we have children, we project these fears to our daughters, who are exposed to the same reality.
Today the possibility exists that a stranger can anonymously take a picture of us and then upload it on the Internet for anyone to measure our physical attractiveness. Chicas Bondi, an Argentine Facebook page with the motto, “without posing and without permission,” exploits images of anonymous women for self-promotion. Taken secretly on local transportation, the images of these women, who could be identified by their dress and route of travel (which is also published), are subject to the gaze of thousands. In the context of a lascivious gaze, these women are exposed to a greater risk of harassment and stalking, which can be especially problematic for women who are suffering in or trying to escape violent relationships.
Chicas Bondi promotes this practice among its fans, encouraging them to upload their own photos, creating a culture of digital harassment. The feeling of being photographed in secret, or to discover your own image on Facebook can be extremely unpleasant, as one “chica bondi” described on Facebook: “Well, when I saw that I was in a posted photo, it scared me… and then afterwards, blah! But maybe there isn’t the need to post these photos online… I feel like I’m in a catalog for rapists or other sick people. It was quite shocking…” As so often happens, the social pressure to accept what has happened is stronger than the sense of shock and fear these women may experience.
On Thursday, May 24, Hollaback! Buenos Aires along with several other feminists engaged in a long conversation with the creators of Chicas Bondi (who wish to remain anonymous) in order to discuss how their project was impacting women and society. We described the reality of how women are objectified every day in the streets, in addition to the social pressures to conform to one stereotype of beauty (young, white, thin, wealthy). We reported the page to Facebook, and encouraged our followers to do the same, in addition to having them voice their concerns directly to Chicas Bondi.
We ended up extending the following proposal: if the photographer asked women to offer up publication rights to Chicas Bondi before publication, women would then have the right to decide what is done with their own image, thus giving them autonomy over their own body. After a lengthy and indepth conversation with the owners of Chicas Bondi, they committed to asking women permission before publishing their photos, and in return, we agreed to withdraw our unified campaign against the page. We hope that they fulfill their promise and also apply the same measures in any other similar situations.
Prior to our negotiations, the page published a notice stating that if a woman requested her photo to be removed, Chicas Bondi would do so without issue. It’s important to highlight the difference between this measure and the act of asking permission before posting. Once a photo is in the public domain on the Net, it cannot be deleted; the moment a photo is published online, it can be easily copied and stored by anyone who wishes to save it. It is impossible to know who has a copy or where. Worth noting is that if the photos are posted on Facebook, the location and time of the photo are saved: “When you post things like photos or videos on Facebook, we may receive additional related data (or metadata), such as the time, date, and place you took the photo or video,” even though such data is not made public.
We want to stress the importance of this new measure, even though Chicas Bondi has made it clear that they did not make this choice for us (“us” being Hollaback and all women), but that they have chosen to do so for themselves. Filmmakers have approached Chicas Bondi with a proposal that would require consent of the women featured in the project. Beyond their personal motivations, we do see this as a step forward. Through a joint dialogue and an exchange of ideas and perspectives we were able to achieve greater awareness of gender equality issues.
For the record, Hollaback! Buenos Aires, AnyBody Argentina, and Adios Barbie reject the idea behind the project: it is an expression of sexism which, under the excuse of being artistic, presents women as “decorative bodies” in the public eye, acting as a “things” to be commented on and judged. This is the same concept behind the problem of street harassment. We reject the commodification of the female body as an object existing for the enjoyment of others, to be enjoyed without the essential element of consent. This form of sexism presents women as objects destined to satisfy men, removing autonomy over their own person and body. Why does the photographer feel he has the right to take pictures of women he does not know and share it on the Internet without their consent? What entitles him to do so?
To justify the existence of Chicas Bondi, the owners originally cited the [Argentine] law 11.723, art. 31 which says: “Portraits are free to be published as they relate to scientific, educational and overall cultural ends, or if they relate to facts or events in the public interest or have occurred in public.” Hollaback! Buenos Aires contends that a woman cannot be treated as a “thing” in the public interest. A woman is not liable to be “owned.” We need to stop endorsing the macho concept that, in public life, a woman is public property, and therefore “arguable” at the whim of an observer. Women’s image in society will not change if we ourselves don’t actively take charge of our own integrity.
In our favor, Article 1071 bis of the [Argentine] Civil Code, in seeking the protection of the right to privacy, states: “Whoever arbitrarily interferes in the lives of others by posting pictures, humiliating others by broadcasting correspondence that reveals personal habits or feelings, or in any way disturbing their privacy, and if a criminal offense has not been committed, the offending party must cease such activities, and pay fair compensation to be fixed by the judge according to circumstances; also the aggrieved may order the publication of the judgment in a journal or newspaper.”
We believe that anonymously taking pictures of women and uploading them to the Internet is a violation of one’s right to privacy, and threatens the personal integrity of women photographed. In addition, this kind of behavior reinforces a sexist and backward-thinking society in which the image isn’t just defined by its appearance, it is also defined by the connotations behind the image. The message being sent is that the woman is an object, defined by her passive role, thus leaving her to be exploited or suffer a loss of autonomy.
While the underlying issues remain–the objectification of women, the underlying sexism in this practice, and the way we normalize the violation of women’s rights–at least now, those digitally-captured Argentine women have the right to basic consent. For our part, we will make every effort to monitor the page to ensure that no further breach to the privacy of women occurs.
You can find the original Spanish version at Hollaback! Buenos Aires here
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