From Scarlett Johansson to Jennifer Lawrence, the victims of hack attacks are almost never men—part of a bigger problem with sexist internet culture
When I read the headlines that someone had hacked into Jennifer Lawrence’s phone and posted her private photos on the Internet — along with many other celebrities — my initial reaction was sadness. I felt awful for her, awful for them, and awful for anyone that could possibly happen to, ever. I imagined the same thing happening to me, and how humiliated I would be to have my personal life made excruciatingly public — how ashamed I would feel if untold numbers of people saw me in a context I meant to be private, always.
Then the shame brought me to anger: of course, the person who should feel ashamed is the one who stole the pictures. But anyone who is capable of such a thing is probably incapable of feeling shame. What would motivate someone to do this? It can’t be that you just want to see nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, because otherwise you’d get the photos, look at them, and be done with it. E-peeping would be bad enough, but at least she’d never have to know, and the rest of us would never have to talk about it or think about it. But to post them on the internet means that you’re not just disrespectful of other people’s privacy but that you actually disdain it, and want to violate it, and want the world to know that.
This latest piece of unsavory, repulsive news is part of a larger theme on the Internet. Women who write about feminism are harassed and stalked. Women tech execs are dismissed on double standards. Female gamers are threatened and belittled. It’s not really a surprise. The world is sexist; the internet is sexist. Maybe the internet is more so, because it is such a haven for cowards.
I wondered briefly if it might help if every Jennifer Lawrence or Ariana Grande or Mary Elizabeth Winstead fan in America posted a nude selfie, as a way of saying that we stand with them, and refuse to be humiliated. Or maybe we should just stop talking about about all the harassment because then they won’t get any attention. But then women would have to suffer in silence.
I just saw a tweet from someone who was really looking forward to seeing what awesome, cool, graceful way Jennifer Lawrence will manage to land on her feet about this. And while I don’t think the person who said this meant to be anything but kind, the tweet made me almost as sad as I was when I first read the news. Not only has Jennifer Lawrence been treated awfully by another human being — now she has to be a good sport about it. She is going to have to make it look like she’s bigger than what happened to her. I am not saying that she isn’t — of course she is, way bigger, just as all people harassed and bullied on the internet and elsewhere are far superior humans to the vermin who try to debase them. But what if Jennifer Lawrence uncharacteristically refused to be “cool” about this at all? What if she called a press conference and sobbed and rent her clothing and said “I am furious, I am angry, I am disgusted, and I beg, I beg, those men out there who spend their time insulting and humiliating and violating women to stop now.”
Sadly, whether Lawrence or the rest of them are blasé or passionate about this, it will have absolutely no impact on the person who did it. Or on all the people who think that he’s awesome, instead of a sad loser, someone closer to a rapist than a grossly misguided web fiend. No one capable of a violation like this has any real sensitivity to the victim. So whether Jennifer Lawrence wants to participate in a self-deprecating wink-wink sketch at next year’s Oscars or take a year off to go eat berries in the woods, well, she’ll probably get the best results from just doing whatever sounds most appealing to her and her alone. I really hope she doesn’t read anything about what she should or shouldn’t have done, because she didn’t do anything wrong. Like the rest of us privacy-respecting citizens, her biggest problem is that she is forced to share the planet with the likes of this excuse for a human being, who used all that talent and creativity for bad, in a world that so desperately needs it for good.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email email@example.com.