Joanna Schroeder likes cute guys as much as much as any other red-blood heterosexual woman, but thinks covert photo sites like TubeCrush are deeply problematic.
One of the best thing about subway or train rides in a big city is the people-watching. I love to see who is around me: an octogenarian with a handsomely weathered face, a parent with a toddler on his or her lap reading Pat the Bunny, a young man wearing an outfit so cool and fashion-forward that I truly don’t understand it, a group of giggling teen girls talking about boys, a couple talking intimately or kissing sweetly… And part of what makes the London Underground, Boston’s T and New York City’s subway system so awesome is that everyone rides—from celebrities to the everyday working family.
These three cities are also famous for an excess of attractive men and women, and a group of sites, the most notable being TubeCrush, are taking advantage of the eye candy, calling for people to take covert photos of hot guys and posting them to their site. And while the photos are respectful, with flattering captions, one has to stop and wonder how these guys feel being featured without their permission.
So… how is this legal? I can’t speak for the laws in England, but here in the US (at least where I live), the person who takes the photo owns the rights to it, and can publish it wherever he or she wants, as long as the photo isn’t indecent or of a minor. There are laws against taking photographs into a private residence from outside.
But with the technology available on the average smart phone, getting a photo of someone without them knowing it is incredibly easy, and privacy laws need to catch up with the evolution of technology. The popularity of “revenge porn“—websites devoted to heartbroken men and women posting humiliating photos of their exes—calls up the need for a broader discussion of what’s moral, as well as what should be legal to publish.
Because while the photos of the cute University boy in his tracksuit might make us raise a moral eyebrow, the legal publication of a photograph of a woman on the toilet or a man in his briefs should bring into focus where we’re headed as far as privacy.
Pushing legality aside, we must think about what we’re saying about the value of men when we publish their photographs for the sole purpose of ogling them. It would be one thing if the guys were volunteering for said photos (who doesn’t enjoy the all-American “Fireman’s Calendar”?), but these fellas are just going about their business. We really have no idea what’s happening in these men’s lives at that moment. You see a handsome fella in a suit and think perhaps he’s coming from a very successful business meeting… but he may be wearing that handsome suit because he’s coming from the funeral of a loved one.
The guy in the smart sweater vest could be having the best day of his life, or maybe he just had his heart stomped on and is feeling worthless and suicidal—and is trying to distract himself by reading that heady novel you think is so sexy. There’s a chance that the guy with the super-defined biceps is returning from a great workout at the gym, but maybe he is also just returning from combat and is struggling with PTSD or depression. I know I’m being overly dramatic, but life is pretty dramatic, and you have no idea what the person next to you has been through.
Some may argue that the internal lives of those photographed shouldn’t matter. I mean, they’re hot, right? And if you’re hot, you should be proud to be photographed… Even on your worst day. Wouldn’t most guys say that being admired by people feels good?
More than a year ago, Cam Martin published an article here on GMP on this very same subject and tackled the issue of the sexual objectification of men:
Let’s be honest, men will never, ever, in a million years have it as bad as women when it comes to sexual objectification. The overwhelming majority of men, I imagine, would be honored (if slightly startled) that a woman had seen fit to take his picture on public transportation and send it into a website for publication. It’s just so outside the usual male experience.
It’s true, men are not used to being sexually objectified. When we talk about men being objectified, we often refer to the objectification of them for their bodies—as soldiers, laborers, and providers. Their success as human beings often hinges not on their beauty and sexual desirability (as it does for women), but upon their earning potential and/or professional success. Men are objectified, but in some very different ways.
I have no doubt that most people would find being listed among “hotties” to be very flattering, as Martin says in his article. I’m trying to imagine how I would feel, as a woman, if I showed up on “LA Subway Hotties” (unlikely, since I haven’t ridden the LA Subway system more than three times, not to mention being in my mid-30s, which in nubile Los Angeles is a bit “long in the tooth”… but let’s just play along). I think I would be flattered for a flash second, but I would also be very disturbed at the notion of someone photographing me without my knowledge. To me, this seems creepy and perhaps even dangerous. The last guy who took non-consensual photos of me ended up with a restraining order and in jail, so I’m not too keen on this…
But if I stood up and said, “This is jacked up!” about a website publicizing my photos, I think most people would understand. Back in 2011, GMP commenter Tamen noted on Cam Martin’s post that the website featuring photos of the hot women of the Occupy Movement received a lot of backlash.
So why do most people find TubeCrush to be harmless fun?
There are a few elements to this. First, I suspect most people don’t see men as a vulnerable population. You guys are big and strong, right? You’re all good fighters and there’s essentially no risk of you being sexually harassed or assaulted. No men are ever stalked or put in danger by women or admiring men. You guys don’t need privacy. Right?
Oh wait, none of that is true. While the incidence of men being sexually assaulted by a woman who is a stranger is comparably very rare, men are abused, as well as sexually harassed, assaulted, raped and stalked by both women and men.
Second, I think most people assume that men enjoy being sexually objectified, as Martin notes in his article. But is that assumption true? And if it’s true for some, is it morally correct to extrapolate that to any and all men?
Last, while I wish this weren’t true, I fear there is an element of glee that some women and men get from seeing the tables turned and men made into sex objects and eye candy. As I talked about in my piece about the male stripper film Magic Mike, there is a sense that men are finally getting their just objectification desserts after decades (centuries?) of women being the sexual objects and men the objectifiers.
But I cringe at the idea that just because many of us ladies have endured catcalling since we were 12 years old, that you guys should simply suck it up and take a spoonful of your own medicine. I’ve never felt like revenge did anyone any good, and while empathy can certainly be gained from walking in another’s shoes, another cliché is also appropriate: Two wrongs don’t make a right.
I’m curious what all of you think about these issues… Do men “deserve” a bit of their just desserts in the form of sexual objectification?
Is there something inherently less offensive or creepy about covert photos of unassuming men than there is of the same type of photos of women? Why?
What is there to do, realistically, about websites featuring revenge porn or the more innocent, but still non-consensual, covert photos?
(Consensual) photo of man on subway courtesy of Shutterstock