Fans of wearable computers can capture what is happening around them with a wink or a subtle click, which raises the question of whether bystanders have a say in being recorded.
Kudos to the New York Times for dismissing people’s—women’s— very real concerns about the voyeuristic potential of Google Glass and other wearable or inconspicuous computer devices as hysterical Luddism or a Ms. Manners huffiness about social appropriateness. Nowhere in this article, written by a man, quoting men, and about a product likely developed mostly by men (if the accompanying image and general tech demographics hold true) is there any explicit discussion of the exploitative potential of Glass and similar products. That fear is the glaring absence, present in its conspicuous elision and in the overblown chattering about ruined social dynamics and vague “privacy issues.” The article hedges around women’s concerns—and then immediately dismiss them as hysteria. The woman who pulled a knife on the “Kodak fiend” in the 1890s news article and “demolished” his camera is reduced to a Yook or a Zook battling over buttered bread. Author Bilton gives an example of a woman driven to violence by the intrusion of the male gaze, now with a photographic permanence, and then immediately dismisses it with the most famous example of overblown trivialities: Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book.
Concerned about someone taking pictures of you in public? Deal with it, tech developers say. “When you’re in public, you’re in public. What happens in public, is the very definition of it,” author Jeff Jarvis said. Spoken like a man, Jeff. Spoken like someone who has never been catcalled in public, who has never been followed down the street, who has stopped wearing short skirts because she was terrified of being a victim of a guerrilla upskirt shot and having her panties plastered on Reddit, who has been forced to change her behavior and her style of dressing—not because her behavior or clothes were “inspiring” creep shots or objectification or she was “asking for it” by dressing in a certain way— but because she was legitimately afraid.¹ In fact, Jarvis’s insistence that “public is public” seems like a justification that could have been lifted right from r/upskirt make in the day.
Men can obviously be the target of unwanted or unknowing recording but there’s a difference between appearing in the background of someone’s shot and being photographed for someone’s sexual gratification, to be leered at with a camera, and women are overwhelming the target of voyeurism. Not that men can’t and aren’t objectified with surreptitious photography but uh, how many men did you ever see on r/creepshots before it’s banning? The “female” gaze in general is inevitably less exploitative than the male gaze: the male gaze is more sexualizing, more pervasive, and it comes from a position of power. No one should ever be taking unsolicited pictures of anyone, particularly sexualized ones, but let’s be real: most of the people doing it are men targeting women.
Perhaps the best evidence for the lack of this male gaze comes from this article itself: it mentions privacy issues but doesn’t make the connection to creepshots, it blusters about social dynamics, jokes about people lurking in bathrooms with Google Glass. None of these men are at all concerned about being objectified by these itty bitty technological eyes—the ones that are immediately linked up to social media networks to circulate images instantly. It’s never occurred to them. They haven’t been taught by experience to be afraid. And that’s a fucking privilege.
How lucky that Binton and the men he quotes are so excited about Glass and Apple’s iWatch. I hear about these innovations and I immediately think about how easy it would be for someone to take a take a photo of my breasts with them. But I’m just a Luddite lashing out and smashing an iWatch on an errant wrist. I’m just a Zonk insisting bread be eaten butter side down, harping over trivialities, and not at all a woman who’s been brutally taught by men to be afraid. Thanks for erasing my fears, for making the real problem about tiny photographic lens the awkwardness they cause in conversations and not their potential to beam pictures of my underwear all over the world. As someone who’s sexual partner once circulated a naked picture (taken without my consent) to all his friends and who had to withdraw from several classes that term because of the humiliation and emotional trauma of that (and other related events), let me tell you exploitative photographs aren’t buttered toast. They’re a matter of life and death.