There are a lot of places on the internet where it is… difficult, to be a woman. I say ‘difficult,’ because ‘not fun’ sounds overly trivial, and ‘not safe’ feels too dramatic. In reality, though, I mean all three. Many online spaces are dominated by men, and even in an ostensibly gender-neutral space, women can feel sidelined and even threatened by the male-centric discussion (just look at r/atheism for multiple examples of this).
Into the spotlight, then, comes Jezebel. Jezebel is one of the sites on the Gawker network. Its tagline is ‘Celebrity, Sex, Fashion, for Women, Without Airbrushing’. As you can probably guess, it includes content aimed mainly at women, and has an almost all-female staff. Jezebel used to be a markedly pro-feminist site. Many friends of mine would count their time on the Jez comment boards as the foundation of their interest in feminism and women’s rights issues. In recent years, however, many readers would contest that the quality of content on Jezebel has slid steadily downhill; the staff has lost their political edge and decided to cover more light-hearted ‘fluff’ pieces about celebrities and fashion shows. That’s fine, of course – the site doesn’t owe us any particular type of content. What I would contend is that it does owe its readers the respect of decent journalistic practice and a lack of active harm done to the subjects of a story.
With this I arrive at the reason for this post. Last evening, February 8th, Jezebel writer Anna North published a post entitled Did Libyan Video of a Journalist’s Rape Get Posted on YouTube?. The article covers a video, posted on Youtube and subsequently removed, which appears to show a pair of male youths sexually assaulting a partly-conscious women. It’s a horrifying thought, and one that’s hard to remove from the mind’s eye.
Luckily, Jezebel decided to save your mind the work of visualising it, and instead decided to include stills from the video in their post. For obvious reasons, I will not be reproducing those images here. The images were posted under pixelation (and have since been pixelated again) but it is possible to discern the supine body of the woman on the ground, and the shapes of her attackers standing over her. It’s sickening. I hate that I have the tab open. I never want to see them again.
Unsurprisingly, a large portion of Jezebel’s readership found this article to be upsetting and offensive, and many readers asked for the images to be taken down. Quite apart from the distressing sight of the pictures themselves, they pointed out, what sort of way is that to treat a rape victim – to take stills from a video of the worst day of her life and to publish them on a news site? Was this just a ploy for page views, or did the editors really not understand what they were doing?
That last is hard to believe. These ladies have been in the news business a long time. They know what sells, and what sells is scandal. So, disregard morals, acquire money, appears to be the motto of the day. Look, for example, at the response editor-in-chief Jessica Coen gave to her readers’ concerns:
This post is ultimately about the existence of a video, thus the images ARE the story — without them, there’s nothing. To remove them would be, in effect, to un-report the story. Which is not going to happen. -JC
I can’t be the only one who sees the faulty logic here, can I? The story is about the existence of a video – so write about the video. You don’t have to show us – you can tell us! With your words! Like a real writer! The rest of the post, after the images, goes on to tell us the uploader’s name, and his Youtube login details – that is proper journalism on a case like this. Knowing the name, city, and general political allegiance of someone who could be connected with this crime could lead authorities to find and question him. Showing a blurry picture of him attacking a woman to thousands upon thousands of site visitors is nothing but cruelty voyeurism, a peepshow for sadists.
At the start of this post I remarked that there are few spaces online where women feel safe and equal being women and being outspokenly feminist. Jezebel used to be one of them: it used to be by our people, for our people.
I don’t think it is any more.
– If you would like to get involved in the twitter discussion on this subject, the hashtag #nojez is in use (started by @graceishuman, if I’m correct).
– If you’re a disillusioned Jez reader looking for another female-run, female-oriented news and pop culture site to read, may I recommend Persephone Magazine?
– If I have made any mistakes in this post, please ignore them or write them off to my being slightly woozy due to health issues. Write at 3am, edit at 10am, right?
(title is c/o Iron and Wine’s song Jezebel)