Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Decision shows sex discrimination

By Lee Chia-wen and Chen Chao-ju 李佳玟,陳昭如

In September last year a series of nude photographs taken by members of a Web site in a Taipei MRT station began circulating on the Internet. Police arrested the owner of the site and four others — including a woman — on charges of offenses against sexual morality.

However, the Shilin District Prosecutors’ Office last week dropped the charges on the grounds that the images did not contain scenes of sexual abuse or acts of bestiality, and were only available to members of the site.

The prosecutors said that society “is not so conservative,” and that “nudity alone does not constitute an offense.”

However, what should be at issue in the case was not whether offenses were committed against sexual morality — through the dissemination of obscene material — but the question of sexual discrimination, namely: the objectification of women’s bodies as sexual objects.

The Web site was set up to facilitate the exchange of nude photographs of women. The site’s rules say that its “large network of members” must upload nude images of their wives or girlfriends taken in public for other members’ enjoyment. Those who do not wish to provide nude pictures can pay an annual subscription fee of NT$4,200 to become “fans.”

Perhaps some of the site’s members are women and perhaps some women have uploaded nude photographs. The site certainly gives the appearance of being a networking site for like-minded men and women to express their private sexual preferences through the voluntary exchange of photos.

However, is not the swapping of photos of women as a form of interaction between like-minded individuals in fact permitting men to use women’s bodies as their own property while objectifying and sexualizing women?

Even if the women in question are aware of the purpose behind the pictures and are aware of the site’s rules — and even if they are motivated by a desire to show off their bodies or a need to feel liberated — is using this space not just for the benefit of voyeuristic men?

There might be people who would argue that the site’s rules could be used to satisfy the needs of lesbians and therefore dismiss criticisms of the operation.

However, those who hold such a view should take a serious look at the attitudes of the site’s owners and its members.

Perhaps there are people who say that if nude photos of men were also objects for exchange — giving the appearance of equal treatment — discrimination against women would be avoided. However, would that really be true?

The case of the Ashley Madison Web hack provides a perfect example for comparison with the Taipei case. The Ashley Madison Web site was attacked by computer hackers, which resulted in a large quantity of personal user information being leaked online and led to a class-action lawsuit against the company.

Ashley Madison’s motto: “Life’s short, have an affair” appears at face value to be extremely egalitarian: There are no limits placed upon gender. However, on closer inspection it is clear that the raison d’etre of the site is actually to service men’s desires.

The vast majority of Ashley Madison’s nearly 400 million users are men. Not only is the proportion of female users small, many are fake profiles, or “zombie” accounts.

What is interesting is that although it is free to register an account, if men want to send or receive messages from female users, they must pay a fee. This is an important source of revenue for the company. However, for women there is no fee.

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