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Saturday 9 October 2021

How Do You Feel About This Picture?

A picture I got tagged in on Twitter

How do you feel about a picture of a scantily-clad young woman reaching for a bottle of wine, being shared on Twitter?

I won't reproduce it here for reasons that I hope will become obvious, but she is wearing a revealing backless, sleeveless strappy dress with a very short skirt and is shot from a rear 3/4 angle, reaching for a high shelf.

There is a lot we don't know about the picture and so much is context dependent.

The main question is who took the picture and for what purpose?

It certainly looks posed, rather than spontaneous, suggesting that both the photographer and the subject knew what they were doing.

We do not know who initiated it - whether the young woman wanted a photo of herself in a new outfit she'd just bought, the photographer asked a friend who willingly helped out or if it was a commissioned shot.

Context is important because it tells us who is in control and who is being exploited.

What is not in doubt in this picture is that the young woman is being objectified; she is shot from behind, a Peeping-Tom angle, so we cannot see her face.

Is she grinning to herself, in on the joke? Or grimacing, as the camera metaphorically prods and pokes at her like a piece of meat?

One potential set of circumstances is perfectly fine: the young woman knew what she was doing, initiated it and was content to pose for an objectified picture of herself.

Another potential set is more troubling: a commissioned shot, demanding a male-gaze view, a naïve young woman uncomfortable but pressured to go along with it, regretting it afterwards.

Staged or spontaneous, the angle of the picture implies that the young woman does not know she is being observed and this, I think, is the most troubling aspect of the image; we are being invited to leer furtively at bare, young flesh. 

It was shared on twitter between a bunch of guys in the same way that a group of teenage schoolboys might pass around a raunchy picture in class when sir is not looking.

The difference with twitter is that it is a public forum; it's the equivalent of standing up in front of the class and saying "Hey, whadda you all thing of this hottie?"

Reactions were, predictably, divided - initial whooping and hollering, one or two calling it out, the trolls wading in, the post going viral and opinions becoming more polarised and more forcefully expressed as the whirlwind gathers momentum.

It's a pattern we see too often on social media; it's what underpins and drives the whole ecosystem. Something attention-grabbing and divisive, followed by reactions on both sides and then the inevitable in-fighting before everyone, exhausted from the scrap, moves on to the next outrage.

It's tiring just to be a bystander, let alone in the middle of it.

I won't be muting anyone in the thread just yet; I allow most people to be rude to me a couple of times before I mute them and everyone needs to be allowed to make a couple of mistakes in the heat of the moment without serious repercussions.

I'll happily discuss controversial or taboo topics like business, growth and profits with anyone on wine twitter as long as we are debating the issue and not making ad hominem attacks.

But, guys - and I do mean guys - for the sake everyone on the platform, please think before you post this kind of stuff and before you wade in with outrage.

It's what the algorithm wants you to do, so don't get sucked into feeding the machine.

And, please, let's make sure everyone feels respected.

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