Let’s stop using the term “revenge porn”. Please.

Content warning: this post discusses abusive behaviour, victim blaming and misogyny

Every time I see the phrase “revenge porn” it hits a kind of berserk button inside me. I am writing this post to save myself having to have the same bloody rant every time it pops up: automating my own fury as it were, because I doubt the phrase is going to go away any time soon.

Revenge porn is not, as the name would suggest, like Kill Bill but naked. It’s the name the media like to give to distributing sexual images or videos (usually of women) without the consent of the person featured in them, usually to humiliate them. I’m not sure who came up with the name–it may have been men attempting to trivialise the violence they are enacting, or it may have been those well-meaning but ultimately harmful anti-porn feminists who have decided to have a pop at pornography. Either way, it’s a gross name for it, and as feminists we must be deeply critical of it.

Revenge porn is neither revenge, nor porn.

“Revenge” is inherently victim-blaming. It suggests that there is something that ought to be avenged: something that the victim did to warrant such treatment. There isn’t. Intimate images and videos aren’t released to avenge, they’re released to intimidate, to control, to humiliate. It’s probable that the perpetrator thinks he’s enacting revenge for perceived slight on the part of the victim, but that’s not what’s really happening, and it is not all right to keep on using the language that abusers will likely prefer.

“Porn” is perhaps harder to define, but most definitions tend to include that it is produced for the purposes of sexual arousal to distinguish porn from other reasons people might be naked in representations. Again, “revenge porn” does not fit this purpose. In a lot of instances, perhaps, the images or video were created because the people involved found it erotic at the time, but the public distribution of them did not have titillation in mind. The purpose was to intimidate, to control, to humiliate.

The usage of “porn” here is much the same as in the equally ghastly phrase “child porn” to describe images or video of the sexual abuse of children (and we should stop using that phrase too).

Put together, what we have in the term “revenge porn” is something which trivialises the violence being enacted, while simultaneously rooting for the perpetrators.

As feminists, it’s important we question everything, but it’s not difficult to see why, in a culture which helps abusers at the expense of survivors, the phrase “revenge porn” grew so popular.

So what to use instead of “revenge porn”? Instead of the euphemisms, I suggest we call it what it is, and here are a few suggestions:

  • Abuse
  • Humiliation
  • Sexual shaming
  • Violence against women
  • Non-consensual distribution of sexual images or video

You’ll note at least two of those are shorter than “revenge porn”.

 


7 responses to “Let’s stop using the term “revenge porn”. Please.

  • Mark Allan Barnes

    In my opinion you are misusing the word “violence”. I think “violence” should be reserved for the causing of physical harm by physical means. I would never use the phrase “revenge porn” myself. Out of your 5 alternatives, I think only “Non-consensual distribution of sexual images or video” manages to be specific enough to indicate what is actually being discussed.

  • Concerned Netizen

    I think the problem is that your list is 100% ambiguous as to what you are talking about. So far, “revenge porn” is specifically the act of posting someone’s intimate pictures and details in order to abuse and/or humiliate them, and/or sexually shame them, etc. If “revenge porn” is so abhorrent to you that the phrase needs to be excised from the language, an alternate that is specific to the act needs to be used rather than generic terms that cover other acts. Just like we have the word “rape” to describe a specific act or set of actions, even though it is also technically abuse too. I mean, if we’re looking for visceral terms to describe it, “internet rape” is probably closer to the truth than “revenge porn” but it will take a huge public effort to get it to change at this point.

  • jemima2013

    I believe very strongly that calling it porn comes from the anti porn feminists, who hope that by conflating any nudity on the web with porn will make people assume all porn is non consensual (as Ditum did after stoya made her brave statement about being raped by her partner). i have spent time on actual exposure porn sites, as in, your pics get shared, often in public places, for the sexual thrill of both sharer and pictured person. One of the things that it is claimed about the leaked pictures called revenge porn is that there are millions of men fapping over these pics- so it is therefore porn, ignoring that there are sites where amateur pics are shared, which are far better for the causal fapper, and far more likely to be the place they end up.
    Its like the conflation of sex and rape, leaked pictures are about power and control, about saying that a woman will be punished, and when we say that this act is sexual, we behave exactly as those who say rape is just sex do.
    Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this is that by calling it revenge porn in an anti porn crusade power is given to those who would censor the internet generally, for the sake of the children (and women are always deemed to be childlike). The idea that people are somehow behaving in a new way, rather than simply being abusive as some have always been gives credence to the idea we must have greater controls over the internet.

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