This article in the Washington Post and this post by Ann Althouse, both of which are about students on law school message boards posting pictures and nasty comments about female classmates, struck a nerve — because I’m one of the women they’re talking about, and my pictures have been posted on their site.
The WaPo article is about AutoAdmit, a law-school-oriented message board that is, essentially, a massive toilet of racism and sexism (not linking to the site — google if you’re interested). I’ve written about AutoAdmit before, when I found out that they were posting numerous pictures of me, making comments about raping and “hate-fucking” me, and debating whether or not I was physically appealing or stupid and fat. I’m hardly the only person they’ve gone after. While many of the threads on the message board are about law-school-related issues, they’re mostly obnoxious in some way or another. There’s an obsession with “prestige,” and commenters regularly disparage lower-tier schools, and use the term “TTT” to denote anything they consider not good enough.
And those are the better threads. The site is down right now, but I’ll check back later and see if I can excerpt some of the more representative pieces.* If you can access the law school section of the site, just search terms like “nigger,” “bitch,” “Asian,” and “Jew” and see what you come up with. So these guys are scum.
They’ve disliked me ever since last year, when I posted in response to the dozens of threads about me. After a pretty heated back and forth, we finally called a truce, and Anthony Ciolli agreed to ask them to stop writing about me. At that point, I stopped reading their site, and hadn’t gone back in more than a year — until a few weeks ago, when I got an email from a fellow law student (who I’ve never met, but whose email was very nice) saying, “Have you seen this?” and speculating that I probably had not, and had probably not agreed to have my pictures up. I clicked the link he provided, and was taken to The “Most Appealing” Women @ Top Law Schools. And under “The Girls,” there was J.F. at NYU, along with a dozen other women from top law schools. Three pictures of me were posted — one taken by a semi-professional photographer at a fashion show put on by my feminist fashion designer friend Kate, one from the same show taken by someone else, and one of me at the beach in Santorini, where I’m in a bathing suit.
I received several other emails, IMs, and “heads ups” from friends, acquaintances, and classmates I had never spoken to alerting me to the contest.
Now, these pictures are all online in my Flickr account. Kate posted the two fashion show pictures on Facebook. It’s not that they’re any huge secret — but I didn’t post them (or let them be posted) so that they could be used to enroll me in a law school beauty contest without my permission. I have more than 4,000 photos on my Flickr account, more than half of which are travel pictures. I try and travel as much as I can, and until a month ago had an ancient laptop that was constantly on the verge of crashing. So I paid to store all of my pictures online so that I wouldn’t lose them, and I keep them there because I’d rather not eat up all the memory on my new computer. I also keep them up because of the blog. I blog under my real name, and I’ve been pretty open about who I am ever since I started posting here. The pictures are part of that — they emphasize the community aspect of this space by letting people know that I’m a real person, not just an internet personality. Zuzu and Piny do similar things when they give readers a peek into their lives by discussing their favorite TV shows, posting pet pictures, etc.
Not that I should have to explain why I, like the millions of people on Flickr and Facebook and MySpace and Friendster, post pictures of myself online. It’s certainly not unusual. Almost all of my friends have their pictures posted online in some venue or another. Several other feminist bloggers — Amanda, Jessica, Norbizness, Lauren, Hugo, and on and on — have Flickr accounts. And yet, in the Hot Law School Women contest, my pictures were posted with a caption reading, “For a self-proclaimed feminist, J.F. loves objectifying herself in front of cameras. I guess it’s empowerment when she does it, and exploitation when others do it, because she is in law school.”
Yes, it’s exploitation to take a picture with your friends on a beautiful beach in Greece. Way to understand feminist thought, dudes.
What is exploitative is to use someone else’s pictures in a contest that they haven’t consented to, which can have negative consequences on their careers. I emailed the contest site owners (who are anonymous, naturally) and asked to be taken out of the contest. They didn’t even bother to respond — except by posting a clarification on the contest site that they would not be taking down any pictures until after the contest was over. I emailed them again, reiterating my request, and letting them know that I have rights to the pictures they posted, and would be taking further action if they didn’t take me out of the running. Again, no response — except that they copied my email onto their message board, where commenters roundly attacked me for being a bitch and a whore, and began speculating as to how many abortions I’ve had. At that point I started browsing their other threads, and found similar comments about all the women who had asked to have their pictures removed. Another NYU contest nominee, who is a very sweet and smart woman and whom I know fairly well, took the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” tactic, and emailed the contest creators offering to send on better pictures of herself (they took some of the pictures of her from my Flickr account, and posted one of the two of us). They posted her email on the message board as well, and a long debate ensued over whether she was cool and laid-back, or a stupid slut who employers shouldn’t hire since she is immature and insecure enough to voluntarily participate in this contest.
You can’t win.
Several other women requested to be taken out of the contest, and they were all attacked on the message board. Commenters regularly used the term “bitches” in place of “women” (i.e., not as an individual insult like “she’s a bitch,” but as a collective term, as in “post more pictures of hot law school bitches”). They speculated as to how promiscuous the contestants are, called us whores, talked about masturbating to our pictures, and discussed the sexual acts they would perform on us. At least one commenter made it clear that he goes to NYU Law, and that he had seen the other NYU contestant in person. So not only were random internet creeps posting this stuff, but my own classmates were.
It was disturbing, to say the least. The pictures they posted of me were being stored on ImageShack, an individual image hosting site. I emailed ImageShack and told them that I had rights to the images, and they were being used without my consent. ImageShack removed them (thank God). But the contest page still linked to the same pictures of me, this time moved to an image hosting site that prides itself in being anonymous and not taking anything down. The fact that I got my pictures removed from ImageShack apparently irritated them — even though the links to the second image hosting site were still up, and so my pictures were still available — and so the contest admins posted the following on the contest page:
J.F. has asked to be withdran her from this competition, which she believes is sexist and racist. For a woman who has made 4,000 pictures of herself publicly available on Flickr, and who is a self-proclaimed feminist author of a widely-disseminated blog, she has gotten pretty shy about overexposure. Others must think that decrying this competition as “sexist” and “racist” really dilutes the meaning of those words.
Click above for access to J.F.’s Flickr account.
The link to my flickr account went straight to a picture of me in a bathing suit, which I immediately blocked. Nevertheless, that image received almost 2,000 views in a few days.
The commenters on the message board continued posting nasty comments about the women in the contest. Eventually, the guy who started the contest screwed up and, on the message board, posted the information of a Sullivan Cromwell attorney who had apparently emailed him to let him know that he reads the site (and is a fan). So posting the personal pictures and information of female law school students so that a bunch of scummy internet guys can vote on their favorite — usually a “CGWBT,” AutoAdmit short-hand for “cheerful girl with big tits” — is totally a-ok. Posting information about a male attorney started a shit storm, which eventually ended in the Hot Girls contest getting shut down, essentially as punishment for the creator outing someone. From WaPo:
Ciolli persuaded the contest site owner to let him shut down the “Top 14″ for privacy concerns, Cohen said. “I think we deserve a golden star for what we did,” Cohen said.
The two men said that some of the women who complain of being ridiculed on AutoAdmit invite attention by, for example, posting their photographs on other social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace.
Sure, Jarret Cohen, you deserve a gold star for finally deciding to stop being a jerk. This is entitlement in a nutshell: He thinks he can do whatever he pleases, even if it has significant negative effects on the lives of several women, and then, when backed into a corner and pressured to behave like semi-decent human being, he thinks he deserves a golden star. How special.
As for women “inviting attention” by posting their pictures online just like millions of other people, what else does that sound like to you? You knew what you were doing when you posted that picture/left the house in that outfit/went out to that bar/drank that beer/walked down that street/went to that party/came over to his house. What did you expect?
Different context, same conclusion: When boys behave badly, blame the women they target.
I didn’t post on this while it was happening precisely because I wanted the whole thing to die down and didn’t want to give them any more attention. But now that WaPo has covered it, I think the cat’s out of the bag. And now that Ann Althouse, tenured law professor, has added her sexist two cents, I have to respond. Ann quotes a part of the WaPo article:
Another Yale law student learned a month ago that her photographs were posted in an AutoAdmit chat that included her name and graphic discussion about her breasts. She was also featured in a separate contest site — with links posted on AutoAdmit chats — to select the “hottest” female law student at “Top 14″ law schools, which nearly crashed because of heavy traffic. Eventually her photos and comments about her and other contestants were posted on more than a dozen chat threads, many of which were accessible through Google searches.
“I felt completely objectified,” that woman said. It was, she said, “as if they’re stealing part of my character from me.” The woman, a Fulbright scholar who graduated summa cum laude, said she now fears going to the gym because people on the site encouraged classmates to take cellphone pictures of her.
Sounds familiar. From reading the AutoAdmit threads, I know exactly who this girl is. Commenters did talk about seeing her in the gym. They specified what she was wearing, and one said he wanted to lick the sweat off of her face. He was encouraged to take a picture of her with his camera phone. You’d have to be pretty damn steely to not be freaked out by that. When they were posting semi-threatening comments about me last year, I became extremely paranoid, and ended up skipping a lot of class because I felt like people were staring at me — I kept thinking that maybe they were going to get on their computers and write about me, or that they read AutoAdmit and recognized me and were mentally evaluating my appearance. It sounds silly, but it’s maddening. And I’m a feminist blogger who is pretty used to being attacked online — I can’t imagine what it must be like for your average law school student, who has never encountered anything like this. And now they’ve posted her full name and her law school email address on their site.**
But Ann’s response to a perfectly valid fear of being stalked and harassed is,
Too beautiful to appear in public? Too hot to be hired? Come on! What rational employer would deny you a job because idiots chatted about you on line in a way that made if obvious that the only thing you did was look good?
No, Ann, no one is worried about being too hot to be hired or too beautiful to appear in public. We’re worried about going to school or to the gym and having our fellow professional school classmates — our future professional colleagues — stare at us, evaluate us, take pictures of us, go online and post details about us. The AutoAdmit posters may not be stalkers, but when they post about what time they saw you in the gym, where they saw you on campus, which class they have with you, they share details of your life which open you up to potential stalking and harassment from others. I go to the gym at the same time every day. If someone posted, “I saw Jill on the treadmill at XYZ gym at XYZ time,” you can bet it would be damn easy for some other creep to track me down. So, first and foremost, this is compromising our personal safety.
It is also compromising our employment prospects. Now, I run a feminist blog where I curse and say all sorts of controversial things, and I wrote a feminist newspaper column for two years, and I’ve written a series of other articles and stories which make my political perspective pretty obvious — so I’m fairly confident that the message boards didn’t have much of an impact on which firms extended me offers. Nonetheless, an AutoAdmit thread comes up on the first page of Google hits for me — before Feministe, before my columns, before most of my writing. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing with my life and legal career, and I did receive offers from law firms for summer work, although I’m sure that some of the more conservative firms did google me and decided that I’m too much of a liability. It’s not great, but I’m ok with that, if it’s based on choices that I’ve made and what I’ve written. What I worry about is possibly seeking a position at a feminist-minded or progressive public interest organization and having them come across these message boards, or the Most Appealing Women contest. I’m sure that there are plenty of feminist lawyers out there who would rather not work with a woman who appears to have volunteered her pictures for a Hot Law School Women contest.
For women who aren’t as public as I am, whose names don’t bring up almost 2,000 Google hits, this could very well be the first thing an employer comes across. And when partners at a law firm see a thread talking about the promiscuity of a woman they’re considering hiring, and that raises red flags. They see a link to a contest, where that woman’s smiling pictures are posted and on first glance it appears that she fully consented to participate, and it might be a deal-breaker. While, from a feminist perspective, I think it’s silly that participation in a beauty contest can make or break your job prospects, the reality is that it can. It looks unprofessional, narcissistic and childish, and definitely not what they want clients to see if they end up hiring you and your name is on their employee website. And it’s worth noting that this isn’t the Miss America pageant — it’s a contest specifically for law school women. Who wants to hire someone who thinks that law school is just another opportunity to look sexy for male attention? Who wants to work with someone who uses her professional status, along with her appearance, to get attention from her colleagues and classmates?
It’s not feminist and it’s not fair, but it’s the reality of women in the workforce. On Monday I wrote about the difficulties that professional women face in being both sexual/attractive and being taken seriously. Professional women cannot win — if we’re outspoken and make waves, then we’re ball-busting ugly bitches. If we go along with people who sexualize us, or don’t say anything, we’re sluts who are demonstrating bad judgment.
Lindsay writes about the problems in letting message-board gossip influence hiring decisions. She is right on the money, and I would love to see the system change. But until it does, we should be held accountable for what we write and what we do, not what a bunch of mouth-breathing socially inept law school creeps say about us.
*UPDATE: The site is back up. A few gems (sexual violence and racism trigger warnings):
-“Dear Nigger Phelps, please die. tyia.” (a thread posted today)
–One of dozens of threads about their contest
-From a thread about the WaPo article: “bah, we’re under the fold. will someone have to get raped to make it above?” and “blackpeoplelikeporkchopsbecausetheyareshapedlikeafrica” and “More evidence that WashPo is liberal? EDIT: and run by jews?”
–Here’s one of the more profane threads about the contest (tidbit: “If you all sue, I hope someone raw dogs it right in your ass and kicks you out of their god damn house. Farthermore, I hope you all don’t get offers @ OCI and have to walk barefoot to liquor store everyday b/c if you don’t, your husband will beat the shit out of you. EAT AIDS SLUT BAG CUM DUMPSTERS”).
–Google search for “autoadmit nigger”
–Search on AutoAdmit for threads with the term “Jew” in the headline
**UPDATE 2: They’ve moved from posting one woman’s email address to posting another’s full name, email address, and home phone number.
UPDATE 3: AutoAdmit guys, if you’re going to go after me, at least get your facts straight. When Gary He started his Miss NYU calendar, I didn’t “adamantly oppose” it. In fact, I didn’t do a single thing about it, except write one blog post, which you’re welcome to read. It ends with the line, “So I’m conflicted about the whole calendar issue, and definitely open to thoughts/suggestions.” I didn’t organize any meetings or email campaigns, and I didn’t talk to the NYU administration. Gary, the guy who started the Miss NYU calendar, is an acquaintance of mine, and I’d imagine that he’d be happy to tell you that I had absolutely nothing to do with the calendar opposition. And nowhere did I ever, even once, say anything disparaging about the women in the Miss NYU calendar. Several of my friends were asked to pose in it, including women who were active in the NYU feminist community. In my one and only post about the issue, I wrote, “The “sexy co-ed” image is harmful to all women, and the real Miss NYU isn’t necessarily thin, light-skinned, and fitting most of the other beauty norms in our culture. But at the same time, I’m a big believer in trusting women to be thoughtful actors in their own lives. Of coures, it’s always more complicated than that, but I’m not sure I buy the idea that being photographed and having one’s image used to raise money is harmful in and of itself.”
So, good try, but no.
As for my “provocative” poses on Flickr, as I mentioned in the post, those were for my friend Kate’s feminist fashion show. I felt pretty conflicted about posing for them. While I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation, I’ll offer it anyway. Kate designs environmentally-friendly feminist clothing. She’s a brand new designer, and she barely makes her store rent every month. She’s trying very hard to succeed, and one way that she gets publicity is by holding fashion shows. Kate, being a feminist, doesn’t want her shows to be full of stick-skinny model types — but the more shows she does, the more averaged-sized women drop out, I suspect because it can do a number on your self-esteem to walk out behind a girl who weighs 20 pounds less than you and is six inches taller. For the show related to the pictures in question, I was by far the “fattest” by industry standards. I was the shortest, the roundest, and the least built like a model. So I walk in Kate’s shows, and pose for her ads, because I’m always complaining about the lack of “real” women in advertising and fashion. When a feminist designer wanted to incorporate “real” women, and was having trouble finding volunteers, I stuck with it.
Bottom line: I do not come down on women for doing things like posing for pictures or participating in beauty contests or otherwise caving to patriarchal pressures. I cave to those pressures all the time, and I’ve never pretended otherwise. But your accusations of hypocrisy are pretty ridiculous, and next time I would suggest that you do your research before hurling totally unfounded accusations at me.
Finally, it’s not “all about me,” but given that this is my blog and I don’t know most of the other women who were in the contest, I’m coming at it from my perspective. I’m not saying that I’m the equivalent of a rape victim — and for a law student, you have atrocious reading comprehension and research skills. I’m saying that the “she was asking for it” mentality is the same mentality that rape apologists have. And at least I have the decency to post under my own name. We go to school together, don’t we Lathorpe? How about you come and introduce yourself and we can have this conversation in person?
If you’d like to discuss this further, you are welcome to post here. I will not be commenting on AutoAdmit.
And in the interest of “free speech,” which the AutoAdmit guys are so interested in, I’d like to wave hello to Anthony Ciolli and Jarret Cohen — if you’re searching the message board, Ciolli posts under the handles Great Teacher Onizuka and GTO. I’d also like to say hi to Lathorpe, whose real name I don’t know, but who is a student at NYU School of Law, and whose actual identity I’d be very interested in — given that he knows exactly who I am.