What’s in a name?

By Janet Lim

Freelance model Jvnne Zheng

A few Singaporean news blogs have recently reported that a Singaporean freelance model, Jvnne Zheng, has lodged a police report against a porn site for using her pictures without her permission and defaming her. To be perfectly honest, the article would not have caught my attention if not for the comments that ensued. Most of the people who felt compelled to respond to this story felt that the most pertinent issue to raise was the alleged stupidity of her name.

Here are some of the comments I’ve come across:

“What kind of name is Jvnne? Sounds silly.”

“How the hell do you pronounce this stupid name?”

“What kind of f***ed up name is that?”

“Pronounce it as jism.”

Also, it appears that the size of her belly is of great significance, “especially as she is a model”. Let it be noted that it is not only men who are making these remarks but women too.

It seems that when presented with a story about how a young girl has possibly had images of her used on a porn website without her consent and has been slandered, the reaction is to further humiliate and objectify her rather than ask why and how it is that so many women (and people in general) have their rights trampled on in this and other similar fashion.

Zheng is certainly not the first woman to find photos or videos of herself used in ways or displayed in places it was not intended for. Sexy celebrity photos and videos finding their way onto the web via vengeful or mercenary ex partners and managers is widespread. Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Vanessa Hudgens, Kim Kardashian and Cecelia Cheung are just a few who have undergone it in recent years. Most recently, Tulisa Contostavlos  a judge from the TV programme ‘X Factor”, caused a ‘feminist sensation’ when she responded (in a sincere and heartfelt manner) to a video posted of her and her ex partner’s disembodied penis (and comments referring to her as a slut) by saying that the shame of such an act should not lie with her but with the person who has used this intimate experience as a weapon and currency against her wishes.

Tulisa Contostavlos at the National Television Awards in London

Even if it is the case that Zheng, some models and celebrities are trading on their sexuality, it is not acceptable to use photographs and videos of them without their consent in ways they have not intended. When this happens, it is a violation against them and the issue at hand should be that their rights have been contravened, not that they are sluts, they have somehow ‘asked for it’, or deserve it, or that they have ‘stupid names’.

As you might already know, celebrities aren’t the only targets of this kind of misogyny. Over the last few years, there have been more reports of ‘compromising’ photographs and videos of young girls in the nude or engaged in sexual acts being sent around to their schoolmates by ex boyfriends or bullies. Most of the time the boys in these video are elevated to hero status while the girls suffer violent bullying, failed exams, marred futures and even suicide. These cases, which are essentially about the desecration of a person’s rights become a matter of feminist concern because both parties in spite of being in the same situation are treated differently because of their gender. And it’s not just the men who lash out with sexist quips.

This brings me back to the point I made earlier about Zheng’s criticisers being both men and women. I did not raise this because I necessarily feel that women should be more sympathetic to other women. I raised it because I want to show that women can also be misogynists. In fact, a lot of people can be misogynistic when pushed on a point, even if they don’t admit or recognise it themselves. If, when you read the article about Zheng, your thoughts were that she deserved this, she’s a slut and/or she should be thinner because female models should be thin, you’d best ask yourself if there’s even a minuscule chance you’re being sexist.

Many of us women would have heard the remark (and some even been of the impression) that some other woman “probably deserved (insert sexist remark or treatment), she’s such a flirt or slut”. Zheng apparently ‘asked for’ this violation because she posts sexy photos of herself online, models underwear and ‘acts cute and sexy’.

This line of argument is terribly unjust and also flawed. We go down a very slipper slope when we start claiming people deserve certain treatment because they dress a certain way or are ‘too’ flirtatious or friendly. What extent of friendliness is considered flirtation then? And what level of flirtation warrants violation? Does a woman deserve to be called a slut because she smiles too much or causally touches a man on the shoulder in conversation? Is it okay to make slanderous comments about her because she laughs too loudly and wears a short skirt? Or perhaps her job as a model or even a ‘social escort’ (especially one with a silly name) suddenly makes it okay to violate her rights or defame her.

The point of all this is that a person’s rights were presumably violated. Does it matter if this person is a man or woman? Ideally, it shouldn’t, but because these particular violations are more common amongst women, it does straddle issues of feminism. Does it matter what this person is named? It shouldn’t, but because some people can be heartless idiots, it does.

Janet is a Singaporean web designer who lives in Manchester.

Image credits: Zimbio, Temasek Times


About themohinimyth

Feminist Blog
This entry was posted in Media, Sex, Sexuality, Stereotypes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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