Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Everyone is Someone's Immediate Family

Everyone is someone's immediate family.  Everyone is someone's sister, mother, brother, father, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, and so on.

We often say things like these after a national tragedy or during war. Some variation of the phrase is used when the rights of women are suppressed or when men are the sole keepers of autonomy over women's own bodies. Every woman is someone's someone. The list continues. We can argue about the effectiveness of this pitch and how it frames an argument but it remains a pervasive psychological device. Its effectiveness rests, of course, only if someone personalizes the core intention of the message.

Slogans, regardless of how cleverly constructed, are empty without an emotional connection to the individual.

In this situation, I offer myself as the test subject. Quite by accident, I stumbled across a lengthy set of nude pictures that featured a close family member. I suppose I could lie and say I wasn't looking for pornography, but I have no desire to insult your intelligence. Usually, my forays into meaningless self-gratification do not cause ethical quandaries. I still hold a sex-positive view, but the discomfort I feel now has complicated what before was more an instinctual exercise, not an especially intellectual one.

Depersonalization short-circuits a particular part of our reasoning and ability to relate to others. The emotions I feel and project upon a stranger I cannot feel for a family member. While I continue to process and analyze, I want to make a few things clear to you, my audience. I don't seek to take away her agency and control, putting my will in place of her own. This decision was entirely her right, and my thoughts are mostly applicable only to me. The decision to pose nude was a decision made of her own free will and I'm sure she was compensated monetarily for it.

Where do I, erstwhile male ally, fit into this situation? I suppose you could say that my thoughts are evolving. If we were speaking in Quaker terms, I'd say that my viewpoint is seasoning, that is to say, maturing with the passage of thought and further contemplation. At first, my mind produces some well-meaning paternalistic platitudes about how nothing posted to the internet ever goes away. Following that, my usually reliable moral compass is stuck and unhelpful.  

Thankfully, the collection is posted under a pseudonym. I can tell that these photos are several years old, taken at a very different time in her life. For a while, she wanted a clean break with her family, and the new-found freedom these photos provide are proof of that. There's a back story here that I will never learn. Though I may speculate from now until eternity, I feel complicit with a secret. Her secret is now my own.

In my early twenties, I made equally impulsive decisions, though fortunately most of mine are not documented. The stories of youthful indiscretion I have told later in life proceed at my own pace, with me as the primary narrator. I'm not sure she has the same control over her image as I do with my memories. Reading through lusty comments left behind on the website, albeit respectful, make me even more uncomfortable than I already am.     

I wish I could provide some neatly tied-up conclusion about my discovery. I feel like I'm wrestling with my logic and my emotions in equal proportions. I'll continue to ruminate about this concern for a while longer.  

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