On Monday, Jezebel published a selection of the Amazon orders of former Sony chairperson Amy Pascal (as revealed in her hacked emails), gleefully mocking her “crotch-intensive” purchases. “What does your snizz smell like at the end of a hard day of Leaning In and reading Cameron Crowe’s shitty scripts?” reads the post. “Like a lavender meadow? Probably not!”
Pascal, who was eventually ousted from Sony after her racist and offensive emails leaked, is hardly a beloved, sympathetic figure. But beneath the post’s faux-fawning style (“We worship Amazing Amy!”), it seemed to be attacking not Pascal’s misdeeds but her beauty regimen, implicitly shaming her for doing something all women do: buying feminine hygiene products.
It was a strategy that echoed the many internet communities that have made it their mission to force women out of public spaces. When it comes to intimidating women online, misogynists have found that revealing deeply personal information is an especially effective way to shame women into silence — so effective, even, that some men’s-rights sites offer cash bounties for the contact and personal information of a specific target.
Invading a woman’s privacy online is the digital equivalent of invading her personal space in public: Both are violations of a human right to autonomy that men are born with and women, too often, must fight for. Last year, when hackers leaked hundreds of nude photos of celebrities online, many (including Jezebel) stood up for women’s right to privacy, arguing that downloading and viewing the photos was tantamount to sexual harassment. Publishing the intimate, non-newsworthy purchases of a public figure would seem to be not all that different.
The problem with this genre of commentary is that it celebrates a gut-level delight in the same sort of invasion of privacy that drove Redditors to distribute those nude celebrity photos: Exposing people’s secrets — especially powerful people’s secrets — doesn’t just make us feel good, it makes us feel powerful. And though the Sony leaks show Pascal made hundreds of Amazon orders, the highlighted products seemed picked exclusively to humiliate a woman for attempting to stay young in an industry that demands it. Surely writing about Scott Rudin ordering a bottle of Rogaine wouldn’t have packed the same punch. This doesn’t mean women can’t and shouldn’t critique other women. But humiliating a woman based on her body — whether it’s the private photos she took or the products she ordered — seems like overkill.
It’s also a brand of mean-girl behavior uncomfortably familiar to anyone who’s ever sat at a middle-school lunch table. The hardest I ever cried was during phone fights with my best friend in seventh grade: We had just learned how to be cruel, and we were clumsily experimenting with our new skill in ways that ended in all-caps AIM fights and vicious hair-pulling matches. We gave away each other’s secrets like sticks of gum — easily, without regret. This behavior, especially among teenage girls, isn’t rare, but it’s also deeply memorable, the kind of thing you’ll randomly recall years later and still feel immediately anxious about. That’s why so many women have such visceral reactions to girl-on-girl crime: We see it, we know it, we’ve done it, and we’re done with it.
Over the last few years, we’ve made major strides in acknowledging the unique difficulties women face online — it’s not something a Twitter mute button is going to fix overnight. But as long as the internet amplifies misogyny, the least we can do is not make things harder for each other.