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Nude Selfies, Rape Nail Polish, and the Dumb Idea That Women Don’t Deserve Fun

Don’t want people to post your nude selfies on the Internet? Then don’t take ‘em, ladies! For once, that isn’t the prevailing response to the revealing celebrity photos circulating on the Internet, but it’s still one that’s well represented this week, from your irritating acquaintance on Twitter to the Times‘ irritating columnist on Twitter to the most irritating man in the entertainment industry (yes, also on Twitter, although Gervais has since deleted the tweet). I can see why men who have never had to worry about what a leaked dick pic might do to their career would make that argument: No one, celebrity or not, needs to take naked photos and store them on iCloud. Even those of us who don’t judge actresses for pointing cellphone cameras at their bodies have to admit that risqué behavior carries its share of risks.

Perhaps this is why the endless, obligatory feminist defenses of the right to take a nude selfie have felt a bit out of proportion to the issue at hand. It’s not exactly abortion or female genital mutilation we’re arguing about, here. There will be no candlelight vigils or protest signs reading, “We won’t go back to the days of analog cameras and burning the negatives!” No one’s life or limb is at risk. If the patriarchy — represented, in this case, by hackers and redditors and 4chan dudes and the aforementioned peanut gallery of social media pundits both famous and obscure — prevents any woman from photographing her own private parts… well, that would seem to be no one’s great loss but the patriarchy’s.

It occurs to me, though, that the pettiness of the issue is precisely what makes this incident and the finger-wagging that has followed it so unbearable. In that respect, what we’ve now nauseatingly nicknamed “The Fappening” is similar to last week’s target of viral pop-feminist outrage, the nail polish a few college guys developed that detects date-rape drugs in drinks. Critics of this project have rightly pointed out not only that it’s premised on the naive assumption that substances like GHB and Rohypnol play a statistically significant role in the sexual assault epidemic, but also that it’s insane to focus anti-rape efforts on victims rather than perpetrators. My problem with the nail polish — and the celebrity selfie dump — is slightly different, and maybe a bit simpler. I just keep thinking, can’t women have any kind of fun in this world?

Because in both cases, at the bottom of all the hacking and scolding and “innovating” is a pernicious indifference towards women’s freedom to participate in the same kinds of small daily pleasures our male peers take for granted. In the name of our safety and well-being, we’re supposed to forsake (or at least fret over) silly contemporary courtship rituals like sexting. We’re supposed to guard our bodies like a secret. We’re supposed to be on such high alert for sexual assault that we test every stupid drink that passes our lips. We’re never, ever supposed to relax.

When something as comfortingly frivolous as painting our nails becomes a reminder that we’re all just one unlucky Tinder right-swipe away from the emergency room, what psychic space do we even have left for fun? How do we escape from this 24/7 obsession with our own safety? This is how a culture that relies on women’s hypervigilance about their own bodies can make us crazy, shoehorning self-protection into every facet of our lives at the expense of the enjoyment and distraction these seemingly meaningless indulgences provide.

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