Hey Whoopi, It’s Not Bella Thorne’s Fault That Her Photos Were Hacked

The real issue? People assuming they have ownership over women’s bodies—and that includes you, Whoopi

Katherine Singh
Bella Thorne at SiriusXM Radio (Photo: Getty Images)

TV host Whoopi Goldberg is in some *seriously* hot water for controversial comments she made about actress Bella Thorne. On June 15, Thorne shared nude photos of herself on Twitter after she says a hacker threatened to release them. Saying she felt “gross” and “watched,” the actress decided to release the images first, on her own terms, as a way to take back her power.

In a June 17 segment of The View, co-host Goldberg was less than sympathetic. Instead of praising Thorne for taking control of the situation or showing the actor some compassion (this experience must have been incredibly violating), Goldberg told her co-hosts, and the world, “If you’re famous, I don’t care how old you are, you don’t take nude pictures of yourself.”

When fellow co-hosts expressed sympathy for Thorne, highlighting that the photos were probably taken and intended for only one person to see, Goldberg replied, “Once you take that picture it goes into the cloud and it’s available to any hacker who wants it, and if you don’t know that in 2019 that this is an issue, I’m sorry. You don’t get to do that.” Which TBH, sounds *a lot* like victim blaming to us.

In response, Thorne took to her Instagram Stories to address Goldberg’s comments. The Famous in Love actress posted a note that addressed Goldberg directly, writing, “Honestly I’m so displeased and saddened by your response to my [leak]. Blaming girls for taking the photo in the first place? Is sick and honestly disgusting.”

Later, in a video of Thorne crying, she continued, “Shame on you Whoopi. Shame on you for putting that public opinion out there like that for every young girl to think that they’re disgusting for even taking a photo like that. Shame on you.”

When Goldberg says Thorne should have expected that she’d be violated if she took nude photos, it’s no better than actually saying the words, “she was asking for it.” And tbh, the real issue here isn’t even with women taking nudes. It’s with people assuming they have the right to look at, or comment on, women’s bodies—and yes, that includes you, too, Whoopi.

Let’s be clear, leaking someone’s nudes is a violation—and a crime

To get this out of the way: Bella. Thorne. Is. Not. At. Fault. What Thorne did—taking a consensual nude photo to be shared privately with someone she trusted—is not wrong. What’s wrong is that someone violated her privacy and shared that photo without her permission, something that can have long-lasting repercussions.

In 2014, Jennifer Lawrence was one of more than 100 celebrities targeted by a hacker in an incident known as “Celebgate.” Several nude photos of the Mother! actor were released. Later that year in an interview with Vanity Fair, she likened the experience to a sex crime, and three years later, she revealed that she was still dealing with the aftereffects.

“[It was] so unbelievably violating that you can’t even put it into words,” Lawrence said in a November 2017 interview on the Hollywood Reporter‘s podcast. “I feel like I got gang-banged by the f-cking planet— there’s not one person in the world that is not capable of seeing these intimate photos of me. You can just be at a barbecue and somebody can just pull them up on their phone.”

None of this is hyperbole, btw. In a May 2018 interview for UBC News, PhD student Moira Aikenhead, who studies criminal justice reform and gender-based violence, equated the act to a “violent crime,” and an act of gender discrimination. And North American judicial systems agree; in the United States, more than 30 states have laws against non-consensual disclosure of sexually explicit images and videos. And in Canada, the passing of Bill C-13 in October 2014 made it a crime to share an intimate image without the consent of the person in the image.

Is Whoopi saying women should just… expect to be violated?

At the centre of Goldberg’s argument is the idea that Thorne should have expected her nudes would be hacked or otherwise shared because that’s how things go in 2019. Which, tbh, is all kinds of backwards.

As CNN commentator Keith Boykin pointed out on Twitter, there are *a lot* of moving parts in this scenario, and all of them can be true. In this case: Yes, once nude photos leave your possession, they can end up anywhere. But that doesn’t excuse someone violating your privacy just because it’s possible for them to do so.

The decision to steal nudes or threaten and coerce someone into sharing them isn’t just a thing that has happened a bunch of times, it is always a conscious (and seriously messed up) decision. We shouldn’t just let that slide as a simple case of “Que Sera Sera.” In fact, when Goldberg writes off leaked nudes as a byproduct of 2019 and the age of Russian hacks, Facebook insecurity and all that other run-of-the mill stuff, she’s taking the blame off the actual perpetrators and placing it even more firmly on Thorne, who is, let’s not forget, the victim here.

Does Whoopi realize she doesn’t have a right to police Thorne’s sexuality?

That’s what makes the backlash and shaming she is experiencing so completely ludicrous.

At the heart of this issue is the belief that women’s bodies exist for our gratification. This is true for most women, tbh, but it’s exacerbated when they are famous. And it’s directly connected to the debate around what famous people owe their fans. In a way, a lot of fans feel like they *do* have some sort of claim to their famous faves; whether it’s their relationships (Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper), their work (Rihanna) or their bodies. This sense of ownership was at the centre of “Celebgate,” and in the surge of people who sought out these leaked images online.

I can remember being at parties in University, and people were asking if you’d seen the photos of Lawrence, tallying and comparing notes if you had, and offering to show you the image if you hadn’t. It became a topic to chat about nonchalantly over games of beer pong. And the discussion wasn’t around how horrible such a violation of privacy was, or the ethics of sharing those photos—it was around the content of the image itself, and whether or not these celeb bodies were gratifying enough. Which is honestly so sad. Even in moments of exploitation, these women are still treated as a public entity.

Goldberg probably doesn’t realize it, but that’s what she’s doing, too.

Goldberg is commenting on the photos, dictating what is and isn’t appropriate, and effectively, impeding another women’s bodily autonomy. Sure, Thorne doesn’t have to listen to her—but we’re also talking about Whoopi Goldberg, a woman with a huge platform and someone who Thorne says she’s always admired. Of course her opinion counts here. And that opinion, for the record? Kinda sucks. Goldberg is implying that Thorne’s actions were wrong, or “slutty,” which sends the message that it’s not okay to express your sexuality.

That’s why we’ll no longer be asking ourselves WWWD? Because, TBH, we probably won’t like the answer.

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