Opinion

Alleged LAUTECH Sex Tape: Revenge Pornography as Misogyny – By Michael Aromolaran

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When the Nigerian internet bubble combusts, it’s usually because two or more celebrities, often of musical renown, are having an incensed joust—wrestling over a cone of frosty gelato perhaps. That or there has been a sweltering sex scandal, or a laughable situation of inadvertent exhibitionism, wrought to public jurisdiction by a miffed ex-mistress eager to add to the collage of cultural knowledge a photograph in which the bottom of the nation’s wealthiest man lays bare sans the censorship of an undergarment. When last Thursday I woke up to an overwhelm of #Lautech hashtags on Twitter, I knew with instinctual surety that it involved some sex: illegitimate, leaked, and calculated to disgrace. My brain must have teased together that the last time a Nigerian university won for itself some scrutiny on Twitter, it was on the back of a leaked sex tape. That university was Babcock; the year was 2019, and the victim—because that’s what she was—was divested of her studentship by the university whose line of thinking is self-righteously seeded in Abrahamic ethos. This time, the sufferer of the revenge pornography is an alleged student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomosho. And although the niceties of both incidents diverge in some ignorable ways, they throw a white light on a pathetic truth—that nudity and sex are gendered artillery deployed against women by bitter men.

Sex, especially when it’s non-consensual, has always been a contraption of warfare, often used to yield humiliation and psychological defeatism. Wartimes tend to provide fertile conditions for misogyny to find devastating expression. Menfolk, excused by a crack in civil order, now have a reason to exert cruelty on women. In the early 1990s, the raping of women was used to orchestrate ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. In that same period in Rwanda, the Hutus unleashed a campaign of genocide through the systematic raping of Tutsi women by HIV-infected men. Following the end of WWII and fall of the Third Reich, there was a Soviet expedition into Berlin which saw German women raped by Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian soldiers. These women were considered incidental rewards of war, comparable to inanimate artefacts, and their bodies were routinely looted by macho militia in a manner that bears dire metonymic consequence: “We have raped your women, thus have completed your humiliation.”

Not only has the female body been subjected to sexual ravishment, it has also long carried a suffix of shame. While shame aroused by a condition of nudity is not gender-bound, it’s more severe for women as a result of patriarchal exactions. Women, in ways not demanded of men, are expected to be fully clad at all times, to sit with their two legs closed, to not stir the thoughts of men to sin. Any slight to that sartorial decree would win a guilty woman epithets which pronounce her sexually immoral: slut, ashawo, olosho, and whatnot. A woman’s virtue and sense of self-worth is so tied to how well she can hide her body in a shadow of clothes that it’s not uncommon to hear women joke in a self-deprecating way that an instance of a man—who is not their husband—accidentally glimpsing them in the nude could “reduce their bride price.”

In recent times, however, there has been an uptick of feminist consciousness that has seen many women rally against this regulation of their bodies by daring to do the precise antithesis of what their society expects, which is choosing to be comfortable with their bodies and sexuality, and showcasing it without any compunction. As the naturist Monica Tan wrote, “to remove one’s clothing, is a physical form of liberation.” Days ago, there was the Silhouette Challenge which saw many women on social media gyrate to Paul Anka and Doja Cats, advertising differing degrees of nudity while the Vin rouge Snapchat filter afforded a protective barricade. This is just one instance of women attempting to divorce feminine nudity from the wedlock of shame. There have also been instances where women have used naked flesh to register political remonstrance. The Egyptian internet activist, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, shot to infamy after she published her nude photograph on her Blogspot page, an action she described as “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” In 1929, coteries of naked and half-naked women protested harsh colonial policies in Owerri, Calabar, and Aba, peaking in what’s now regarded as Ogu Umunwanyi or the “Aba Women’s War.” Likewise in the 1930s, women of the Abeokuta Women’s Union traipsed half-naked in protest against the Alake of Abeokuta until the harried sovereign bolted into exile. Also, in contemporary era—on July 23, 2020—hundreds of mostly naked women staged a protest in the north-western state of Kaduna to decry the murders that have perplexed the region.

But even as women vie to reclaim the agency of their bodies, there seems to be an equal counter to that effort. During the Silhouette Challenge, it soon came to public notice that some persons had found a way to circumvent the Snapchat filter which had hitherto conferred anonymity on the participating women, so that the women in the video are now transfigured from black, unidentifiable silhouettes into barefaced visages: naked, exposed, and robbed of agency and choice. Beyond the voyeuristic impulse, such an action spawns from a place of rage. The perpetrators are angry and desire to shame these women who have dared to not treat their bodies as commodities of shame. This masculine rage equally underscores many cases of revenge pornography where a pissed ex-lover, usually a man, decides to distribute sexually explicit images or videos of his erstwhile sexual half, convinced that he is subjecting her to the worst form of condemnation a woman can experience—punishment for breaking off romantic and sexual ties with him. This male ex-lover, it seems, is enraged that he has been denied access to the body of this woman, that he no longer enjoys the privilege of intimate proximity. So what does he do? He seeks to destroy her in a way he thinks would precipitate her utter existential devaluation. This is misogyny at its starkest.

Perhaps we’ll never see an abatement of revenge pornography, as far as the legal system remains ill-equipped to convict guilty persons, and as long as victim-blaming persists, and insofar the cultural practice which conflates feminine dignity with full clothedness fails to suffer extinction. What we should expect however is that feminine nudity will continue to shed its associations of shame as more men and women embrace more liberal and less sexist models of thought. The alleged LAUTECH student in the heat of the whiplash uploaded a video on Snapchat in which she exhorted her detractors with a vocabulary that did not shy away from expletives, stating that she remains undeterred by her outing, that she is in fact a “proud olosho.” Although one might conjecture that this was only a stunt to veil her hurt, it’s nonetheless larded with a wash of symbolisms—the victim has refused to be victimised and seems to say, “It’s my body and no one, no man, can shame me for it.”

 

Michael Aromolaran is currently a 300-level student of English Language at Lagos State University, Lagos. He tweets at mikeson_ar.

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