In Washington, D.C. it is common to see a tourist posing for a photo, trying to create the illusion that they are holding one of the monuments in the palm of their hand. A similar kind of photo was prominently displayed as a party gag at a birthday party for a friend.
The man celebrating his birthday was shown in the photo talking with his hands. In the background of the photo was a bikini-clad friend, creating the illusion that he was cupping her breast in his hand, in effect groping her. Hilarious, right?
The man being roasted by his friends acted sheepishly, but he was not really embarrassed. After all, he was depicted as being in control and the dominant figure in the photo.
The female friend who was also present at the party was mortified and left the room angry and close to tears. Overreacting, right? No sense of humor.
Perhaps another person would have laughed it off in an attempt to regain equal footing with all the other party guests, but then none of us would have recognized this for what it was — one of “those situations.”
She purposely had not been consulted about the use of the photo because it was suspected she would object to her body being used as the brunt of a sexist joke. Her friends, a group of men and women, thought she shouldn’t mind too much because she looked good in her bikini, but that was not our decision to make.
In that moment when the photo was revealed she went from being a peer to a prop. We were using someone else’s body for our own entertainment and satisfaction at the expense of their dignity. We had put that other person in a position where they couldn’t object before the fact and would feel bullied into not objecting after the fact. There is a right and a wrong. The only matter of perspective is whether we see it.
Jean Jianos is a local freelance writer.