09/23/2014 05:20 EDT | Updated 11/23/2014 05:59 EST

You Can't Threaten Feminism By Leaking Nude Photos

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson attends the HeForShe campaign launch at the United Nations on September 20, 2014 in New York, New York. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Last Saturday, Emma Watson gave a rousing speech at the UN, launching the #HeForShe campaign, which essentially asked men to make sure they're part of the conversation when the topic of feminism comes up.

To paraphrase the actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, feminism can't move forward without men's help, and it's time to put aside the old stereotype of feminists as "man haters." The speech was described as "game-changing," and "powerful."

Now, if you search "Emma Watson UN" on Google, the first results that show up have to do with one story and one story only -- the community-based site 4chan's supposed threats of leaking naked pictures of the actress. Though the founders of the site say they have nothing to do with the threat, commenters on the original thread (which has since disappeared) specifically called out Watson's speech as a reason for releasing them.

The message here seems pretty clear: you shoot your mouth off about being equal, and we'll show you how easily we can lay open your most intimate secrets, objectifying your naked body at our will.

But here's the problem with that logic. Being naked in a photo doesn't make any woman -- or man, for that matter -- less of a feminist. Having it shown to the world might be an invasion of privacy, but will it change the fact that women think they should be paid equally or given positions of leadership in the world? No, it won't. In fact, it might actually drive home the need for such speeches and articles and general sentiments even more.

Last week, I wrote a story about one politician's tweet with regards to his party's stance on abortion -- namely, that women should be the ones making decisions about their bodies (and for that matter, the rest of their lives). Today, I received threatening emails and tweets from someone who said they'd "leak the video of my abortion" to the world because of this piece.

I've never had an abortion, and I highly doubt that if I did, I would film it. But this threat sounds uncomfortably familiar to anyone who's been paying attention to how women are treated online.

Female celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kim Kardashian have all been victims of hackers delving into their personal files and displaying them for the world to see, and the lack of equivalent shots of male celebrities have prompted calls of misogyny, above and beyond the obvious problems with these actions.

But the threats against Emma Watson seem to be the first time it's so directly linked to an issue men have with women. You can't dare have an opinion -- even one as seemingly innocuous as "please join us in moving society towards a more equal stance, men who may have felt put off by feminism in the past" -- without reaping the repercussions of having your secrets exposed.

It feels like there's no winning. Keep quiet, and things will continue as they have been, with people around the world feeling frightened to speak up about the inequalities they see in their dailies lives. Have an opinion, and get crushed by the tide of misogynists who think you should keep your damn mouth shut.

So what's a concerned person to do? I think the only answer is, keep going. Keep making the speeches, and writing the articles, and posting the quotes that empower both women and men to feel like they're on equal footing.

Am I nervous even putting this out there? You bet I am, because regardless of the secrets I may or may not have hiding on my computer, I don't want to be a victim of this kind of harassment.

And I know writing this won't stop the people who want to bring these ideas down from trying. But maybe, just maybe, it can show them they're fighting a losing battle.


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