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Turning the tables

By Jay Thompson - posted Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Like many Australians, I’ve been fixated on the amusingly-titled “DickiLeaks” scandal. Surely this rubbish belongs in the pages of New Idea, and not inside our newspapers. And yet, I cannot wait to hear what happens next!

At the heart of DickiLeaks has been a “he said-she said” conflict. The nameless 17-year-old girl who posted nude photos of St Kilda footballers (including skipper Nick Riewoldt) online initially claimed that she was having affairs with several of them. The shots were taken during their trysts. She then changed her story, saying that the pictures were emailed to her by Sam Gilbert.

Conversely, Riewoldt has alleged that the girl stole these photographs from Gilbert’s computer. Gilbert allegedly took the shots while the boys were holidaying in Miami. This is just a case of blokes mucking about, suggests Riewoldt; he has never met that damned vixen, who is (he claims) just using the snaps to her own spiteful ends.

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Many of us suspected that “DickiLeaks” would disappear from the headlines after 31 December 2010. Not so. At the first St Kilda Football Club training session for 2011, the nameless girl was at the sidelines, hanging posters such as: “RESPECT. AFL can you please spell that for me?”

I am not concerned with trying to determine who is “right” or “wrong” here. I am interested in looking at what the whole DickiLeaks debacle says about the politics of racy representations. What happens when the tables are turned, and it’s the boys who get gawked at?

It’s no newsflash that, throughout history, women and girls have been fetishised and objectified to appease male spectators. Witness the female nudes in classical art. Witness any number of Hollywood films. Witness the airbrushed, scantily-clad ladies who have been used to sell everything from cosmetics to cars. And let’s not forget the plethora of websites devoted to snaps of bodacious, big-breasted babes.

Since the 1970s, there have been an increasing number of sexualised male representations. Many of these have appeared in popular culture aimed at gay men. When sexualised images of men have appeared in “mainstream” heterosexual culture, they have often been comical or absurd in nature. Remember the 1990s television commercials for Diet Coke that featured female office workers drooling over a shirtless tradie? Then there are the countless action movies in which heroes in skimpy attire save the day (sometimes even the world) and girls in skimpy attire … well, stand around looking cute and doing not much else.

The double standard that I have described has been turned on its head with DickiLeaks. The photos of Riewoldt and co weren’t taken for strictly comical purposes (though I have seen the shots and, in my humble opinion, they are funny in a cheesy kind of way). The St Kilda boys are claiming that they never wanted the shots to go public. They have (apparently) been caught unawares, and their athletic, disrobed bodies have been posted for all to see on the World Wide Web. What’s more, they’ve been posted by a member of the so-called “fairer sex.”

Some clarifications are necessary here. I am not suggesting that uploading nude pics of sportsmen to Facebook will end inequality between the sexes. I am not suggesting that distributing nude shots of anyone without that person’s consent is desirable or ethical. The girl might well be taking pleasure in publicly embarrassing her alleged consorts.

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That said, I find it interesting (and dismaying) that Riewoldt and the AFL are so eager to paint the girl as an opportunistic liar. The media has not really challenged this demonisation. The girl has alleged that she posted the shots in retaliation for what she claims is appalling treatment at the hands of the St Kilda Football Club. This includes being ignored after falling pregnant to one of the players, and subsequently miscarrying. Even a cursory glance at the girl’s behaviour suggests that she feels a deep anger and sense of powerlessness.

I also find it interesting that there has been little media scrutiny given to the suggestion that these shots were stored on Gilbert’s computer. This suggestion has been made by the young woman and her AFL opponents, so let’s assume, just for a moment, that it is “the truth.” In an era of file-theft and social network sites, surely the boys in red, white and black would have had an inkling that the shots could potentially reach a very wide audience.

Moreover, the media has overlooked the obvious homoeroticism at play here. Guys taking photos of naked guys and then saving them on their (ahem) hard-drives? In 2010, Jason Akermanis was (rightly) criticised for saying that gay footballers should stay in the closet. There seems little point for the closet when one of their own publicly declares that it’s okay for another bloke to photograph him in his birthday suit, but loudly denies the possibility of a female taking such a shot.

The DickiLeaks drama won’t bring on the sexual revolution, and indeed, may be a faded memory in six months. This episode is important in that it signals one historical moment in which the tables of representation have been turned. Scantily-clad men are on display here, and a young girl is the one who is making sure that we all have a peep.

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About the Author

Jay Daniel Thompson recently completed a PhD in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. His thesis focused on representations of sex and power in Australian literature during the "culture wars"’ of the 1990s.

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