Lynn Barber

The horrors of the ‘Upskirt Decade’

The century began as a monstrous time to be famous and female – epitomised by the Tulsa judge who, in 2006, seemed to rule that no woman had a right to privacy in public

Kim Kardashian poses in 2011 after Keeping Up with the Kardashians won a People’s Choice Award as Favorite TV Guilty Pleasure. [Getty Images]

The subject that Sarah Ditum addresses in Toxic is why the early part of this century was ‘such a monstrous time to be famous and female. It’s about how the concept of privacy came undone and why that was a catastrophe for women’. The concept of privacy was actually undone by a judge in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2006. A 16-year-old girl was browsing through greetings cards in a shop when a man crouched down beside her and took photographs up her skirt. A security guard saw him and called the police. The whole scene was captured on CCTV, so there was no shortage of evidence. But the judge ruled that ‘the person photographed was not in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy’ and an appeals court concurred. Just by going out, it seemed, women had given everyone permission to look up their skirts.

Just by going out, it seemed, women had given everyone permission to look up their skirts

Ditum calls this period the ‘Upskirt Decade’, though she makes it a long decade, from 1998 to 2013. This was the heyday of gossip blogging, when websites such as Gawker and Perez Hilton subsisted on snarky stories about celebrities. Gawker had an offshoot called Fleshbot which was almost entirely devoted to upskirting, but it claimed:

We always had a suspicion that when Britney, Lindsay, Paris et al ‘accidentally’ flash their lady business to the paparazzi it’s a lot more calculated than their publicists would want you to believe.

Ditum says her subjects are nine women ‘so famous, you know them by their first names alone’. They are Britney, Paris, Lindsay, Aaliyah, Janet, Amy, Kim, Chyna and Jen. Well, I know who Britney, Paris, Lindsay, Kim and Amy are, but it took a while to discover that Jen meant Jennifer Aniston and Janet meant Janet Jackson.

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