McKayla Maroney and the Celebrity Photo Leak of (August) 2014

Much like Loren Lynch did in her first post here at Her Blueprint, I feel I ought to tell you a little bit about myself. I have, for most of my adult life, made my income tending bar. One of the great things about this particular line of work is the opportunity to meet an incredible array of people and learn about a diversity of topics including, of course, quite a bit about yourself. Through the almost 6 years I have spent working at a small local pub in Brooklyn, I picked up two valuable pieces of Rebekah-specific information:  I do not particularly care about beer or mainstream sports.

As someone who considers herself something of an academic, I read far too much about the severity of head injuries in football and hockey to be able to see past the brutality inherent in those two sports and through to the games themselves. I find baseball boring and, though I was a big Knicks fan back in the 90's (I had a thing for John Starks), I am not terribly attached to basketball. The one sport that I watch religiously, that I can talk your ear off about (and yes, I know it is not mainstream although this is something I simply do not understand) is elite women's gymnastics.
For most people here in the United States, women's gymnastics is a once-every-four-years sport. In an Olympic year, they watch all the team and individual events on NBC and fall in love that particular quad's American it-girl: Mary Lou Retton, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas. But for us all-the-time fans, there is so much behind those Olympic moments. These young women have, by age 16, already spent the previous 12 years in the gym. What their bodies and minds allow them to do is absolutely breath taking. Forget the athleticism which I could never dream to possess, these girls have more focus at 16 than I have at 31, a fact which is at the same time mind-blowing and enviable. It is interesting because for as much as I would love to see these girls get the attention and appreciation that all their hard work and talent deserves, I think the sport stays more pure, and the athletes more protected from the negative aspects of mainstream fandom, because of the lack of big money and the lack of exposure. Unless, of course, they are one of the lucky five to make it to the biggest stage in women's gymnastics: the Olympic Games. Once that happens all bets are off and no one knows this better than 2012 Olympic team champion and vault silver medalist McKayla Maroney.

Previously known only for her sky high vaulting, Maroney made an error in the Olympic vault finals that resulted in her being awarded the silver medal behind Romania's Sandra Izbasa and spawned the now famous not impressed face. It was that face, and her regular social media updates, that made Maroney something of a celebrity beyond the gymnastics world. Unfortunately, being in the public eye does come with certain drawbacks. This past August, McKayla Maroney found herself embroiled in a massive scandal when nude photos of her and roughly 40 other female celebrities were stolen from compromised Apple iCloud accounts and leaked via the imageboard 4chan and then widely disseminated using social media sites such as Imgur, Reddit and Tumblr. As is often the case, the victims were blamed for their own victimization, with people taking to Twitter and comment boards to tell female celebrities that if they don't want nude photographs of themselves on the internet, they shouldn't take them in the first place. In the case of McKayla Maroney, this issue took on another layer of complexity when it was discovered that the leaked photographs were taken when she was under 18, and therefore considered a minor under United States law. As a result, Reddit removed all of the photographs of her with the explanation that they are "considered CP (Child Pornography), and break reddit's site-wide rules (in addition to international law...)" At the same time, a group of concerned citizens put together a "We the People" petition to get the US Government to charge Maroney with "production and possession of sexual material containing a minor," stating that the government should not let her "get away with a crime that would get a normal teenage girl landed on the sex offenders list."

This petition is, of course, absolutely ridiculous and unlikely to gain any real traction. It is an example of victim-blaming at its finest. The absurdity of it becomes especially poignant when placed alongside the recent scandal involving the Ravens star running back, Ray Rice. When a few weeks ago TMZ released the February video of Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator, it sparked a national conversation about domestic violence and the role of organizations such as the National Football League in combating it. Even among those who were understandably outraged, there was an undercurrent of victim-blaming as well as a noticeable presence of those who were opposed to Rice's indefinite suspension. Rice acted violently upon another person, Maroney was acted violently upon, and yet we, as a society, still don't seem to be clear on the true definition of "victim," especially where women are concerned. There should be no question as to who was in the wrong in each of these situations, and yet there is.

McKayla Maroney, in spite of it all, is at her Los Angeles gym day after day training for a chance at a second Olympics. The odds are against her, not because of this scandal but because no woman has made two consecutive US Olympic Gymnastics teams since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow did it in 1996 and 2000. One thing I am certain of, though, is that she will be out there competing on the national and international stage in the years leading up to Rio 2016, if not at the Olympics themselves. She will be out there with the knowledge of all that has happened, and in a skin-tight leotard no less, and I have no doubt that she will show everyone exactly what she is made of. She, along with all the other gymnasts from the US and abroad, are fantastic, hard-working athletes who deserve our respect, just as all women do.

The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning [The Guardian]
Ricky Gervais and Fox News take the lead in victim blaming over celebrity nude photo leak [Salon]
The Leaked Photos of McKayla Maroney Were Taken When She was Underage, and Reddit is Freaking Out [Business Insider]