I caught a glimpse of this story while I was out of town recently. The wife of the chief of police in this small town posted nude photos of herself on the Internet, on an adult web site, and those pictures apparently outraged “dozens” of the town’s residents, who demanded that the police chief resign. He initially refused and, while the DA said the photos shown to him were “obscene based on local community standards,” the city council had supported the chief’s wife saying that the photos were protected by the first amendment. As a result of the hoopla, her husband (the police chief), the mayor, and a city council member all resigned their jobs. The chief and the mayor resigned over the criticism of the chief and his wife. The council member resigned because he didn’t want to be associated with those criticising the chief.
Let me be clear: Three people lost their jobs — and no doubt their families are suffering economically and socially — because “dozens” of people were offended by some naked-woman pictures. This is outrageous.
I’m angered by this story. First of all, if the photos were on an adult site, then whoever found them was also browsing adult sites. Why should it be okay for the viewer to view but not for the poster to post? And so what that the poster’s husband is the chief of police. Is his ability to do his job curtailed in any way by his wife’s use of an adult web site?
Then, worse, as if it weren’t bad enough that this woman’s nude photos were used against her husband at his job, the paper emphasizes the wife’s weight and tattoos. Why were those details included. Would it have been different in the eyes of the towns people if she had been 5’7″ and 130 pounds, with no tattoos?
The chief himself is quoted as saying, “My wife is 6-foot-3 and weighs 300 pounds. If there is somebody that thinks they can control her, have at it. I have tried for 11 years and haven’t been able to.” Apparently the criticism of the townspeople accomplished what the chief claims he couldn’t do. The 43-year-old woman — clearly an adult — took her photos down as a result of all the negativity.
“Local community standards” often reflect the standards of a vocal minority. In this case, they reflected the standards of “dozens” of vocal residents in a town of 1,500. Did the others remain quiet because they agreed, and thus found no need to speak out? Or did they remain quiet because it is too difficult to support something that is being loudly condemned as “obscene”? The latter seems much more likely to me, given the numbers of people who quietly cruise the Internet for sexual connections or information or stimulation.
In the end one person’s freedom was curtailed, unnecessarily and unjustly, by the outspoken voices of a few and the silence of many. And many others received a clear warning that, should they consider posting photos of themselves, they will be considered outcasts in their community.
This might seem to be trivial to some who say, “look it’s only a bit of nudity and it isn’t that important,” but this silence is the same silence that makes it so difficult to fight for the rights of sex workers, of gays and lesbians, of BDSM practitioners, and others who explicitly challenge the dominant sexual culture. In fact, I’d bet that the vitriol spouted in this case was all the more venomous because this was a woman — the wife of the chief of police — who was counted on to visibly support that restrictive dominant culture. If such respectable folks continue to make public their departure from that dominant sexual culture, even in the face of such criticism, imagine how quickly it could be replaced by something much more interesting!
I wish the police chief had not resigned, and that his wife had not pulled her photos. I wish they had posted more photos, perhaps together, and challenged the “dozens” and the DA. But given the norms of silence and repression it’s easy to understand their fear. It’s a difficult cycle to break. And it must be broken if we are all to be able to conduct ourselves as adults, openly and unafraid. We need cultural change and legal change, neither of which will be easy to achieve.
Sex bloggers and sex-radical writers who make what is assumed to be private public are certainly in the vanguard of this change. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is fighting too. But more of us need to challenge the silence by speaking up for ourselves an by speaking up for those, like Doris Ozmun and her husband, who are stigmatized and publicly condemned for using what should be every person’s right to sexual expression.