How Chris Evans's Private Photo Leak Highlighted the Sexism Surrounding Celebrity Nude Photos

If you haven't already heard, Captain America showed a lot more than "America's Ass" over the weekend. On Saturday, Sept. 12, Chris Evans uploaded a screen-recorded video of him and his siblings playing the game Heads Up on his Instagram Stories, seemingly not realizing that the video contained a glimpse of his camera roll. Said camera roll happened to include some interesting memes featuring the actor — one that assured viewers Chris was ready to "guard that p*ssy" — and a photo of a penis.

Ever quick on the ball, despite Chris taking down the video soon after it aired, the photo made massive waves on social media. Although there's no way of knowing whether it was the former Marvel star's camera (or his genitals), it still inspired memes and chatter all across the internet. Even Chris's family and friends got in on the action with fellow Avenger Mark Ruffalo jumping into the fray on Twitter to offer a silver lining. "Bro, while Trump is in office there is NOTHING you could possibly do to embarrass yourself," he wrote — which is a valid point!

But Chris didn't have to fret for long; just like the Avengers popping out of the magical woodwork to help take down Thanos and his army in the climax of Avengers: Endgame, fans began an impassioned cry for folks to stop sharing the photo and respect the actor's privacy. Instead of spreading the salacious salami shot, Twitter users began posting wholesome interview videos, fan-approved shots of the actor, and pictures of him and his dog, Dodger, to "cleanse the timeline."

It was a concentrated campaign to turn the tides from the usual sharing of private photos to an appreciation of Chris as a person. In his first interview after the photo was leaked, Chris gave those fans a shout-out, telling Tamron Hall, "It's embarrassing, but you gotta roll with the punches. I have fantastic fans who came to my support. That's called turning a frown upside down."

It was great to see so many people rush to support a celebrity after something like that, and it's awesome that those fans were able to turn the conversation around — I love that for Chris! But it was interesting because so rarely is that the case when similar situations arise. This is far from the first time that a celebrity's private photo has been seen by the public, and considering how we keep inventing more ways to virtually communicate, it definitely won't be the last time. But it is a novel experience to see such a wave of compassion from fans shift the narrative and shame folks who were spreading the image.

It doesn't take much to realize the big difference between Chris's exception and the majority: women are usually involved when nude photo leaks cause uproars. One of the biggest scandals occurred in 2014, when dozens of nude photos of women celebrities — from Jennifer Lawrence to Victoria Justice — were posted online without their permission. The overwhelming reaction to the photos came from two camps: those who were frantically searching for ways to access the photos and those who felt the women involved should have never taken private pictures in the first place. That's usually the go-to answer for people in these situations; shame the victim, not the criminal.

There was a distinct lack of empathy for the victims, who were seen as complicit in their own breaches of privacy because they dared to take photos of themselves.

Of course, there were some celebrities who stuck up for their peers, calling for people not to search for the images. And various outlets wrote in support of the actresses targeted, especially in Jennifer's case. But there was no fan-led effort to shift the narrative or any fierce desire to respect the privacy of these women. Despite the very clear violation and the near-obsessive hunt revealed to be behind the photo leak, no one felt the need to "cleanse the timeline" when Jennifer's photos were being traded around on Twitter. The public didn't care if those actresses suffered from anxiety or were going through a particularly rough time at the moment. If anything, there was a distinct lack of empathy for the victims, who were seen as complicit in their own breaches of privacy because they dared to take photos of themselves.

Because it's one thing to pose half-naked on a magazine cover for anyone in the world to exploit, but if you're taking photos of your own body for a specific situation in which you are in control, you deserve to have it blasted for the world to see.

Kat Dennings took to Twitter to point out the discrepancy on Sept. 13, writing, "The public respect for Chris Evans' [sic] privacy/feelings is wonderful. Wouldn't it be nice if it extended to women when this kind of thing happens?"

The public respect for Chris Evans' privacy/feelings is wonderful. Wouldn't it be nice if it extended to women when this kind of thing happens?

— Kat Dennings (@OfficialKat) September 13, 2020

Maybe this is a sign that the times are truly changing. Nude photos are more of a norm in 2020 than they might have been in 2014 or even 2018, and during a time when much of the world is literally burning, it doesn't seem like such a big deal when Captain America accidentally shows everyone a photo of his penis. Maybe it matters that this particular violation was the case of Chris being bad at technology rather than having his private photos hacked. There are an X amount of factors at work here, but none of them quite nullifies this very basic point: Chris was majorly spared from cruel or threatening messages because fans respected him a lot more than they ever have a female celebrity before.

This isn't to say people weren't shamelessly spreading Chris's nude photo as well and that he isn't a victim of an invasion of privacy, even if he was the direct source of the leak itself. (Despite the jokes and misconceptions that his situation is less serious because he's a man, it's not. It's still very much a violation to spread those images around.)

This is to say that it sucks that even when stan culture finally does something right, it only highlights how low the bar is. We're so used to this brand of violation and the violent response it garners that when people act decently, we're shook as sh*t. I can only hope that the response to Chris's incident is an indication that society has evolved past the need to hold women accountable for the crimes against their bodies — celebrity or otherwise — but I suppose we won't know until next time. Let's hope everyone remembers to bring that same energy to the table.