In which the Countess of Strathearn has breasts, but has no rights over who can see them

The Earl and Countess of Strathearn went on holiday. They stayed in a house in France which belongs to a family member (the house, that is, not France). The house is secluded. Photographers took pictures of her topless and French Closer magazine printed them.

According to comments I have heard today

  • the Countess has no right to privacy because she is the Countess
  • public figure = public property
  • she shouldn’t have been topless because there might have been security staff there, and if there were security staff there, she has no right to complain about being photographed secretly because the security staff would already have seen her
  • the Countess is stupid to go topless because – well, I’m not sure any reasons were given
  • the Countess should be grateful the camera wasn’t a rifle and the security staff have failed to protect her
  • it’s all her own fault for being a female member of the Royal family and having breasts
  • the Countess shouldn’t be on holiday anyway because she’s really rich and privileged
  • the Countess has no right to complain about invasions of her privacy because she’s really rich and privileged
  • Diana Diana Diana (or something)

My response to those comments is this: what a load of victim-blaming bollocks.

I do not accept that any public figure gave up their right to privacy when they became a public figure, even if their public figurehood is because they are Royal and therefore paid for out of our taxes. Those people who really want to know about such things have a right to know what events the Royals attend, how much taxpayer funding they get, even how much they spend on shoe polish per year. I accept that we have the right to know things in relation to Royals doing their Royal jobs/duties. I absolutely do not accept that we have the right to know and see everything about their lives, especially the parts of their lives which are not related to their Royal responsibilities, such as how they spend their holidays or what they spend their private money on. It is reasonable for the press to ask how much local authorities pay their staff and how well the staff do their jobs – after all, local authority wages are paid for out of taxes (including the taxes of local authority workers). It is not reasonable for the press to inquire as to how local authority workers spend their wages, where they holiday, or if they take their tops off on the beach.

If she chooses to, the Countess has the right to go to St Tropez on holiday and sunbathe topless in full view of anyone passing by. In my view, she would not have the right to complain about people taking pictures of her if she did, and it would be difficult to justify a complaint about the press coverage topless sunbathing on a public beach would attract. She has the right to phone up The Scum and ask to be a p3 “girl”. She would not have the right to complain if The Scum arranged for her to do topless modelling and then published the photos. But she didn’t do any of those things. She was topless in a private garden of a private house on a private holiday, and it is reasonable to expect that her privacy should be respected.

I don’t know if there were security staff around. If there were, I don’t know if they were on-site but out of sight, or sunbathing around the pool with the Earl and Countess. Either way, it’s irrelevant. If the Countess feels comfortable sunbathing topless with security staff around, that’s up to her. She has the right to decide in whose company she will be topless. She has the right to decide who gets to see her breasts. She should have agency over her own body. I didn’t watch all of the royal wedding but I don’t remember any part of the vows in which she surrendered the right to determine who sees her naked. She might be a public figure, but she isn’t public property.

The people who argue she gave up her right to privacy when she married William – how far along that road do you want to go? Do we have the right to know how many times a day she goes to the loo? How many tampons she uses per period? If and when she produces an heir, should the labour and birth be filmed and put on youtube for us all to see? After all, we’re paying for all of that too.

Photos of a topless Countess are not in the public interest, any more than photos of a naked Harry were. They’re an invasion of privacy. They’re not her fault, and she shouldn’t be blamed for yet another example of how society seeks to deny women agency over their own bodies.

This page has been edited to add a link to the 16 days campaign against violence against women.

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4 thoughts on “In which the Countess of Strathearn has breasts, but has no rights over who can see them

  1. Bang on, Kirsten! What really annoys me re the meeja is their complete failure to accept the consequences of what they do, and their apparent inability to accept that much of it is pure gratuitously commercial, sparked by public voyeurism.

  2. It is gratuitously commercial, but is it sparked by public voyeurism? If the press didn’t print these pictures, would the public be clamouring for them? Would people write letters to the editors demanding photos of royal tits, and pictures of celebs in bikinis with their flabby bits circled? It’s a bit like shops selling Christmas products in August – they tell us there’s public demand, but really if they didn’t offer it, nobody would be asking for it. “We” the public take advantage of it when it’s there because we can, but I think the press print it because they want to, not because we want them to.

    • Hmmm. I suppose the commercial considerations are based on plans to sell mags/papers to the public. Whether that demand was started by the material being on offer, or by public ‘request’, is probably now a chicken and egg argument. I do agree that there would be no public outcry if they didn’t print these invasions of privacy.

  3. Well, yes, it’s all about sales. Publications have, over the years, published increasingly salacious items in a bid to attract sales, so that what was considered shocking 50 years ago would be laughed at now, and what’s considered reasonably now would have been horrifying then. And once one of them starts to publish the more “shocking” stuff the rest of them have to follow or lose sales. But I think the chicken of decision to publish came before the egg of public demand.

    I remember reading that when Richard Burton died, after his funeral Liz Taylor went to the cemetery to say her last goodbyes. She asked the photographers to leave her alone so she could go in privately, and they all agreed to leave except one, who refused – so then the rest of them said they wouldn’t go either. So she didn’t go in. She didn’t get to say her last goodbye and the press didn’t get any photos anyway. I don’t recall any great public demand for photos of a grieving Liz Taylor, or any complaints that there weren’t any photographs. I’m sure if they were there people would have bought them, but nobody was actively looking for them. I suppose it’s too much to hope that the press might have some reservations about publishing things, either on grounds of morality or taste, but it would be nice.

    The other thing about the topless France photos is the argument it’s ok because she’s a public figure. Bollocks. If I was sunbathing in my garden and some bloke was creeping around in bushes with a long lens taking photos without my knowledge or permission, he’d be a creepy stalker and I could have him prosecuted. Why would being famous remove my rights?

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