Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Morality and What We Wear

I’d fully intended to blog in detail about the Liskula Cohen affair but after getting into a long debate about it on Twitter today, decided it wasn’t really worth it (also, I’m not an expert in defamation law and am sure to screw something up). The short of it is I think any pending defamation lawsuit on Cohen’s part is juvenile, perhaps even vexatious, particularly in light of the fact that she publicly forgave the blogger who called her names.

That said, an interesting discussion was born of the Twitter debate. Speaking from my gut, I made the comment that Cohen has little recourse to defend herself against being called a skank, considering the fact that she poses in sexually provocative positions, and partly nude (note: “skank” in my mind did not mean promiscuous, rather, I had thought it was more like “trashy”). While several people disagreed with me, and still others were offended, one person (a blogger whom I respect but often respectfully disagree with) asked the question: “Incidentally, why shouldn’t we infer a person’s morality from their dress and actions? Is there another way?

My gut reaction was to say that a woman can wear what she want, which I do firmly believe. I also, for the record, believe that in rape or sexual harassment cases, it is never the fault of the woman, regardless of whether she’s nude or wearing a burqa (and in my experience, sexual harassment tends to happen no matter what you wear)

That said, I’ve become in my old age a strong proponent of modesty. No extremes, but your average run-of-the-mill modesty. Part of it comes from living in Morocco (though again, the harassment there is intense whether you’re covered from head to toe or wearing a miniskirt), and part of it from sheer hatred of fashion. Either way, as a modestly dressed person by U.S. standards, I often find myself judging those who aren’t. On the other hand, I’m on the sloppy side. I prefer jeans and tees any day to tight pants and cleavage. I’m also aware that people judge me on my sloppiness.

I’m not arguing that women shouldn’t be able to dress however they want. I support a woman’s choice to wear a miniskirt in the same way I support her choice to wear hijab. But the point is, people will judge your character based on your clothing – and your behavior – no matter how you dress.

Therefore, given the abundance of photos of Liskula Cohen floating around the Internet that look like this…

…and the definition of “skank” (2. disgusting or vulgar matter; filth, and 3. one who is disgustingly foul or filthy and often considered sexually promiscuous)…

…I say a defamation lawsuit doesn’t stand a chance.

18 Comments

  1. Hey Jill,

    While agree with you in principle, I only have to say one thing: the defamation lawsuit could stand a chance due to the fact that even if Cohen would go under the dictionary definition of skank, disgusting or vulgar, that doesn’t mean that the blogger would actually get away with it.
    in short, the law doesn’t grant people the right to say things that might in fact be true.

  2. It’s actually quite difficult to win libel lawsuit iin the United States; much probably depends on whether or not Cohen is considered a public figure, in which case it would be much more difficult for her to win since she would then have to prove that the author of the blog wrote with malice, i.e. had reason to believe that what she was writing was false and wrote it regardless. That’s the standard applied to newspapers, anyway, so it will be interesting to see if the blog is treated in the same manner. Under this standard, the burden would be on Cohen to prove the falsehood of these claims, and that they harmed her.

    So I’d have to agree with you…she doesn’t stand a chance. All she’s achieved is to spread word of her unfortunate labels around the globe.

  3. I do not find this photo offensive in any way, and I agree with Cohen when she said: “”Why would anybody let it go? If somebody attacks [you] on the street, you’re not going to let it go.”

    It’s very interesting, how people take it alright if they are attacked online, but would respond firmly if they are attacked “in person”. Apparently there “is” an online world, that has its rules and its own laws. There is a kind of “culture” when it comes to commenting online; people who are extremely rude online are not so in person. why not put an end to this? it has come to a point that you’re accused of being a “censor” if you delete a rude comment on your blog.

    As for judging people’s moralities based on their clothing, it’s seriously a bullshit idea, let alone misleading.

    • I agree with Razan on this:

      As for judging people’s moralities based on their clothing, it’s seriously a bullshit idea, let alone misleading.

      I’ve never understood why it’s ok to wear bikini or even a one piece bathing suit on a public beach, but not ok to show just as much skin going to the local super market to buy groceries or go watch a movie for instance.

      The notion of morality (and that doesn’t mean I condone judging people by that) should be limited to a person’s conduct, not wardrobe.

  4. There are two different issues here; obviously we disagree on the one about morality, but when it comes to online behavior, I want to be clear: I don’t think anyone should just “take it” when attacked, whether online or off. But a lawsuit?! I’m very much against this culture of lawsuits we’ve come to. Although I disagree with Google violating the blogger’s privacy, the fact is, Cohen now knows who did it, and has a choice: she can confront the person on her own time, and have a civil discussion, or she can take it to court. I have no doubt she’ll choose the wrong one.

    (As for the issue of being a “censor,” you probably know that I believe in free speech at all costs, so to me, it’s a moot point. You either censor or you don’t)

    • Let me tell you something: if i am living in the states and there are these commentators who keep commenting on my blog calling me different names that i actually started to feel sick from my blog and stopped blogging for a while, i do not think asking wordpress to uncover their identities would be “violating the blogger’s privacy”. they have chosen to say these words, repeatedly, and once i deal with it once and for all it will make a difference: people will really start “commenting” than bullshitting online. There is a serious problem of commenting online, and lawsuits are the best way to counter this stupid culture.

      I for the past 8 months i post three posts, and there is this joker who keeps insulting me, i’m tired.

      I will never talk to those who have been attacking me online for the past few months, seriously, why should the one attacked talk to the attacker to work things out? khalas walla i’ll sue them all and i’ll feel great about it. just hoping to get rich.

  5. Razan,

    That’s a different situation than the one presented here. The facts of this case: the blogger turned out to be an acquaintance of Cohen. There were 5 blog posts on a separate blog, NOT on Cohen’s blog (if she even has one). The blog was not particularly well-known or popular.

    What Cohen has done is taken something that was quiet and blown it up to further her own career. She is also threatening to create a defamation lawsuit, not a harassment lawsuit (which is what you’re referring to).

    If someone COMMENTS on your blog saying nasty things about you, that would qualify as harassment, even cyber-stalking, and would be a completely different situation, perhaps one worthy of a lawsuit.

    • Dear Jillian,
      I did not mention Cohen in my comment to suggest my case and hers are similar. I am very aware it isn’t, but not based on the reasons you mentioned:
      I dont understand why the comment “should” be on her own blog-if she has one- to be bothered with it? she cant be bothered with it on other people’s blog? this case is not worth the attention because the other blog not a “well known blogger”? i dont understand seriously. someone called her names, she was offended, she wants to do something about it, period.

      That being said, even if she really is filing this lawsuit to self-promote herself, does that make, the case itself, less powerful?

      the only thing that is wrong with this case is this: it’s a defamation lawsuit.

      you said to Anas:
      “If Ms. Cohen is then conducting herself like a porn actress (as one might attest by the above photo), then is it okay to judge her on that?”

      “judge”? no its not, it’s not ok to judge anyone, as far as i am concerned.
      how many photos are like the one above on facebook? all of them are subject to our judgment? honestly i am quite shocked right now.

      are we talking about a stupid lawsuit or about a porn star who filed a lawsuit to defend herself?
      i think things are getting mixed up here, i dont know if the problem to you, dear jillian, is about the wrong approach she took to sue this blogger, or about her photo, or about her self-promotion.
      as i told you on chat, if she appears naked in public, she should “expect” bullshit from people, but she should not “accept” it.

    • hi…. I have just come across this blog. I normally do not read this stuff, nor do I respond. But this blog seems to have intelligent people on it, with valid arguments. So just to clear a few things up let me first say that in no way was I ever a public figure, and the blog was removed after we threatened the blogger with malice, her lawyer agreed that it was in fact malice and demanded she remove the blog. Secondly, the only way I could get the identity of the blogger was to sue, there are NO other options. Once I learned who was responsible for it, I realized that suing her for any money would simply be a waste of time, since she does not have much to begin with. I did have a cilvil conversation with her after the NY Post exposed who she was, and she did apologize and we have a legal agreement and settlement (that does not include any financial gain), a written apology and a retraction of everything she wrote about me. If I was in all this for the press, wouldn’t I have made the press write about these? They do still ask me for any new things that are going on, I simply walk away and never say a word.
      Everyone in life has a picture that if cropped the right way and manipulated can be viewed in a negative light. If the actual pictures and stories were written and posted, you all would see how silly this really is.
      I did not sue for the silly names she called me, I sued for other things that were written in that blog, that have never been leaked to the press as to not defame me further. And it would have been very easy to prove that the things she wrote about me were all lies and defamation, and she knew it, hence why she wanted to find the quickest way out. She was the one hit with her lawyers legal fee’s and Googles legal fee’s upwards of 100 thousand dollars, so was her free blog really worth it? I know she doesn’t think so now. People can judge and assume all they want, but know that the truth is never what is in the press, the media manipulates everything to the best of their ability and always has.
      So now I have to have an online label, and these words are words I will have to get accustomed with, but if my fight saves even one persons life, if my law suit set a precedent and will make one person think twice before defaming another, then it is all worth it.
      Maybe all of you should think about what it is like to be on the receiving end of this drama.
      I did nothing wrong, I live my life honestly and with integrity and self respect. I wonder if she can say the same thing? Her actions will always have a negative effect on my life, but anyone that matters in my life, and for me it doesn’t matter anyone. I know I am a good person, and nothing like how she depicted me.
      Jealousy and envy are terrible things, and nobody should lets these feelings rule their lives.

  6. Ughh I thought this BS was done and over with a long time ago.
    Jillian I totally agree with you on all aspects in this case. It’s been clearly a case of self-promotion right from the get-go, because nobody even knew who or what Ms Cohen was prior to the name-calling. If anything, Ms Liskula probably should reward that blogger(buy her a nice dinner or something) for providing her with this huge opportunity for free publicity (which she seems to enjoy) to avoid being called a bloodsucker or something even worse.
    Common practice is that when the name-calling occurs, you address it and move on, whether it happens online or in RL. There are worse things online that cause way more damage and in some cases threaten public safety, such as “hate speech”, yet nothing is done about it, because it’s outweighed by “freedom of speech”.

  7. Anas,

    You said:

    The notion of morality (and that doesn’t mean I condone judging people by that) should be limited to a person’s conduct, not wardrobe.

    If Ms. Cohen is then conducting herself like a porn actress (as one might attest by the above photo), then is it okay to judge her on that?

    • As I said, if that’s the case (and I assume it is) then it’s reasonable for people to question her morality. Yet still, it’s something I don’t do for a many reasons, the morals being subjective is one.

  8. Razan,

    (Sorry, first of all, for not being able to reply in the thread; I’m working on getting that fixed).

    The issues you raised are all good points, but again, to the best of my legal knowledge, she has no recourse for legal action:

    1) She doesn’t have a defamation case for the reasons we’ve already discussed.
    2) She doesn’t have a harassment case for the fact that the comments were elsewhere on the Web and not intended to harass (of course, she could try to prove that they were, but the facts speak for themselves)
    3) She was not being stalked – the person made no attempt to even contact her
    4) Legally speaking, as a celebrity/public figure, she is subject to a certain allowance of public criticisms that we non-famous people aren’t (though again, it could perhaps be argued that she’s not actually that famous).

    I have, obviously, mixed my personal sentiments and those more legal sentiments in this discussion, so it’s gotten a bit convoluted. That said, my above defense relates to the fact that I believe Cohen has no legal recourse whatsoever, despite how “offended” she might be.

    As for the Facebook issue, in the US, Facebook photos have been used in court – for example, there have been more than one case where a person claimed a certain injury and was then seen in Facebook photos skiing or playing sports. In another instance, there was a reckless driving/manslaughter case where the person who committed the crime was shown (in FB photos) to be out partying.

    Legally, at least in the US system, one’s moral character can be determined on the basis of photographs. So whether or not it’s okay for me to judge her (and I haven’t said that it is), it’s completely acceptable for her character to be judged in a court of law based on photos such as the one above.

    (Incidentally, if there are any lawyers reading this, feel free to offer contradiction, as I admittedly am not a legal expert and could certainly be wrong about certain facts).

    • I was rather arguing theoretically speaking, cause legally speaking, some are still trying to file a lawsuit against bush :) but that still makes him a criminal.
      as for photographs and american context, it’s the firs time i hear about this, and since i know nothing about, i can only be amazed.

  9. I agree that Bush is a criminal…but I don’t agree that this blogger is necessarily one. Is it a crime to call someone names? Does it matter if those names are a true reflection of the person’s character or not?

  10. Are you a professional journalist? You write very well.

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