by Ashley Speed
Let’s talk a bit about slut shaming and misogyny. For those of you not in the know, last Wednesday a fifteen year girl in Coquitlam named Amanda Todd took her own life because of the ‘bullying’ she faced at her school. Bullying is in quotations, not because I have any doubts that this poor child was harassed, but because bullying is a shitty term that means very little. Bullying is a term which means very little and which, frankly, covers all manner of sins, including actual harassment and abuse.
Amanda Todd exposed herself on a webcam in grade seven, and for the next three years of her life, was ‘bullied’- harassed and tormented by explicit pictures of herself being posted on Facebook, sent to her family and friends, and following her to whichever school she moved to. Bullying, in this case, is a word that pales in comparison to the trauma that this little girl faced in her everyday life. For those who did not watch her YouTube video, she chronicles her tragedy is what is, without a doubt, the most heartbreaking nine minutes I have ever watched.
Why did this happen? Rather than rally around her and protect her, her ‘friends’ turned on her, picking on her, taunting her and teasing her. Rather than take a moment to think: Wait, why are we blaming this little girl for these photos?, she was tortured for being a slut, and all those other awful names that girls call one another. Instead of being outraged that someone posted explicit photos of a child online, and tried to blackmail her into exposing herself more, her peers turned the blame on her.
In fact, even in the media, there have been articles whose main theme is a warning to young girls: Don’t expose yourself. Fair enough, and easy enough for an adult with years of knowledge and experience to say. Less easy for a young girl being told that she’s beautiful and to just show a little more. Is what happened to Amanda Todd her own fault? Of course not. Flashing someone online does not grant license to be tormented for the rest of your life. Nor does it mean she was a slut.
Unfortunately, this is the culture in which we are raising our daughters. To be sexually desirable from an extraordinarily young age, and then to punish them when they follow through. We teach our daughters, nieces, sisters, that their self worth is determined by the sum total of their physical attributes. The culture that we live in today, even now, even in our ‘advanced’ world, teaches girls that they need to be sexy, pure, hot, angelic, smart but not too smart, exciting, stable and perfect.
Is it any wonder that Amanda Todd exposed herself because she was told she was beautiful and perfect? In a world where girls are taught that they are never enough- that they are too fat, too smart, too slutty, too chaste, too everything- is it really hard to see why a young girl would respond to compliments in the way she did? No, unfortunately, it’s not. And, even more unfortunately, it is not too hard to see why, in this exact same culture, her peers turned on her in a heartbeat.
In a less tragic fashion, one need only look at the very public recent slut shaming of Kristen Stewart as another example. When Ms. Stewart had the audacity to cheat on her heartthrob boyfriend, Rob Pattinson, the ‘Twilight’ star was very publicly shamed. Forgetting the fact that the man she was caught in an embrace with was much older, married and should have known better himself. It was her who the focus of furious Twitter posts, blog rants and tabloid articles. Slut, tramp, homewrecker, whore. Reading any article about the scandal makes it seem as if she were the only person involved in the tryst. Why is this okay?
Going back several years, let’s look at the example of Rihanna and Chris Brown. Rather than a deluge of media outrage about the fact that this young woman was physically assaulted by her partner, there was a lot of silence. Other celebrities said nothing against Chris Brown, and when Usher, several weeks later, said something about how uncool it was that Brown was caught on film relaxing in Miami as though nothing had happened, Usher had to apologize. To Chris Brown. Let’s think about that for a minute. Even today, when Rihanna is shown in pictures with Chris Brown or says in interviews that she and him are still friends, she is the one who gets media flak. For being a bad role model, for being weak, and so on and so forth.
Where is OUR collective shame as a society for all of these hurts and abuses we inflict upon our daughters without a second thought?
I say this all as a mature (reasonably), intelligent twenty-seven year old woman with healthy self esteem and a good sense of my own worth. But I was once a fifteen year old girl, and just like Amanda Todd, I tried to end my life with a whole bunch of sleeping pills, for a variety of reasons- bullying, boys and crippling self doubt. Thankfully, I was unsuccessful. There are thousands of girls who are, though, and it is these girls that we, as a society, owe a massive debt of apology to. It is a culture we created, and that we feed into, that allows these girls to be publicly shamed, harassed and tormented, and have it written off as ‘bullying’. It is a culture we created that makes these girls believe that they are valuable as sexual objects and little more, that makes girls believe that it is okay to be punished for being ‘sluts’ and that makes girls turn all of their pain inward and against themselves, rather than raging against a world that is, still, brutally unfair.
Being a teenager is, for many, a terrible experience. For girls like myself at fifteen, like Amanda Todd today, it can be devastating and brutal. We owe all of these girls, who are called sluts, who are tormented, who have doubts and heartbreaks and tragedy, all magnified by the hormonally charged roller coaster that is adolescence, a societal change.
So here is what I propose. I propose that my generation, all of us who grew up before with the Internet but before insane social media; who grew up in that bizarre in-between time of the nineties; those of us who grew up to be hipsters and emos, and intellectuals, and who pride ourselves on being gender neutral, sex positive and socially accepting; I propose that we change it.
Let’s raise our daughters, and nieces, and little sisters, and all of those little girls we love and cherish, to NOT define themselves by their physical selves. Let’s raise them to determine their self worth by who they are as a person, rather than by their cup size or waist size or how quickly they put out. Let’s raise this next generation of girls to just be people, defined not by their genitalia or their beauty, but by who they are inside.
Maybe then, in twenty years or so, we can look back and talk about that dark, dark time in our history where girls are pressured from every angle to be perfect, and how we are so grateful that it’s past. And maybe, just maybe, we can do better by teenage girls than we have been.