I’ve read quite a few commentaries over the past few days on the very tragic story of Amanda Todd, the BC teen who took her own life after being continually harrassed and bullied. The story is complex and many authors have chosen to focus on the social media and cyberbullying threads of the story. Fellow Globe and Mail School Council member, Tara Colborne, has written this very poignant piece on the story, and she has given permission for me to post it here. I think that its one of the best pieces that I’ve read on the story.
There have always been mean girls. And, there have always been girls who take some clothes off to impress a guy.
But, Amanda Todd’s story isn’t just about girls today. It is infuriating to keep reading about this little bullying problem that we have with girls. Amanda Todd’s story is symptomatic of a long list of problems with our increasingly callous society, in general.
This story isn’t about girls; it is about the power of technology. It used to be when a girl sent a nude photo to her boyfriend, she really had to think it through. She had to figure out how to take it, where to have the photo printed discreetly, and, in the end, she would share just one photo and destroy the negative. What is new here is the unthinking ease in the creation of the image and the tyranny of the jpeg, the permanence of the imagery that makes its way online and stays online – seemingly forever.
This story isn’t about girls; it is about boys becoming men in a pornographic time. It is completely unsurprising that teens seek out titillating imagery, but what is unsettling and culture-changing is that what they find online is largely degrading towards women, sometimes even violent. Sadly, the images and videos that they get saturated in become “no big deal” or “funny” to teens because they mostly do not have the maturity to discern that porn is mutating their natural interest in sex and intimate relationships, altering their desire into something – well – rather creepy. Sadly, it is becoming ordinary for girls to be harassed via text messages by guys until they send a nude photo (which many do hoping to be loved in return). These boys do not know that sharing, posting, tagging these photos, after the fact, is illegal. These very boys will become generations of men who may struggle to maintain intimate relationships with real women because they do not match the expectations generated by the imagery they were immersed in while young.
This story isn’t about girls; it is about parents. Parents are more and more disconnected from their teen’s hidden world on Facebook, Twitter and the like. “How was school today?” really cannot suffice anymore. We need parents who themselves know to turn off their cell phone, and talk, in meaningful ways, to their kids. They need to ask tough questions about their children’s very character and ethics and behaviour. It is not old fashioned and strict to make sure your kids are not a jerk. (Don’t get me started on the legacy of decades of permissive parenting – the self-indulgent, the mean, the shallow…)
This story is not just about girls, it is also about ho-hum school programs and lack of school responsiveness to bullying. Using your WITS (Walk away, Ignore, Talk it Out, Seek Help) just simply does not factor in the enormous pressures and the irrational, impassioned responses that adolescents face when under the pressures of bullying. Bullying programs are frequently tokenistic or patronizing or too simplistic. Bullying programs need to face the raw truths about hate, misogyny, racism, trolling, character assassination, depression, etc… (see Krissy Darch’s editorial: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/feminista/why-isnt-anyone-talking-about-misogyny-involved-amanda-todds-life-and-death)
This story is not about girls; this story is about all of us, and how we are all inundated with a culture of meanness. Where we, more and more, celebrate and elect and envy the cruel, the mean and the superficial, it should come as no surprise that young people put “I wanna be famous” far and above “I want to be a good person.” To tell someone to die on Facebook might just make you famous – to bully might just make you cool and popular, so why not? It’s just “funny,” after all. Being mean is no big deal to students today. I read this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/26/day-confronted-troll about online trolling to my English 10 class and the vast majority told me the story was hysterical. I was shocked. But, I should not have been. These kids idolize Jersey Shore characters, and Real Housewives, and Charlie Sheen… they idolize the mean, they look to publicly adored bullies for their examples.
Alright, this story is also about girls. But, it is about how girls are shifting their attitudes (like all of us, maybe) because of all the factors I’ve just considered. Girls are more prone to hating and bullying because technology makes it easy, boys expect them to be porn stars, parents are busy not-noticing, schools are just not able (willing?) to respond well, and our whole damn society is plagued with a culture of meanness.
Given all of this (and really, I’ve barely scratched the surface), why are we surprised and shocked? Please – let’s not just create another pink shirt day in her memory, let’s make the conversation make change, and let’s make it last.