Two years ago today, Port Coquitlam teenager Amanda Todd committed suicide, as a result of enduring online exploitation by an adult male and years of bullying and cyberbullying by her peers, which came in the wake of the adult male who exploited Todd posting photos of her exposed breasts online without her consent. Todd didn’t do what many of people her age, male and female, weren’t doing, but she just happened to be unlucky enough to trust the wrong person. And now she’s dead.
Since the world heard about Amanda Todd’s death, Nova Scotia teenager Retaeh Parsons was gang raped by four boys at the house of a friend of a friend, in November 2011, and someone video-recorded the crime and forwarded the video, via social media and possibly a cell phone as well–and the police did nothing about it when it was reported to them, though the rape, recording, and forwarding are crimes (Parsons was 15 years old at the time). Like Todd, Parsons was bullied and cyberbullied, and, like Todd, she eventually attempted suicide, and died on April 7, 2013. And it was only after Parsons’ death that the authorities decided to draft, and attempt to pass, laws against what was done to Parsons.
Then, in August 2012, there are reports about a female high-school student in Steubenville, Ohio, being taken from house to house and gang raped in each house by players on her high school’s football team, while she was incapacitated by alcohol. These incidents, too, were caught on video cameras and forwarded via cell phones and social media. When the perpetrators were finally caught and arraigned, the media acted as if they were the victims, lamenting about how their futures were ruined. (Apparently the future of the real victim didn’t matter.) The young men who raped the young woman, and some others, were sentenced and imprisoned.
Now, in 2014, we hear about nude photos of female celebrities being leaked on the Internet; apparently some gormless worms hacked into these women’s iCloud accounts, downloaded the photos, and put them on the World Wide Webiverse. These women were chastised, commentators stating they shouldn’t have even taken the photos in the first place, never mind stored them on the Cloud. 24 Hours writer Liz Braun beautifully responded with: ‘Did you know, Internet creeps, that this is the exact same logic criminals use to justify breaking into your house and stealing your belongings?’ (It’s nice to know that if I ever come home and find my basement apartment broken into and my laptop gone, it’s my fault, and not that of the asshole(s) who broke into my home and stole my computer. Thanks, Internet creeps. But, hey, at least now you know your logic can and will be used against you.) Jennifer Lawrence, one of the women whose account was hacked and whose photos were leaked online, told Vanity Fair in her most recent interview in the magazine that what happened to her and the other celebrities whose photos were stolen and leaked is a sex crime, stating, “I did not say you could look at my naked body.” And, in this morning’s–this morning’s–edition of Metro, I read about Anisa Salmi of Richmond, BC, whose petty ex-boyfriend posted nude photos of her, and made defamatory remarks about her, on U.S. gossip web site The Dirty; she had to pay $2, 000.00 to an online reputation-management company, called The Dirty Defenders, to get the photos removed. Added bonus: When she reported the incident to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Mounties told her they couldn’t do anything about it unless there were elements of criminal harassment involved, and, because Salmi willingly gave the photos to her ex, it was kind of her fault they were on the Internet.
Seriously? We’re two decades into the twenty-first century, the third millennium, and we still feel the need to act like Puritans?
Apparently, a lot of people can’t stomach the idea of women assuming, and exercising, autonomy over their bodies and sexuality, so they feel the need to punish any woman or girl who dares to experiment with sex or sexuality. And many still feel female rape victims ‘asked for it,’ somehow, either by the way they act or dress, or their sexual history, or some other rationalization(s). Many people still subscribe to the ‘madonna/whore’ dichotomy; if you’re female, you fall into either one or the other of these categories–there ain’t no in-betweens.
So much for nuance.
I know the death of someone–especially someone who never reached adulthood–is one hell of an occasion to mark, but I felt the need to reflect on where society at large is going in terms of allowing humanity to truly express itself in all ways, including the sexual arena. As for Amanda Todd, I believe her story is at the intersection of bullying and rape culture; the comments many people (including, shamefully, my own mother) made about her story are part of how rape culture survives: the attitude that ‘the woman deserved it because she is a slut.’ When I mull over Todd’s tragic story, I keep thinking it could have been my mother’s story, it could have been my story, and it can still be my nieces’ story, including that of my youngest niece, who happens to be my mother’s granddaughter (my other nieces are the daughters of my half-sisters). And so can the stories of Rehtaeh Parsons, Anisa Salmi, and the female celebrity victims of the hack-and-post incidents of recent weeks.
I hope what happened to Amanda Todd, and the other women I mentioned in this post, never happens to anyone else, regardless of whether they’re close to me or complete strangers to me. But, in order for my wish to come true, the society I live in, and others, have to let the legacy of the Puritans go. For good.