Two Years On: Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, Steubenville, Nude Photos, Cyberbullying (Some Off-the-Cuff Reflections)

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.

‘Golden Age’=Natsukashii

What an age we live in.

That thought coursed through my brain as I was walking in Coal Harbour last week, digital camera in hand, snapping pictures. Then, as now, I’m glad I live in age when I have access to such a technological marvel, as well as other products of scientific and technological advancement, such as my computer, smartphone, mp3 player, printer, and digital alarm clock (though I’m thinking right now said alarm clock is a tad outdated). Other results of scientific advancement I’m glad I have access to fall under the medical category–I’m referring to MRIs, CAT scans, various vaccines, and the overall knowledge today’s medical professionals possess and can use to treat and help take care of people.

Also, in this day and age, there are a few social advancements: women and people of colour can vote and work for (somewhat) decent pay, and aren’t seen as the property of white men; people in many parts of the world are more supportive of LGBTQ folk and their human rights than they were even twenty years ago; the majority of people are demanding that those in power be held accountable for the decisions they make…I could probably go on here, but, for lack of anything else coming to mind right now, I’ll stop there.  I know we have a long way to go in all of these areas, but we’ve advanced since the beginning of civil society.

Which begs the question of why so many people yearn for a return to, or of, the past–or, to use their phraseology, ‘the good old days.’

So many periods in history–the Renaissance, the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Victorian era, the 1950s–are often dubbed, or considered, ‘golden ages.’ Perhaps they were indeed golden ages in the times they occurred, and/or the people who lived in those times thought they were. But the world has changed since those eras, and societies with it. At this juncture in human history, I seriously doubt anyone wants to go back to a time when inventions such as washers and dryers for laundry, dishwashers (the machines), cars, airplanes, etc., didn’t exist, and weren’t even ideas, or when women and people of colour were subjected to various restrictions, and anyone who was not heterosexual had to hide it, for fear of harsh and brutal treatment. Yet I’ve heard and read about people who say the times we now live in are so bad, and whatever period of the past they favour and praise was better.

But was it really?

Any talk of any period of the past as ‘the golden age,’ or the ‘good old days,’ or as somehow better than the current time period, is, I postulate, an effect of what the Japanese call natsukashii, a term meaning a nostalgic yearning for a time that never really existed. I believe people who talk about any period of the past as being better than now ignore the worst parts of whichever periods they favour, and buy into whatever fairy tales they’ve bought into regarding those periods, based only on the parts they like. And I believe people who harbour this tendency do so because they are afraid of change.

The thing is, change is constant.

We’ve come a long way since the Stone Age, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Victorian era, the 1950s, and so on. I’m not denying some good can be found in those eras–but, in my humble opinion, there were more burdens, inconveniences, and downright horrors in those eras than anything good, and the people who lived in those eras did the best they could with the resources they had, and could get their hands on. We’ve improved on these eras in terms of resources, tools, and ideas. I, for one, am happy and grateful to live in this era, when I have access to so many resources, don’t have to worry about dying from any completely preventable ailments, and have many other advantages that were no doubt unimaginable in the past. As far as I’m concerned, I may not be living in a so-called ‘golden age,’ but the era I’m living in is, warts and all, pretty damn good.

Free Will Vs. Agency

These are questions I’ve resumed wrestling with since returning from New York, but probably should have dealt with during or immediately after Imagine No Religion 4:  Is our ability to make decisions called free will or agency?  Is agency the result, product, or byproduct of free will, or vice versa?  Are these terms interchangeable?

The question entered my mind during the INR 4 panel discussion on free will, which took place the evening of May 16 of this year. The panel didn’t address the questions I’ve asked in the previous paragraph–and I realize it wasn’t meant to, but I figured if I didn’t put the questions out there, nobody would.

So here we are.

At this juncture, I don’t know if my questions on this topic will ever be answered, and satisfactorily–well, in my lifetime, anyhow. But I felt the need to ask.

Unemployed

During my time in New York, I gave some moments of serious thought to the definition of unemployment. We say anyone who doesn’t have a paying job is unemployed, but that could just mean they’re jobless. Are they really unemployed?

For instance, I don’t have a paying job right now. But while I was in New York, I was out and about, sightseeing and taking photos of everything and anything that interested me. I wasn’t exactly sitting around somewhere doing nothing. I might not have been working for pay, but I was still occupied.

OK, I know I’m quibbling over semantics at this point. But I think it’s sad that we (I’m speaking strictly about Canada and the United States here) live in a culture where any activity that makes money is considered the only worthwhile activity.