Look mom, I’m on the CBC! Told you tweeting would finally pay off. Well not in the literal sense, but you know what I mean.
If you thought Amanda Todd’s suicide was the biggest tragedy you’d be reading about this week, think again. News of her death has sparked a flood of online hate and created fertile ground for a new crop of bullies to bloom in the wake of her death, cross-breeding with those that drove her to the brink in life. The result? A new strain of oppression that could not predate the digital age - a cyber-org bully, who does not die with its victim, who furthers the protagonist’s suffering well into the epilogue. Amanda Todd’s story is not one that could have been told thirty years ago. In the 1980s, the Todd family, mourning the loss of their daughter, would not have had to plea with the public to stop bullying their child in death. They would have given to Amanda her burial rites. They would have, perhaps, made a statement about the value of her life lost. They would have taken some small solace in her torment’s end. Instead, the CBC now reports that:
“Images and comments making light of Todd’s death and suggesting she deserved to be bullied are flooding a Facebook memorial page dedicated to the teen — so many that Facebook can’t remove them fast enough.”
Shock and disbelief cannot begin to describe my reaction when searching for Amanda’s name on twitter, and uncovering the thousands of hateful messages people have left in memorial to her. For every message of sympathy and compassion for her and her family, there was one that insulted her legacy and blamed her for her suicide. She is being labeled a “whore”, a “slut”, deserving less than life, and devalued in death. Many are saying that because “she had no respect for herself”, she is undeserving of the world’s compassion. Others are even proclaiming that the only reason she is getting attention is “because she was attractive”. This was a twelve-year-old girl who was first pressured into exposing herself to a stranger in a chat room, and then became the focus of his obsession. He circulated pictures of her body to her friends and teachers. He tormented her. He stalked her. Now pictures that were used by her stalker to abuse and extort her have been shared and retweeted by hundreds on social media. Pages entitled “Amanda Todd was a Slut” have sprung up on Facebook (I’ve reported them to Facebook and so should you). As one bloggerpoints out, even the framing of the news stories seem to be focused on her “mistakes” rather than the pressure she was under.
Can we pause for a minute and consider this nauseating slut-shaming clusterfuck? First, she was TWELVE when she was pressured into this cyber-sexual experience. TWELVE. Remember what you did when you were twelve? I can guarantee that if you think about the stupid stuff you were up to around that age, you’d regret approximately 100% of it. That shoulder pad flower print onesie for your class picture? Bad decision. Eating that whole bag of doritos and puking it out on your crush’s shoes? Bad decision. Putting a maxi pad in your bathing suit thinking that no one would notice once you were in the pool? Bad decision. If our lives were a book and twelve was a chapter, it would be entitled Bad Decisions.
More importantly, if we forgive middle-aged members of Congress with fully developed pre-frontal cortices for their indiscretions in the sexual realm (and we turn them into bestselling authors…ahem, Arnold Shwartzo-whatever-I will-not-ever-spell-it-right-ever), then why can’t we do the same for Amanda? Why the heck would we hold a twelve year old girl to a higher standard than the people we elect to run our communities?
The answer is actually super simple: because we live in a world where any member of the female species is, by default, a slut. Amanda’s story is tragic. Unfortunately, it is one told by thousands of girls growing up in a culture authored by misogyny in which the female is simultaneously valued and punished for having (and, god forbid!, expressing) a sexuality. As many have pointed out before, the best and worst thing a woman can be is a slut, and that’s one depressing catch-22 to have to navigate. Amanda Todd’s horrific tale and the sickening backlash that followed her death reveal the harm that is woven into the fabric of our cultural tapestry. The severity of this harm is directly proportional to the extent that women (or young girls) go against the grain (or, paradoxically, follow it). The extent to which our society takes part in remorseless slut-bashing could not be more evident than in the case of a dead teen who was a victim of stalking, blackmail and defamation, and who is held responsible for it even in death. Why aren’t we talking about the people who circulated and distributed her pictures (who, may I remind you were guilty of nothing less than distributing child pornography) or the other teens who physically and psychologically brutalized her to the point of committing suicide? Where’s their cultural hall of shame?
Suicide attempts in young girls have reached a terrifying all time high. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the highest increase was for girls of Amanda’s age (between 10-14), whose rate of suicide increased by 76%. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reports that, while the rates have decreased for boys, the reverse trend is observable for girls. Health experts are perplexed, but some research is starting to uncover just how particularly challenging being a young girl can be. A report issued by the London School of Economics and Political Science showed that girls now fear sexting from their peers more than “stranger danger”. That’s right. Girls are more afraid of the boys in their classroom than of the weirdos in the street. The lead researcher Jessica Ringrose explains this worrying finding:
“girls are being pressured […] to send ‘special photos’ and perform sexual services for boys from an early age. In some cases they are as young as eleven. Even while we were interviewing them they were being bombarded with these messages […] some of them found ingenious ways to fend off the demands but still the pressures are immense and the younger girls in particular wanted help.”
The researchers also observed that there were ‘significant numbers’ of explicit pictures of young girls in circulation; one boy alone had a whopping 30 in his possession. Researchers note: “some of the boys have a disturbing approach to this. They have been encouraged by a wider culture to see girls’ bodies as property which they can own.”
And just in case you thought there was some small hope for mankind, the research goes on to say: “even if boys don’t have this view it’s difficult for them to directly challenge this for fear of being called ‘gay.’
Hold the phone. What in the world taught boys to think like this? Women are like equal and stuff now, aren’t they? Hillz is secretary of state, ladies now have their own line of bic pens, and the prime minister of Australia is, like, totally boss. I mean it’s not like respected public figures have used the same line of rhetoric to speak about women than the one being used by cowardly cyber bullies to comment on Amanda’s death, right? Oh wait, there this and this. Oh maybe this. Dammit, this too.
Until we stop blaming victims and holding them responsible for the crimes that are committed against them, tragedies like Amanda’s will only recur. It’s time we begin to recognize and condemn the cultural tolerance for the ways in which women and girls are systematically bullied in our society. What begins as “show us your boobs” yelled at the frazzled, freckled-faced girl on the playground sadly evolves into “show us your boobs” later when she walks by that construction project, or when she asks for a raise at work… and tragically, even she’s pushed beyond the brink, leaving a digital corpse left to suffer the abuse.
Unfortunately, evolution’s most poignant tales are always told by those who seek to destroy rather than build. Let’s hope that Amanda’s story will be different. Let it be told by the prezi she prepared entitled “Cyber Bullying” to help others avoid the perils she suffered. Let it be told by her video, in which she exclaimed that she could overcome the abuse she suffered. She did not fail in her efforts. Society failed her.
To all those blasphemous slut-shaming low-lifes who are so anti-woman they need to vilify a girl who is now dead, you do not get to write Amanda’s legacy. She does. Let her story be one of strength, not of shame. Let her story be told, not by you, but by her:
“I’m struggling to stay in this world, because everything just touches me so deeply. I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this to be an inspiration and to show that I can be strong.”
As published on Huffington Post UK: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/elizabeth-plank/in-defense-of-amanda-todd_b_1966479.html#es_share_ended
News outlets have been publishing a story indicating that Rona Ambrose has been granted a special award by UN Women Canada for her outstanding work in “leading the campaign to have the United Nations proclaim October 11th, The International Day of the Girl. In a public statement, Rona Ambrose confirms UN Women Canada’s intention to deliver her this award and says:
Each year, the UN Women Canada Award is presented to an individual who has contributed to one or more of the following goals:
- promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality;
- ending violence against women and girls;
- protecting and promoting women’s human rights;
- strengthening women’s economic capacity;
- transforming government by promoting women’s participation in decision-making;
- contributing to a greater awareness of women’s issues globally.
“Many thanks for your email,
Please be advised that we have not presented any awards nor have we made any annoucements of such. Our President, Ms Jiwani is presently in Paris advocating for girls and women. She was not aware of the Ms Ambrose’s annoucement until late yesterday. I will forward your email to our PR member.”
When I demanded some answers, I received a similar response:
Je n’ai jamais été d’accord avec vous Margaret Wente. Que ce soit lorsque vous avez comparé l’intimidation sur un lieu de travail à une activité « émotionnellement enrichissante » ou quand vous avez tenté de nous convaincre que le mouvement SlutWalk n’était qu’undivertissement pour des étudiantes ennuyées. Je ne ressens pas particulièrement le besoin de faire une critique de ces articles remplis de généralisations, de sophismes et d’arguments raccourcis. Vous excellez à offusquer. Ça, on le savait déjà.
Par contre, dans votre article portant sur la grève générale illimitée, vous avez franchement dépassé toutes mes attentes. Vous affirmez avec une arrogance singulière que « les étudiants québécois vivent sur une autre planète », que nous chialons le ventre plein et qu’au lieu d’être insatisfaits avec notre gouvernement, nous devrions êtres choqués contre tous les adultes, coupables de nous avoir dissimulé que tout parcours académique autre que la science, le droit et la finance, ne mène pas plus loin qu’une carrière dans un Starbucks.
Dans les mots de Wente, les étudiants dans les sciences sociales d’aujourd’hui « sont les baristas de demain ». Quel dommage pour ces diplômés en science politique ou sociologie, dont le plus grand accomplissement de carrière sera de servir des soya-cappucino décaf à des clients comme Margaret Wente.
De la bière et des cafés j’en ai servi. En sortant de mon baccalauréat en développement international, j’ai travaillé dans le domaine de la restauration pour rembourser ma dette et pour financer la maîtrise qui allait suivre. Est-ce que je regrette d’avoir servi de la bière et des cafés en sortant de mon bac? Pas du tout. Est-ce que j’aurais préféré dénicher un emploi dans la coopération internationale? Sûrement. Il est tragique qu’un si grand nombre de diplômés éprouve autant de difficulté à trouver une profession liée à leur champ d’études. La plupart doivent passer par le stade du stage non rémunéré, devenu presque obligatoire pour tout étudiant qui désire infiltrer le marché du travail. Plutôt exagérée comme attente, surtout lorsqu’on considère le niveau d’endettement d’étudiants récemment diplômés.
C’est justement une telle situation que le mouvement étudiant dénonce. On questionne les inégalités sociales, l’écart entre les riches et les pauvres, les politiques néolibérales, le manque de transparence, la corruption et la déresponsabilisation du gouvernement face à une crise sociale qui ne cesse de s’exacerber. Ce sont justement les cours de science politique, d’économie et d’histoire qui nous amènent à examiner de tels fléaux sociaux et qui peuvent nous diriger vers une solution. Un système d’éducation exclusivement composé d’étudiants en science et en comptabilité, ça correspond à une société qui périt par son vide de disciplines encourageant l’esprit critique et la pensée autonome. Suggérer qu’on serait mieux dans un monde démuni de matières vouées à ce type d’analyse suppose que les leaders de demain n’auraient besoin de rien d’autre qu’un petit bac en finance. Alors si j’ai bien compris, mener un pays c’est comme « runner » une business? Compte tenu de la manière dont le gouvernement Charest prend certaines de ses décisions (autour d’un spaghetti sauce bolognaise et d’un membre de la mafia), on est pas mal parti pour ça
Et quelle serait votre solution au juste, Wente? Une grève générale illimitée contre les méchants profs d’éducation et choix de carrière qui ont eu le culot de nous laisser croire que c’est l’intérêt, pas le salaire qui devrait guider nos choix? Une manifestation contre toutes les mamans et les éducatrices de maternelle qui ont osé nous transmettre la confiance de poursuivre nos propres passions? En nous suggérant qu’il serait plus sage d’être mécontents contre eux plutôt qu’être insatisfaits avec notre gouvernement, vous transmettez un message franchement condescendant à une génération qui en a déjà marre de se faire infantiliser.
Par ailleurs, n’est-il pas étrange que vous ayez omis le fait que vous êtes détentrice non seulement d’un bac, mais d’une maîtrise en littérature anglaise? Gageons que ces études « frivoles » ont un petit quelque chose à voir avec votre salaire à six chiffres.
Alors si vous croyez toujours que les étudiants vont avoir un choc en apprenant cette dure « vérité » que vous vous donnez le plaisir de nous délivrer, moi aussi j’ai une petite révélation à vous faire. Les baristas suréduqués savent lire. Et puisque selon vous, ce seront eux qui vous serviront votre prochain cappuccino grande (le prix auquel vous comparez la hausse justement), j’y penserais deux fois avant de le boire. Considérant l’amplitude de votre insulte à leur égard, votre café risque d’être exactement comme le financement du gouvernement libéral : douteux.
Publié sur huffington post québec: http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/elizabeth-plank/margaret-wente-barista_b_1500642.html
It all began with a tweet.
I’m assuming you know I’m not referring to the chirp of a two-legged creature but rather to the most novel (d)evolution in human communication: the 140 character statement. Some say you can’t convey any substance in so little space, but it was still enough to change everything.
It started out a standard Tuesday afternoon. I left class with the expectation of getting on top of readings and finally getting to the grocery store so that my fridge would contain more than a just a questionable container of I can’t Believe It’s not Butter! Typically, I didn’t end up accomplishing any of those things. Instead, I ended up ogling at my computer screen. There comes a time in everyone’s life when even a diet solely composed of expired simulated butter products can’t detract from the comfort of a serial tab-opening frenzy.
I came across a petition started by Change.org with a few hundred signatures asking for the amateur international boxing agency (AIBA) to reconsider its recommendation to force Olympic female boxers to wear skirts in the ring. If that wasn’t enough to make my blood boil, their reasoning was. In an attempt to preserve women’s “elegance” and guarantee they be easily “distinguishable” from their male counterparts, the AIBA claimed it was necessary for them to sport micro-minis. I resisted the initial impulse to pull out my hair, lip-syncing to a tinny version of“What’s Going On” by Four Non Blonds and start shovelling crappy seashell-shaped truffles down my throat to anesthetize my anger. Rather than choosing the chaotic (yet arguably entertaining) option of self-numbing with 90s feminist anthems and a cheap chocolate flavoured haze, I decide to calmly appose my name to the petition instead. Since I had just taken up boxing recently at my local gym, I felt compelled to advocate for more signatures.
So I did what any committed and dedicated activist of the 21st century does: I tweeted it.
I shared the petition on Twitter, and that was that. I concluded my daily procrastination session with a classic Chinese cat video (which usually marks the lowest point in the life of a procrastinator) until I realized I needed to self-actualize, model myself on other grown-ups and like, buy food.
Shortly after this, Change.org contacted me asking if I wanted to jump on board with their campaign and petition. Although I pretended to be super casual about it, my high-pitched exclamations conveyed zero coolness. They instantly suggested I take on the petition under my name and asked if I could write a blog post for them. Within days, it snowballed into a life-altering experience I wouldn’t even have imagined in my wildest dreams. Considering the majority of my dreams would even leave Freud weirded out, this was massive.
Within a few days, my petition grew exponentially totaling more than 52 000 signatures from all over the world. Every major news outlet from The Telegraph to The Independent is covering the campaign. I have spoken with journalists from the CBC, the BBC, The Evening Standard and have been quoted by more than 45 news outlets or online blogs. The HuffingtonPost has recently published my blog post, which now means that as a HuffPost Blogger, I can submit posts about any topic I am passionate about. The editors can decide not to publish my posts, but hey, at least I get to be rejected by the flippin’ Huffington Post.
It’s important to mention that throughout this experience and to this day, I still own a consistently unreliable prehistoric excuse for a cell phone containing approximately four cents in credit. If that’s not proof that you don’t need a smart phone to be a smart activist, I don’t know what is.
Social media offers a world of opportunities and its impact on the way we communicate has increased the accessibility of activism – especially when it comes to young people. Networking used to be about who you knew and now it’s about what you know and what you’re able to do with it.
Social media offers you a platform that can serve as a megaphone to get your message across. Sure it won’t hurt to design some artsy fartsy business cards and buy a suit with some shoulder pads for that job fair you signed up for, but always remember that social media can be a tool that can allow you to network in your sweatpants instead.
Exceptional organizations like Change.org have successfully created a platform where activism has become genuinely accessible to anyone. Just like social media, these organizational clusters serve to amplify the voices of those who often don’t get to be heard.
Ultimately, as an activist I hope to have the ability to expand the voices of others as well. If everyone used their voice to magnify another, then everyone would be able to speak.
So just get out there already. Make some noise. Get your message across whether it be through a lengthy blog post or a tiny tweet. Take a chance, because you never know where the next 140 characters can take you.
As published on http://weunite.dk/2012/01/the-tweet-that-changed-everything/
Created by Elizabeth Plank, Catherine G and Chris Lewarne.
This woman must resign now. Have you signed?
Created by Elizabeth Plank and Chris Lewarne.