For the Girls

A few days ago was the first ever international day of the girl, and a couple pieces of news from both places I call home are converging to make it especially poignant.

In Vancouver, 15-year-old Amanda Todd killed herself because she could no longer handle the bullying and taunting after she flashed a webcam, and a photo of her naked breasts was used to shame and ridicule her for years afterward.

It’s being painted mostly as another issue of bullying – but it goes so much further than that.

The Feminista column on the Vancouver Observer site goes exactly there with the piece “Why isn’t anyone talking about the misogyny involved in Amanda Todd’s life and death?

There was no discussion of the pressure girls like Amanda experience to measure their worth through their sexual desirability. From her story it sounds like this man had the hallmarks of a predator—he tried to use her photos to blackmail her and yet she’s the one who got blamed….In a context in which women are told in manifold ways that everything about them is wrong— their emotions, their bodies, their fat, their lack of fat, their developing, their aging—when someone comes along and tells you that you are perfect and beautiful, that’s some powerful stuff.

This man’s intention, when he threatened Todd with exposure of the coercive images, was to make Todd feel like a whore.

If we diffuse the judgment, and look at the behaviour of the attacker, we can weaken the attack. We need less focus on “the mistake” and more on the sexism in our society that this man wielded—successfully—to rid the planet of another young woman.”

Which brings me to this side of the pond, and the fact that Page 3 of The Sun still exists.

As long as we are glorifying the dissection of women down to body parts, and marking their “newsworthiness” by their willingness to show their breasts, we are going to have girls like Amanda who believe showing off their bodies is the only way to gain attention and acceptance. And boys who “have been encouraged by a wider culture to see girls’ bodies as property which they can own.

They may be an ocean apart, but the issues are distressingly related. It’s why the UN declared it the international day of the girl. So while you are forging ahead with your anti-bullying activities, perhaps you can remember to sign the No More Page 3 petition as well.

For Amanda. For all of us.

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4 thoughts on “For the Girls

  1. Sue

    Interesting you should mention this. I went to a burlesque show on Saturday night. It was a fundraiser for a non-profit that I’m working with – which supports and advocates for the rights of sex trade workers. I found it disturbingly contradictory.

    I know that modern burlesque performers say they are celebrating the female form in all its shapes and sizes, but to me the basic fact remains that it is an art form that glorifies the objectification of the female body. It objectifies ALL female bodies, which is an improvement on Hollywood culture, but it is still about the spectator looking upon and being entertained by a woman taking her clothes off.

    I think the most feminist act I’ve seen lately is my friend Clamb who has joined/started a “Boylesque” group – men doing burlesque. If we’re going to have fun taking our clothes off, it should be both genders!

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    I do think there’s a place for Burlesque, promoting a body-positive form of entertainment in an environment full of consenting and informed adults. Extreme prudishness isn’t the way to go either. It seems appropriate for something promoting the rights of sex-trade workers: safe and sex-positive entertainment.

    But I don’t think the place for objectification is the pages of a family paper, or as examples set for impressionable kids who are still figuring out their sense of self and how they relate to others – nevermind the body awkwardness going along with that.

    Oh, and I am all for fancy dancing by anyone of any gender!

  2. Mel

    I totally agree, but believe that just as (if not more) important as the anti-bullying campaign is the promotion of self-esteem among young people; there will always be bad, mean & nasty people, so why not teach kids that what others say to & about you doesn’t need to affect your self-worth? While eliminating bullying sounds like a great idea, isn’t it a bit of a bandaid solution to an underlying mental-health wound?

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    I am so with you there. I’ve always thought the anti-bullying movement is a bit misguided in its focus on “tell the bullies to stop.” If that worked, wouldn’t they have stopped by now? I think it should focus far more on the thing people being bulled *can* control – their own reactions to and feelings about the incident. Bullies will generally continue to be assholes. And focusing anti-bullying on them gives them even more attention. But those being bullied can rise above with the support of their peers and allies, if they are given the tools and support to do so.

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