The eternal paradox of the female form

Kids get made fun of for some weird shit. My crimes at school were being tall, weird and ‘posh’. I’m ashamed to say I engaged in this class warfare – my best friend and I wrote a five stanza poem about how one of our mortal rivals would never amount to more than working at Tesco, and read it out in front of our English class. The same kind of ‘your dad works for my dad’ stuff I’ve come to despise since developing a social conscience that I was clearly lacking aged 14. There was also a time I had a wasp in my hair during Maths, screamed, and legitimately didn’t go a lunch break without someone buzzing at me for a about a year. Now, I found this quite upsetting, so I can’t even imagine how cruel the kids at Amanda Todd‘s school were, with some real ‘ammo’ behind them.

Todd, if you haven’t heard, was a 15 year old girl who killed herself.  She had been relentlessly bullied for pictures of her flashing on webcam, aged just 13, which were circulated amongst her schoolmates. These were taken and uploaded to social networking sites by a grown man, after Amanda refused to go further than flashing for him. Nearly every news report I’ve read on the story seems to marginalise the issue of someone openly distributing child pornography and blackmailing a child into performing sexual acts, focussing instead on the incident itself and the bullying that followed her to her death. Certainly, it seems the issue of her exposing her  pubescent breasts was of more concern to her classmates than the malice and perversion behind the circulation in the first place.

I’m not going to pretend that teenage boys wouldn’t get made fun of if they got their dicks out on webcam to titillate what they thought was a teenage girl. Of course they would. 15 year olds would find it hilarious. But I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t be called sluts, whores, or other words to suggest they are somehow morally devoid, as Amanda was. Boys experience no where near the culture of shame that is so closely associated with women’s bodies. Boys at my school used to openly get their dicks out in lessons and put them on the desks, as some kind of bravado game to see who could do it for the longest without being noticed. I am definitely not advocating girls adopt this tactic as their next great feminist protest movement, but it does well as exemplifying differing attitudes to how each gender is supposed to regard their naked body. If we look to summer’s two royal scandals, for example; where Prince Harry’s strip billiards was ‘boys being boys’, the revelation that Kate Middleton has nipples inspired all sorts of ‘well, as the future Queen, she should really know better’ commentary – and she should be ashamed for having behaved as such in the first place.

Girls and women are constantly bombarded with images to suggest that naked = success and that our bodies are our worth. Women scarcely get a look in in media aimed at men if they keep their clothes on. Take a look at this series of covers from GQ’s ‘men (and one token woman) of the year’ series.

Does anything stand out?

Women have historically been caught in an impossible paradox, the need to simultaneously be the ‘Madonna and the Whore’. Of course you should show off your body for the purpose of gratifying men sexually, that’s what you’re there for, duh! But for God’s sake don’t show off your body for the purpose of gratifying men sexually, you tramp!

No wonder we’re confused.

Girls are pressured to prove their worth as females by engaging in provocative behaviour they may not fully understand, much less be ready for. The influence of the media industry sets the bar for sexual behaviour and suggestibility amongst young people of both genders. When this bar is as paradoxical, pressurising and shame-inspiring as it is, this is surely a dangerous concept. We are all so much more than our bodies.

-Louisa Ackermann

3 thoughts on “The eternal paradox of the female form

  1. The second half of this article raises a very good point about how no matter what a woman achieves, she is then expected to be a sexual object. We even saw that with Susan Boyle where she was made over for photoshoots where they tried to glamorise her and give her sex appeal. Was it necessary? No. No one has ever attempted to make James Corden a sex icon (thankfully), so why is it ok for him to simply be himself while SuBo couldn’t?

    The first half of this article, I personally felt, didn’t address the circumstances of Todd’s death and contained some misinformation which isn’t surprising considering the media furore at the time. Yes there should have been a big issue made of the fact that Amanda Todd’s underage naked image was circulating around the net and was easily located, but the media focused on the bullying for specific reasons.

    While Todd did expose herself on webcam, it’s never been discovered to whom and it’s not necessarily a grown man…or even a man. A 32 year old man was investigated but was innocent. The picture wasn’t immediately released when she refused to show more on cam, it was released much later when she was tracked down by a blackmailer who she refused to give in to. The blackmailer may not have been the original person on the other end of the cam.

    Her family then moved home and a year later, someone sent the image to her classmates at her new school. Again, it’s not known if this was the original person on cam, the blackmailer or someone new who saw the picture when it was released originally. Because of this, she then moved school again.

    The bullying started after she slept with a boy who was in a relationship. The boy’s girlfriend and her friends attacked Todd badly, which lead to her drinking bleach in what would be a failed suicide attempt. It was this suicide attempt that led to her being mercilessly bullied in school and online via Facebook and Twitter.

    She moved school again but her new schoolmates bullied her over the comments they had seen on the social networking sites, her being new, for her poor grades in classes and for spending time in a mental hospital. This led to a second suicide attempt. Her third suicide attempt was successful.

    Essentially her story is two stories – the story of the topless picture and the blackmail, and then a separate story of being bullied for sleeping with someone’s boyfriend and her declining mental health. There are other factors in this case too which I’m not going to mention here as they aren’t publicly known,

    So, the reason for the media ignoring the topless picture being distributed, is because it wasn’t directly relevant to her death as it seems the bullies in the last two schools weren’t aware of the picture. Obviously it played a factor and was what started her depression but it wasn’t a part of the bullying at the time of her death. Also because it wasn’t know if there were one or three (perhaps more) people involved with that image and the age or gender of them, the media didn’t really have much to go on. It’s hard to proportion blame when the perpetrator is a completely unknown quantity.

    I totally agree though that there wouldn’t have been the same repeated harassment attempts and shame involved if the picture had been of a 15 year old boy. With girls generally being more mature than boys, I doubt the picture would have made much impact at all as it would have been simply shrugged off and forgotten. There is definitely far more judgment placed on women for appearing naked (a la the Kate Middleton example) than men, which is absolutely wrong. Hayley Williams was scorned for accidentally Tweeting a topless picture of herself as it could set a bad example for teenage girls, yet it’s okay for footballers to fight, womanise and drink drive as an example to teenage boys.

    A very good article, but I thought the issues with Amanda Todd were worth clarifying.

  2. Pingback: Hot or Not? | belle jar

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