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.