Teen girl commits suicide to escape bullying. This is the headline; over and over and over again. Sometimes it involves a rape. Sometimes it involves nudity on the internet. Sometimes it involves nothing but a story. Always though, it involves is a girl pushed so far beyond her emotional limits that she breaks.
We, of course, look to the bullies. Who harassed the girl? Who showed the video? Who spread the words? Who shared the pictures and made it all go viral? Where were the authorities? The school officials? The parents? Who is responsible?
And every single time we miss the point.
We are looking at the surface, concerned only about the symptoms, instead of looking at the underlying cause. We are living in a world that believes it has a say over the bodies of women, of girls.
A young girl gets on a webcam. Her sexuality is barely blooming. Her understanding of sex takes place in words not yet through senses. Maybe she’s kissed a boy, maybe she hasn’t. But she knows lust and experimentation and joy. She gets excited about things, she gets carried away, she is not yet sure of herself. And suddenly, there is a boy or a man or a fiction of either on the internet. He thinks she’s special, you’re so pretty he says, and a relationship forms. She is ecstatic. One day, she feels daring, and pulls up her shirt exposing her breasts. Maybe she feels proud. Maybe she feels quirky. Maybe she thought it through. Maybe she didn’t. And here’s where it all gets so tricky. Or not, really.
Her breasts are her breasts. Tits. Boobs. Juggs. They are hers and hers alone. To do whatever she wants with. Should I repeat that? Her breasts are hers, the very moment that she had them, to do whatever she wants to do with them. And if she felt that way, if society felt that way, the story would end there. No matter what happened after. If she regretted it, it would be a mistake, one of many in a lifetime, which she will inevitably make; but, the mistake would be hers and hers alone. But that’s not how the story goes for these teen suicide victims. And that’s what they are, victims (and we, the perpetrators). Breasts become a tool to chastise, to control, to mock, to humiliate. And for what? For being human? For having desires and needs? For seeking attention and comfort and excitement? What are we teaching children that make these things so wrong? And why does it feel like so few people see the slippery slope that is our social-sexual attempts to control.
But you say, I’m not shaming her. We’re not shaming her. I would never, could never…
But whose children do you think are saying these things? I know, I know, it’s always someone else’s kid, someone else’s problem. Only, it’s not. We are a society, a whole, indivisible by the very bounds of geography and similarity. We are in this together, whether we want to be or not.
Whore. Slut. Promiscuous. Easy. No standards. See how slippery the slope is? One minute it’s whore and the next it’s just called “standards” and you’re still missing the point which is that you’re judging a thing you have no right to judge. Her body is not public. Her sexuality is not public.
I would never call a girl a whore, you say, but what about when you so proudly announce that you have standards; are you not aware of the insinuation that you are better than someone else, better than someone who doesn’t have standards? And then you have to ask yourself, doesn’t everyone have some kind of standards? And so what you’re really saying is that your standards are better than theirs, that you are better than her. And suddenly you’re sliding down the slippery slope that is judging the sexuality of women and I wonder if your daughter hears every little thing you say. Insidious. It grips her, holds her, and becomes a part of who she is and how she sees the world (and the same holds true for your son). And before you adopt that shitty stance that is, well better their kid than mine, ask yourself what if it’s your kid who is perceived as lacking these undefinable standards that are being used to control your child. Can you see, can you understand the very possibility that it is you, as a part of a society that continues to allow the judgment of female sexuality like it is a public commodity, who permits the bullying of your child, their child, any child, all children? Simply, because one day you weren’t so careful with your words and you let your bullshit judgment spill out because, because, because why exactly?
Why is society so afraid of women? Why does it push us towards less pleasure, less joy, less freedom?
But, but, you say, I would never call a girl a whore. You can blame the words all you want but it will still mean that you’re stopping short of discovering the source of the fire. The words, while violent and harmful, are not the source of the epidemic. The problem lies in why the words are used. They are used to stifle female pleasure, to reappropriate feminine control; they say that the body is public and available for judgment, they say that our bodies are not our own.
The truth is mind-numbingly simple: If our bodies weren’t shameful, if sexuality was allowed to be ours and ours alone, the bullying would end. You cannot mock without shame. You cannot shame without judgment. You cannot control, that which you cannot make feel less than.