Why It Matters

I came across this terrible news a while back, while reading Shakesville. I’ve linked the article in the text above (and there is a transcript at the end of the article), but the gist of it is that a young girl (Hope Witsell), who was in a relationship, decided to text/sext a photo of herself to her boyfriend. Somehow that photo got out and spread like wildfire through her school.

She wasn’t treated very nicely after this happened, and in fact, the bulling, facebooking and slut shaming was so fierce that she hung herself.

This is a terrible horrible awful piece of news, during a season that has seen some 7 suicides by bullied LGBTQ kids, such as Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi.

But as Shakesville, so adroitly points out, there was a very different media response to the news that this girl killed herself after pictures of herself got out into the world.

I’ll quote Melissa McEwan here, for she says it well, “But the way in which Witsell’s situation is being framed here is meaningfully different from the way Clementi’s case was framed by mainstream commentators, who clearly laid the responsibility at the feet of his roommate. Here, we hear instead of Witsell’s “mistake,” and how she’d been warned by her mother about “the dark side of cell phones and computers,” but “sexted” a private sexual photo to her boyfriend nonetheless. Curiously, it is never explained how the image privately sent to the boy ended up being in the hands of a female classmate, who then widely disseminated the photo, nor are either of them held accountable for the grave breach of Witsell’s trust. Welcome to the rape culture, where it’s just taken as read that people will violate you, so it’s your responsibility not to do anything to make yourself vulnerable. And if you do, that’s your “mistake.””

First hear me say this, No One Should Be Bullied To Death. That much is clear, or should be to any parent, kid, teacher, administrator….that our public schools seem populated with students who think harassment is ok and teachers who think ignoring it is better, well, that’s just shocking.

But what gets me is how the media treats these cases so differently. And ok, ok, I know the girl sent her photo to her boyfriend. Her picture was then out of her control, but it was a consensual exchange, despite their ages. The response though, from her “friends” at school is just as terrible and abusive as the treatment of Clementi, and in my opinion, just as worthy of prosecution.

She was bullied, and as much as Brown or Clementi were accused of being “fags” or outed as gay by his peers, so Hope was accused of being a “slut” by her peers. The use of those terms to police behavior is terrible. Both terms were used to damage the ego and esteem, to diminish males to something less than being a man and to diminish females as something less than a worth “good” girl.

Two things come up for me when I’m faced with news stories of kids dying at the words of bullies.

1) What the heck is going on in our culture that allows us to pathologize sex, sexuality, and relationships to such an extent that suicide is the option teens are choosing.

2) Where the hell are the adults and why they hell can’t they step up and own their own conflicts around sexuality, violence and support these kids more effectively?

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