– Leisha Senko, staff
This week, Holy Trinity High School in Simcoe, Ontario was in the news because its students were caught sending nude photos via text messages to one another – a practice commonly known as ‘sexting’. The students involved, most of them eighteen years old and under, were reprimanded when sexually explicit files shared amongst classmates surfaced widely. They were subsequently investigated by the Regional Police who issued heavy handed threats surrounding possible ‘child pornography’ implications for those involved.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. Instances of virtual exhibitionism have been littering the news for years, with mostly girls being dragged into the public sphere as examples of short-sighted deviants to be metaphorically flogged. In situations like this, it’s hard not to cringe but not for reasons one would automatically assume. It seems that the way the situation is dealt with tells a much more troubling story than the actual crime itself.
The puritanical society we live in shows a terrible track record of rushing to blow an embarrassing problem out of hand and blame those who have been betrayed themselves for making choices, albeit unwise ones, with their own bodies. It is noted by commentators like Dan Savage that while young women are often charged or at least threatened with being charged as child pornography distributors (for distributing pictures of themselves), boys are not treated this way; that is because we see boys as the owners of their selves. In the case of females, on the other hand, their exhibitionism is viewed as a betrayal of someone else, maybe their family or closer inner circle. They therefore they do not possess that which they gave freely. It’s easy to defend these teenagers as being too young, impressionable and stupid and once again, you’d most likely be right. However, this stands in stark contrast to the fact that these same teenagers are deemed old enough to be charged with distributing pornographic materials.
The second problematic point in this issue is that those who betray trust and forward these images are very often an afterthought when it comes to outrage and persecution. “Kids will be kids”, the philosophy seems to go, and the proliferation of these images aren’t looked at in a negative light. These girls, who have had their trust broken as compromising images of them are leaked to the public, are told that they should have known better. In no other situation does this argument hold water.
We understand that teenagers, those who are under eighteen even, are sexually active. In fact, the average age when teenagers lose their virginities in North America is 17, meaning that a good portion of people fall below this line and it’s been this way for a very long time. It seems it’s only when this fact is thrust in the spotlight that we seem to be truly outraged by it and actively blame those who are participating in what is, by all accounts, a very normalized behaviour.
Lastly, and possibly most insidiously, we make claims about the quality of these girls based on this one choice. The fact that people truly believe that nude photos on the internet will ruin your life forever is an indicator of exactly how anti-progressive a good population of the country is. Although it’s certainly not an ideal situation, it’s not something that cannot be overcome. Look around the room right now, with the advent of pornography sites and uploading hubs for stills, there’s a real chance that someone you’re looking at could have some personal sexual content floating around in cyberspace; but unless that individual is going into a very particular line of work, it will probably not factor into how well they can do their jobs or live their lives. It’s simply unfair to think this way.
These girls shouldn’t be stereotyped as self-hating and mutilating because of their sexuality. It’s disturbing that we somehow solely equate chastity and total abstinence to being a full, respectable human being. Certainly, having these images surface speaks to poor judgement, but pretending that these acts are made out of desperation is a fairytale we spin to paint female sexuality as completely disgusting and portray it as out of the ordinary. People who say that these girls need to gain a little more self respect must realize that teenage years are messy and tumultuous and judging a person negatively on a single poor choice that others perpetuated is the real injustice here. We are peering into the lives of these individuals, bursting through the veil of privacy, and somehow we feel fit to judge. It’s not about defending sexting, it’s about defending the human being caught up in it and really looking at ourselves in the process.