A naked menace is stalking our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, and especially our countryteens. Across the land, the purple mountains with their majesty and plains unapologetically fruiting, teenage girls are sending boys pictures of their boobs. This is a Giant Problem.
An article in yesterday's New York Times explores a particular case in Washington state involving a young woman named Margarite who sent a naked picture to her boyfriend, who sent it to this other girl, who sent it to everyone, and like a case of crabs in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, soon everyone had it. The boy and girl involved in sending the text faced legal consequences, it was a giant mess, feelings were hurt, parents got involved, emotions ran high, tears were shed, lives were ruined. Just another day at the races.
The boy involved, while he did face legal consequences, didn't face the same public humiliation that Margarite faced. This familiar refrain isn't unique to the Washington case. Reports the NYT,
While a boy caught sending a picture of himself may be regarded as a fool or even a boastful stud, girls, regardless of their bravado, are castigated as sluts.
Photos of girls tend to go viral more often, because boys and girls will circulate girls' photos in part to shame them, explained Danah Boyd, a senior social media researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
In contrast, when a boy sends a revealing photo of himself to a girl, Dr. Boyd noted, she usually does not circulate it. And, Dr. Boyd added, boys do not tend to circulate photos of other boys: "A straight-identified boy will never admit to having naked photos of a boy on his phone."
No homo, right?
Authorities seem to be at a loss for how to handle these cases after they happen. Prosecuting the originator of the photo seems counterintuitive; she took a picture of herself and couldn't possibly be taught any additional lessons from being sent to jail or legally slapped on the wrist as a result. The damage that comes from sending a sext that goes viral happens before anyone sits before a judge.
Prosecuting the forwarders of these pictures also seems harsh to many. In Margarite's case, the offenders, another girl and a boy named Isaiah, were compelled to produce anti-sexting materials.
The younger girl made a poster dense with warnings about sexting's consequences. She concluded: "I am a 13 year old teen that made a bad choice and got my life almost totaled forever. I regret what I did more than anything but I cant take it back."
Isaiah created a two-page brochure, citing studies from the Internet, accompanied by a tumble of adolescent feeling:
"Not only does it hurt the people that are involved in the pictures you send, it can hurt your family and friends around you, the way they see you, the way you see yourself. The ways they feel about you. Them crying because of your mistakes."
Dealing with the aftermath is a mess, but why about taking steps to prevent sexting in the first place?
Hand-wringing isn't going to solve this "problem;" talking to kids is. Parents need to extract their heads from their asses and explain that now that the internet's around, your mistakes might last forever. No, seriously. Forever. Not forever like 4 ev-er, like how long you say you're going to be besties with your horse camp friends, but forever like until you're old. Digital images are capable of being infinitely reproduced and infinitely sent and so a boobies picture to Aiden R. from your gym class might lead to a side eye from Aiden F. your freshman year of college, or Patricia, who is interviewing you for a job and who shouldn't be judging you but who is because she's a product of the same bullshit culture that disproportionately wrings its hands over girls sexting but utters nary a peep of the weird penis shots America's boys are beaming out in nearly equal numbers.
If teens can't be trusted to adhere to basic "don't send naked pictures of yourself" guidlines, perhaps it's time for parents to step in more forcefully. I'm not suggesting that everyone Tiger Mom it up on their teenagers, but it doesn't seem too over-the-top to ask that teens hand their phones in when they come home and use them only when they're not in the house (even though I'm sure that if I were a teenager and my mother insisted on my not using my cell phone in the house, I'd tell her that she was the WORST MOM EVER and that I COULDN'T WAIT TO BE A GROWN UP). This might lead to some tears and slammed doors in America's suburbs, but it's not really a parent's job to be their teenager's best friend. Part of being a parent is knowing what's best for your child and accepting that your adult opinion of what's best might sometimes differ from their child opinion of what's best and that your adult opinion should prevail. Margarite's father, when recalling the case, lamented that he "trusted her too much." Teenagers aren't evil, but they can be sneaky. They're not adults.
Additionally, if parents don't want to parent, wouldn't it make sense for cellular companies to offer "teen plans" that offer unlimited texting but that block the sending of photographs? Of course, intrepid teens who insist on showing each other their genitalia will find a way around this, but can it hurt to erect more roadblocks between the underage and hormone-ravaged and their illegally obtained erections?
And, while we're at it, why don't we get to the root of the problem and examine why, exactly, teenage girls only feel valuable insomuch as they're seen as "sexy?" How are we talking to our daughters? When are we complimenting them? Are we socializing them to be pretty pretty princesses or productive, thoughtful contributors to society? As long as the greatest compliment that a girl can be paid is "you're beautiful" and not "you're smart," shit like this is going to keep happening, no matter what kooky consequences we cook up for the bullies who attempt to use young women's sexuality to shame them.