The recent tragic suicide of Amanda Todd is front-page news in Canada. Cyber-bullying and other forms of bullying are the topic of many conversations. What seems to be missing from the conversations is the desire to look at the systemic violence, attitudes and behaviour that underlie all forms of bullying.
Fazeela Jiwa, writer and former BC high school teacher writes: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the sexism and misogyny involved in Amanda Todd’s life and death? ‘Bullying’ is important, yes, but it is a vague term that glosses over the structural reasons for why it happens, like race/gender/class/ability (and I would add homophobia). If we don’t start talking about the specifics of power structures in high schools, every ‘bullying’ campaign will be a waste of time… Bullying is not childish; not a thing that happens solely to teenagers; those same learned behaviours are the ones that circulate in the workplace, in clubs, on the street, and any other adult-inhabited place.”
According to Jarrah Hodge, who writes and educates on gender representations in media, politics and pop-culture: “There was no discussion of the pressure girls like Amanda experience to measure their worth through their sexual desirability. From her story it sounds like this man had the hallmarks of a predator—he tried to use her photos to blackmail her and yet she’s the one who got blamed. This comes from the idea that it’s up to girls and women to protect their purity at the same time as all their role models in the media say that you need to ‘get a man’ to be a complete person, that you need to be sexually attractive to be liked, appreciated, and valued. She said the guy she showed off to was telling her how beautiful she was. Given our culture that can be really tempting for a girl.”
The question is- do we want to tackle the real problems of systemic violence in our society that manifest in behaviour such as bullying and harassment? Do we want to look at the messages in our culture that create enormous pressures and isolation for girls like Amanda, or do we want to simplify the issue and say we need to crack down on bullies? I think that the answer is we need both. Bullies need to know that their behaviour will not be tolerated and we also need to change school culture so that systemic violence cannot find a breeding ground where dozens of youth join in and become the harassers.
Blogger Krissy Darch says: “This man’s intention, when he threatened Todd with exposure of the coercive images, was to make Todd feel like a whore. The weapon that this man was able to rely on was the judgment of our society. Under our unequal social and economic conditions, the stakes are higher when a woman falls out of favour with her community. For a girl or woman, falling out of favour with her community can mean a sentence to a nightmarish cycle of distress.”
With education for our youth about systemic violence and the consequences, and what social justice means, we can change school cultures and find a way to support our youth rather than marginalize and isolate them. That would be real social change and a positive outcome from the tragic death of Amanda Todd.
Lynda Laushway – Executive Director of SWOVA