Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sex + Texting = Sexting

Newsweek had an interesting column this week about "sexting" the semi-clever name for sending naked pictures via text message. A study claims that 1 in 5 teenagers have "sexted." (The study specifies that 22% of girls and 18% of boys have admitted to "sexting.") The column talks about how many of these teenagers are being legally prosecuted for their actions. Both the senders and recipients are being charged: the senders with "production and distribution of child pornography" and the recipients with "possession."

The column focuses on the absurdity of punishing children:

"The argument for hammering every such case seems to be that sending naked pictures might have serious consequences, so let's charge these kids with felonies, which will surely have serious consequences."

I agree completely.

When I was a senior in high school, a freshman girl texted another student a naked picture of herself. The boy forwarded it to his best friend, who then sent it to most of the school. The principal became aware of the situation and ended up kicking the girl off of her sports team. The girl later transferred. The boys who had forwarded the photo weren't punished.

Parents are outraged at this trend, of course. They should be. The Internet's memory is infinite, and text messages are easy to forward. So why are thirteen year olds taking naked pictures of themselves? Teens are not stupid. They know that these phone photos will be forwarded and likely end up on the Internet. I am willing to bet many of these young people do it hoping most of the school will see it. Teens know that nudity is a type of capital. They see failing musicians pose for Playboy and then hear their music on the radio. Or they watch Tila Tequila, a woman with little talent and few clothes, get a television show. Popularity and being a known as "sexy" in high school is the equivalent of an MTV show, and one photo can be all it takes to become "someone" in high school. Everyone at my school knew about the girl whose photo was forwarded. Some boys even put the picture up in their locker, next to Pam Anderson or Adriana Lima.

This trend is going to continue because the reason kids "sext" is not going anywhere. When students value popularity and a label above anything else, they will do anything to get it. The consequences, like the permanence of the Internet, don't matter. We need to give these girls something more to strive for.


Liz said...

Who are these people? I've always wondered where exactly these teenagers are, because no one I've ever encoutered would take naked pictures of themselves, unless they were being paid and knew exactly what was happening. The closest is swimsuits on the beach. I'm slightly suspicious of the "raunch culture" claims, because it seems so different to my real life experiences.

Amelia said...

To counter with a bit of my own personal experience, when I was in high school, we had a 15 year old girl become pregnant (along with many other 17-18 year old girls) and there were several "naked picture" scandals of girls who were freshmen/sophomores in high school. And I came from a very conservative, tightly knit community.

That's all I have to offer right now.

Sady said...

Oh, criminy. I know I SHOULDN'T be shocked that the boys who spread this picture around weren't punished, and the girl was - isn't that how things work, what with the sexism and all? - but there is still some part of me that refuses to believe people can be that backward.

But yeah, good call on recognizing the agency of the girls - "sexy" can be power, of a sort, especially at such a young age - even though that's hugely complicated and can be used against you in a way that I doubt many teenagers are long-term-minded or analytical enough to get. I mean, heck. After three beers, *I" don't get it. So, yeah.

INTPanentheist said...

Actually, as someone who took naked pictures of herself at fifteen and gave them to her boyfriend (I don't know that they were ever shown elsewhere, which is a miracle considering his other behaviours), I can say that, at least with me, it was a case of a boyfriend who said that if I loved him I would do it. I would wager that there are a fair number of teenaged girls who do this because they hear the same message from a boyfriend and are in a relationship with someone that manipulative. It's still agency, sure, but it's grounded in coercion, and other girls I have known who did similar things did it for similar reasons.

I'm not saying that there aren't teenagers who would do it for those reasons, but more that I think you might be underestimating the coercive aspect of this.

patti said...

I am the mother of two amazing teenage girls who I know would never in a million years do such a thing. The reason I know this is because they respect themselves. They are confident and strong young women. Teenage girls are under too much peer pressure and they don't have enough strong role models in their life. TV and magazines send the wrong message. I agree with you Kate when you say we need to give them something to strive for. My question to you is "How do we do this?"

Amelia said...

One small way that I try in my own life to make both the girls and women I know think of themselves as having more to offer than just there bodies is by giving compliments that are not based on looks.

"Wow, you're a great artist," or "You're so good at science, is it your favorite subject?" or "You did a really good job at the soccer game the other day."

Letting the women in your life know that you recognize their worth and do not equate their worth solely with their physical appearance is a good way to give girls "something more to strive for."

It might seem like a little thing to do, but it's easy and worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

As a former teacher, I should mention that the typical scandal involved Male A taking either clandestine or coercion-obtained or duress-obtained pictures of Female B and then distributing them as proof of having accomplished.. something. INTP's story sounds like most of the stories that circulated through the school if/when they did.