Welcome back from the holidays! But more on that later, because I’m too worked up on this topic to be able to concentrate on returning-from-holidays-niceties.
There is a recent meme floating around in the flotsam of the great wide Internet that seems to be causing much inappropriate hilarity. Here’s the basic gist: A teenage girl (her age isn’t clear) gets her brother in trouble with their parents for some beers hidden in his room. In retaliation, he rummages through her room, finds her “hook up list,” scans it, posts it to Facebook, and tags everyone mentioned in the list.
You may notice on the list (to the left) that in addition to names, Katie included what acts she’d like to engage in with each boy, and she’s tidily crossed off and dated the boys with whom she has already hooked up.
After posting this to Facebook, and tagging many, many people, Chris got quite a response. The comment thread shows quite a range of responses from Chris, Katie, Katie’s (apparent) friends, and the boys Katie listed.
Feel free to read through these if you’re include, but the thing to take note of is Katie’s level of distress (pretty high) and Chris’ utter dismissal of her distress (the last comment in the stream).
All over the Internet comment streams are being inundated with “HAHA!” and “ROFL!” and people who try and say this is a bad, bad thing are being slammed. One comment said, and I’m generally paraphrasing, “I’m a mom of a teenager who is probably about Katie’s age and I know I should be upset, but this is fucking hilarious.”
No, it’s not fucking hilarious, folks, it is, in fact, an extreme example of sexual bullying.
I suggested in one comment stream among friends that this could easily lead to Katie being sexually harassed, abused, and raped and was dismissed out of hand. But see, what if Adrian decides that he’d rather like to finger Katie? It’s not so far fetched for him to suspect that Katie would enjoy that, is it? So let’s say Adrian and Katie are at a party together in a few months, Adrian’s a bit drunk, and he pulls Katie into a backroom with him. Katie may have changed her mind – she may have decided she doesn’t want to have anything to do with any of these boys ever again – she may just not be in the mood – it doesn’t really matter why she doesn’t want to be fingered in this hypothetical event. But as far as Adrian’s concerned, Katie has already given consent, even given a public request. So what’s the problem? And as long as they’re at it, well, Katie was giving other boys blow jobs, why not him too?
This is hardly a far-fetched scenario.
Was Katie wrong to tell on her brother? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t really know her reasoning – maybe she was concerned about Chris’ alcohol consumption for true and legitimate reasons – maybe she was getting back at him for something else entirely. It doesn’t really matter. Chris took this sibling rivalry to a whole different level that is, in itself, an attach on Katie. Even if Katie is never raped, even if she were theoretically never harassed by anyone else (I say theoretically because she is already being harassed in the comment stream), Chris has violated Katie’s sexuality. He has taken control over a very private matter and, by leaving the image up on Facebook, is refusing to relinquish control over Katie’s sexuality.
This is a pretty terrible state of affairs as they stand. My heart truly and deeply goes out to Katie, though, when I realize that she has very little recourse for responding. Given her parents’ reaction to Chris’ alcohol (3 months grounding), I seriously doubt that she will engage her parents for help (which Chris points out in one of his comments). Does Katie have any other adult to go for help? I hope so. But I doubt it. By reaching out to an adult for support, she would be necessarily admitting to a level of sexual engagement that few teenagers have adults who they trust will react with dignity and understanding rather than blame and recriminations.
Most teenagers probably do know one or two adults who would be able to handle a teenager engaging in sexual activities of this sort and be able to help the teenager move through this painful time with love and trust. However, many teenagers don’t know who these people are. Adults who are fine talking about sex – even with young people – often don’t bring up the conversation on their own. Adults leave the conversation unspoken for so many reasons – they don’t want to expose the young person to ideas they didn’t have on their own (HA!), they don’t want to make the young person feel uncomfortable, they don’t know if the young person’s parents would have a problem with it, and so on and so on.
But if the adults don’t start the conversation, how are teenagers supposed to know who is willing and able to have the conversation?
Was Katie too young to be engaging in mutual masturbation and oral sex? Certainly, a list of this sort suggests that Katie had an idea of what sexual activity means that doesn’t include a deep connection. But this question – and the many similar ones that are brought up by this train of events – doesn’t really get at the nugget of what really must be addressed first, and strongly, here, which is that sexual bullying harms people. Katie needs help and support with this crisis now, and conversations about healthy sexuality later – maybe much, much later. Far too many adults get this backwards.
Oh, and by the way, the boys who were listed here and tagged here are also being bullied. So far I’ve only seen congratulatory comments about them, but I highly suspect they might be just as mortified and want the list down just as much as Katie.