Sexting: Is It Actually That Bad?

SEXTING. Many people, when they hear this word, think immediately of racy pictures, sent to people who then turn around and exploit them. We read stories of people whose lives were ruined when their nudes were leaked. But how much of a problem is it, and how much of it is misogynistic hype designed to make women ashamed of their bodies?

When I attended the annual Amnesty Human Rights Conference a few weeks ago, the first workshop I listened to was presented by a lawyer from the Nassau County Human Rights Commission, a woman who works on cases concerning juveniles and sex crimes. She was intense, at times scary- pelting the audience (who were mostly high school students) with laws and statutes about sexting. Now, it is clear that her intent was to educate us about the dangers of sending sexually explicit messages, and to discourage us from making poor decisions. However, even though I recognized the good intent behind her lecture, it reeked of misogyny and a culture that shames women for existing as sexual beings.

I do not disagree with laws that protect young girls and boys from engaging in sexual activity, such as sexting. There is a clear necessity for consent laws that protect young teens from being pressured into sexual activity. Furthermore, it’s obvious why a 30-year old man possessing sexually explicit images of young girls is a criminal. But when a teenager is engaging in sexual activity of their own volition, with another teenager, how is that a crime?

Telling a teenage girl that she is a criminal for sharing images of her body with a romantic partner serves to slut-shame her. Contrary to many adults’ beliefs, it is possible for a teenager to engage in sexual activity simply because they want to – they can be capable of understanding the risks, consenting, and enjoying it. Sending “sexts”, as they are frequently called, is a way to connect intimately with your partner and demonstrate interest. And while many adults will argue that teenagers are too young to be sexually active, that’s simply untrue.

Girls (not boys) are taught from a young age that their bodies are pure, until they become sexually active- then, they become “damaged goods.” As Jessica Valenti points out in her book “The Purity Myth”, a female’s worth is predicated on whether or not she is a virgin.

How does this connect to the issue of underage sexting? Well, more often than not, the person being shamed for sending sexts is the girl. Why is a girl engaging in voluntary sexual activity with a partner a criminal? By instituting laws that make her one, we tell her that she is incapable of making responsible decisions, and furthermore, we treat her as a child. Teenagers are capable of being in safe, mature, and even loving relationships, and as many adults know, sexual activity (both in-person and through messaging) is a healthy part of relationships.

Of course, there is a time and a place for laws that prevent sexting. When one of the people involved is a adult and the other a minor, there is a clear violation of the law (except in Romeo-Juliet law cases). If a boy shows a picture of his girlfriend or hookup and she becomes bullied for it, that is a different story. But, in my opinion, simply sending a picture to your boyfriend or girlfriend should not constitute a crime. In an age where we constantly tell girls to be ashamed of their bodies, why should we punish the ones who are not, and who are healthy, sexual beings?

 

While We Talk About Paris, Do Not Forget About Beirut.

On Friday night, the entire world was rocked by the news that Paris had been the target of a devastating terrorist attack orchestrated by ISIS. 129 dead, countless others critically injured. People who had been out, enjoying a normal Friday night with friends were murdered in cold blood. Immediately, the world spoke out: Nation’s leaders like Barack Obama made announcements that they would stand in solidarity with France. Monuments all over the globe lit up with the colors of the French flag.

What happened in France was tragic. It is a horrible attack on the free world and the values we all hold dear. But it is not the only attack orchestrated recently by ISIS, and to pretend so is another tragedy in and of itself.

On Thursday, just a day before the attacks on Paris, Beirut (a city in Lebanon) was the victim of a double suicide attack. 43 people lost their lives. But where is there story? Where are the world leaders pledging their support to the country of Lebanon? Where are the world monuments lit up with the colors of the Lebanese flag? (Which is red, white and green if you were wondering). They’re nowhere to be found. The attack in Beirut was swept under the rug by most popular news outlets. Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, put it perfectly: “Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in THOSE parts of the world.”

The fact is, when horrible things happen in parts of the world we ourselves do not identify with, we brush it off. We say it is typical of that region. But, when something happens in Paris, a city so similar to American cities like New York City and Los Angeles, it shakes us to our very core. Why are we only concerned about people like us? Why does our compassion not extend to countries like Lebanon? Do we not care?

It is right to mourn the horrible attack on Paris. But, while we are mourning that loss, remember that there are other regions of the world that are suffering their own losses. Paris was not the only victim. In order to defeat ISIS, we have to acknowledge every one of their victims; otherwise, we are weak while they remain strong.

The Ashley Madison Hack & The Bloodsport of Online Humiliation

On July 15, 2015, the Ashley Madison website was hacked, stealing all of the customer data- the emails, names, home addresses, credit  card numbers and sexual fantasies of the users of the site. They threatened to release this information to the public, and in August, they made good on that threat. Suddenly, everyone knew who had been cheating. Instead of being a quiet, behind-doors, affair, it was available for the entire world to see.

Let’s back up a little bit. Ashley Madison is a “Canada-based online dating service and social networking service marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship. Its slogan is ‘Life is short. Have an affair.'” Millions of people, men and women, used the website to commit infidelity. It seemed perfect- a place where everyone wanted to cheat? An easy way to hide it? That came crashing down when hackers got a hold of all the customer’s private information.

The public’s fascination with seeing who has been cheating and who hasn’t speaks to a larger problem that Monica Lewinsky identified in this eloquent TedTalk: Online humiliation has become a bloodsport. It’s this morbid fascination that we have- we know that we shouldn’t be taking pleasure in someone else’s shame, but we can’t stop ourselves from looking.

It truly isn’t any of our business who was on the Ashley Madison site, unless they were someone that we were romantically involved with. Infidelity is a very personal matter, meant to be handled between the people affected. Using other people’s infidelity to gain “clicks”, or likes on an article, isn’t fair to them. It’s further humiliating someone who is already embarrassed. It can lead to disastrous consequences- like two men taking their own lives.

Now, I am not advocating for infidelity to be excused. It’s beyond hurtful to the person that was cheated on, and each partnership has to navigate the aftermath in the way they feel is most beneficial to them. But it’s not up to us to comment on and discuss these cases of infidelity. We don’t know these people, or their relationship. We can’t know how they are feeling, and to try to garner “clicks” or “likes” at their expense shows a level of insensitivity that frankly we should be embarrassed to possess.

When you’re on the other side of the computer screen, it’s hard to remember that that person that is the headline in a newspaper article or in a compromising video is a person. They have families, friends, goals, dreams. But they are more than their mistake. It’s time to stop using other’s public humiliation for our personal amusement.

Kim Davis

A county clerk from Rowan County, NC has been making headlines the past few days for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She has repeatedly cited her religion as her reason for doing so, saying it would be “authorizing something that goes against her Christian values and convictions.” Despite being ordered by a judge to issue the licenses, she refused, and is now being held in jail on charges of contempt.

No matter what you believe, what Kim Davis was doing was illegal. Since June 26, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal in all states, no one can refuse to marry/issue a license to a gay couple without committing a crime. That’s what the supporters of Kim Davis are failing to recognize- she may hold those conservative, bigoted beliefs, but while serving the public she cannot allow those beliefs to cloud her work.

Luckily, once Kim Davis was in jail, gay and lesbian couples were able to get their marriage licenses from the clerk’s office. The joy they felt was palpable to the crowd gathered- one man buried his face in his fianceé’s shoulder, brought to tears, and one woman said “now we can breathe again.”

Unfortunately, we still live in a country where people like Kim Davis are allowed to hold positions of power. We still live in a country where being gay or lesbian (or any sexuality other than straight) leads to horrible discrimination and hatred. While this was a good step forward- the offending party was jailed and marriage licenses were issued- we still have large numbers of people advocating for the release of Kim Davis. We have people who truly believe that gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t be allowed to be married, even after the Supreme Court decision. That is a very sad state of affairs.

The Heartbreaking Refugee Crisis

Today, when I saw the photograph of the body of the young Syrian boy washed up on a beach, I cried. I cried openly.

I am not someone living in a country plagued by war, or tyrannical regimes. I am safe in my home in America, and I am fortunate. But my heart bleeds for those that are not safe, for the people who are so desperate to escape that they will risk their lives to find a better life. My heart breaks for them, because they are only looking for the things every human should be guaranteed: safety, compassion, liberty.

But more than my sadness, I am filled with anger. I’m angry at the Hungarian government that would not allow a train full of refugees to enter the country. I’m angry at the policemen who forcibly separated a man from his wife and baby, who terrified him so much that he laid down on a train track to avoid being taken to a detention center. I’m angry that David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, has publicly stated that the UK should not take any more refugees.

Maybe it is my youth that makes me feel this way. I do not think in such cynical ways, to see everything as either hurting or helping the economy. I read these news articles and watch these videos, and I see people. I see people yearning to be free from fear, so willing to die for this desire. I’m terrified when I see these small boats, overflowing with people, crossing dangerous waters. I don’t see them as more people to strain an economy or compete with jobs- they are people, desperate for some hope or opportunity. I watched a video of a father recounting how he watched his wife and children drown, how he held them in his arms. These are people that are having their lives destroyed by this crisis.

Experts put the death toll at over 2,500. These are 2,500 brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends. These are 2,500 people that will never have a better life. These are people that could have been saved, if European governments would put aside their petty arguments and work together for a solution. I am young, and I am naieve, but I believe that we should be welcoming these refugees with open arms. They are no less worthy of a chance at a safe life than you or I. And that’s what a lot of people forget: these people are people. They are not figures, they are not death tolls. They are citizens, not of a country, but they are citizens of the world. Their lives are at risk if we refuse to help. If we can’t open our hearts to these people, I am worried about the future of humanity. At what point will we help? At what point does it get bad enough?

Students Stage Walkout Over a Transgender Woman Using The Bathroom

I’m shocked. I’m absolutely disgusted. To all the students who walked out of Hillsboro High School, you are despicable human beings.

When Lila Perry, the MtF transgender teenager at the center of the issue, dared to use the girl’s locker room to change at school, it caused an uproar. Female students said that this made them uncomfortable because Perry is pre-transition and still has male genitalia. In a horrific show of ignorance, a student told Fox News that “Putting on a dress and putting on a wig is not transgender to me.” Parents are saying that their girls shouldn’t be forced to feel uncomfortable.

The fact that the students feel uncomfortable does not matter in this situation- they are forcing another student, who identifies as a FEMALE, to feel uncomfortable. By making her use a gender-neutral bathroom, they are telling her that she isn’t *really* female, a disgusting display of transphobia. These students took this student’s gender identity and used it dehumanize her, degrade her, isolate her, and make her feel worthless and unwanted. You know what this feels like? The “separate but equal” era of Jim Crowe laws for blacks and whites. We are repeating history, but this time we are telling transgender people that they are “less than” cis people.

This is no isolated incident. People constantly throw hate at transgender individuals, as though they somehow get a free pass to humiliate them, simply because they are transgender. Today, people somehow think that transgender people should not get to live peaceful lives simply because they don’t fit into society’s narrow mold. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program states that more than 50% of transgender teens will attempt to commit suicide. Planet Transgender, a newspaper reporting about trans news, released the staggering statistic that a transgender individual is murdered every 29 hours. Can you imagine what it might feel like to not fit in your own body? To be constantly tormented by the fact that your identity does not match what you see in the mirror? We can’t understand, yet we as society torment the people who do have to live with those feelings, instead of compassionately supporting them.

It is not enough to have individuals like Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox in the spotlight. They are brave individuals, and sharing their stories has helped to bring awareness to people who are transgender, but it is not enough. We have to work to eliminate transphobia in ourselves, our friends and our families, and in society as a whole. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves, instead of perpetuating our bigoted, misguided beliefs.

To the students of Hillsboro High: I am thoroughly disgusted with you. Your misguided beliefs about transgender individuals only serve to perpetuate a culture of transphobia, that contributes to the violence leveled against those who identify as transgender. I am saddened by your lack of humanity and compassion.

What You Need To Know About the Planned Parenthood Controversy

Planned Parenthood is a reproductive health care provider that is “dedicated to offering men, women, and teens high-quality, affordable medical care,” according to its website. The organization also “believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility … regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence.” The organization provides many vital services, like contraception, breast exams, cancer treatments, and treatments for STIs/STDs. They also provide abortions.

Pro-life supporters, particularly Republican politicians and representatives, have historically vehemently opposed the organization for this reason. Recently, however, some proposed a bill to eliminate federal funding for the organization — a bill that just barely failed to get the 60 votes needed to bring the bill up for debate (the vote was 53-46) earlier this month.

The bill was spurred by videos leaked in order to discredit Planned Parenthood, including one that claimed the organization profits from fetal tissue and organs taken from abortions without donors’ consent. Selling fetal tissue and organs is certainly an action worth opposing. However, Planned Parenthood doesn’t do this. If and only if women consent, Planned Parenthood donates stem cells from aborted fetuses for research.

“Patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different,” the vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.”

In fact, the Hyde Amendment — a law passed in 1977 — made using federal funding to pay for abortions illegal. Planned Parenthood, therefore, does not use the federal funding they receive for abortion services but for the free healthcare services they provide. In fact, 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services are unrelated to abortion. 80% of their services are devoted to preventing unwanted pregnancies — a goal pro-lifers should seemingly support, since fewer unwanted pregnancies means fewer abortions. Denying Planned Parenthood these funds, therefore, would serve a major blow to the organization’s ability to provide these services — services on which countless women (many of whom are low-income and unable to obtain these services elsewhere) depend.

The fact that the bill failed, therefore, is encouraging. But the hard truth is that Republican Senators and Representatives have threatened a government shutdown in September unless another bill, with the same purpose, passes. Remember what happened the last time the government shut down in December 2013, due to the federal budget? It wasn’t good. Travel abroad wasn’t possible, because TSA personnel are considered non-essential during a shutdown. Employees for Social Security and Medicaid are not considered essential either. Public institutions, like national parks and museums, closed their doors.

We cannot essentially let a Republicans throw a temper tantrum over not being allowed to legislate women’s reproductive rights. As President Barack Obama said, “We shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women.”