By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin
“Hello! I’ve decided to tell you about my never ending story.” These were the words written on the first two flashcards that 15-year old Amanda Todd shows viewers in the silent video she created about two months before she recently committed suicide to escape social torture.
Anti-bullying posters hang in every public school across the United States, yet kids continue to harass and hurt each other without intervention. Every school day, 150,000 students stay home out of fear of being picked on. Bullying has become epidemic, but still is only a symptom of the broader culture in which it exists. Despite even the most earnest efforts, youth problems and school problems cannot be solved until social problems and cultural problems are.
Amanda Todd is dead not only because she was born into this culture of bullying, but because she was born into it with a female body. Her flashcards continued: “In 7th grade I would go with friends on webcam meet and talk to new people. Then got called stunning, beautiful, perfect, etc. Then wanted me to flash. So I did. 1 year later I got a msg on facebook from him. Don’t know how he knew me. It said if you don’t put on a show for me I will send ur boobs. He knew my address, school, relatives, friends, family names. Christmas break. Knock at my door at 4am. It was the police. My photo was sent to everyone. I then got really sick and got anxiety, major depression, and panic disorder.”
While tragic to be sure, Amanda’s case is but one among countless more that lead girls and women first to crippling depression and then to their deaths.
“I then moved and got into drugs and alcohol,” the flashcards went on. “My anxiety got worse…couldn’t go out. A year past and he came back with my new list of friends and school. But made a facebook page. My boobs were his profile pic. Cried every night, lost all my friends and respect people had for me…again. Then nobody liked me. Name calling, judged. I can never get that photo back. It’s out there forever. I started cutting. I promised myself never again. Didn’t have any friends and I sat at lunch alone. So I moved schools again.”
The public humiliation visited upon Amanda Todd is a routine experience for women living under patriarchy, the system currently ruling the world through a campaign of violence. Many girls who have been similarly targeted have not and likely will never have their stories told because, unlike Amanda, they have the added disadvantage of being poor or lesbian or not white on top of already being female, which is hard enough.
“Everything was better even though I sat still alone at lunch in the library every day. After a month later I started talking to an old guy friend. We back and fourth texted and he started to say he liked me. Led me on. He had a girlfriend. Then he said come over my gf’s on vacation. So I did…huge mistake. He hooked up with me. I thought he liked me. 1 week later I get a text get out of your school. His girlfriend and 15 others came including himself. The girl and 2 other just said look around nobody likes you. In front of my new school (50) people. A guy than yelled just punch her already. So she did…she threw me to the ground and punched me several times. Kids filmed it. I was all alone and left on the ground. I felt like a joke in this world…I thought nobody deserves this. I was alone.”
Patriarchy means rule by men. Women can certainly support this system, as we see in the case of the girls who attacked and abandoned Amanda Todd instead of supporting her when she needed it the most. Never will women truly benefit from patriarchy, though, as it is predicated on their subjugation to men. Patriarchy is a system of power that controls women’s lives in every sense: economically, socially, bodily, and otherwise. Men and women are trained from birth to accept and fit into their respective social classes, known in shorthand as masculinity and femininity.
Masculinity says that men are only real men when they are violating or dominating someone else, someone whom they’ve deemed as “Other.” Femininity is also designed by and benefits men, because it attempts to naturalize female submission by claiming that women just like to be hurt and controlled. The school years are some of the most formative for human development, and so serve as a prime opportunity to indoctrinate children into the myth of patriarchy.
Kindergarten through twelfth grade schooling may be too far back for some to clearly remember, but surely the word “cooties” rings a bell. In this single word is all we need to know about how girls and boys are trained to see one another. What they see is that despised “Other.” Not human beings. From girls versus boys playground games, to boys at a slumber party huddled around a Playboy, to incidents of date rape after prom, children know perfectly well the meaning of sexism, of sexual hatred, regardless of if they articulate it or not. Boys know how to do it and girls know how it feels to have it be done to.
And children know perfectly well the meaning of homophobia and racism, too.
Amanda’s flashcards continue: “I lied and said it was my fault and my idea. I didn’t want him getting hurt, I thought he really liked me. But he just wanted the sex…someone yelled punch her already. Teachers ran over but I just went and layed in a ditch and my dad found me. I wanted to die so bad…when he brought me home I drank bleach. It killed me inside and I thought I was gonna actually die. Ambulence came and brought me to the hospital and flushed me.”
Few will hesitate to sum up the case of Amanda Todd as bullying, plain and simple, but perhaps it’s not so plain or simple. In her article about the Amanda Todd tragedy, educator and feminist Fazeela Jiwa takes the term “bullying” to task. She writes, “Bullying glosses over structural reasons for violence—reasons like race, gender, ability, and sexuality, among a myriad of insidious social hierarchies.”
From what is public knowledge about the trajectory of Amanda’s suffering, it’s hard not to see that the bullying she experienced was a direct result of her being female. Like all girls and women, she was a target of male violence. As Amanda has made clear, she was majorly coerced and exploited by two distinct male characters: the first pressured her to show her naked body over the internet, images of which he saved and used as blackmail against her for more sexual favors; the second manipulated her into having sex with him, only to later pit his girlfriend against her which resulted in the severe ambush that brought Amanda to first attempt suicide.
“After I got home all I saw on facebook—she deserved it,” read Amanda’s words. “Did you wash the mud out of your hair? I hope shes dead. Nobody cared. I moved away to another city to my moms. Another school…I didn’t wanna press charges because I wanted to move on. 6 months has gone by…people are pasting pics of bleach, clorex, and ditches. Tagging me. I was doing a lot better too. They said she should try a different bleach. I hope she dies this time and isn’t so stupid. They said I hope she sees this and kills herself.”
A few years ago, an anti-bullying event was hosted at City Hall. I and two other young activists and personal friends of mine were asked to speak on a panel on behalf of a radical community space with which we were involved. Other panels included teachers, parents, therapists, and students. All presented from their unique perspectives on the harms of bullying in school environments. Lesbian and gay high school students shared stories of being personally abused by kids at school: they told stories of being physically struck, shoved, and spit on. Many heterosexual students spoke, too. They were not spared from bullying either, targeted usually because they apparently looked or talked the wrong way.
Most of the adults who spoke suggested as a solution more strict consequences for those caught bullying. They also suggested more established support networks for the victims. Both ideas seemed appropriate to me, yet clearly incommensurate on their own. These have been the same solutions offered for years and bullying has not been prevented as a result. When it was my panel’s turn to speak, we pointed out that bullying is not an isolated act, but an obvious by-product of a culture sick with the drive of competition. We dared to be more explicit about the root problem: capitalism. (In case you’re wondering, no. The police stationed at the City Hall building were not in attendance at the event. And no, they did not ask us to spend the night.)
Who is ultimately responsible for Amanda Todd’s death? Who can stop bullying?
Is it the teachers? First of all, that depends on if the teacher is a decent human being. Many teachers, especially those who are male, do nothing but egg on the aggression in students. For our purposes, though, let’s say the teacher truly does care and wants to do what she or he can to prevent bullying. Well, next is how. The means available for teachers to make a difference are rapidly dwindling with school boards and administrations being taken over by the right-wing, comprised of people who are bent on disallowing even art and music programs, never mind a comprehensive anti-bullying curriculum. Regardless, much bullying happens out of the sight of teachers. It’s in the bathrooms, in the hallways, at recess, or before or after school.
Then it’s up to the parents to stop it. Once again, this depends on the parents being good human beings. Judging by the mass injustice and ecological crises caused by this society, I don’t see much reason to be optimistic about most people. However, for our purposes, let’s pretend these are parents that truly do care, that want to do what it takes to stop their child from bullying others or from being bullied. The parents can spend all the time they’d like having conversations with their child after school, but most kids learn just as much or more about life from the other kids they are around during the day. Unless every parent of every student is teaching the same lessons of love and compassion, and unless every student is listening in earnest and soaking up the morals, it’s only a matter of time before one child comes across another who says something like, “hey, let’s go make fun of that girl’s crooked teeth” or “hey, look at that fat kid.”
All of this brings us back to the original culprit; the one that creates the indecency of so many teachers and parents who enable bullying. I’m speaking of the dominant culture. If we have any chance of stopping the cruelty committed by children, we must stop the cruelty committed by adults. Where do we think the kids learn it? As Fazeela Jiwa notes, “Violent behavior stems from a tolerance of, or a reluctance to acknowledge, the power imbalances mired in the fabric of our social structures at all age levels…The same oppressive learned behaviors occur in the workplace, in bars and clubs, on the street, and in other adult-inhabited places.”
This whole country was founded on bullying. It started and continues with the genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans, the use of women as chattel, and the destruction of the natural world. To stop bullying means to stop the misogynists, white supremacists, homophobes, and earth-killers in power. It means to end capitalism.
Amanda Todd’s never ending story eventually did end when she tried again to drink bleach, and this time succeeded in taking her life. Even after her death, people continue to celebrate her humiliation and complain about the public outcry as annoying. This is sadism beyond words.
Those who are bullied need to know it’s not their fault. Those who are not bullied need to stand in absolute solidarity and intervene at every instance of abuse. As long as some people profit, whether socially or economically or both, from another’s suffering, none of us are free. Amanda’s never ending story is the never ending story of so many suffering under this cruel and ruthless culture. Unless we rise up to stop it, we can expect nothing from the future but more Amanda Todds.
“Why do I get this?” the flashcards in Amanda’s video finished. “I messed up by why follow me. I left your guys city. I’m constantly crying now. Every day I think why am I still here? My anxiety is horrible now. Never went out this summer. All from my past…lifes never getting better. Can’t go to school meet or be with people. Constantly cutting. I’m really depressed. I’m on antidepressants now and counseling and a month ago this summer I overdosed. In hospital for 2 days. I’m stuck…whats left of me now. Nothing stops. I have nobody. I need someone. My name is Amanda Todd.”
Beautiful Justice is a monthly column by Ben Barker, a writer and community organizer from West Bend, Wisconsin. Ben is a member of Deep Green Resistance and is currently writing a book about toxic qualities of radical subcultures and the need to build a vibrant culture of resistance.