Whatever happened to modesty?

Schoolgirls sharing nude photos are embarrassed.

I must be getting old. My views and values were challenged last Saturday (20 August), with an article in The Age concerning school girls, self image, sexuality and exploitation.

I feel nervous just typing these themes because I do not profess to be an expert in adolescent psychology. I’ve never raised a daughter. I’ve never studied either subject.

What am I talking about?

The Age ran a feature on schoolgirl selfies appearing on a pornograhic website. More than 2000 photos from about 70 Australian schools were uploaded to the website. Some girls as young as 11 appeared naked on this and similar websites. Images appeared with the girls’ names and school.

In a separate incident a male student at an elite Melbourne grammar school established an Instagram account in which he collected and posted 100s of images of naked schoolgirls. Those viewing the account were invited to request images of girls they wanted to see naked. Other boys would “hunt” for the requested images and receive online accolades when the images were obtained.

Naked pictures were traded like trading cards.

Why do young people share naked photos of themselves?

So called experts interviewed for the article gave a range of reasons. Some said it was an expression of healthy sexual development. Some said there was confusion between the virtual and real world and these young people didn’t understand the risks of sharing such images. Others said it was peer pressure. Some girls were simply brazen and wished to show off and brag.

However, no one talked about it as an undesirable practice. What was seen as bad was the subsequent proliferation and exploitation of these images by malicious boys.

The article concluded on this note;

….young people need to be taught how to share images safely online….The first part is teaching them that if you are going to send a picture, you need to have a conversation about where it is going and who is allowed to share it…”

This is where the article lost me.

Why are we not teaching girls not to share such images in the first instance? Why are we not teaching girls to protect themselves against such exploitation?

The starting point should be no one gets an image of my naked body. It’s my body and I will control who sees it and how. I understand that images can be readily created and shared but that does not mean that this technology is appropriate when it comes to my body.

I’m not saying that girls cannot express or explore their sexuality. Or explore the power of their sexuality. But they should be taught that once a naked pic leaves their possession they lose that power. They become vulnerable, open to exploitation, victims.

This isn’t a moral statement just a practical one.

The article said:

“Telling girls not to take such photos in the first place is blaming them for such behaviour.” said Catharine Lumby social media and gender expert from Macquarie University. “Young women should be free to explore their sexuality with consent without being told they are bad people, let alone being publicly shamed for that,” she said.”

With respect to Ms Lumby I feel she is confusing the virtual world with the real world. How does consent play a role in the sharing of personal images? In fact, any permission or power provided by consent is lost as soon as the girls share the photos.

I agree that we should not blame the girls or in anyway make them feel guilty. Personally I blame their parents, their teachers and society for not providing proper guidance on this issue.

I guess for the first time, barring Polaroids, young people have the technology to take and distribute naked selfies. But because they can, does not mean they should.

Young people face a new world filled with exciting possibilities and I believe adults should be providing guidance in this area.

I’m not condoning the behaviour of those individuals (male and female) who shame and humiliate these girls or the porn industry that profits from these images. They are wrong and should be condemned.

But at the same time, I don’t accept the freedom of speech argument that girls should be able to share images of their bodies with whoever they please. This is not freedom this is naive. Freedom does not abrogate responsibility. Girls owe it to themselves to act responsibly with images of their bodies.

I also do not accept the so called feminist viewpoint that girls should be able to share such images because it is their body and they can do whatever they like with their bodies. This is also naive.

Feminists would recoil in horror at what is happening to these girls through the exploitation of their images. This isn’t equality for or power to women it is subjugation of women.

Feminism would tell these girls to take back control of their bodies and their images. They are not exercising control by sharing these images, in fact they are losing control or ceding control to someone else.

Of course, popular culture gives us Kim Kardashian who has built a fortune on the dissemination of images of her naked self. Before her there was Madonna and before her Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. However, Kardashian wouldn’t be a role model I would put forward to my daughter. She has made a commercial decision to exploit her natural features. She has the ability to control how images are taken and how they are shared. She has significant legal resources to discourage exploitation. Girls trying to play the same game will lose.

I would be saying, “Don’t give boys the opportunity to hurt you. Your body and your sexuality is unique. It makes you special. It can be powerful. Learn about your body and sexuality. Don’t allow yourself to be exploited. Don’t share naked pics.”

Girls need to question why they are being asked for such images. Yes why? Even if it is someone they trust or dare I say it, love, they should be counselled against sharing naked images with them. A girl or woman does not need to take her clothes off to take a sexy or attractive photo (if such a photo is appropriate).

This nasty industry would shut down overnight if girls took back control.

Shouldn’t we be teaching girls not to define themselves with reference to how they look or how boys perceive them? There is so much more to a person than their appearance or their two dimensional image.

Shouldn’t we be telling girls to protect their image? They will not be girls for long. They will soon leave school forever. Rather than teaching them how to safely share their images online shouldn’t we be saying “Don’t give anyone naked pics. Don’t let the decisions you make at school define the rest of your life in a negative manner.”?

Why don’t we try the modesty option? Am I old fashioned?