Many teenagers see derogatory, sexual references like slut, whore and ho made by and about our peers on a near-daily basis in our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. But how do we react? Do we laugh it off and comment, like the majority of the populace? Or do we stick up for our buddies, risking our own image and likability? Until last week, my answer was the first of the two: I embraced complacency.
That all changed, however, after I attended a student-run town hall hosted by WNYC’s Radio Rookies at the Greene Space last week, to talk about the issue of sexual cyber bullying. I participated in intense periods of debate and discussion, and like many other participants at the event, came away with a key message: sexual cyber bullying hurts.
The seemingly innocuous words we type into comment boxes demeaning that girl wearing skimpy apparel may garner numerous “likes” but to the victim, there is nothing to like about such remarks. The jokingly-uttered, sexist remarks that degrade my female counterparts to mere creatures that satisfy male sexual desires can seem funny at a glance, but toxic when looked at carefully. And as hard as it is to accept, sexual cyber bullying is not a mere phenomenon that will soon be forgotten but an epidemic society has to tackle head-on. According to the US Department of Justice, roughly 85% of teens will experience cyber bullying at least once.
All of which got me thinking: what is the root cause that motivates hateful and belittling comments? The answer? I don’t have that yet. But a possible hypothesis, I do. I believe that popular music and videos play a large role in shaping the hurtful comments exchanged in cyberspace.
From respected artists like Dr. Dre releasing songs like, “Bitches Ain’t Sh-t,” to up-and-coming rappers like 2 Chainz singing that they want a “big booty ho for their birthday,” misogyny is being implicitly and explicitly promoted through pop culture.
When I brought this point up at the town hall, one student argued that such music had no bearing on her mind. She said she’s her own person. Unfortunately, unlike the firm and confident girl aforementioned, many teens are swayed and influenced by what they see in the media. Various studies indicate that the media affects how we react to violence, how we feel about our bodies, and even how early teenagers have sex. In short, the media affects teens big time.
Eradicating negative media that instigates sexual cyber bullying is only a fraction of the overall issue. But to get the ball rolling, I think society must begin to encourage teenagers to tune out the misogynistic lyrics blasting from their iPods and examine the real-life implications of their hurtful comments. Only then will we have a solid bedrock to move forward in the long and arduous battle that lies ahead.