Update: This post was voted a 2012/2013 GirlGuidesCANblog Big Deal Seal winner in the Reader’s Choice category! Bravo blogger Sarah!
This guest blog post was written in response to the recent death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, and the October suicide of Amanda Todd. We encourage Guiders to share this post with your Guides, Pathfinders and Rangers. Then share it with every daughter, mother, aunt, father and brother as an eye opener to how we can (and should) choose to stop bullying and violence against women. Together we can make a difference.
From an adult now on the sidelines of high school:
Dear young girls of Guiding,
Give a moment of your time to an “elder”?
I want to, no, I feel the need for us to have some girl talk. I hope you are already spending time talking to your moms, your leaders, a teacher, a doctor. Someone who listens to you and acts on the issues and problems you have or have asked them to help you with. And while guidance and opinions from others will help you make informed decisions, so will one other thing: being authentic yourself with the one person who should help you build your ethics, morals, self-esteem and confidence: you.
When I was a teenager there were only two ways that gossip spread between my friends: on the telephone at home, or through this sophisticated system: delivered by hand as you passed a friend in the hallway. Only two sets of eyes read these long letters (unless you were caught by a teacher and had it taken away).
I won’t lie to you and say that back then we never talked mean gossip about other girls (our friends or strangers). And I won’t insult you by saying no girl was ever bullied by other girls in my school (or that I didn’t participate in it).
Bullying is not new to our world. But the seeming need to share/post/text details is.
I feel fortunate that as a teen, I didn’t have the Internet, or a cell phone that does more than dial another phone. And especially, I feel fortunate that there was no social media.
The issue with the Internet that you have grown up with is that it is a media, a culture, that is owned by everyone. Both the people trying to do good in the world, and people trying to do bad.
What you have to figure out, make up your own mind about, is where in that world do you stand?
- As a bystander, or
- As someone who stands up for things that are wrong.
There is a big difference between posting/sharing things that are harmful to other people and actually reporting it.
The use of Facebook, Twitter, texting and blogging is still pretty new in the world. Large businesses are spending a lot of money to figure out how to properly use these tools. And many are forgetting to take time to talk to young adults and to some extent, children, on how to best use these tools safely.
My best advice is pretty simple:
- If a text is being sent around with a rumour in it, insert your name there instead of that other person. Would you send it now?
- If a picture is posted where you know something is wrong, picture you or your friend in it. Would you share it now?
- If you are asked to bare a body part that is normally covered to someone who says “trust me, I won’t show anyone,” imagine that picture on every news channel and online. Would you send it now?
No matter what decade you live in, no matter what the generation, being a teenager is hard. But one day you will be sitting where I am (after high school and into your twenties or thirties). My wish for you is that you sit there knowing you stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves, or for those who needed the help of fellow classmates/friends to speak up for them, to stop the rumours circulating. I wish you never look back on this time and regret not finding out who you are: a person who does good.
By guest blogger Sarah Lyon of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Thank you, Sarah! This is such an important message. I especially love your tips on imagining oneself or one’s friends in any message or photo. It is key to be authentic and true to ourselves, at any age.
(Pam, we fixed the typo for you. Hope you don’t mind!)
Sarah Lyon, you rock!!!!! Well said. 🙂
Great Post! Well written – right on the money! I hope Guiders take the time to share this with girls!
I will share this with my daughter and with our girls.
Our bodies are sacred and there is no shame in them whatsoever. Our bodies and minds and spirits are all made innocent. We are solely created as an instrument of ENERGY to do GOOD, to be channels of love and kindness.
Shameful and ugly, are acts of harm, disrespect and betrayal. Those who do the wrong should be afraid as it is always between them and God in the end, or whichever “force” they choose to serve and empower through their acts. Truth always prevails in Spirit.
On this note, Rehtaeh always was and always will be a beautiful, sweet and innocent person of great worth and wholesomeness and is a very powerful angel who will work closely with Justice to make sure She does prevail.
“Man cannot degrade a woman without himself falling into degradation; he cannot elevate her without at the same time elevating himself.” -Alexander Walker
I have shared this and hope that it reaches just one girl………that one girl can then make a difference and reach one more girl………You are Awesome for writing this SARAH!!!!
A woman cannot degrade a woman without herself falling into degradation; she cannot elevate her without at the same time elevating herself…
While mostly good advice, I take some issue with that last part. Of course we should teach girls to look for warning signs about who can and cannot be trusted, but if a girl chooses to show skin to someone she trusts, which can be a normal and healthy part of a relationship, then blaming her for any abuse that happens afterward is hardly constructive. It is the fault of whoever is distributing the images/videos without her permission. Girls can be “girls who do good”, and have morals, and still show skin to a person, or multiple people, online. To say otherwise is to say “good girls don’t show skin”, which is the very concept that leads to all these abuses in the first place.
It is important for education about online abuse to remember that we live in a society that teaches girls largely that their bodies are all they really have, but that their bodies will never be quite good enough, and that risky online interactions such as the ones described offer a rare venue for girls to hear, “Yes, your body is good enough, you are beautiful”. The sex education curricula in this country regularly fails to teach girls positive and constructive ways to explore their maturing sexualities, and the Internet offers a seemingly consequence-free venue to experiment.
Of COURSE we should be teaching girls not to do anything they’re uncomfortable with – consent, as they say, is key. But if a girl is comfortable with what she is doing and abuse still happens, it is not the girls fault.
I’ve been trying to formulate a response to this blog post, and this comment has really expressed how I feel. The last point feel problematic to me as well, as it has a “victim blaming” feel to it. Are we asking girls to never trust anyone? Even if that person is someone that they are in a relationship with, or is someone that they love? We need to remember that if the girl has shared a picture of herself with someone she trusts, then it fact that it was shared with others isn’t her fault, but the fault of the person who chose to share it.
I think the point of telling girls not to share pictures of herself that she wouldn’t want the world to see is like telling girls to wear their seat belts. We don’t wear a seat belt because we don’t trust the driver. We wear it because we know that accidents can happen and we need to take precautions. We don’t put pictures out there because nothing is ever private once it is digital. Things are too easily hacked or stolen today no matter how trust worthy the other person is. And once out there, these images can never be taken back.
nice to see there is dialogue about this in Guiding- I was involved years ago with BC Girl Guides. What is important is to keep very current with everything in the social media- keep the dialogue going – suicide is all of our problem, not just “that family” or “that girl”, or “that guy”, let’s reach out and make change.
Please don’t take the last part to be placing blame on the victim. I tried really hard not to write anything that would.
I do think it is well written, and isn’t intended to “victim blame”. There is however the problem that if a picture is shared with more than the intended person the resulting feeling is “if the picture hadn’t been taken in the first place then it wouldn’t have been shared.” That attitude feels like a similar analogy to “If she hadn’t been at that party to begin with, she wouldn’t have been assaulted.” Being careful about who you trust is different than saying that you can’t trust anyone, ever, no matter what.
Sarah, your letter was amazing…very inspiring. All the little notes about victimizing is a bit harsh. I didn’t read it that way at all. To this last post and everyone else, Once it is on the interent, it’s there forever and it won’t matter who you trusted because the Internet is not a person to trust it is unfortunately a ever growing tool for good and bad…..the internet does not have a moral compass. Stay safe.
Sarah – thank you for this post. I will be sharing with our girls and hope to inspire some good discussion with it. I am so glad that we have an organization where we are able to have dialogues about difficult topics.
Your blog was very timely. I read it after the discussion on bullying, and all the girls applauded! Thanks!