It doesn't take a professional media analyst to know that social networking sites and cell phones have altered the way people interact with each other and the world at large, and personal relationships are no exception. The way that cell phones make their owner constantly available has been debated before, but focusing on new forms of communication and relationships--especially abusive relationships--brings the import of personal boundaries to a whole other level.
Did you feel icky seeing headlines about the Carrie Prejean nudie pics and the "sexting" epidemic? Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon argues that when you share or make public someone's privately-made sex photos or video, it's a form of sexual assault.
It's about time that we started viewing the release of privately made sexual photographs and videos to anyone other than their intended audience as a form of sexual assault. The motivation to do so is indistinguishable from that as a rapist---using sex as a tool to dominate and humiliate someone, while puffing up your own sense of power---and often the results could be even worse for the victim, because her assault was performed in front of a crowd.
We're still trying to navigate what the digital world means for sexual harassment, espcially when it comes to young people. That's where ThatsNotCool.com comes in. Created in part by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the Ad Council, and Office on Violence Against Women, they've created several short, insightful YouTube PSAs to get the message to young people about when communicating becomes controlling.
Take this video:
It starts out pretty cute at first, a life-size cell phone of your boyfriend! ("G-Morning, Sunshine") Only, why doesn't she seem that into his texts? ....Which become increasingly annoying ("Did you get all my texts?"), incessant ("Is practice over yet? Where you at?"), and invasive ("Are you with your friends? That's laaaaame."), finally culminating when he asks her for nude pics. The video ends, "When does caring becoming controlling?"
They also have a section called "Two-sided stories" with two short videos covering the same issue. The videos are cute and visually light-hearted, but they still are talking about serious issues.
Apple: "So I hung out with Orange again yesterday."
Pear: "Dude! Orange is hot!"
Banana: "Yeah do you think you could get her to send some nude pics?
Apple: "I've already tried, but she's not into it."
Pear: "Text her and see, you never know. Don't be such a coward man, do it."
Apple: "Whoa, hold it. I don't want to seem like a chicken, but I don't really think that Orange is into sending nude pics to me. What should I do?"
"When Jacob and I first met, he was so sweet. Before long, it felt like we had been together for while, even though it had only been one month. Maybe it was too good to be true, but everything was going really well. This felt like the real thing. Then all of a sudden, he starts sending me these dirty messages, asking me to send naked pictures of myself. Even after I said no, he sent another, and another. I don't get it. He always seemed like such a sweet guy, now he keeps asking for these pictures. What should I do? "
(If you click A, she still decides not to send the pics!)
While all the two-sided stories do focus on heterosexual couplings, it's not always the guy who's the crossing boundaries. "Text Monster" is about a girl overstepping boundaries.
In the comments beneath each video there's always at least one person who says "lol this is exactly what I'm going through!" which is scary, but it does mean that teens are watching the videos and hopefully taking something away from them. I'm not the target audience, but because the videos are humorous but still manage to get the message across, I can see why they'd be more effective than say, another PSA I've blogged about, which completely shames the girl instead of exploring larger technologic and social issues (or how every man in her town is a total perv).
Their site is pretty fun to poke around for, especially the Callout Cards section ("You must be proud of having nothing better to do than IM me all day" "Congrats! With that last text you've achieved stalker status"), which is like a tween sexual harassment category of someecards. None of the videos really end with a patronizing "Texting is bad. Sexuality is bad." Instead, they conclude with open-ended questions--What should you do? When is this too much?--which invite the viewer to judge for themselves what's appropriate instead of being told what is and isn't good for them. But ThatsNotCool.com doesn't leave teens out in the cold. The "Talk it Out" section invites teens to give and share advice, and the "Need Help" section is just that: providing more than advice on annoying texts and real contacts for abusive relationships.
Update: This post is tragically apropos. A thirteen year old girl committed suicide after her nude photos were spread by classmates. More at The Curvature.