Take Back the Tech, Don’t Take it Away

Here’s a video clip in which a Trini mom explains that after observing changes in her nine year-old son’s behaviour she became worried that something was wrong.  On attending a PTA meeting she heard teacher express concern about boys performing oral sex on each other at school.  She then states (quite matter-of-factly, in my opinion) that only after she beat her son, to get him to talk, she explains, did he admit to having been raped and bullied at school. She suspected that he was being victimised and her last resort to get him to open up to her about that victimisation was to beat him, to use violence against him.

If you’ve been following this blog you know I’ve come under fire from readers for suggesting that some reactions to a video of another Trini mom beating her daughter online were dishonest.  I erred in accusing individual readers of a pretense of righteous outrage.  I will argue though that collectively such outrage expressed online is as performative and it is genuine.  The decisions of these two Trini moms and the entire structure of discipline in most Caribbean schools and many Caribbean homes suggest that the use of physical force is understood as appropriate more often than it is understood as reprehensible or abusive.

As much as there is to say and do about violence against children (and the sexual assault of boys in particular) I want to talk about social media for a moment.

Many people mentioned that a 12-year-old has no right with a facebook account (this violates Facebook’s Terms of Use) and that the mother should have been monitoring her daughter’s internet usage.  Look, I went to school in the time of phonebooths when some girls would line up during lunch with a bandit addict’s supply of quarters and call their adult boyfriends during lunch hour.  A 12-year-old girl can’t even walk down the street without harassment from (usually) adult men.  These harms did not begin with the internet, though they are surely amplified by it.

Changes in technology aside, social media usage has come to mean that you are modern and that you are participating in global culture. Teens don’t want to be left out.  Jamaican media maven and researcher Marcia Forbes found just that. Children without regular access to internet or facebook accounts experienced these privations to be a source of embarrassment just as other markers of poverty are.  When the kids leave facebook it will be for the next hottest thing (read Instagram), not because parents have managed to push them offline.

Using social media has become inevitable in many ways.  As Astra Taylor notes in this must-read interview:

Look also at the way we talk to young people. “Do you want a college recruiter to see that on your Facebook profile?” What we’re really demanding is that they create a Facebook profile that appeals to college recruiters, that they manage a self that will help them get ahead.

The twelve year-old posting sexy pics online, the mom giving her daughter some good-West-Indian-discipline, the persons high-fiving her and the outraged are all managing their online selves.

We could all do with some media literacy.  I don’t just mean teaching girls that the nude photos they share online will live on forever and potentially haunt them forever.  As a practical piece of advice this is necessary.  So too is helping them navigate intimate relationships and question the imperative to be sexy all the time, above all else.  Our children also need the comprehensive sexuality education which many states are denying them. What I mean by media literacy though, is being a lot more critical about how we engage social media and thinking critically about what it has come to represent.

Much has been made of the liberatory potential of digital media and it’s ability to be subversive and even revolutionary.  But as the Trini girl in the video learnt, online and offline worlds don’t just collide, there are one and the same.  So if the offline world is dangerous for girls and boys, if girls have their self-confidence and self-esteem hollowed out by age 12, expect their online worlds to reflect that.  Online tools are a product of military investment in communications technology.  They cannot liberate us, though we can be anancy-like and use them creatively and in ways in which they were not intended.

Facebook now requires you to pay to promote every single post on your page or they only reach the news feeds of a very small percentage of those who have liked your page.  The exception is that where a post is popular, the momentum of the engagement from readers will cause it to appear in the news feed of other readers and so the page views increase.  This is what happened with the viral video and the two articles I wrote about it.  Sharing the video was a bad judgement call.  The video (and articles) reaching so many of our facebook page subscribers was a result of readers liking, commenting, reading and resharing.  Its popularity was co-constructed.  We need to co-construct a media literacy for our times.

Caribbean youth and Caribbean feminists are doing some innovative stuff online.  Visit the Walking Into Walls page to learn about the crisis of violence against women, girls and boys across the region.  Read, share and comment on those stories.  Help to create a sustained online conversation that translates to offline action.  Buy 24-year-old Gordon Swaby’s Edufocal which “combines the challenge and fun of play with the structure and discipline of study” for your children and the children in your lives.  UWI PhD graduate Tara Wilkinson has started Media Playhouse in Barbados to teach children to create their own media.  Our blog celebrated its fourth birthday in April this year.  CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network is currently working on its website which will serve as a hub for feminist and social justice media from the region.

So many teens have mobile phones, how many of these teens have educational apps on those phones? How many teachers are using mobile technology as part of their pedagogy? Couldn’t we use e-tools to deliver the comprehensive sexuality education that many CARICOM governments are fighting to keep out of school?

It’s time to take back the tech, not take it away!

 

6 thoughts on “Take Back the Tech, Don’t Take it Away

  1. Whew, Tonya, someone in CariMAN had posted his churchmember’s comments about this story, but I never saw it. As we all know, the video is now all over the news in T&T. Some TV stations aired it on the evening news out of focus, others put a cloud over the girl’s face only, the URL is published in a letter to a Guardian editor today. The Guardian’s story solicits comments on the mother’s behaviour from fathers’ advocates. And, of course, the holier than thou moralising by professionals about the mother has been unleaded.

    While you focus here on taking back the tech, seeing the news report of the incident of the 9-year-old boy leaves me as numb as the other one, and makes the point you made yesterday about the everyday of beating children:

    “We did beat him, put a few lash on him for him to talk…The child start talking. He say that children does beat him, carry him into the washroom…I ask him my child if he ever tell the teacher about this. He say yes they does call them and they does beat them. That is all they does do.”

    Like

    • Wish I could edit these things: Like —

      “Whew, Tonya, someone in CariMAN had posted his churchmember’s comments about this new video of the boy, but I never saw it. As we all know, yesterday’s video of the girl…”

      “the URL is published in a letter to the Guardian editor today”

      “And, of course, the holier than thou moralising by professionals about the mother has been unleashed.”

      Like

    • Yes, Colin. Beating to get him to tell her that he was raped. A beating for the rapist. No response from the police. Only beating from the school. It will take a lot of work to get many caribbean people to see beating as violence. It will take even more work for us to respond effectively to sexual assault and to address the needs of both survivors and perpetrators.

      Like

  2. That video of the mom talking about her son’s sexual assault is haunting me as are the comments about Alpha Boys school in Jamaica. We are doing such an injustice to survivors of sexual assault and to children who have been abused.

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  3. Reblogged this on Paula Lindo and commented:
    “So many teens have mobile phones, how many of these teens have educational apps on those phones? How many teachers are using mobile technology as part of their pedagogy? Couldn’t we use e-tools to deliver the comprehensive sexuality education that many CARICOM governments are fighting to keep out of school?”

    Like

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