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.
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!