The Sexism in Sexting

This past week, campus has been buzzing with one topic: sexting. My dorm of 40 girls watched a mandatory video on sexting last Thursday. It has come up in almost all of my classes, and it has clearly become practically impossible to avoid at Andover. Almost every aspect of the issue has been discussed, from the consequences and legalities to handling various sexting-related situations. Unfortunately, the neglected aspect in this conversation was the gendered way that sexting is addressed.

Many examples of sexting cases involve a male who asks for nude pictures, and a female who provides them. When these pictures end up online or are spread to others, however, the fault appears to lie almost solely with the original sender, the woman. Accusers often blame the female’s lapse in judgment, criticizing, “She’s so stupid to have sent those pictures!” “Why did she do that?”

This widespread sender-focused take on sexting severely limits the scope of the problem. The initial choice to succumb to peer pressure and send inappropriate photos is in the hands of the sender. Yet a second, but equally serious, part of the problem — the distribution — is the fault of the party who requested and subsequently shared.

It is legal for those above the age of 18 to send and receive photos. It is illegal, even for those above the age of 18, to distribute photos of a minor.

Instead of approaching the situation and blaming the subject of the photos, who is also the main stakeholder in the situation, the one whose body is being shared without permission and who is potentially at risk of exploitation, we need to address why people continue to think that it is acceptable to request and share intimate photos of other people.

By sharing such intimate photos, the receiver breaks the trust of the sender, takes advantage of the sender and puts the sender at risk. By only blaming the consequences of sexting on the person who sent the photos, you are shaming someone for something that was in part outside of their control, and you are neglecting the two-fold problem.

The way that this discussion is gendered is relatively simple: the girls get the majority of the blame for sending the photos, and the boys get less of it, even though they distributed the photos, an equally problematic action. The more that people realize this, the sooner we can fairly understand the situation and prevent future mistakes.

Nathalie Griffiths is a two-year Lower from Stonington, CT.