My Genderal Interest column this week at Jezebel has a simple message: one mistake won’t ruin your life.
In his famous 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs spoke about the hidden blessings of his very “public failure.” After his firing from Apple, Jobs said he felt “like running away… I had let the previous generation down.” But, he pointed out, his humiliation turned out to be the seed of his liberation: “the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. (What had seemed like a mistake) freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
Yes, there’s a difference between an adult dealing with the fall-out of getting fired by a computer company and a 12 year-old coping with the aftermath of having flashed her boobs on a webcam. At the same time, Jobs’ address didn’t go viral because it was only relevant to male software engineers and entrepreneurs. It went viral because it was a universal human reminder about resilience and the capacity to overcome obstacles. It was a more eloquent version of the same speech we usually give to boys, when we urge them to shake off setbacks as learning experiences and “try, try again.” Teen girls hear that message much less often, and when they do, it’s likely with the implicit reminder that 2nd, 3rd, and 97th chances are mostly for men.
Obviously, Amanda Todd needed and deserved a lot more than a pep talk about getting through the hard times. Ending the “one mistake will ruin your life” narrative must also be accompanied by a war on the cyber creeps who prey on young girls. We also need a (long-overdue) campaign against a slut-shaming culture that pushes girls to walk the impossibly thin line between being sexy and being skanky. While there’s absolutely no need to encourage girls to send nude pics far and wide, it would also be helpful to press home the message that a young woman’s worth has nothing to do with how few –- or how many — people have seen her naked.