Objectification’s Role in a Suicide

More than sexual objectification was certainly involved in 15-year-old Amanda Todd’s death. But it seems to have played a role.

It all began when Amanda and a few of her middle school friends started videochatting with strangers just for fun. Some told her she was “stunning, beautiful, perfect,” a complement any 13-year-old would enjoy. Eventually, a man asked her to flash. And she did.

A year later this same guy found her and threatened to send the nude photos to her family, friends and her entire school if she didn’t “put on a show for him.” When she refused, he did.

Amanda became the laughingstock of the school and lost all of her friends. Anxiety and major depression overtook her life and she turned to drugs, alcohol and cutting to cover the pain.

She moved a couple of times, trying to get away, but her stalker always collected the names of her new friends and even set up a Facebook page with her boobs as the profile picture.

The pictures followed her wherever she went. And so did the derision. And the isolation.

She made two suicide attempts.

A couple of weeks ago she posted a nine-minute video, “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide and self harm.” She never speaks in it, but holds up note cards that tell her story. Maybe you’ve seen it. If not, it’s a powerful message against bullying which you can see here.

Near the end she seems hopeful, holding a card that reads:

Everyone’s future will be bright one day, you just gotta pull through. I’m still here, aren’t I?

But depression finally won and she committed suicide last week.

How could objectification have played a role? Well, how does objectification encourage men to see women? Actually, it doesn’t encourage men to see women, but to see women’s bodies – as objects that exist for their purposes.

The images are often bodies without heads—without minds and thoughts and emotions or personalities or a will to act in the world. Sometimes the bodies are shaped in the form of an object, like a table, for a man to use as he will.

The man who harassed Amanda did not see her as a person who had hopes and dreams for the future. He is not a man who cared about her. He did not think of her as a person. She was just a thing for him to play with and manipulate for his own sadistic purposes. If he had seen her as a real person and felt any empathy he would not have behaved as he did.

Now, all men are subjected to objectification, yet not all men behave like Amanda’s stalker. So of course it takes more than objectification to drive a man like that. But objectification combined with a twisted mind can be a dangerous thing.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 17, 2012, in feminism, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Amanda Todd’s story was truly heartbreaking. She went through hell for making one wrong decision at a young age. Although a lot of people were in fact saddened by her story, others used it as an opportunity to point out that she took her own life so it isn’t as sad. I’ve also heard a lot of people being sympathetic towards her, however, adding that, “It is her fault for sending nudes online to strangers.” This topic caused a great deal on controversy among my peers, some believing that she isn’t to blame for she was young and vulnerable, while others saying that it could have been avoided if only she were more careful. I felt as though many people overlooked the fact that she was being extorted by a pedophile, and that similar events happen to young women all the time. Instead of blaming the naïve children for their mistakes, we need to take a minute and look at things from their perspectives.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      As to the controversy among your froends, she was punished pretty severely for a pretty minor thing. Blaming her makes no sense. And that she felt so horrible that she took her own life hardly makes the suicide less sad.

  2. This story, just like any other story about being bullied, hits a soft spot for me. Amanda’s life ended far too early simply because this man found pleasure in torturing her. What’s annoys me the most is how in today’s society there’s not necessarily a way to avoid being bullied. Amanda was bullied for flashing her boobs to a stranger, when her classmates could have done far worse things, yet no one knew. So what causes classmates to bully someone? Is it that someone may be easy to breakdown? Because to me, young girls can never win. Amanda was bullied for flashing, and I was bullied for being 17 with “virgin lips.”

  3. stefanie cuaron

    It’s such a tragedy as to what happened to Amanda. This should’ve never happened and could’ve been prevented. This whole story makes me sick to my stomach. I heard about Amanda last week and somewhere I read that they finally found the guy that stalked her, and he was in his 50’s. It boggles my mind to think of what kind of sick sadistic bastard would stalk a teenage girl just for the pure pleasure of torturing her. The fact that he followed her from school to school and town to town, never letting her get away, just really shows how sick of a person he really was. I can’t even imagine what Amanda felt. And the fact that all her friends turned on her. Her friends should’ve been there to support her, not turn around and talk behind her back or in some cases directly to her face. Bullying has got to stop! People could only be pushed so far. We are all human beings and each and everyone of us should be treated with the respect and courtesy as we would like to be treated. Amanda’s life did not need to be cut so short. If there is anything we can learn from Amanda’s story, is to show compassion towards people and when people are down pick them back don’t push them back down.

  4. What happened to this young girl was an immense tragedy. I would argue that even more so than the shame and guilt she harbored from the harassment she experienced, the main factor driving her to take her life would be the sense of loneliness. I have a close family member who has suffered from depression for most of her life. The two are closely tied together because in failing to find people who understand and wish to alleviate your pain, a person can sink only deeper and deeper into misery and self-loathing. If other people do not care about your life, why should you bother to fix anything? This is obviously not the right mindset to have. Even if it is a struggle that uses up all our energy, we must fight to overcome the negative thoughts. And there is always someone who will listen. There is always some form of escape (that is not self-destructive).
    Amanda was ostracized by her peers for doing something that unfortunately began to follow her around. Everyone makes mistakes and irreversible errors in judgment but I am surprised about the comments on the Youtube video, how few people point out or even forgive her due to the fact that she was so young. They go so far as to label her as “attention seeker” and “spoiled” despite her outlining a traumatic experience that spanned years of her life. Amanda’s own peers recognized only the symbol of her actions and did not see her as a human being capable of making mistakes. As previously mentioned, there is too much focus on the victim and one reckless decision that she made years ago, as opposed to the people who abused her and ultimately assisted in taking this girl’s life. We have to take a look at the negative environment society is fostering for the youth of today, how it influences their thinking, such as the pressure to reject and isolate others and failure to recognize the basic sense of humanity in each other.

  5. This story is so sad to me, personally because she was a woman just like most of us in our woman’s studies class. I cant imagine being in her shoes and what she had to go through. This poor girl was a victim of society and of a dirty maniac minded human being who had nothing better to do than to stalk her for his own pleasure. The person who should of died was him. Now I wonder why so many people knew about her and her situation, but did nothing to give her comfort or support. Unfortunately she is one of many kids who are bullied constantly all around the world, and whose lives are cut short for this fact. If only she had had the support of her peers and not the rejection, she could of been a role model in society as a grown up. Sadly she is now gone, but bullying is still present in many kids her age who struggle day and night with this monster that haunts them.

  6. It is a shame that society (or her peers) were more focused on shaming her for what she did when they should have been shaming the pervert that was stalking and threatening her. More attention should have been paid to this girls’ emotions and not to her past actions. If people would have showed her more compassion and support, instead of judging her, her suicide could have been prevented. It seems to me that the reason she committed suicide was mostly because she felt alone and because this society objectifies women’s bodies to the point where showing something natural is beyond embarrassment.

  7. I’m really speechless. that with this generation bullying is becoming such a major problem. This guy is clearly sick and insecure is so many ways. This is probably his way of being social and become popular, which is really sad to say but it’s so obvious in a millions of ways, he is trying to attract attention. How could we in our society raise children to be confident in themselves with media portraying us in a different way. I could only imagine how terrifying it is to be Amanda’s parents and not be able to stand in her shoes for her. I’m sorry Amanda for what you had to go through . May you be resting in peace.

  8. watched her video few days ago breaks my heart to know what she sent through… sure she made a mistake by showing her (boobs) but to make fun of her and sending her picture around is not cool at all. i wish i knew her i would be there for her like im always there for my friends.

  9. Reblogged this on humanitysdarkerside and commented:
    Taking care of our young should be priority one, not driving them to kill themselves. Some humans seem to thrive on their own depravity. I guess that is why we have the ability to write about awful subjects.

    Amanda’s stalker was a terrorist in his own right. He tortured her through his relentless stalking. Nothing she did could help her escape. While I strongly doubt it, I would hope that some part of him feels at least some shame.

  10. Amanda’s story shows the ever present problem of bullying and of course stalkers. This man was torturing her only because he was angered that she wouldn’t put out more. If a female doesn’t want to put out then she is a prude. In Amanda’s case the stalker had a photo which made her sittuation that much worse. It was already bad for Amanda to get threatened by this man but then to find out that this man knows how to contact your whole family and friends that is just horrible. Teenagers could be very cruel at that age by not fully understanding the sittuation so Amanda became a stigma. It is very sad to hear about something like this happening but I am glad Amanda’s story is being heard around the world because everyone should know exactly what was troubling this girl.

  11. I was completely speechless after watching her video. It’s awful how the internet is used in ways to victimize young women. It’s also quite frightening that her stalker seemed to get away with it.

    There is something to the sexual objectification of women aspect, and I wonder the distant and impersonal environment of the internet amplifies this.

  12. I think what frightens me the most about this story, is that this kind of twisted mindset seems to flourish on the net. I love the net. I get to meet people and have fun there. But those scary minds that latch on to the unprotected worry me. The worst part is that it is impossible to protect yourself from them, and it is impossible to know who their next target will be.

    How do we protect our young from these predators????

  13. Usually, I don’t post replies to your topics so closely together, Dr. Platts, but I am doing so, one because I’m in the middle of getting my masters degree in psychology from NDNU, but more importantly, due to the horrible nature of this story.

    First off, this goes way beyond objectification; this is extortion and he could have been and should have been criminally prosecuted.

    Although not specifically mentioned in the article, cognitive behavioral therapy would have helped tremendously in this case.

    This goes out on a limb that you may disagree with, but taking the opposite route, by over-objectification, simply saying all women have boobs and there’s nothing special about mine, neither positive or negative, they’re just a part of the body that half the planet shares, may have reduced some of the anxiety.

    Of course we don’t know specifics regarding her parents’ reaction and those close to her, which could definitely made things worse, let alone actually showing support for her to see a professional clinician.

    We could “Monday-morning quarterback” until the cows come home, but the fact remains, this is a horrible story with an unnecessary ending.

    The guy responsible, who could have been brought up on extortion, should now be brought up on involuntary manslaughter charges. Her blood is on his hands.

    • Too bad her parents didn’t help her on the extortion end.

      re “You may disagree with, but taking the opposite route, by over-objectification, simply saying all women have boobs and there’s nothing special about mine, neither positive or negative, they’re just a part of the body that half the planet shares, may have reduced some of the anxiety.”

      I actually agree with that. That is actually the opposite of objectification.

  14. Teenagers don’t need a webcam. It should be used for family who r far away. And i feel bad for her n that looser for a man probably he was not all there ” a peanut brain” picking on a young girl. How SAD

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