Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by 20-something teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.
Two weeks ago, supermodel Gigi Hadid was assaulted by a “prankster” during Milan Fashion Week. I’m still thinking about it.
The media praised her, declaring, “Don’t mess with Gigi!” and tweeting about how she’s such a “badass.” This tone feels so strange to me. Don’t get me wrong — while I’m proud of Hadid and how she didn’t hesitate to practice self-defense in a scary situation, the focus of this narrative seems misdirected. Because by placing the spotlight on Hadid “kicking butt,” we’re diverting our attention from the real issue at hand: A man put his hands on a young woman without her consent. Just a few days after Hadid was attacked, the same man lunged at Kim Kardashian in Paris. By downplaying his actions due to his history of “pranking” celebrities, we’re contributing to the normalization of his behavior and toxic masculinity culture.
In a separate incident, on Sunday night, Kardashian was bound, gagged, and held at gunpoint in her hotel room in Paris, then she had over $10 million worth of jewelry stolen from her. According to TMZ, she begged the gunmen for her life and reportedly was terrified that she would be raped. One of the most famous women in the world was violently attacked, yet multiple media outlets led their story with the fact that Kanye West brought his New York concert to a halt as soon as he received the news.
What’s even more frustrating than the way the story was reported is the disgusting way people (including some with massive platforms) reacted on Twitter. Jokes were made and memes were circulated with glee. Kardashian was blamed. She “deserved” to have her jewelry stolen. She gave away her location based on her Snapchat, making herself an easy target.
But that doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter if you like Kardashian or despise her. That doesn’t change the fact that an absolutely reprehensible thing happened to a woman, and for many people, the knee-jerk reaction was to use somebody else’s personal trauma as comedic fodder. Even when the mayor of Paris made a statement about the incident, it sounded as if she were more concerned with the image of her city than the idea that two children could be motherless right now had the situation gone just a little bit differently.
The nightmare that Kardashian experienced and the narrative that continues to unfold leaves a larger question that women are forced to reckon with: If one of the most famous women on the planet can’t be taken seriously when it comes to being violently assaulted, what does that mean for the rest of us?
The answer isn’t reassuring and is brutally depicted in Audrie & Daisy, a poignant documentary centered around the sexual assaults of two teenage girls that is currently streaming on Netflix. (Delaney Henderson, a young woman who is also featured in the film, has written about her own sexual assault for MTV Founders.) It’s heartbreaking, infuriating, and eye-opening. So many young women like Audrie Pott, the 16-year-old who committed suicide after photos of her assault were posted online, don’t speak up — and it’s because we live in a culture that says when bad things happen to us, we shouldn’t. That we asked for it. That the 35 percent of women worldwide who will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime won’t be believed.
What happened to Kardashian is an example of a very real fear women live with each day. Like the celebs we follow, many of us play out our lives on social media platforms and apps. When you’re not a superstar with millions of followers watching your every move, it’s easy to feel safe in your internet bubble, the one where you Snapchat ugly selfies to your friends when you’re at the mall and Instagram your brunches. The reality is, even when that shot of your boarding pass or brand new driver's license disappears, your digital footprint doesn’t. Social media has the power to make us feel invincible, but the attack on Kardashian is an important reminder that behind the safety of our smudged iPhone screens, we’re not as bulletproof as we think.
Though the circumstances under which they were assaulted differed, Hadid, Kardashian, and Pott were each still assaulted. We can’t change what happened to them, but we can change the message we’re sending to young women, which currently implies that it doesn’t matter if you’re a high-profile celebrity or high school sophomore — you’ll still be dismissed by society if something terrible happens to you. Instead, we can dictate how we talk about their stories in a way that validates them and, just as importantly, keeps the conversation going.
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