CNN has a video story up about high school cheerleaders who were kicked off the team, after it was revealed they had texted nude pictures of themselves to their boyfriends. Everyone CNN talked to was in 100% righteous fury mode, absolutely convinced the school did the right thing, lamenting how today's girls are sluts, and slamming the parents for trying to get their daughter's reinstated.
Can I try and offer a dissenting opinion here?* If you watch the piece, there seem to be two conflicting narratives being forwarded about the girls. The first is that they are victims of over-sexed boyfriends who "pressured" them into sending the photos. The second is that the girls are trashy whores, presumably because they sent the pictures even though they weren't so "pressured".
Not only are these claims inconsistent with each other, neither warrants the response given. If the young women are really victims here, then I'm confused why we should be punishing them, rather than turning our attention to the putative victimizers. And if there was no pressure, but this was totally voluntary and consensual activity between girlfriend and boyfriend, well, guess what? Having a sexualized relationship does not make one a slut. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the school system should be punishing private, consensual sexual activity between students off of school property. I also have trouble believing that we'd come down this hard if it was known that the cheerleaders were having sex with their boyfriends, even though that is theoretically "worse" than exchanging nude photos with them. And I categorically refuse to buy into this awful social fiction whereby any sort of teenage sexual activity is met with apocalyptic sermonizing on the evils of the younger generation.
The only vaguely compelling argument I've heard is that the atmosphere of cheerleading caused the girls to view themselves as "performers", and assign their own value solely in terms of the reaction they can elicit from their "performance". The pictures are supposedly a product of this mentality, and thus they are being removed from the team, not as a punitive measure, but because it is leading to a damaging conceptualization of self-worth.
I think that's at least a little better, in that it doesn't berate the women and at least nominally ties the school's action to a legitimate educational purpose. But my feeling is that it is both insufficient and (more importantly) pre-textual. Insufficient, in that I don't think there is enough evidence to show the causal between cheering and nude photos (and there are many far simpler causal chains that could explain why a young woman might reveal her naked body to her boyfriend -- starting with "partner pressure" and ending with "we're in a relationship, part of which involves sexual expression!"). Pre-textual, in that the heaviest theme extant here is a feeling of moral superiority combined with heavy doses of slut-shaming. If we really were looking after the well-being of these young women, we wouldn't be so insistently screaming "WHORE!"
There are many things that can go wrong with teenage sexual exploration. And I'll concede that the fungibility of digital photos raises special concerns, given that the women may not have been aware of the risk that these pictures would get out into the public arena. But the mere fact that teenagers are engaging in sexual activity, absent anything else, is not something to get the vapors over. Aside from how hypocritical it is of, well, virtually all of us, if there is one thing this case is demonstrating, it's that the guardians of sexual morality enforce their code virtually exclusively through demeaning young women. And that will probably be more damaging than anything else.
* A caveat: I vaguely recall reading a similar story to this, which also alleged these girls were basically school terrors, openly flouting the authority of the teachers and administration, considering themselves above all rules and restraints due to their status. If this is that case, then obviously none of the above applies. I'm operating off the assumption that the nude pictures are the sole reason for punishing these young women.