Emily Bazelon, As If To Prove My Point
Wrote an article slut-shaming a fifteen year old girl who killed herself. Her article went up while I was working on this, about antiporn activists who engage in slut-shaming, and I hadn’t read Bazelon when I posted it.
I have several problems with what Bazelon did here. First, over the objection of the family’s lawyers, she released personal, non-public information about Phoebe Prince’s medical history. Second, many of her sources for the posthumous hit piece are adults at the school, talking on background. Bazelon gives us no idea where they stand in relation to the allegations, so we can’t tell if they’re being sued, or trying to minimize their own complicity. Are these sources the kitchen staff, or the administration? It’s not clear. Are they violating confidentiality obligations using material that they learned in a counseling role, while being protected by Bazelon? Also not clear.
But Bazelon’s real offense, to my mind, is publishing stuff like this:
The problem with Phoebe’s involvement with Austin was that he had a serious girlfriend—Flannery Mullins, now 17. Flannery mattered a great deal to Austin, students and adults say. “Austin was an angry kid for a long time,” one of the adults at the school says. “But he had really come a long way. He was poised to get his diploma at the end of the summer. This thing with Phoebe, it appeared to throw him. Because he seemed really committed to Flannery. She was pretty well grounded and she had good connections in school with other adults. I think she was good for Austin.”
Several older boys with girlfriends got involved with Phoebe Prince. It seems to me that the greater obligation falls on them, both because of age and because the one in the relationship is the one who made the promise, to avoid doing anything that damages those relationships. But Bazelon goes out of her way to portray the older boys as sympathetic, vulnerable … seduced.
Where have we heard that before?
She follows her sympathetic description with this: “At this point, Phoebe was spending a lot of time with a third senior boy.”
I think we all know what she’s trying to say there. It’s pretty clear that Bazelon thinks Phoebe Prince stole other girls’ boyfriends. She portrays all the surviving teens as basically sympathetic, and the clear implication is that the thing that went wrong was Phoebe Prince getting involved in their lives. The whole work leaves no doubt that while she stops short of outright defending the bullies’ conduct she thinks Phoebe Prince’s conduct is mitigation.
That is not a new idea. That’s a very old idea, one that we’re still struggling to kill. Congratulations, Emily Bazelon: you’re part of the problem.
[Edited to add, Lindsay Beyerstein's take on this is also a good read.]