Backhanded Xenophobia

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, writing about the tragedy of Amanda Todd’s suicide, gets it almost totally wrong for once:

When a child is bullied to the point of suicide partly because a photo of her breasts was circulated to her friends and family, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why the Anglosphere retains social norms wherein being seen topless is regarded as horrifying and shameful?

In a word: no.

Modesty is cultural. Every culture sexualizes some part(s) of the human body; in our culture, one of those parts is the female breast. Intrinsically, this is neither good nor bad, and claiming that our culture is somehow worse than other cultures because of it is really just very low-level exoticism.

Buried in some of this nonsense Friedersdorf comes close to making several good points, and I particularly agree with him that we should not teach children to feel humiliated or shamed by breaches of these cultural norms. But what we should blame for the tragedy of Amanda Todd is not our sexualization of breasts; it’s the horrible person who hounded and tormented her, then succeeded in shaming her in public until she felt so full of despair that she took her own life.

Bullies are bullies, and if they want to torment someone they’ll find any excuse. Furthermore, if bared breasts had not been taboo, Amanda Todd’s persecutor would have just persuaded her to show whichever part of her body was.