Friday, October 28, 2011


This week I learned the story of Amber Cole. I was surprised that I had not heard her story, let alone her name, prior to today. But I feel as though there are many elements of feminism, along with the very obvious child safety issues, associated with her “fame.”

For those of you that have not heard of Amber Cole, she is a 14 year-old young woman (many would argue still a “girl”) who was filmed giving oral sex to her boyfriend. The video also featured two other young men, who were filming the event. They were encouraging her and laughing as they filmed. Then, the video was posted online. It went “viral” and suddenly, it wasn’t just the two other young men who had seen the act, but the whole worldwide web.

I have heard these types of stories too often. Recently released studies find that, in fact, 1 in 5 teens have sent a sexually explicit photo via the internet, or cell phone. The trend of “sexting” is becoming more and more popular, especially amongst middle school and high school students. The next step in this kind of behavior is sending videos of sexual acts. “Good Morning America” did a piece about the prevalence of sex videos amongst teenagers as well.

So, is Amber Cole’s story one of just another bad teenage decision? Or is it something more? I venture to say it is something different. Once her video went viral, she was initially bullied for her roll. Unfortunately, that’s usually how high school students react. Stories of teenagers being tormented for partaking in “sexting” have made national headlines. But in Amber’s case, the reaction has been quite different. A “Leave Amber Alone” campaign started on the popular video-sharing site “YouTube.” Teenagers from around the country have shown their support by uploading videos, asking people to simply let Amber be.

Perhaps the most moving response came from the writer Jimi Izrael. He wrote this piece titled, “I Am Amber Cole’s Father.” He’s not really her father, although, her real father is reportedly outraged by his daughter’s “fame.” Izrael speaks about the shock he felt when he read her story. He writes about his feelings of anger about why a girl would know how to do the things she did.

Izrael also brings up two other interesting thoughts. He talks about the young men involved in the video. How did these boys think that it was okay? How did they learn to treat women like this? We cannot excuse them under the “boys will be boys” motto. But at the same times, he says he “knows” these boys because he too was once a young man.

Izrael also addresses race. As he sees it, there is a difference between how young white women and young black women act. This kind of behavior might be acceptable for young white women, he suggests, but, he argues, young black women cannot “afford” these risks. Whether you agree with his sentiments or not, I believe his piece is incredibly interesting.

Amber’s story is gaining more and more media attention. With this attention comes various rumors which I will refrain from discussing. But at the root of it all, and maybe the media is forgetting this, is that material such as this is child pornography. We may gloss over that fact because the video went viral, some argue she was “trying” to gain attention, and perhaps just “boys will be boys.” But it’s all unacceptable.


S said...

KatyZee, thank you for sharing. I was unaware of the video until I read your posting. What disturbs me most about this entire situation is the double standard.

Most of the critiques flow from the actions of Amber. What about the boy receiving head or the two filming? Why is it that these three are not receiving as much criticism as Amber? As asked by Latoya Peterson, "Who, exactly, taught this young kid that the right way to treat a girl who likes him is to ask her to perform a sex act in public? (If the rumors are to be believed, she was attempting to win his affection.)...Is anyone concerned that the things these boys learned, either explicitly from their peers or implicitly from society? That these actions got two of them arrested? Started them down the pipeline for incarceration?"

These are important questions that are not being asked. The lack of commentary on the conduct of these three boys reflects society's double standard for the conduct of males and females. It also reflects the fact that our society does not fully appreciate and respect the extremely dangerous repercussions of cyber bullying. See

By neglecting to conceptualize the video of Amber as an act of cyber bullying, the discussion necessarily focuses on the double standard because it is what our society is most familiar and comfortable with. If the discussions surrounding the video centered on how (1) Amber's conduct was based on a desire to win the affection of someone she liked, (2) her conduct was recorded without her knowledge, (3) posted without her permission, and (4) resulted in her being harassed, the discussion is immediately and automatically realigned to the conduct of the boys. I think society would benefit greatly from such a discussion.
See also

AMA said...

To me, Amber Cole's story epitomizes so much of what is wrong with the treatment of women in society. First off, it appears that only Amber is being dragged through the mud, rather than the several boys who partook and recorded the act. I can imagine that all sorts of victim blaming is also circulating. Secondly, why are boys in their teens already behaving in such misogynistic ways? Where did they learn that this is how you treat women? And finally, this girl supposedly did this to win over her crush - where's the self-respect?

I'm happy to hear that people are standing up for Amber; we cannot allow the blaming of young women for their actions when it is clear that society leads them to these very decisions by inundating them with a "sex sells" attitude.

I feel terribly for Amber, all kids make mistakes. But I am enraged to see that young women today are neither being respected by young men nor respecting themselves.

tomindavis said...

I also had not heard of this story. I was aware, however, of the growing use of the internet and cellphones to both abuse and expose individuals' private lives. In general, this kind of stuff happens all the time. The nature of youtube and other websites practically invites some degree of uninvited worldwide disclosures. As you hint at in your post, some say that this is expected when you stand in front of a camera or video camera just about anywhere.

But this is clearly a different situation altogether. An individual made a choice to reveal another individual in a sex act -- a completely private act even if done in the presence of two others. But worst of all, this was a public display of the kind of sexual subordination of teenage women that likely happens all the time but not shown on the internet.

Katy, you make the terrific point at the end that, privacy issues aside, this is child pornography. Most states would agree, and the Supreme Court would likely agree with them.

The focus should indeed be on the boys, as S says it should be. We are right to be concerned with Amber, to the extent that her privacy and self-esteem are concerned.

But it does get worrisome if the concern about Amber disguises a worry about how she acted the way she did. This is more so a story about young males displaying alarming talent at incorporating dangerous sexual norms from their elders, their peers, and the kinds of websites they likely posted the video on in the first place.

AMS said...


Immediately after reading your post, I called my fifteen-year old sister to get the scoop on what the young kids are into these days (at least at her school).

Now, my sister is a good, over-programmed, suburban teenager. She somehow manages to find time to balance music and acting lessons with honors classes and tutoring sessions. Yet knowing that she's also a fun, fashionable, cheerleader, I figured she would be in the know about Amber.

To my surprise, the name "Amber Cole" didn't even ring a bell. It bothers me that my sister did not know Amber's story. Although I believe that Amber deserves privacy, I also believe that every teenager in America should be familiar with the important lessons associated with Amber's experience.

I asked my sister if she knew of people at school who "sext." Her response was a resounding, "of course." She then explained that some people send more than messages--they send pictures, and they brag about it. She found the whole thing really gross. (Thank goodness!)

At that point, I explained the dangers of sexting and provided her with a few more facts from Amber's story. I reminded my sister that sexting could result in publicity, like in Amber's case, and child pornography charges. When I asked her to tell the kids who sext that they're risking child pornography charges, she said, "they wont listen to me."

Teens in America need help addressing this issue.

So how do we teach young men and women the important lessons regarding sex, self-respect, privacy, misogyny, safety, reputation, and cyberbullying? I think we need to confront it directly. American teens--especially the female teens who seem to receive more criticism in these situations--deserve a wake-up call.

The parents, guardians, and mentors of American teens also need a wake-up call. Adults can't continue to turn the other cheek while young people turn to the internet to learn the wrong lessons about how to treat women and how to win affection. Teen sexual exploration is a fact of life, and with technology in-hand, it crosses the line from a potentially healthy activity to a safety hazard.

Ringo1985 said...

The intersection of technology and teenage experimentation has led to the exploitation of young teenage girls more than I would have anticipated. But regardless of the technological innovations that allow children of this generation to upload sexual videos and share sexual texts, the age old adage that "boys will be boys" raises the harrowing question of how to deal with the victimization of teenage girls.

When one adds in a popular culture that promotes the exploitation of women and young girls, adolescent and teenagers feel the pull from their classmates and from what may be appear to be innocuous pop culture.

As in many situations, Amber is vilified and the boys who perpetuated the horrific sex acts walk away unscathed. While sex education in schools often no longer preach abstinence, I think that a lesson or two in the misogyny that reigns in many American high schools is necessary. I don't recall any type of sex education that was aimed to derail the negative impacts that publicized sexual acts, such as this one, can have on young female girls. Even if such an act isn't publicized, I'm sure many of us don't have to rack our brains to think of girls who "spoiled" their reputations in high school, while the boys had absolutely no recourse whatsoever.

What often bothers me is the often phrased notion that young girls should have the self-respect to refrain from such behavior. However, boys are never burdened with the same choice. Boys' sexual decisions are usually not phrased in terms of self-respect. While both male and female adolescents should be aware of the consequences of their decision, to foist an unfair standard upon female adolescents is too great a burden for young girls to bear.

Girl Talk said...

This is child pornography, and it is disturbing. What is most disturbing to me about it is the treatment of Amber compared to the treatment of the boys involved. She becomes nationally humiliated and is probably psychologically scarred for life, while the boys experience no repercussions. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they were actually praised by their peers for being involved.

Izrael asks how did the boys learn to treat women like this? Because stuff like this happens all the time. Not just on the internet, but in real life too. Men sexually harass women on the street and get away with it. Being involved sexually with a girl is considered a feat, an accomplishment for guys, and they receive praise from other boys when they are successful in having a girl submit to them sexually. Where do they learn it? Everywhere. Their parents, movies, advertisements, and the internet. It is quite pervasive.