The murder of 19-year-old Kendra Childs is proof that we as a community have to do better.
Editors Note: Police have yet to confirm the identity of the gunmen in the Kendra Childs case. The opinions and views of this article belong to the author and not the publication at large.
On Wednesday afternoon, social media was awash in #RIPKendra hashtags after news spread that a 19-year-old Houston mother was gunned down in a drive-by shooting.
Police believe the gunmen -- a man and a woman in a black Camaro according to witness reports -- targeted the young mother.
While police have yet to confirm the identity of Childs' assailants, screenshots circulated across the Internet appear to show Twitter user "LingLingBaby" (who tweeted from the account @__LadyKocaine) making veiled threats to kill someone, at one point tweeting "my plan is to plot for a year...And I'm gone kill them people. Idgaf if the p.o. see this."
Social media speculation led many to believe that Lady Kocaine was the ex-girlfriend of Child's live-in boyfriend.
On Monday, LingLingBaby tweeted, "Praying everything goes good tmrw but I just know it will," a day before Childs was found dead. Her lifeless body was reportedly found by her boyfriend, who'd been at work at the time of the shooting. She was killed the day before her 20th birthday.
This story is tragic for many reasons, not least of which is the loss of such a young and beloved life. Also sad is the fact that the story was spread across social media, a major purveyor of a meme culture that glorifies "crazy exes" and whose most popular platforms still take death threats far too lightly.
The crazy girlfriend trope popularized in memes is dangerous because it normalizes the behavior of women displaying unhealthy, obsessive fixations. This goes without saying, but lurking on your man's (or ex's) social media is not cool. Tearing down his current relationship or harassing his current partner is not cool. Using social media to spread hate and make threats is not only not cool, it's also incredibly reckless when screenshots are possible with the click of a button and social media followers can double as witnesses.
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But there's another side.
The double-edged sword of meme culture is that in the same way that it normalizes women behaving badly, it also allows men to write off women as "crazy" or "emotional" for showing any hint of emotion. As the Washington Post reported in this must-read piece on double standards in language, "crazy" is one of several deadly words men employ to shame women into compliance. How many times have you been told to "calm down," or "quit overreacting" after voicing your (very rational) concerns to your partner? We are conditioned to believe that losing our cool in a moment of anger or frustration is akin to being mentally unhinged and thus we police our emotions to please to our male partners.
Calling women crazy, then subscribing the "crazy ex" to fatal situations like Childs' lumps all women into a narrative that paints them as dangerous, irrational and mentally unstable.
That's simply not the truth. In that way, it demonizes women as a whole and absolves the bad behavior of those who actually commit crimes.
"Crazy" is a term that is wildly irresponsible.
Additionally, social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram need to be held accountable for threats made by their users. And we as users need to be ready to report abuse as soon as we see it because there's truly no telling who is capable of what. We also need to ditch the idea that cyberbullying is a problem that doesn't affect our community. The ethos "if you see something, say something," extends beyond the public transit system and should be an intuitive response to any form of abuse, online or otherwise.
Social media platforms need to be less lenient of any user issuing death threats. From the racist trolls who targeted Leslie Jones this summer to users like LingLingBaby who tweet out vague threats, Twitter should intervene in any cases of abuse.
Between social media use and meme culture glorifying or making light of serious situations, we leave our women in danger and perpetuate damaging stereotypes.
If you or someone you know is being harassed online, report the offender (every social media platform should have a 'report' function) or visit stopbullying.gov for more information.