The problem with those reports about Kristen Stewart’s sexuality

What’s the only thing worse than being outed by your mother in the tabloids?

Mar 1, 2020, 1:24 am*

Internet Culture

Nico Lang 

Nico Lang

What’s the only thing worse than being outed by your mother in the tabloids? If your mother never even outed you to begin with.

Yesterday the U.K. rag the Mirror published an interview with Jules Mann-Stewart, who works as a script supervisor in Hollywood and directed the 2013 film K-11—and happens to be the mother of actress Kristen Stewart. In the interview, Mann-Stewart is quoted as being supportive of her daughter’s alleged relationship with her assistant, Alicia Cargile: “What’s not to be accepting about her now having a girlfriend? She’s happy. I’ve met Kristen’s new girlfriend, I like her.”

But according to Mann-Stewart, the interview was about her movie—which is currently exhibiting in the Hollywood Museum—not her daughter’s love life. Mann-Stewart says that the Mirror asked if she knew Cargile, to which the director responded: “Yes, she’s a lovely girl.”

While the Mirror has yet to confirm or deny Jules Mann-Stewart’s claims, it’s pretty par for the course for Kristen Stewart—the ultimate case of “same shit, different day.” In 2012, photos surfaced of Stewart getting romantic with her Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders, despite the fact that Stewart was in a well-publicized relationship with Robert Pattinson, her onetime Twilight co-star. The online backlash to what appeared to be infidelity was so severe—with Stewart receiving numerous death threats—that it forced her into hiding. An online T-shirt retailer even sold “Kristen Stewart is a Trampire” T-shirts to capitalize on the hate.

What’s the only thing worse than being outed by your mother in the newspaper? If your mother never even outed you to begin with.

While that should be old news, that harsh treatment has followed her since, with Twitter users frequently urging her to kill herself and numerous invasions of her privacy receiving little backlash on the Internet. This January, paparazzi photos showed Stewart and Cargile frolicking on the beach together, enjoying a carefree day in the sun. They were celebrated as an affirmation of her assumed bisexuality—which she’s never talked about publicly.

However, as Flavorwire’s Alison Herman argues, these photos were incredibly disturbing. Herman writes, “While the photos might prove that Stewart’s not straight, they definitely prove a few other things: that Stewart was followed to the beach without her permission; that photographers deliberately intruded on an outing that was meant to be private; that said intrusion was almost certainly done for the express purpose of setting off the maelstrom of ‘gotcha!!!’s that has predictably ensued.”

But this is more than an invasion of privacy. It’s also a textbook case of cyberbullying. For those who are unfamiliar, the National Conference of State Legislatures details the legal definition of the term: “Cyberbullying is the willful and repeated use of cell phones, computers, and other electronic communication devices to harass and threaten others. Instant messaging, chat rooms, e-mails, and messages posted on websites are the most common methods of this new twist of bullying.”

StopBullying.gov further explains that examples of cyberbullying include “rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.”

Cyberbullying can be difficult to prove in court, however, both because the law is still working to catch up with advances in technology and because it’s such a widespread practice. Nearly half of teenagers report being harassed online, while around 1 in 3 claim that they’ve been threatened through technology or social media. Recent research from the Psychology of Violence claims that cyberbullying isn’t as pernicious as face-to-face harassment, but for both teens and adults, its dangers are very real.

Back in 2006, an investigation into the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, suggested that constant harassment on Myspace contributed to her feelings of depression and isolation. In 2012, 15-year-old Amanda Todd took her own life after nude photos of herself were circulated on the Internet without her consent. Between 2012 and 2013, BuzzFeed reported that “nine suicides were linked to cyberbullying”—and that was just on one website.

This is more than an invasion of privacy. It’s also a textbook case of cyberbullying.

Social media platforms like Twitter are working to address their harassment issues by introducing tools that allow their users to export their block lists to distribute them to others in your network, thus helping to shield yourself from known troll accounts, but it’s hard to shut down society’s harassment problem when society is the problem.

It’s easy to recognize and counteract behavior that we all recognize as overt trolling—death threats and the like—but what about publishing someone’s private photos without their consent? What about publishing potentially libelous statements about their personal life? What about continuing to follow that person wherever they go, making nearly every moment of their life a matter of public record against their will?

If we were talking about a 13-year-old girl living Missouri, whose relevant interests are  “swimming, boating, fishing, dogs, rap music, and boys,” these would constitute clear instances of cyberbullying and cyberstalking. However, when these behaviors describe someone who was once described as “the most hated woman in Hollywood,” it apparently becomes perfectly acceptable to do or say just about anything you want to her with little accountability.

While a slew of websites picked up the original “Kristen Stewart outing,” it’s particularly telling that far fewer have called the Mirror out on Mann-Stewart’s allegations; the first headline was a better story, after all. What’s troubling about this isn’t just that it’s potentially bad reporting but that it shows the real severity of the problem: How can we really combat the everyday harassment of women when just about every website on the Internet contributed to it?

It might have seemed like Jules Mann-Stewart had the “perfect response” on the issue of Kristen Stewart’s sexuality, but it’s our own response that clearly needs some work. 

Nico Lang is the Opinion Editor for the Daily Dot.

Photo via GageSkidmore/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 16, 2015, 3:23 pm