On a cold night last weekend – a week or so after launching the Five Girl Powers Project – I huddled under my comforter with one of my daughters. “Let’s watch a movie,” I said, secretly hoping we could sneak in a Book & Movie Discussion Activity before school starts and we head back to the grind of business.
“What about Akeelah and the Bee?” I asked, thinking, I loved spelling bees growing up, and that movie felt like a hug when last I watched it. “Nah, not in the mood,” she said decisively.
“What about a documentary,” I shot back quickly, afraid of losing the moment with her. “I heard Audrie & Daisy is amazing.” I honestly didn’t think she would be up for it. But after pre-viewing the trailer, we agree to watch it. I should say this about Lena. She is a horse-loving, brainy high school sophomore who regularly attends girl power programs. She can spot a slut-shame or negative girl bond attempt like a champ.
Audrie & Daisy is a movie about two teen girls who are sexually assaulted by boys they considered friends, boys who they knew. Daisy lives in a small town in Missouri and has several siblings, while Audrie lives in Santa Clara county, California, an only child. Both girls passed out after drinking and were not conscious when the assault happened. In the aftermath, both girls are humiliated online and harassed by their communities.
When Daisy’s mother describes how she found her daughter face-down in the yard, dumped like a bag of garbage, my heart stops. I almost have to turn it off. But as the town splits sides, and the verdict reveals that it was way more important to shield the boys than provide justice for the girls, it became almost unbearable. “Girls have as much culpability as boys,” the sheriff says, in a matter-of-fact way that makes you think he issues traffic tickets with greater concern. Daisy and her family end up leaving town after their house is literally burned to the ground. As time goes slowly on, Daisy gets involved with survivor activism at the national level. She speaks out and finds the comfort of others. “The words of our enemies aren’t as bad as the silence of our friends,” she says in a quiet but determined voice. The family’s strength and support are unwavering, her older brother a role model for how a male can come out against sexual assault.
Audrie’s story turns a different, beyond heart-breaking course after the sexual assault. We quickly learn that, as she comes to believe her reputation is forever ruined, she takes her own life. Watching pictures of her as she becomes a teenage, we begin to feel the weight of what’s about to be lost. Her mother describes Audrie’s modesty as she physically develops. “She added layer, upon layer, upon layer of clothing so you couldn’t tell the size of her breasts.” We imagine this as we hear the details of the assault, that the handful of boys wrote in indelible Sharpie all over her body, with arrows pointing at her vagina and breasts. We understand why, after realizing there was a video of the assault, that boys stood around watching it on the schoolyard, and that everyone knew what happened, she posts on Facebook in a chat that “her life is over.”
It wrenches and enrages to watch this movie. At times it is unbearable. But I don’t think I’ve watched a more important film with one of my daughters. As my daughters navigate the waters of high school and college party culture, I intend to watch it with each one of them.
I have immeasurable respect and gratitude for Daisy, Audrie’s family, the national survivor’s group and the filmmakers for providing us with a way to break the silence and shame around sexual assault.