The Year in Misogyny (Irish Edition)

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Content note: rape, violence against women, anti-choice rhetoric, misogyny

It’s that time of year when we’re all casting our minds back over the last 12 months and reflecting on the highs and lows, and what we’ve learned as we’ve gone along. I’ve been looking back at my bookmarks, blog posts and tumblr scribblings and have been struck by how depressingly far Irish society still has to go in terms of achieving equality. Here are (in no particular order) some examples of the misogyny that made women fume this year.

The Slane Girl Controversy: The last few days of summer were dominated by discussion of this infamous Slane photo. I wrote at the time about the horrible slut-shaming double standard at play here, as did others. On a more positive note, the #slanegirlsolidarity tag was flooded with messages of support, and ‘I’m Spartacus’ type statements from other women who could empathise with the girl’s plight. 

The Irish Justice System: It seemed that hardly a week went by in 2013 without reading about a case of violence against women or girls that saw the attacker walk free, or face minimal sanctions. One horrifying case that was heard in Ennis court back in November involved a man attacking a woman in her own home with a metal  bar, who would walk away a free man, despite admitting his guilt. One judge, Martin Nolan has attained quite a reputation for his handling of similar cases, as a quick browse of the depressing ”judge of the day” tag on broadsheet.ie will attest. An Cailin Rua wrote a masterful piece on this very topic that I urge you all to read.

Rape Culture: This entry and the previous one are interchangeable in many respects. Rape culture is a term used to describe how society creates a hostile environment for rape victims, and often engages in apologism for perpetrators. There were several examples that I could pluck from the Irish media in 2013, but none exemplifies rape culture more so than the case of John Murray, the former Lord Mayor of Cork, and the priest who hijacked a funeral to urge the congregation to offer prayers that he would be cleared of sexual assault charges. We see this scenario time and time again; a powerful or wealthy man commits a sexually violent crime, and everyone from the clergy to the judiciary to the general public leaps to their defence, emphasising their family status and reputation,  with little regard for the feelings of the victim.

Anti-choice Nastiness: The last year has seen the anti-choice movement sinking to lower and lower odious depths. Youth Defence, as ever, have been central to proceedings, with antics ranging from the utterly hideous (the truck in question was parked close to a rape crisis centre) to the surreal (via OireachtasRetort’s tumblr). As legislation became increasingly likely and abortion once again became the subject of increased public debate, a succession of campaigners and politicians appeared on current affairs shows and proceeded to show their asses. It was the year of “abortion mills” and other choice epithets, as exemplified by Peter Mathew’s now infamous appearance on Vincent Browne. Thankfully, some light relief came in the form of this beautifully observed anti-choice bingo card and the Tara Flynn sketch ‘Judge, Jury and Obstetrician’.  

Our Abortion Laws (still): Legislating for the X case finally became a reality this summer (only 21 years on) with the passing of  the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. However, for many advocates of reproductive rights, it was a somewhat bittersweet occasion, the horrific section 22,  which recommends a jail sentence of FOURTEEN YEARS for those who have terminations outside of the law and the fact that the bill simply does not go far enough. Irish people will still be travelling to the UK and elsewhere in their droves, and until the reprehensible Eighth Amendment is removed, nothing will change in a meaningful way.

We’ve come a long way, but it’s clear we have a long, long way to go. Ireland, do better in 2014.

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One Night Stands-an antidote to the College Times

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TW: misogyny and rape culture

Everyone is by now familiar with that College Times piece. It  seems to have disappeared from the site, with this inept nonpology in its place, although this Journal.ie piece gives a good flavour of the content, and there’s a screenshot here. The article is breathtaking in terms of its misogyny, and is steeped in rape culture.  It describes sex in terms of “predators” and “prey”, advocates sexual harassment, and advises the reader to get women inebriated in order to engage in (non-consensual) sex. The writer also suggests targeting a woman who has “low self-esteem and potential daddy issues”. This vile piece is indicative of so many horrible aspects of our culture-misogyny, rape culture, lack of respect for personal autonomy and slut-shaming.

First of all, let’s call sex with a person who is so intoxicated they are unable to give their consent what it is-rape. Non consensual sex is rape-period. That the College Times is selling this as some kind playful “lad bantz” is appallingly irresponsible and dangerous.

The article also reifies horrible, problematic tropes about women and sexuality. The notion of women as “prey” for men undermines our own bodily autonomy and sexual agency, not to mention being incredibly heteronormative. Also disturbing is the exhortation to seek out women with “low self-esteem and potential daddy issues”. I deeply resent the contention that if a woman enjoys no-strings sex she must (a) have low self-esteem (b) be somehow emotionally damaged.

As I’ve said multiple times, we in Ireland really need a sex-positive alternative to both pearl-clutching moralism & UniLad style “woarrgh, SMASH IT!” bullshit. Believe it or not, MOST WOMEN ENJOY SEX. Yes, despite what our bullshit, slut-shaming patriarchal Madonna/whore dichotomy culture dictates, some woman do like to have no strings attached sex with a hot guy or girl, and then move on with their lives afterwards.

Feminist objections to attitudes like the ones put forward in this article aren’t based on prudery, they’re based on a desire to establish respect for women’s autonomy, end rape culture and work towards equality. We need to develop a consent culture, where mutual respect for bodily autonomy is paramount. As Pervocracy writes,

I don’t want to limit it to sex.  A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well.

This is not about restricting people’s sex lives. This is absolutely not about putting your genitals in cold storage and joining some kind of enclosed religious order. If anything, restrictive sexual mores are what led to this situation in the first place. I want adults to be able to communicate like adults, as equals on a mutual footing. I want to end sexual stigma. As I said in a Twitter conversation earlier today, I want a culture where women carrying condoms on a night out is considered as normal as carrying lip balm.

So, to finish I’m going to offer some one-night stand advice for humans?

  • Find someone attractive that you want to have sex with.
  • Make sure that you communicate with them *exactly* what you want, and that they are cool with it.
  • Remember, consent is an ongoing practice. Be sure that they are clear and firmly comfortable with what is happening every step of the way.
  • Go forth and have sexy sex!