Content Note: misogyny, slut shaming
Sometimes, I get complacent and think that Irish society has progressed. Sometimes I think that we have moved on, and dispensed with the old hang-ups about sex and sexuality, women’s sexuality in particular. However, a couple of events that unfolded over the last few weeks have reminded me that the reality, sadly, is otherwise.
The most recent incident, the one that motivated me to write this blog, is the circulation of the so-called ‘Slane girl’ photo. The photo, which features a young woman performing oral sex, supposedly taken at the Eminem gig at Slane, appeared on social media on Sunday, accompanied with slut-shaming commentary, to the tune of “Her parents must be so proud”. With depressing predictability, most of the negative comments were directed at the girl, not the male recipient, and, tellingly, little ire was directed at the people who disseminated the photo for no ostensible reason other than humiliating its subjects for a few cheap laughs. A notable example was this misogynistic shit-bit from FM104 presenter Jeremy Dixon. Whatever your views are about the nature of the act in question, the publication of this image and the online fallout is a damning indictment of certain sectors of Irish society -cruel, immature and misogynistic. Many people I follow on Twitter (who I’m relieved to say were mostly sympathetic to the girl’s plight) commented on the youth of the participants, and warned that what we are dealing with here is child porn. This may well be the case, and if so, the “photographers”, and every single person who shared the photo are complicit in a child sexual abuse crime, all in the name of demeaning a young woman for a bit of late summer entertainment.
Earlier in the summer, another supposed scandal of a sexual nature blew up on the internet. A woman allegedly engaged in a threesome with two Irish rugby players, and was forced to temporarily leave the country as she was subjected to a deluge of vitriolic abuse online as content of a private conversation disclosing the identities of the participants went public. The bile she received, much like the girl in the Slane photo, was misogynistic in nature. The Sunday Independent revelled in the non-controversy, carrying the story an incredible four weeks in a row, one occasion carrying a typically eye-rolling admonishing piece by Eilis O’ Hanlon for good measure. In a particularly galling move , PR consultant Max Clifford offered his two cents, essentially placing responsibility solely at the woman’s doorstep.
Ugly as both episodes were, they were instructive as to the attitudes that are still prevalent in Irish society. Women are still shamed for their sexual choices, whereas the part that the men play in sexual encounters that capture public attention is either overlooked or lauded. It is, to some minds, inconceivable that a woman could possibly want to engage in some frivolous sex, commitment-free sex and move on with their lives the next day. Our radio friend’s tweet may have been repulsive, but it was revealing-this behaviour is not seen as womanly. The lack of empathy with the young women at the centre of these controversies is dismaying; their online notoriety is seen as just desserts for their actions.
Another implication that frequently popped up was that these girls had no “self-respect”. This is a baseless claim that only truly makes sense if you believe that a woman’s self worth is tied in entirely with her sexuality, and the amount of sexual experience she has. Do I think that a woman who has lots of sex can also have self respect? Absolutely! This can be further enabled by establishing a consent culture and implementing effective sex education, so people can be empowered to explore their sexuality in a safe manner, free from coercion. We also have to recognise this moralising over women’s bedroom exploits for what it is-old fashioned sexism and misogyny.