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'My friend was gang raped. She attempted suicide; the men went on to have careers and families'

While interpretations of gender are more fluid than ever, there is a steady trajectory of retrogressive masculinity seeping into mainstream culture, writes Mary Cate Smith.

Mary Cate Smith

GENDER REFERS TO the categorisation of men and women by social and cultural roles. By definition, it is plastic. But if we consider ourselves to be at our most evolved, why then are traditional male values infused with power, dominance and control resurfacing at an alarming rate?

There is a tendency to write this substratum of textbook masculinity off as an aberration; that the archetypal alpha male exists in the shadows, hidden away like society’s Golem. Why, then does it appear to be grabbing the wheels of our society, a society in which songs about the “blurred lines” of sexual consent dominate the airwaves?

Last week, I experienced this hyper masculinity first hand

I would like to say that it was an isolated incident but it is only a mild flavour of my life as a woman in Ireland. I was lifting weights in my local gym alongside three other young men. One of the men was playing gangster rap on the gym speakers through the Bluetooth on his phone.

Loathe to listen to the lyrics about “bitches,” “niggers” and a “get rich or die trying” attitude at full blast, I asked the man to turn the music down. Fuelled by adrenalin, he refused and launched into a barrage of vulgar insults that left me reeling.

While the two male onlookers silently stood by (one a companion of the aforementioned), he proceeded to call me a “dirty little tramp,” “an evil slut” and an “ugly, frigid bitch,” while telling me that if I was a man, he would “knock my teeth out”.

As he was leaving the gym, he squared up to me

He suggested that I would masturbate to the memory of his image and he then attempted to headbutt me. He was intercepted by a male staff member and I was unhurt, at least physically.

I would like to say that this was a one-off incident. I would like to say that nothing of this sort has ever happened to me before. But that wouldn’t be true.

Growing up in Waterford, I experienced this form of sexual terrorism on a daily basis

Using the word terrorism may seem dramatic but it is the only word capable of encapsulating this phenomenon. In Kate Harding’s cautionary book, Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It, she draws parallels between the two concepts.

Like rape culture, terrorism exists as a kind of vague “omnipresent and often unidentifiable threat;” it’s almost impossible to prevent and you never know who will strike or when. Still, it’s a very real threat.

I remember living in a constant state of fear as a teenager, petrified of a group of boys that lived in my neighbourhood. From the age of twelve, these boys would make sexual remarks about my body and the bodies of my friends.

It didn’t matter if you were developed or underdeveloped. You were insulted for having a “slut’s body” and equally criticised for having no semblance of cleavage.

This “locker room banter” progressed to physical violence

It eventually resulted in the gang rape of one of my friends. While she attempted suicide many times, these boys went on to become men with careers and families, cementing their place in a society where the sole responsibility of preventing rape is placed on the woman.

Slut shaming and victim blaming both contribute to the erosion of the personal liberties of a woman to dress and act in a certain way, lest she be misinterpreted as a “loose woman” consenting to being groped or sexualised.

This attitude is rife in Western culture, drip-fed from that hub of globalised pop culture, America. We need only look to the recent case of Brock Turner to understand that this is a culture that blames the victim for ruining the life of a potential sports star and sympathises with the accused.

This is a culture that identifies with tortured artists like Roman Polanski (who raped and drugged a thirteen year old girl), a culture where a president can freely speak about sexually violating women without consequence but one that baulks when a woman speaks out about domestic violence, as in the case of Amber Heard.

It’s a serious subject but comedy has played its part

I remember the first time I watched Inside Amy Schumer. “We’ve all been a little raped”, she jokes in front of an audience of men and women furiously nodding their heads.

I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Love/Hate where Fran is sodomised by his fellow inmates. Twitter was rife with jokes in very bad taste about his rape.

For those of you who watched Broachchurch, there’s a character called Susan Wright who, under duress from the police, threatens Maggie Radcliffe, the editor of the local newspaper. “I know men who would rape you”, she mutters to Radcliffe, before turning on her heel ominously. The problem is, so do I.

Mary Cate Smith is a freelance journalist and stylist.

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