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Lisa McInerney: Sharing of 'Slane Girl' pics does disservice to women and men

If you’re more upset about a sexual act occurring than about the malicious sharing of images of that act online, then you have a lot to think about, writes Lisa McInerney.

Lisa McInerney

READERS WILL BE aware by now of this week’s national spat. A teenage girl went to a concert and was captured on camera engaging in public sexual acts. The bright sparks behind the photographs shared them on social media, where they swiftly went viral due to their audience’s mix of twisted glee and self-serving condemnation. A cruel trick turned into a countrywide scuffle, and that scuffle revealed some very unsavoury social and sexual attitudes. Alas that they weren’t as surprising as they were grotty.

The consensus from those revelling in so-called “slut-shaming” (not my term) was that the girl in question was a disgrace and that she deserved every bit of abuse directed her way, a fine knot of victim-blaming even as she was being wronged. Vitriol was directed towards those who denounced the hypocrisy of the share-to-shame attitude. As the debate wore on, the counter-argument strengthened. A new hashtag appeared on Twitter, expressing solidarity with the girl in the images, but a significant amount of those tweeting had framed their support in kindly, yet troublesome logic: she had suffered enough, we all make mistakes, teenage girls can’t help being stupid…

Oh, Ireland. We’re still trying to cope with what happened in the Magdalene Laundries! In this day and age, with all we’ve been through, with all that we’ve learned, how can we still be debating the immorality of blow jobs before the depravity of mob righteousness?

Mind-blowing duplicity

As I write this, few facts have been established about the context of the photographed acts. We do not know whether the girl was coerced, whether it was her idea, whether she was sober. Facts make stories so very cumbersome, though, so that didn’t stop the internet guessing wildly about the participants’ intent and couching it in moral grandstanding.

Let’s simplify this. If someone is more upset about the sexual act than they are about the sharing of the images, then that person has a lot to think about, and should retire to the fainting couch for a couple of hours to work it all out.

Virtual Ireland has been awash with mind-blowing duplicity since this issue came to light. People triumphantly assert that the photographed girl orchestrated her own downfall even as their ignorant trumpeting pulls the slats from under her.

Mob mentality and misogyny

There’s more to this story than one girl’s misfortune. A cursory glance at Twitter will confirm that people have been genuinely affected – curious, when you think about it. Those who argued for the mob’s lenience have found themselves under siege by a tide of oddly furious contributors.

Their logic states that we must expect vicious bullying if we do something the mob finds distasteful. Such angry voices started off asserting their right to bully a teenager they knew nothing about in the name of comedy, and ended up exposing their fear of female sexuality and their willingness to attack anyone who questioned their misogyny.

Misogyny’s a strong term, but here we have photographs shared not because they’re sexy, or fun, or a celebration of youthful high jinks, but because the acts photographed are perceived as being shameful, and the public humiliation of a schoolgirl for doing something that falls outside social sexual mores is either hilarious or an appropriately vicious punishment.

A disservice to men

In the meantime, the admonishment of the young men who appear in the photographs, the photographer, and those who shared the images is significantly lighter than that meted out to the girl. In particular, this rírá has brought to the fore a trope of which this writer is bloody tired: the treatment of male sexuality as immature, irresponsible, and instinctive to the point of recklessness.

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While the female participant in the photographed acts was demonised for her inability to “respect herself” (another moral standard long past retirement age), the young men were excused because, apparently, men are incapable of saying no when a woman offers them a slice o’ vice. How this is even still accepted as truth is mind-boggling. Just as it does a disserve to women to claim their worth is tied up in their exclusivity, because female sexuality is a prize to be wrested from a woman’s panicked hands, it does a disservice to men to claim they’re slaves to their genitalia and completely incapable of giving meaningful consent.

Take both angles as fact, and you’ll realise why there’s such disparity in blame in this case: the girl in the photographs has lost her worth by opening her mouth, and the boys never had any to begin with. What a sad society the detractors have built for themselves.

Trial by social media

What this furore has told us is that Ireland – oh, let’s face it, everywhere – needs to split women into disparate archetypes in order to get its head around them. The photographed girl is demonised for being an active participant in a sexual act; are we to deduce that the ideal woman is someone sexy who doesn’t like sex? There isn’t just shame levelled at the girl in the photographs: there’s hate. Hundreds of publicly commenting know-it-alls, men and women, adults and youths, hate this girl for what she did when, assuming her consent, what she did hurt no one. She wouldn’t have received this level of spitting wrath if she’d burned down an orphanage.

C’mon, Ireland. Let’s recalibrate. Blowing a dude is fine. Blowing fourteen dudes is fine. Being shamed over a sex act performed with full consent is not fine. The amount of morons who think that a girl giving head is a bad thing is actually alarming. And it’s sad – desperately sad – that one young woman had to suffer in the firing line while we argued this out of our system.

One might ask where this angry, fearful generation came from, but my guess is we all know the answer. As the moral authority of the Church wanes, a new religion takes its place. Its methods might be different, but that’s just new perfume applied to the same old shit. Trial by social media: it’s quick, it’s brutal, and it’s very, very disappointing.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

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Lisa McInerney

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