In Favour of Intolerance

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Fourteen-year-old Ana Kriegal was sexually assaulted and murdered on the 14th of May last year. Two boys, aged thirteen at the time, were found guilty of the crimes against her.

Since the verdict was reached last week, there have been many column inches devoted to the case. There has been mention of how this is an ‘unusual’ case, how it shows the ‘dark side’ of Ireland. Such statements, however, are unhelpful and untrue. This is Ireland. This is the Ireland I grew up, this is the Ireland I now live in. I have seen people wonder how we ‘get boys like this’, but the truth is we create them.

Lack of education around pornography and sexual relationships has been cited as part of the problem – and I don’t discount these claims. The problem is, however, that it’s too easy to point to the obvious and suggest that it provides the complete picture. It doesn’t.

 

Irish society creates and condones the behaviour of these boys, and boys like them. Because – don’t kid yourself – these boys are not an aberration. Their attitudes towards, and treatment of, women and girls, is not unusual in Irish society. And it’s their attitudes that fuelled their behaviour. Yes, murder is still unusual in Ireland. Thirteen-year-olds murdering people is also still an unusual phenomenon, but thirteen-year-olds sexually assaulting girls is not nearly as unusual as you might like to think.

If Ana had ‘just’ been sexually assaulted and not murdered, think how the media and the public would have reacted. Without a doubt, she would have been unmercifully victim-blamed, in exactly the same way as every other victim of rape and sexual assault over the age of ten is blamed for their own victimisation. At this point, I would like to respectfully suggest that we need a cultural sea change so that the disgust we feel at crimes of sexual violence is directed towards the perpetrators of sexual violence, rather than their victims.

The problem is not with individual children or even individual families – the problem is with the whole wider society. I know this will not be a particularly popular statement, but – as my friend and colleague, Dr Jessica Eaton says – ‘our systems won’t change by protecting ourselves from our own shortcomings’.  And we have shortcomings galore in this society.

Bullying is endemic in Irish culture. We have learnt that Ana Kriegal was bullied online, and in person. People – adults – were aware that she was being bullied, and they chose to do nothing. Before she started secondary school, her resource teacher told Ana’s parents that she was worried for the child’s welfare. Ana was suicidal before she left primary school. She was bullied by children a few years older than she before she even started secondary school.

Nothing effective was done to stop the bullying because we tolerate bullying in Ireland. It flourishes in Irish schools, in Irish companies, in Irish businesses, in Irish institutions. It is a top-down phenomenon, and it thrives because our systems support it: Look at how we treat whistle-blowers, and how we treat victims of bullying.

We neither teach nor model empathy, kindness, and compassion. Such traits are seen as weaknesses. Instead, we tell ourselves and each other that ‘Boys will be boys’, that victims need to ‘toughen up’, be ‘less sensitive’, and learn to ‘cope’.  They are told that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’, even though every person with a pulse knows that simply isn’t true.

The word ‘resilience’ is also bandied about – as if resilience is a good thing, instead of another stick with which to beat victims. In case you’re confused, the word ‘resilience’ suggests that whatever circumstances exist to cause a person’s upset are established; and it is, therefore, incumbent upon an individual to look after themselves. As if the display of symptoms is synonymous with weakness. As if ‘vulnerability’ and ‘weakness’ are interchangeable.

Yes, Boy A and Boy B caused Ana Kriegal’s death, but we caused them. We – as a society – taught them how to behave.  We – as a society – support bullying, victim-blaming, victim-shaming, rape-culture, and male entitlement.

Entitlement is an unhealthy personality trait that can lead to greed, aggression, a lack of forgiveness, hostility, and deceit.  Specific to sexual assault, the lack of empathy and feelings of entitlement may lead individuals to believe that they deserve sex when they want it, without considering the wants and needs of the other person. Research informs us that when entitled individuals do not get what they want, they become hostile or violent.

We live in a society where we attempt to induce outrage and empathy by saying things like ‘Imagine if she were your daughter / sister / niece / cousin / friend’: By so doing, we rob the victim of her personhood. By insinuating that we can only see the victim as worthwhile or empathetic if we can, somehow, re-imagine her as someone like someone we may know speaks volumes about our inability to view a person as worthwhile simply because they exist. That, alone, should be enough without additional qualifiers – real, or imagined.

We need to create a society that is intolerant of bullying, misogyny, victim-blaming, victim-shaming, male entitlement, and rape myths. We can only do that by modelling such intolerance.

 

 

Consent And Unsolicited Pictures

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Consent is, thankfully, back in the news these days.  Sober Paddy wrote a great piece on how not to be a rapist. That post focuses on how important consent is when seeking to have sexual contact with someone else.

The Minister for Education and Skills has issued a statement committing to bringing the issue of consent into the new sex ed curricula. Until the proposed curricula have been published, it is impossible to comment on their content – obviously! – but I would hope that ‘consent’ would cover everything from hugging right up to, and including, penetrative sex.

Schools are not the only place where people can, and should, receive education, information, and training, however. Sports clubs, professional bodies and organisations, have a duty of care to ensure that their members are aware of what consent is, how to obtain it, and how to respond when consent is refused / revoked. I would argue that workplaces would also do well to consider educating their employees on issues of consent. After all, mental health and other elements of self-care are being introduced by employers across the country, so why not consent workshops, too?

Seeking, and obtaining, consent is an element of challenging the entitlement with which most men in our society are raised. Even men who identify as ‘one of the good guys’ (who doesn’t?!); and think they are kind, considerate, and emotionally intelligent can – due to their own sense of entitlement – over-step boundaries, causing upset and distress.

As the person on the receiving end of such behaviour recently, I’m going to tell you a little story about consent and unsolicited dick pics.

It’s no secret that I’ve dabbled in the world of online dating – with mixed results. There have been a few first dates, fewer second dates, and a scant handful of third (or subsequent) dates, but for the most part, it’s been fun.

About a fortnight ago I connected with a man who seemed like A Decent Bloke. I enjoyed chatting with him; he ticked a lot of boxes, and I was looking forward to meeting him. From our first conversation, I had flagged my dislike of dick pics – photographs of men’s penises sent to my phone, and / or email – and he had assured me that he wouldn’t send any.

It got to the stage where the (non) sending of dick pics was a source of mirth. In nearly every conversation we had, the fact that I didn’t like them, and he, therefore, wouldn’t send them was mentioned. I was clear, not just about my aversion to dick pics, but also about why I really didn’t want them sent to me. He understood. ‘I’m one of the good guys,’ he assured me. Hmmmmm.

Last week, we were chatting away, and it was all a bit flirty and harmless and comfortable. Then, he whips out his penis, snaps a pic, and sends it to me on Whatsapp.

I was more upset than I thought I’d be: I’m in my mid-forties, I’ve seen penises before; and I’ve been violated in worse ways (and by family members, too), but upset I was. I immediately shut down the conversation on Whatsapp, and sent a ‘regular’ text message. This is the exchange that followed:

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I didn’t reply. I have no desire to communicate with someone who thinks this is an adequate response. Look at what he says:

‘I got carried away’ – in other words ‘It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t control myself.’

How many times have women heard this as a way for men to shift the blame for their actions away from them to …well, who or what, exactly? The woman? Their penis as a third party and separate entity? I’m not sure, but if you have any thoughts, please enlighten me.

In his final missive, he says:

‘I really thought we had reached a point where you would be ok with that.’

He thought I’d be okay with him sending me an unsolicited dick pic even though I’d told him I really didn’t want one. He thought that; so it must be right, right? He thought that; so there was no need to check with me, right? He thought that; so there was no need to seek consent, right? And he could have, so easily….if he was sitting there, all horny and dying to show me what that looked like (!), couldn’t he just have asked? How difficult would it have been for him to say something like:

‘I know you don’t want unsolicited dick pics – but to you fancy soliciting one? 😊’ or

‘I’m horny as fuck – wanna see?!’ or

‘I think I have the most amazing mickey in the world, and I want you to agree.’

Whatever! Anything other than this clear display of white, male, middle-class, entitlement. I’m sick of it.

Sending an unsolicited picture of your genitals to another person is an act of aggression. Sent as a message (rather than an attachment), means that it confronts the person when they open the relevant application. It’s violating. It’s upsetting. Particularly when the person on the receiving end has been clear and explicit about why they do not wish to receive such a photograph (and, should I really have to disclose details of my abuse in order to hope that I’ll be spared an unsolicited dick pic? Or tell men that my children have access to my phone, so I don’t want their penises all over it?!)

Exposing children to pornographic images is classed as sexual abuse. Exposing adults to pornographic images should, at the very least, require consent.

Women And Media Requests

Mic on Air

This past week, I was a guest on the Echo Chamber Podcast.  For those unfamiliar, the podcast is in its infancy – it’s just ten episodes old – and uses stories from Twitter as a jumping-off point. Having heard most of the podcasts, I was honoured to have been asked, and delighted to accept the invitation immediately.

 

After we’d recorded, Tony (@trickstersworld), Martin (@williamhboney1), and I (@hazelklarkin) were having a chat, and Tony mentioned how they are making a conscious effort to ask as many women as men to take part.

‘Because there’s two of us, it’s (the podcast) already gender-skewed before we invite anyone else on,’ he said.

Martin and Tony informed me that as many women as men have been asked to appear as guests on the Echo Chamber Podcast, but fewer women respond positively. I was surprised. Tony elucidated.

‘Women will be interested, but also more hesitant. They ask questions about who we’re aligned with – politically – who our listenership is…things like that. They say they’ll have to think about it. They are often concerned about any possible back-lash with regards to their jobs. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to just say “Yes! I have something to say, I’ll come and say it!” ‘

 

This was a new narrative to me. I have been involved with initiatives such as Women On Air, and MAM, and I would normally only turn down a media appearance if I have a scheduling conflict. I have heard women say they are never asked – or they are only asked to comment on things that are specifically women- or children-centred. Or they are asked to contribute to more ‘fluffy’ items on radio, television, or in print. I have also heard producers and researchers talk about how difficult it is to find women who can talk on ‘meaty’ subjects, and who are willing to take part in programmes. In an effort to ameliorate this, Women On Air maintains a list of women experts in a number of subject areas. Still we don’t hear enough women’s voices on public platforms.

 

Why do women hesitate to take part in a podcast or other platform? Why are women more cautious with regard to committing to airing their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reactions? I’ve been thinking about this ever since Martin, Tony, and I discussed it.  I’m of the opinion that the issue of the lack of women’s voices in public is not as simple as ‘there aren’t enough women’ and /  or ‘we’re never asked’. The evil twins Patriarchy andToxic Masculinity are, I fear, to blame here.

 

Women, I think, are more hesitant to go on air because they fear the backlash. We fear that our words will be scrutinised to a greater extent than men’s. We fear that our mistakes, our gaffes, will not be forgiven. We fear that if we fudge a response, we will be ridiculed for being inarticulate and lacking in knowledge. We fear that our employers, or clients (or whoever it is who pays us),  will take agin us if we express an opinion that is not aligned with theirs.

 

We fear that we do not have an equivalent of ‘boys will be boys’ to excuse our behaviour if we are deemed, on reflection, to have over-stepped a mark. We fear this because we are aware that we have not perfected how to have lines such as the following accepted women to the same extent, and with as much ease, as they are accepted from men. :

‘Can you not take a joke?’

‘I didn’t mean it like that.

‘Have you never heard of irony?’

‘Oh. I mis-spoke. What I meant was…’

‘I was speaking in my personal, not my professional, capacity’

‘If we all thought the same, life would be boring’

‘You’re taking me out of context’

 

This is one of the faces of toxic masculinity; that element of our attitude to men and women that allows men to be – and forgives them for being – irresponsible and immature; that doesn’t expect, or demand, that they stop acting like boys; that does not hold them to the high standards that women are held to; that doesn’t hold men accountable for their words and deeds; that allows men to get away with things that women wouldn’t be allowed to get away with; that portrays men as a bit bumbling, but generally well-meaning. I think the closest trope women have to this ‘Bumbling Ineffectual’ is the ‘Damsel in Distress’ – but the latter needs to be ‘rescued’ (and usually by a man). Mansplaining is an extension of this ‘rescuing’ of ‘distressed damsels’ and most women have been subjected to it, and are aware of how tedious and teeth-clenchingly insulting it is. Why, then, would any woman offer those whose wont it is, the opportunity to mansplain at them?

 

While the lack of women’s voices on air is a multi-faceted problem, there may be more facets to it than I had originally thought.