Last Saturday at an Eminem concert at Slane Castle, outside Dublin, Ireland, a 17-year-old woman was photographed performing oral sex on two males. Unsurprisingly, these photos went viral on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
I’ve been hopeful of Twitter and Facebook recently. In particular the discussion surrounding the #solidarityisforwhitewomen trend inspired a lot of thought about what gender and feminism mean in 2013 and has served as a much needed reminder for white feminists like myself to check our own privilege. That spirit of hope has taken a hit with the Slane Girl Story. Within two days of the Eminem concert, Twitter exploded into a slut-shaming bonanza. The hashtags #slanegirl and #slaneslut trends have taken on the appearance of a free-for-all, cruel, glee-filled, slut-shaming stampede.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people worldwide reveled in the name and shame strategy that social media has proffered, declaring that the young woman deserves the onslaught of sexist mudslinging. One of the pictures that went viral depicts a male involved in the act, raising his arms in triumph. A Rocky Balboa for the digital age. This image provides yet another example of LAD culture.
Very few adding their two cents to the public debate are questioning the blatantly sexist division the reaction has taken. Following the release of the photographs, the girl was identified, her real name and personal information were linked with the images, adding a spiteful, personal edge to this story. As a result, she has been so traumatized by the messages sent to her on social media that Irish news outlets are reporting that she has been sedated in the hospital. Neither of the two men seen in the photographs have been targeted or identified. In most cases, they’re barely even mentioned. Before delving into the issue of consent, this reveals the double standards that make up ideals of gender and notions of ‘proper’ sex in Ireland. He is seen as a legend and a hero, whereas she’s a slut.
It is still under speculation whether or not these acts were committed with consent. It is assumed by most commentators, even in the supportive camp, that the young woman in question engaged in these sexual acts with consent. This has allowed antagonists of the #SlaneGirl trolls to put forth the forgiving excuse of youth and ignorance. I am not one of those commentators.
The problem isn’t what she did, or where she did it, or even how many times she did it! The problem is the unhesitant joy people have in condemning her and making this condemnation known. The reaction on Twitter ranges from downright giddiness to vitriolic hate. This woman’s actions are seen as so transgressive, that people all over the world feel they have a right to voice their opinion. She so thoroughly broke beyond the carefully and historically defined limits of “acceptable sexuality” that she is being punished for doing so (assuming that this was, indeed, a consensual encounter).
This attack is all part and parcel of an Ireland that is not moving fast enough from its conservative, Catholic beginnings. One tweeter said it all.
The incident becomes even more sinister if we learn that the oral sex was nonconsensual. Concerts at Slane Castle (and Ireland in general) are notorious for their hedonistic, binge drinking, and drug-fueled mania. Had the girl been too intoxicated to give consent, or was in any way forced to commit these acts, sober or otherwise, then this is a case of sexual assault and rape. The Irish Independent reported that the woman has made a separate complaint of sexual assault that occurred at the event but was unrelated to the photographs. A video has reportedly emerged, allegedly showing the young women being sexually and physically assaulted by a group of men. The video was quickly removed from online sources and is currently being investigated by Garda Síochána (Irish Police).
This wholesale condemnation of the woman reveals the increasing easiness people have with potential acts of rape. This is rape culture – where the possible rape of a teenager has resulted in an intense campaign of victim-blaming. To quote fellow Nursing Clio Blogger, Austin McCoy, modern rape culture manifests itself “in a puritanical collective shaming and blaming of the victim.” Despite the potential multiple acts of sexual abuse that occurred, the vitriol is directed solely at the victim.
The challenge comes from a country that has embraced a digital age without updating its attitudes or education about sex. For many, there lies a subconscious, learned belief that sex for a woman is shameful unless it’s done under the covers, with the lights turned off, and with a ring on her finger (and only with her husband, of course).
The guidelines for ‘Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE)’ in Irish schools state that the aim is “to provide opportunities for children and young people to learn about relationships and sexuality in ways that help them think and act in a moral, caring and responsible way.” I’m all for sex education being caring and sexually responsible, but I’m not convinced the Irish government should be defining what’s moral (cough, Magdalene Laundries).
A quick look at the resources offered teachers reveals that some documents have not been updated since 1998, hardly helpful to modern children in this internet-obsessed age. Much of the material discusses sexuality and gender in a heteronormative, anti-choice manner that you might expect from a 1990s informational pamphlet.
When everyone with access to a phone, TV, or computer is bombarded with sexual imagery and content, yet very little up-to-date sex education remains, then the gap will be filled by an awkward combination of media, internet, pornography and traditional Catholic ideas. What a combination!
Not all hope is lost. A campaign to support the young woman has trended on Twitter in Ireland under the hashtag #slanegirlsolidarity. Naturally there are still plenty of don’t-feed-the-troll moments, but there are a lot of people out there calling for an end to the sexist and public shaming of this young woman. Many tweeters have renamed their accounts to Slane Girl to mark their solidarity, and though some of the commentary falls into the sex-is-bad trope, there is at least a message being sent that not everyone is willing to participate in the online pastime to shame and enforce out-of-date values.