Shaming women over sex speaks volumes about our misogyny
Published 21/07/2014 | 02:30
There are no secrets online. That emotional email you sent to your ex, the illness you searched for in a fit of hypochondria and those hours spent watching cat videos can all be gathered to create a defining profile of you for everyone to see.
Last week, a photo of two young couples apparently having sex outside a Belfast nightclub went viral, two weeks after the Magaluf incident, prompting new debates about our public sexual behaviour.
But more importantly it triggers questions about our online behaviour. One Twitter post about the incident reads: "WTF is wrong with the young ones did they not learn after magaluf girl n slanegirl now another pic pops up :(."
Another person posted: "People have no shame. This is traumatic."
It's so true and the damage doesn't just happen on the night, it happens later, on the internet.
These kinds of things have been going on in schools for years. We've always had girls who have been humiliated by boys and by gossip about what those girls got up to with those boys. But these things happen so publicly nowadays on cyberspace that the consequences are laid out eternally for all to see. And the hatred is very obviously directed at girls and not at boys for having irresponsible sex.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long made the point that online commentary on such images almost always focuses exclusively on women.
"The notion of shaming women and girls for engaging in the same high-risk sexual behaviours as their male counterparts, who are often lauded for the same behaviour, speaks volumes about society's attitudes," said Ms Long.
"It perpetuates stereotypes which are damaging to women and to men, rather than encouraging a culture of respect – for self and for others –in all our young people, regardless of gender."
A 2011 survey by UNICEF looked into the sex lives of Irish adolescents. The report found that girls are more likely than boys to have lost their virginity by their mid-teens. In fact, 22 pc of Irish girls lost their virginity at the age of 15 or younger.
Even at a young age, drink plays a part in a teenager's first experience of sex: four out of 10 respondents lost their virginity after drinking alcohol.
Have you googled someone in the past week? Have you googled yourself? Chances are you're unlikely to have googled yourself. Few people bother to find out what the internet says about them, let alone do something about it. Yet it's often the first place we turn to investigate others. Do you see the problem when our digital footprints can trip us up later on in life? These days, most working relationships begin electronically and some never go any further. Even when you meet someone in person, it is likely they have done their research on you first. It is like an online reference check.
It's not the only thing that is important but it adds to their overall assessment of you. We constantly underestimate the internet's reach, its potential to backfire in shifting contexts and the loss of control we suffer when our often benign words and images are set adrift online.
We all remember how confused we felt as teenagers, when we didn't know that feeling good about sex didn't actually make you a whore. Let's remember the vast difference between sexual exploitation and exploration. And let's do it now before slut-shaming crops up online in ever more brutal ways and let's remember that it's usually directed towards girls and rarely, if ever, towards boys.
For now, our girls must live with the judgment, the life that will always be tainted by a muddy digital footprint – and the misogyny of it all. Common sense tells us that apparent public acts of sex should never be encouraged but also that the very public embarrassment of people who might make these kinds of mistakes isn't right. Drinking or drugging yourself into insensibility isn't okay. But holding up a camera-phone and taking advantage of the others who do is much worse.
And then, suddenly, it's too late to take it all back. The picture has taken on a permanent life, online.