Sunday 25 March 2018

Siobhan Ramos: 'We tell girls their value lies in sexual availability and boys that theirs lies in sexual conquests'

Siobhan Ramos
Siobhan Ramos

Siobhan Ramos

We are in an age of unprecedented technological advancement. More information than ever is available to the internet user with the click of a button. We can share information with people across the globe in a matter of seconds. However, with an advancement in technology, we have also seen in recent years a phenomenon of online humiliation.

It is easier than ever to widely distribute material that was intended for private viewing in order to hurt, shame or discredit someone. One very sinister aspect of this is that it seems that women are the most common targets for these online shaming campaigns. From "revenge porn" to upskirt photos to leaking nude photos of celebrities, the online realm provides new, more insidious ways to humiliate and vilify women for so-called "promiscuous" behaviour.

But is this really a problem that stems directly from technology and the digital realm? Or is this something that goes much deeper?

There is a common theme that appears to instigate this mass online shame - ­whenever a woman is openly sexual or appreciating her own body. If she sends nude photos consensually to one person, they may be non-consensually shared with dozens of others.

Many websites exist purely to archive photos that many women believed were only ever going to be seen by this one person. The implication becomes that her body exists purely for the gratification of others, and she therefore deserved the harassment for "flaunting it".

Read more: How rampant sexism is ruining the beautiful game

This problem is pervasive in society, with women still being continuously objectified in the media, their bodies used as sexual commodities. When we live in a society that says women's sexualities and bodies are not their own but rather public entities available for consumption, it makes sense that women bear the brunt of any perceived shame in their encounters. The focus becomes the woman and her body as taboo, rather than the condemnation of consent violation. If someone does share pictures of a woman without her permission, it becomes her fault for taking them in the first place.

When it comes to women and sexuality, you need only look at the vocabulary we have to describe sexual women to understand this pervasive attitude. If she refuses to partake, she is a prude - but if she does, she is a slut. People will argue that of course she wore those clothes to get a reaction, she was dressed "provocatively". When a woman is attacked, the questions often asked are, "What was she wearing? Was she in a bad part of town? Was she walking alone?" Statements such as these immediately place the blame squarely on women.

When Slane Girl became a global trend, the focus was on the degradation and shame the girl should feel about having performed a public sexual act. But why was there no public shaming of "Slane Boy"? The answer is simple - because we continuously tell girls that their value as people lies within their sexual availability, and boys that theirs lies in their sexual conquests.

Read more: Eight out of ten Irish women ‘victims of sexist jokes at work’

In more extreme cases, like that of Jada, the Texas teen whose assault was mocked and spread on social media, we see how objectification and dehumanisation often go hand in hand when it comes to women's ownership of their own bodies.

It becomes clear, then, that the problem is not the digital revolution, or that women are being too blatant in claiming their sexual identities. The problem is that we live in a society that tells men that they are entitled to seek sexual fulfilment from women by any means, and that women are not the possessors of their own bodies.

If women are viewed exclusively as objects of sexual gratification, there is no consideration for their consent or autonomy. This is not a new phenomenon that was caused by Snapchat, smartphones or hashtags. This is an issue as old as time - misogyny, the sexual double standard and male sexual entitlement.

Read more: Nobel scientist says women in science 'fall in love' and 'cry' in labs

Women should never be shamed or ­humiliated simply for existing as sexual beings in the same way that men do. We need to stop telling women to change their behaviours in order to end harassment and abuse. We need to focus on a bottom-up approach to tackling this problem, which begins with teaching boys from an early age to respect boundaries and consent. We need to teach children about bodily autonomy. We need to counteract the harmful messages the media sends us about women's bodies and sexualities.

And above all, we need to confront and de-stigmatise our own gendered perceptions of sexuality and who is deserving of sexual fulfilment.

Siobhan Ramos is a member of Cork Feminista

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