• theniamhcooper

Educate Your Sons

  1. Shirley and her boyfriend, Ben, have been going out for a while now. They have sex. Then they fall asleep. Ben wakes up and takes a picture of Shirley, naked. Shirley is still asleep and has no idea.

  2. Emilia is a social science student. She lives with her aunt who has lost her job. Emilia makes a bit of extra money by uploading sexually explicit pics of herself on a porn site.

  3. Lily is eight. She loves swimming in the sea. Sometimes she doesn't wear her togs. Derek takes a picture of Lily.

These are just three scenarios of the disturbing revelation during the week, that thousands of sexually explicit images of Irish women were leaked, without their consent, on the internet. Thousands. Of women. Without their consent. With all the conversations about consent in recent years, it seems that we still have a lot to learn.

Let's just stop for a minute and consider this. The images which were circulated included images of minors of a sexual nature. Images of children. As a mother, or really, just as a (hopefully) half-decent human being, I cannot understand how anyone would look at, or post, or forward on any image without anyone's consent. Particularly not an image which is sexually explicit, of anyone, and particularly, of a child. It is an offence, and it is offensive. Holly Cairns had these three words to say:

'Call it out.'

The 1000s of images didn't just include images of minors. They included sexually explicit images of women, circulated, perhaps, by their exes, images taken without consent when women were asleep, images which had been shared privately and then circulated publicly by their partner or ex, images of a sexual nature taken without the woman's consent, images women had uploaded on porn sites, and many more.

This is not ok. It is NOT 'a bit of banter'. It is not EVER okay to circulate anything without anyone's consent. Why do men, and yes, it's mainly men, who send these photos to their friends, think it's ok to send something like this around? Why do they ignore that little voice in their heads that tells them not to? Why do they ignore that feeling in their gut telling them to stop? Why do they gloss over the fleeting thought of 'Would this make my parents proud of me?' or 'What would my mother think?' All for a laugh and a virtual clap on the shoulder, bravado, while objectifying women, demeaning them to be little more than a sex object? Ladsy carry-on which, if it were their daughter, their sister, or perhaps, their cousin, they would suddenly take a stance and, probably, march over to that person's house, corona or not, and, at the very least, politely challenge them to a duel.

Well, newsflash. Any woman whose picture has been circulated without their consent, is someone's sister, daughter, cousin, mother.

There is a person behind each of these images. A woman. Whether it was on a porn site already, or entirely taken without consent, is irrelevant. What gives anyone the right to share it?

I challenge anyone who receives such an image:

Stop. And think. Is it ok to even look at this? Is it ok to comment? Is it ok NOT to comment? Will your silence and inaction not make you equally complicit? Is ok to send it on to someone else? This this not someone's sister, daughter, mother? What if it was your sister?

Just: Don't. Don't send it on. Break the chain. Call. It. Out.

What has been so infuriating this week about this issue is that, once again, the victim-blaming took hold almost instantly. Oh, but why did she take that picture of herself? Yes, but why did she allow x, y, or z to take a photo of her in this compromising position? Well, if she uploaded that picture of herself onto the porn site, then it was there for the taking. No. No, it wasn't, and no, it isn't. If you take a picture of yourself, or have a picture of yourself taken, then you should control what happens to this picture. It is yours, your property, and no-one else's. It is not up to ANYONE to take it, and do what they like with it. And, interestingly:

I do not know of ANY woman who would forward a sexually explicit image of a man to another woman.

It is deeply troubling that nowadays, our boys, upon entering secondary school, become immersed almost immediately into a shady world where porn is normalised. I am convinced that the sexual objectification of women has become worse with social media. For many, because so many have done it, it has somehow normalised the objectification. Seeing it everywhere helps to build a vision in their minds that objectification of women is ok, that slapping women is ok, that women enjoy all sorts of physical pain during sex, that taking their picture, or a video, is ok, that sharing it is ok.

It used to be a lot more difficult to access naked images of women in the more or less controlled environment of Page 3 of Playboy on the top shelf of your local grocery shop. Now, it's too easy. It's also too easy not to say no.

OK boys, here's a wake-up call:

We do not share your dick pics. We don't even want to receive them.

Shoe. Other foot. It is not ok to do anything to anyone that they are not ok with. It's called basic human decency. It's called respect. It's called having fundamental values. And not doing anything to anyone that they are not ok with, well, that includes the distribution of their images on email, Messenger, SnapChat, Whatsapp, or whatever app. And not doing anything about it, if you receive something like this, even if you don't share it, well, that's just as bad.

For all its advantages, I fear for what social media has done. It seems that in certain respects, we have regressed, particularly when it comes to the objectification of women. I wrote a tongue in cheek piece here recently about research I did on Tinder, including interviewing friends and acquaintances about online dating. I tried it myself, and it is exactly because people can hide behind their profiles, and lie about who they are, send unsolicited dick pics, say derogatory things without even knowing you, and because of the murky waters of what happens with your images, even just normal ones, where you are not naked, once you post them anywhere, yes, anywhere, that I have ended my brief dalliance with online dating. I've had my photos, just regular photos of my face, taken, and a profile of me created, on a dating site I had never heard of, and never known about until a complete stranger told me about it. Imagine my horror. And his disbelief that I didn't know. He thought I was playing some sort of game. But, why would I. That feeling, it's not nice. You feel humiliated. Demeaned. Accused. Disrespected. Called a liar. Any communication with the provider of said site was futile. Now imagine how those girls and women must feel, when something so inherently private was shared, belonging only to them.

There was a case of a girl who was captured naked on CCTV. The image was shared. That girl later committed suicide. This callous disregard for a person's feelings, their humiliation, the deconstruction of their character; it is not ok.

Holly Cairns' powerful words on this issue in Dail Eireann during the week resonated with me. If you have a son, a brother, a cousin, a husband, a partner, a male friend: We need to open the can of worms on this even more. We need to discuss this. We need to defend women in this. We need to move away from the victim-blaming of women. It is dangerous rhetoric, akin to the victim-blaming and women-shaming that goes on in rape trials. Call it out. It starts at home. So, please, please, educate your sons.

Holly Cairns, TD, taken from her Facebook page on 19th November 2020:

I called on the Minister to act fast. We can, should and need to move immediately to protect victims. Image-based sexual abuse needs to be recognised as the crime it so obviously is.
I’d like to send a clear message to the women and girls targeted by this horrific leak:
This is not your fault.
You didn’t do ANYTHING wrong.
You are not to blame.
Thousands of Irish men are sharing these kinds of images online and via messaging apps.
If you see or receive an image being circulated without consent - CALL IT OUT. You can and should speak up, whether that’s in Whatsapp groups, in conversation, in any given situation - Call. It. Out.
When you don’t, you are complicit, and you are supporting a culture that facilitates gender-based abuse. We need ZERO tolerance, and to achieve that, we need you to stand up.
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