Belfast Telegraph

Savile scandal: Treating women as sexual fodder is horrific, not funny

By Fionola Meredith

Ah sure, it's only banter, isn't it? That was the usual excuse, glibly trotted out, when a Facebook page detailing the predatory exploits of male students in the Holyland area of Belfast was exposed.

Some of these meat-brained fools had been taking photographs of young women, apparently returning home the next morning in the clothes they wore the night before, and posting them online, for public ridicule.

Because, in the world of lad culture, women are routinely characterised as filthy slags, or booze-addled sluts; fair game to be used and abused.

It was the casual hatred and contempt in the language that horrified me the most: “thon thing”, “she's rotten”. That's a young woman they're talking about.

Yet in the minds of these cocky student misogynists, her only value is as easy prey: available, contemptible and disposable.

Sadly, it's not an isolated problem, nor is it confined to mumbling, barely-literate Holyland-dwellers.

Earlier this year, a British student website called Uni Lad published an article titled ‘Sexual Mathematics’, which claimed that 75% of women are sluts — defined as “a girl who would happily have sex with a male after one date”.

It advises readers that, if they come across one of the remaining 25%, they should “think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported ... That seems to be fairly good odds”.

There's a jokey disclaimer at the bottom of the page: “Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘Surprise’”. Later, a woman who protested about the article was asked, “Are you a dyke?”

Great craic, eh? All good, clean fun. Just a bit of harmless banter. Or is it?

A few years ago, Amnesty International carried out a poll about sexual attitudes among university students in Northern Ireland. The results were horrifying.

Almost half believed that a woman is partially, or totally, responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner, while just under a third considered that a woman is partially, or totally, responsible for being raped if she is wearing ‘sexy or revealing clothing'. The figures were markedly higher than those found in similar surveys at other UK universities.

And that's why ‘jokes' about rape, or nasty jibes about a woman's availability, or appearance, are so dangerous.

Of course, indulging in so-called ‘verbal banter’ is not the same as acting on it. But if there's a thriving culture where girls are treated as non-sentient sexual fodder, then it provides a ready context for rape.

Fodder was also the word that sprang to mind when I heard about the allegations that Jimmy Savile — and other celebrities — sexually abused underage girls. It's defined as ‘a consumable, often inferior item, or resource, that is in demand and usually abundant supply’.

That, it appears, is exactly how Savile treated these vulnerable youngsters: not as living, breathing human beings, with thoughts and feelings of their own, but as a great un-individuated mass of young female flesh, which existed solely for the purposes of his own gratification.

It seems that it was open season on girls and women in the light entertainment industry of the 1970s and 1980s. Comedian Sandi Toksvig and radio presenter Liz Kershaw both claimed to have been groped. It wasn't seen as a big deal.

Kershaw said: “When I complained to somebody, they were incredulous and said: ‘Don't you like it, are you a lesbian?'.” Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Today, what really depresses me is the number of young women who are willing to collude with the culture of sexual contempt. On the Holyland Facebook page, there are plenty of female posters happily joining in with the sexist sneering.

Sadly, there will always be some benighted women who prefer to side with the lecherous bullies. And it's not just confined to youngsters.

I recall one female acquaintance who was thrilled when a well-known senior figure in the Northern Ireland media put his hand down the back of her trousers, by way of greeting. She took it as a great compliment.

It's convenient for us to pretend that the neanderthal attitudes of the 1970s are history and such a scandal would never happen today.

But lad culture shows that casual misogyny is alive and well. The only difference is that, these days, we pretend it's a joke.

But saying something with a smile on your face doesn't make it funny.

Belfast Telegraph


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