Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: If you happen to be the parent of a teenage girl, you have every right to be concerned

By Fionola Meredith

Paddy Jackson and co have been acquitted of rape, and all other charges. But what resonates disturbingly in many people’s minds, now that the trial is over, is the grim glimpses into the hidden world occupied by the rugby players and their friends, revealed through the exchange of those now-notorious online messages.

These were interactions that were never intended for public view, let alone to become the subject of courtroom scrutiny.

But it’s for precisely that reason that they provide such a chilling insight.

We are seeing the unvarnished reality here: the way these nice, polite, affluent and well-spoken young men talk about women when they think that nobody’s looking.

In the text and WhatsApp exchanges between this coterie of close friends, we witness a world of swaggering male entitlement, privilege and bravado.

Women are referred to as “sluts” and “brasses”. The absence of any kind of respect, empathy or even human fellow-feeling for these girls is startling. It is as though their only function is to provide easy and available carnal encounters, or to act as props for the male ego.

There’s no sense of connection, of mutual pleasure, even of gratitude towards the women. They are merely there to provide a service, then to be treated with contempt — or at least that’s the stark impression you get from reading the messages.

Blane McIlroy, in particular, seemed especially fond of boasting about his prowess and sexual conquests. He posted a photograph of the three girls at a party sitting on his knee. The caption? “Love Belfast Sluts.”

On another occasion, he shared the following boast with his Whatsapp friends: “Pumped a girl with Jacko on Monday. Roasted her. Then another on Tuesday night.”

Most people with any kind of character will find this sort of attitude to women revolting. But from a parent’s perspective, particularly if you happen to be the parent of teenage girls or young women, the picture is especially troubling.

Are these the kind of people that our daughters are likely to encounter on a night out?

It might also make you wonder just how common these porn-inflected attitudes to women are among this generation of young men. Because the fantasy world of online pornography is where this mentality — and the ugly language of ‘spit-roasting’, ‘threesomes’ and ‘pumping’ that goes with it — actually originates.

In this distorted alternative reality, women are not human beings with ideas, needs, desires and beliefs of their own. They are merely tools and receptacles for male sexual pleasure, to be used and then discarded.

“An entire generation is growing up that believes that what you see in hardcore pornography is the way that you have sex”: that’s the view of Cindy Gallop, an American advertising executive who has frequently spoken out about this still largely hidden issue.

“Because the porn industry is driven by men, funded by men, managed by men, directed by men and targeted at men, porn tends to present one world view: that this is the way it is.”

We know the classic defence of message exchanges like the ones between the rugby players and their friends: banter. It’s true that people, maybe men in particular, enjoy the freedom to say absurd, provocative, offensive and ridiculous things to each other in private — things that they would never say in public, or perhaps not even in front of their wives and girlfriends.

That’s fair enough. I don’t think we should be in the business of trying to police people’s private interactions, trying to make them conform to some sort of social or moral code.

You might also protest that if all participants are adults, and the sex is consensual, then what they get up to together is nobody else’s business.

I would generally be a subscriber to that view.

But the blatant misogyny that has been revealed in these particular online exchanges goes way beyond harmless banter. And it’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming impression that they convey: that women are far from equal partners in the encounters described. Like prostitutes, they are there to provide a specific service — facilitating the pornographic fantasies of these privileged young men, “the legends”.

For what it’s worth, I do not believe that such a contemptuous — and contemptible — attitude towards women is representative of most young men in today’s society.

The exchanges smack of arrogance, affluence, privilege and entitlement.

They sound especially spoilt and immature.

But if there is one thing we’ve learned from this trial, it’s that parents have a special responsibility to teach their sons and daughters about mutual respect and the meaning of consent.

Schools must play their part too.

Sex education is too important to be left in the hands of the online porn-merchants.

Belfast Telegraph

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