In the wake of the ‘rate my rape’ list on a school wall, Dr Cliona Saidlear says we have to talk about rape culture in Ireland.
I’M ANGRY. I’VE been a professional working on sexual violence almost continuously since I graduated with a PhD on war. I have learned not to get angry.
Instead, I have learned to breathe. One breath, another, until my reactions to yet another instance of misogyny, abuse and violence are fanned into a quiet, infinitesimally slow burning rage. A rage so still that unless you look very closely you won’t even notice.
I pass for reasonable, most of the time – but today I’m angry.
A list of names
We’ve discovered that a boy, maybe more than one, wrote a list of girls’ names on the wall of a toilet cubicle in the boys’ bathrooms in their school and asked other boys which girl they were going to rape. That boy or other boys (how many?), laid a neat row of ticks beside the chosen girls’ names.
One boy, as the list of ticks grew, it is said informed the girl at the top of the list that she should be pleased she had the most ‘likes’. As teenage popularity contests go this seems like a dystopia that is hard to beat.
Why? Some will ask what we should do to fix it? Some will shrug because this is just the way it is. Boys will be boys.
The day before an elder statesman of rugby had gone on publicly funded radio to tell us that what the lads, the ones in the Belfast trial, said on Whatsapp and what they got up to that now infamous night was just ‘silliness’.
For many of us listening it was a startling insight into a world of entitlement we had almost forgotten existed.
The school has responded immediately and they appear to have done a good job. They have engaged the whole of the school, including the parents, mobilised in supporting all the children involved and addressing the unacceptability of this attitude and behaviour.
But this was after the fact and they had no blueprint for dealing with this normalising of misogynist violence.
I’m angry, but not with those boys. I’m angry at all the messages boys receive all their lives, through our culture and the words, omissions, silence or examples set for them, the stories they hear, the men they watch on television, the pornography they consume that tells them that how to be men is by hurting women.
Silence of good men
I’m also angry at the relative silence (with a few exceptions) of the famous, great and good men of Ireland. It’s hard to understand this silence. Why isn’t this their business?
We can change this. We must. We can choose to look critically at how we are as men and women and other, at what we expect of ourselves and each other. We can transform to create a kinder, more respectful society for all, but only if we engage honestly and compassionately and not retreat into our rage and defensive indignation.
It’s time to acknowledge rape culture so that we can deal with it proactively. Rape is everyone’s business. Our silence won’t change this culture. But our engagement and our actions will.
We owe it to our boys and our girls.
Dr Cliona Saidlear is Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.