From top: Paddy Jackson (centre) arriving at Langanside Courts in Belfast to hear the verdict in the Ulster Rugby rape trial; Anne-Marie McNally.
I hate to say it but we need to have a conversation. An uncomfortable conversation for many. A conversation that has, to some extent, played out in the media and in social circles for weeks now. The conversation needed is about consent; real consent, and respect; real respect.
I really would have preferred not to open this hornet’s nest but as a woman, and a woman with somewhat of a platform I feel I have an obligation to take part in the conversation.
From the outset I want to be clear that I haven’t nor won’t comment either way on a verdict delivered in a court of law. That’s not what this is about.
But whether you were a supporter on the #ibelieveher tag or the #ibelievehim tag it shouldn’t stop us from having a conversation about why those Whatsapp messages are so problematic and what they indicate about a culture of toxic masculinity that subjugates women and their sexuality.
Most of my closest friends are men. Good men. They wouldn’t be my friends if they weren’t, however in recent days I’ve had conversations where it’s clear we, as women need to keep highlighting how certain actions and words impact on us.
It’s not that men sometimes disregard that, it’s just that their lived experiences are so entirely different to ours.
I love hearing and trying to understand what it is to be male in this world and equally I shouldn’t be considered a ‘feminazi’ if I want to try and help you understand how difficult it can be, at times, to be a woman in a society which has pretty much always downgraded us to second-class citizens.
Too many people I know dismissed those WhatsApp exchanges as ‘awful but common’ or ‘just a normal part & parcel of the kind of *banter* lads have’. I can’t accept that. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m saying just because it happens doesn’t make it OK.
The guys who confessed to hearing similar conversations mostly said they a) never took part or b) it made them slightly uncomfortable. What they didn’t say was that they’d asked the other guy or guys to stop. To not degrade women. To not speak about women like that in front of them. And that’s what it will take.
Because the eejit who thinks he’s being a ‘legend’ by bragging about treating women like crap will soon stop thinking he’s a legend when the other lads tell him it’s not acceptable. Then maybe the next time he thinks twice before recounting some derogatory tale and maybe eventually there’s nobody to tell the tale to and so those tales stop.
Even better would be for us as a society to get comfortable recognising that females being sexual is not taboo. For society not to place judgements on women based on their sexual activities. For it to be so normalised for a woman to be in control of her own sexuality that any guy trying to degrade a woman by focusing on her sexual activities would be laughable.
Such an attitude change requires strong, age appropriate sexual education at all stages of life. Education that is free of religious underpinnings and that is so much more than basic biology or warnings of disease or pregnancy.
It is education that focuses on the full gambit of healthy sexuality including things like body positivity, healthy relationships, sexual pleasure and of course consent. But not just the premise of consent but the real and practicable application of consent; enthusiastic and negotiated consent.
Everyone engaging in sexual activity must recognise consent as a constantly evolving process, and consent to one or a number of things does not confer consent for everything. That should be obvious but apparently it isn’t. Which leads me to enthusiastic consent.
When Hozier tweeted that consent should be sexy he wasn’t wrong, although he neglected to say it should be mandatory, his intention was right.
His tweet read
‘Lads, if you’re not convinced that consent, audible consent – something uttered, something whispered, something called for loudly – is sexy, then chaps I’m afraid you may not be doing this right.’
Stuart Olding’s statement after the verdict recognised that the complainant had a ‘different perception’ of what occurred that night. This in itself can be taken as an indication that negotiated and enthusiastic consent was absent.
Lads let me put it this way, I can pretty much guarantee you that your game isn’t strong enough to stun and mute a sexual partner for any protracted period of time during sex. And if you think it is then you best make sure you’re verbally checking in on the regular because that consent should be the loudest thing in the room- whatever form it takes.
Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.