Tuesday, August 20, 2013

‘Slane Girl’, ‘Slut-Shaming’, and the Perils of Social Media

By now everyone will have heard of, or seen, the terrible pictures emerging from last Saturday’s Eminem concert in Slane – of a young girl photographed engaging in oral sex with two men.  The term ‘Slane Girl’ was trending number one on Twitter over the weekend, as photos of this very young looking girl continued to circulate on the social media websites.  The initial postings were under the auspices of her being a ‘slut’, her being an idiot, and her deserving everything she (socially) got.  Yesterday it emerged that she was underage, and the tone of the circulation took on a different hue – up until that point it was seen as a joke at someone else’s expense, but suddenly these pictures could qualify as child pornography.  This is when reputable media stepped in and began reporting the circulation of the photos and the possible criminal implications for the boys photographed, as well as for those continuing to post the photos online.  The undercurrent of ‘slut-shaming’ remains, though, in the reprehensible idea that this girl behaved in a way that somehow deserves the response.

There is no doubt about how I felt when I heard of this, and when I saw the photos themselves – sick to my stomach and so very, very sorry for that girl.  The boys in the photos are acting like heroes, looking at the camera smiling while people mill around them, seemingly uncaring about what’s happening.  That is how they saw themselves, even as it was happening, and so they posed for photos and cheered their online publication.  The girl herself, nameless though not faceless, will be tarred with this moniker and this night.  Nobody will ever think she was cool or outrageous for giving blowjobs to two guys outdoors in full view of others at a concert.  No, this girl woke up Sunday morning with a probable hangover and a definite looming shame as she remembered what had happened.  We've all been there.  Where we haven’t been, or at least I haven’t been, is online for our drunken mistakes.  I’m not saying her behaviour was standard, because I don’t know anymore – certainly when I was that age there were things going on that none of our parents knew about, or suspected we’d be involved in at young ages.  However, things have moved on to a point where these lapses in your own judgement are now recorded for posterity.  This girl woke up Sunday thinking she only had to look at herself in the mirror and face her own reflection under the weight of a shameful feeling that things got out of control.  Instead, she has to face her parents and family, and in two weeks, she must return to school and walk corridors filled with peers who know it all.

I think any talk of criminal prosecution takes away from the bottom line here.  We’re not going to be able to stop our kids from doing stupid things from time to time – granted this is in the higher scale of stupid mistakes – but what we can do is talk to them and listen to them on issues of peer pressure and sexuality.  That girl should have truly known that she is worth more than a public blowjob in a muddy field, instead of somehow thinking it makes her sexually expressive and adult.  The boys involved should feel more worth in themselves than to allow that situation to arise, and certainly feel that she has more worth than that.  Those taking and sharing the photos should understand the consequences of their actions, that somebody’s whole life can be ruined for the sake of a ‘funny’ Facebook or Twitter upload.  This world is not the world that I grew up in.  Your every action can now follow you beyond the stupidity of your youth, and our children need to be taught – really taught – the sometimes terrible power of the internet.

I hope that she is strong enough to deal with what’s coming.  The change in pace of reporting has meant that she is no longer a general butt of jokes online, but is instead the subject of a criminal investigation.  This doesn't take away what happened, though, and what she has to deal with.  The onus is still on this girl and she must still bear responsibility, however inebriated she might have been, for her own actions.  She is the one who has to live with this, and she is the one who will have to find a way to realise that these actions do not define her or make her less than she is – that she is a complex being made up of equal parts folly and intelligence, just as we all are.  We all make mistakes, and we all act out of character from time to time.  I wanted to speak about this once and then never again so that I don’t add to a drawing out of the conversation, because that young girl has enough to deal with without an endless online dissection.  I hope she can move past this and realise that though the internet can make the world seem small and on your doorstep, this one mistake should not become her entire world. 

Switch off, plug out, and breathe: For this too shall pass.