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It’s been a long week. I’ve been working on my thesis, an exploration of Irish women’s experiences of abortion. Reviewing my interviews has been complex, and emotionally draining. It has been weighing heavily on me – and I’m just doing the research, I’m not one of the twelve women who are travelling to the UK this very day to have an abortion. I’m lucky. And sad. I keep having dreams of being pregnant and in a cage.
This week, I also discovered that a lecturer I know was found guilty of sexually harassing his students has been quietly reinstated is now teaching unaware undergrads. And, recently, I was followed by a man for ten blocks one evening, and had to eventually ask a random man to pretend to talk to me, to walk me home a block, because I knew my stalker would leave me alone if I was with a man.
One of the brief respites from this long week was lunch with a friend, a fellow feminist and writer, who told me about a Jewish song, “Dayenu”. This Passover song is a hymn of thanksgiving, listing all of God’s gifts, and saying even one of them would have been sufficient. The word dayenu roughly translates to “it would have been enough”. I’m not religious, but it struck me as beautiful, acknowledging the accumulation of wonder.
But then I returned to this long week with a jolt, reading that in UCD, the college where I did my BA, the college where I met the man who sexually assaulted me when I was 17, the college where I had to sit opposite him for two years before I finally dropped out – in this college, up to 200 men, reported the College Tribune, joined a Facebook group where they uploaded and consumed photographs of women: their dates, their girlfriends, their fellow students.
[Editor’s note: the UCD investigation has declared that the allegations are unsubstantiated.]
They reportedly uploaded these images without the women’s consent, in order to let other men gaze upon and consume their naked bodies, in order to share stories about them, in order to rate them. To rate them. To objectify them. To humiliate them. To shame them. To violate them. To punish them. To assert their dominance. To remind men and women, yet again, that women’s bodies are not their own, that consent doesn’t matter, that rape culture will always prevail.
And I couldn’t help but think: It would have been enough.
It would have been enough if it had been one man.
It would have been enough if one man didn’t realise that ignoring consent is a vicious, inhumane and unacceptable thing to do.
It would have been enough if one man showed a friend a naked image of a woman without her consent.
It would have been enough if his friend had looked, had engaged in this abusive transaction of a woman’s image, had placed his gaze on a naked woman who hadn’t consented to being seen by him.
It would have been enough if one other person saw this happen and didn’t speak up, didn’t say that this was wrong, a gross violation, a form of sexual abuse that they were now complicit in by not stopping it.
It would have been enough if one man had been despicable enough to upload a woman’s naked picture to the internet, that it either did occur to him that he was ignoring consent, that he was doing something monstrous and misogynistic and abusive and harmful and he decided to anyway, decided to inflict this harm because he wanted to or just because he could – or it didn’t occur to him, because he has been allowed to think so little about women and consent and harm and his privilege that the thought that women are human beings and what he was doing was inhumane never even crossed his privileged mind.
It would have been enough if others saw him uploading these photographs and didn’t immediately report him, didn’t immediately punish him, didn’t immediately rush to protect the women, didn’t immediately show him that men who violate and abuse women will not be tolerated, that we respect women, and consent, and we demand better.
It would have been enough.
Instead, another man joined him.
And another, and another, and another, until there were, reportedly, as many as 200 of them uploading and sharing and rating photographs, taking part in this mass act of sexual abuse, and misogyny, and inhumanity, and male privilege.
And others knew.
One other person found out, and another, and another, until there were masses of complicit accomplices who said nothing, did nothing, stayed silent and watched this abuse unfold.
And I’m tired. And unsurprised. And waiting.
Waiting for the investigation to unfold, for people to rush to defend these men as “nice, middle-class boys who never meant any harm”.
Waiting for the “boys will be boys” comments.
Waiting for women to be blamed for daring to trust men, to express their sexuality, to possess sexuality, or bodies, or voices.
I’m waiting for the outrage to die down.
I’m waiting for us to forget.
I’m waiting for it to happen again.
And I’m asking.
When will it be enough?
Note from Roe: Since this column was published, a UCD investigation has found that the allegations made by the College Tribune regarding the “UCD 200” are unsubstantiated.
However, so-called “revenge porn” is a dangerous and real phenomenon, as is the casual, non-consensual sharing of explicit photographs, and so I stand by the overall sentiment of the column, which aimed to highlight the issues of consent and complicity regarding the sharing of private photographs that were raised by the College Tribune’s report.
I also, sadly, have to stand by my overall assertions that women who are the victims of such photo-sharing abuse are often attacked, demeaned and shamed, instead of the abusers who violate their consent. Before the results of the UCD investigation were released, comments on Facebook, TheJournal.ie, Buzzfeed, Twitter and various other outlets did indeed descend into defending men’s right to share explicit photos, shaming women for expressing their sexuality, victim-blaming them, and undermining the misogyny and entitlement that contributes to rape culture.
I feel it’s vital to note that the College Tribune’s report was not written because any women lied about being victimised, and so the results of UCD’s investigation should not be used as an excuse to discredit or ignore women who do experience such a violation of their consent.
I’m waiting for this incident to indeed be used against women in this way. Because it always is.
Dear Roe, I’m one of those people who is scared of clowns. My long-term boyfriend is the opposite. I mean, he kind of wants me to dress up as one, if you know I mean. I have been trying to get us to be more open about fetishes in the bedroom, and I don’t want to dishearten him or anything. But this one? I’m really not in to it. What am I supposed to do?
If it were me, I’d dump him and run away screaming, because clowns are fucking terrifying. I saw It when I was four, and for all of my progressive, sex positivity, that’s my limit where I just start throwing things and shouting “SICK AND WRONG, SICK AND WRONG, SICK AND WRONG!” And then shower for several weeks.
But you? Like all relationship conflicts, you may decide to stick it out. You may not. Just don’t write to me about this again, because literally just getting this letter is after giving me nightmares.
Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe