Men’s Development Network/White Ribbon Ireland Submission to UN Women on Human Rights, The Sex Trade & Prostitution.

UN Women are considering their prostitution policy. This was our submission in support of the adoption of the Nordic Model.


The Men’s Development Network (MDN)/White Ribbon Ireland (WRI) support the adoption of the Nordic Model in Ireland. MDN/WRI are key members of the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign which has successfully lobbied for legislation that holds purchasers of women for sex accountable for their contribution to a trade that is directed by the commercial interests of criminals[i] and exploits the most vulnerable in our society. As well as lobbying for changes in the law, we have worked alongside sex-trade survivors presenting in schools, colleges and in national campaigns to highlight the need to deal with the demand side of the sex-trade. We feel that tackling demand is essential to delegitimising those who profit from exploitation and to protect the most vulnerable. We see prostitution as a form of male violence against women and an infringement of the human rights of women and girls. Thus we believe that violence against women and girls cannot be dismantled by legitimising the perpetrators or having their actions sanctioned by the state.

Q1) The 2030 Agenda commits to universality, human rights and leaving nobody behind. How do you interpret these principles in relation to sex work/trade or prostitution?

Prostitution policy should always reflect Human Rights and Human Dignity in reference to the first sentence of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”[ii]. This is not compatible with a global trade that profits from sexual coercion, is based entirely on the sexual primacy of men and whose victims are most often poor women and/or women of colour.

Commitments to universality in prostitution policy should first recognise that: “Across cultures, at all levels of economic development, whether street or house, when asked, “What do you need?”, the answer of 89% of people in prostitution is to “[l]eave prostitution.””[iii] – Catherine McKinnon

Principles of universality should strive to eliminate a system where a certain class of women is subject to the levels of violence and PTSD faced by prostituted women: A study of 854 women in prostitution in 9 countries reported that 70 – 95% of the women experience physical assault, among which 60 – 75% had been raped. Sixty-eight percent of 827 met the criteria for lifetime diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[iv]

While it is important to acknowledge that no state has managed to abolish prostitution, states have a responsibility to implement best practices to reduce demand which has been shown to reduce instances of trafficking, coercion, pimping and prostitution in the following ways:


There is a temptation to attempt to separate prostitution and voluntary sex-work, as if a neat distinction can be made, especially where poverty is a major push factor. Both legal and illegal trade in free market economies actively seek growth and work aggressively to ensure that supply meets demand. States that have legitimised the purchase of sex have seen rises in levels of trafficking, coercion and illegal markets to meet rising demand. Failure to implement best practice to reduce this demand contravenes a state’s responsibility in Article 9 of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which requires that states take legislative action to discourage exploitation and acts that lead to trafficking.[x]

The abrogation of state responsibility in legalised prostitution violates the international human rights “prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment and torture is a peremptory norm or jus cogens. In other words, a State cannot use any excuse to justify those acts, including the legalization of prostitution.”[xi]

States have a responsibility under Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to “eliminate exploitative prostitution.”[xii] Legal commodification of women’s bodies not only increases exploitation as outlined previously, but also allows the state to profit from exploitation by collecting taxes from those who profit from the sale women’s bodies.

Article 1 of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (1993) defines the term, “violence against women,” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.[xiii] As mentioned in previous points prostituted women are highly likely to experience physical, sexual or psychological harm (as above “70 – 95% of the women experience physical assault, among which 60 – 75% had been raped. Sixty-eight percent of 827 met the criteria for lifetime diagnosis of PTSD)[xiv] in addition to an extremely high mortality rate (a Canadian study estimated a mortality rate as high as forty times the national average[xv]).

State sanctioning of private brothels may contravene responsibilities under Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms relating to torture[xvi]. The state is liable for actions of private brothel owners in cases of torture, trafficking and imprisonment common in prostitution.

Question 2) The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls. The SDGs also include several targets pertinent to women’s empowerment, such as

  • a)      reproductive rights
  • b)      women’s ownership of land and assets
  • c)      building peaceful and inclusive societies
  • d)      ending the trafficking of women
  • e)      eliminating violence against women.

How do you suggest that policies on sex work/trade/prostitution can promote such targets and objectives?

The sex trade cannot exist without male demand for commodified bodies. The Nordic Model focuses on eliminating this demand by shifting responsibility on those who create that demand. The normative shift is an important factor. In Sweden this shift is noteworthy, particularly amongst young people with less than 7.8% of its active adult male population buying sex compared to 13.6% before the law was enacted[xvii]. The law now has the support of 70% of the Swedish population, indicating that the stigma has shifted away from those in prostitution to the buyer.

The Nordic Model also decriminalises those victimised by prostitution. This is a crucial step to give women in prostitution the opportunity to report crimes and to seek exit strategies.

The provision of exit strategies in the Nordic Model is an important factor in providing real support and choice to those in prostitution. When prostitution is seen as ‘a job like any other’ there is less incentive to provide alternative opportunities or implantation of policies to lift women out of the poverty that pushes them into prostitution.

“Support for the Nordic Model is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goals, and taken together can eliminate a number of push factors for women into the sex-trade (SDG) (with reference to the above) in the following ways:

SDG goal 1 Poverty: Poverty is the one of the major push factors into the sex trade. Ending global poverty is an essential piece in ending sexual exploitation. As well tackling demand, The Nordic Model commits to offering exit programs that offer women in poverty real opportunities which is compatible with the SDG goal that “Governments can help create an enabling environment to generate productive employment and job opportunities for the poor and the marginalized. They can formulate strategies and fiscal policies that stimulate pro-poor growth, and reduce poverty.” [xviii]

SDG goal 4 Education: The Nordic Model focuses on exit strategies including access to education. Given the disproportionate representation of vulnerable groups in the sex trade, the Nordic Model is compatible with the goal to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.”[xix]

SDG goal 5 Gender Equality: “Worldwide, 35 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.”[xx] As mentioned above the figure for sexual assault almost doubles for those in the sex-trade. We have a responsibility, according to SDG5 to reduce the demand that propels that trade.

SDG goal 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth: “Productive employment and “decent work” are key elements to achieving fair globalisation and poverty reduction”[xxi]. The provision of decent work is addressed by the three elements of the Nordic Model by ending demand for sexual exploitation, ensuring those exploited are not criminalised and by providing real alternatives.

SDG goal 10 Reduced Inequalities: “Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard.”[xxii] Since the sex-trade disproportionately affects women in poverty, indigenous women and women of colour, equality of outcome is not compatible with prostitution considering the high levels of PTSD and violence inherent to the trade in sexual access to marginalsed women as discussed above. Legalisation of the sex-trade fosters demand and grows the industry with the detrimental effects of the most vulnerable. Tackling demand through the Nordic Model has been shown to reduce exploitation and trafficking.

SDG Goal 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: ““End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.”[xxiii] The Nordic Model has been shown to decrease trafficking, while decriminalisation has been shown to increase both legal and illegal trades. As well as the over-representation of indigenous women, the exploitation of children in prostitution has risen in New Zealand with the Prostitution Law Review Commission stating that “20% of street prostitutes and 8% of escort prostitutes are underage. Most coming from backgrounds of sexual abuse, drug taking and family dysfunction all abused drugs and most drank lots of alcohol when serving men. [xxiv]

Question 3) The sex trade is gendered. How best can we protect women in the trade from harm, violence, stigma and discrimination?

CEDAW Article 5: States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: a. to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women. [xxv]

Choice in prostitution belongs to the (usually male) buyer. This unequal power relation between men and women reflects a normalisation of sexual inequalities between men and women in wider society. Money replacing physical force as an instrument of coercion does not eliminate the fact that it is an act of sexual coercion. Prostitution does not exist in a vacuum. It represents a reiteration of patriarchal norms of male sexual primacy, entitlement, control over women’s bodies and dangerous gender role stereotypes.

Prostitution reaffirms these inequalities in society as a whole, not just for the individuals involved. Sex buying men are more likely to accept rape-myths and are more likely to have accepting attitudes towards violence against women. Peer pressure among men and the disconnection that men must achieve in order to buy a woman for sex contribute to the development and reinforcing of these attitudes of acceptance.[xxvi]

Policy is not just about legislating; it is also an act of communicating and implementing social norms. Legalising the purchase of sex has, in every country that has attempted it, expanded both legal and illegal trades. Increases in the trade have led to increases in incidences of harm drawing a direct correlation between harm and the sex-trade. So called ‘harm reduction models’ have been complicit in increasing harm in the following ways:


Money in exchange for sexual access is an instrument of sexual coercion, not consent. State sanctioning of that transaction is a statement of collusion with those who take advantage of structural, economic and social inequalities for the purposes of sexual exploitation and with those who profit from that exploitation. Reducing demand through the Nordic Model has been shown to disempower that instrument of coercion normatively and materially in both its frequency and intensity by reducing trafficking, abuse and the criminal viability of the sex-trade while offering genuine alternatives to those exploited in prostitution. It is the responsibility of both state and non-state actors, as well as international institutions to take a firm stand against the sexual objectification, commodification and exploitation of women (as shown in the statements referenced herein). It is essential that UN Women takes a lead role in this and officially adopts the Nordic Model as its prostitution policy.

Submission compiled by Tom Meagher on behalf of the Men’s Development Network/ White Ribbon Ireland.

For further reading and resources, please visit our White Ribbon blog:

For the full Men’s Development Network framework go to








[iv] Farley M, Cotton A, Lynne J, Zumbeck S, Spiwak F, Reyes ME, et al. Prostitution and trafficking in nine

countries: an update on violence and posttraumatic stress disorder. J Trauma Pract 2003;2:33-74.










[xi] Post D, Legalization Of Prostitution Is A Violation Of Human Rights 68 Nat’l Law. Guild Rev. 65 2011


[xiii] Post D, Legalization Of Prostitution Is A Violation Of Human Rights, Nat’l Law. Guild Rev. 65 2011

[xiv] Yonsei Med J, Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Health in Women Who Escaped Prostitution and Helping Activists in Shelters, 49(3):372 – 382, 2008






















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Purchasing Consent – A Male Choice

Tom Meagher

A rejoinder to Minister Halligan and others.

The sentence “it’s not ok to pay for sex” is controversial and often unpopular, one that invites accusations of moralisng (as if the opposite position somehow exists outside our moral universe) and prudishness (as if it is simply sex and not the systematic oppression of women and the rape and murder of women in prostitution in particular that we object to). Many of us have, in the past, been guilty of the self-congratulatory faux-progressiveness of believing the sex-trade would be somehow made safer by legitimising pimps and normalising the purchase of sexual consent, a belief that was based on rudimentary and glossed over summaries of the harms of the sex-trade or routine denials of the origins of those harms (it’s men, not stigma, that kills women). Boring slogans like ‘the sex-trade has always and will always be with us’ or ‘that’s just how men are’ are regurgitated ad nauseum and uncritically.

Using Disability to Defend Inevitability

In a recent interview with Hot Press Magazine Irish Minister of State for Innovation and Independent TD for Waterford John Halligan did just this. Minister Halligan centralised men in his interview arguing that “disabled” and “lonely” men should have the right to paid sexual access to women, oddly conflating the act of orgasming into a stranger with a medicine for loneliness, or even that problems of social stigma around the disabled can in any way be alleviated by a blow job from an unwilling woman. We, of course, cannot pretend to speak for disabled men, but it strikes us as rather insulting that every time somebody wants to prop up the sex-trade they use disability as an example of its necessity, particularly when it is not single, disabled or lonely men, but married men and men in relationships that do the bulk of the sex-buying. This assumption that somehow disabled men or harmless loners comprise the core demand for commercial sex is not only a lie, but falsely places the sex-trade into a position of an almost charitable social necessity that provides the only experience of intimacy disabled people can have. This is the kind of condescending garbage that men across the political spectrum use to convince people of the sex-trade’s inevitability.

Mr Halligan’s use of worn out phrases like “world’s oldest profession” and “you’re not going to stop prostitution” are designed to centralise men as hardwired to buy sex, thus positioning the sex-trade and current constructions of male sexuality as inevitable. Many different methods are used to casually imply that the sex trade is an irreversible reality centred around men’s “needs” rather than men’s choice. Choice (or lack thereof), is often a word associated with the sex-trade, but focus on male choice, which is essentially what makes the sex-trade exist, is often unexamined. The only part of this transaction that is inevitable, that is always present is male choice (assuming the buyer is male).  The same male dissonance that allow people like Minister Halligan to exhibit deep empathy for lonely men and scant regard for the women who will have to provide their orifices for these men to deposit their ‘loneliness’ into needs not only to be present in singular/individual men, but requires wide-ranging cultural support and it finds its most acceptable actualisation in the sex-trade.

Using the Construction of Male Sexual Primacy to Defend Inevitability

Male attitudes towards women they have paid for sexual access are consistent with the necessity or inevitability argument put forth by the Minister. This most often manifests in the type of supposedly well-meaning posturing of Minister Halligan that positions the sex-trade as potentially benign and reformable rather than a system of male supremacy and sexual aggression, but there are other forms this argument takes. For example, men who like to proclaim their liberalism often repeat the exhortation that ‘men are pigs’ whenever the subject of male supremacy or male violence comes up. The phrase is a favourite of many self-proclaimed male feminist allies who support the system of prostitution as part of their agenda for the liberation of women. In other words men who support women as long their version of equality doesn’t impinge on their right or the right of their friends to orgasm into unwilling strangers. The link between the two is not a coincidence nor is it an accident. Men proclaiming that ‘men are pigs’ are making an unqualified statement of conservatism and essentialism masquerading as ‘progressive’ politics and solidarity, just as support of the sex trade can be framed in terms of sexual liberation when it is more often a way to retain a status quo that reifies gender hierarchies and power imbalances in the most obvious manifestation of patriarchy there is. To be a male pro-prostitution feminist ally is as easy, as unexamined and as empty as saying men are pigs. It positions you as ‘right on’ while questioning nothing. The power structures that sustain patriarchy and the benefits men receive from this condition remain completely unchallenged.

This type of empty posturing is not so much a critique of the constructions of maleness, or structural and material inequalities that harm women and girls, but rather an exculpation of male behaviour as a foregone conclusion, a normalisation of the very essence of how men are; on par with ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘when he hits you it means he likes you.’ It pathologises certain male actions as individual behaviour and as collective male behaviour at the same time (in effect, saying nothing) while placing oneself beyond critique. It’s a neat trick, if rather transparent, but one that is used almost exclusively used for risk-free gold star seeking while challenging nothing.

The male escape-pod for discussions around patriarchy and male violence reach their boring zenith with this statement. This is the polar opposite of male self-examination – it’s male self-congratulation. It’s a man proclaiming his disapproval of the social constructs of masculinity as if he existed outside of them. Either that, or it’s a reclamation of male behaviour as essential. Men are pigs – our behaviour requires no further explanation. It is the anti-climax of serious discussion, one that immediately dissolves the conversation into a tepid shoulder shrug, a slumped acceptance of existing power structures. The invisible (or rather inaudible) subtext of this admonition is to locate myself outside of that position, to knowingly step outside of that class of people and preach to the females in attendance that they have no right to be on guard with me because, although I’m male, I can articulate platitudinous noises of assent, so am therefore exempt from criticism within that class of people. It is a method of feigning disbelief at male behaviour to explain to women which men it is ok to be suspicious of (so long as that suspicion does not fall upon me) and then expecting women to be grateful for your solidarity.

The Silence/Complicity of the Left

There are noteworthy exceptions, but it has long been acknowledged by feminists that men on the left have a blind-spot when it comes to centralising women’s issues. Minister Halligan spoke of reproductive rights and consent while defending the liberalisation of the sex-trade in the same breath, but our love of consent is conditional. It depends upon there being women available to us whose consent is a predicated on economic and social coercion. It is so often those who proclaim their opposition to capitalism, to racism, classism and to exploitation, those who are quickest to suggest that ‘men are pigs’ who seem to oppose any restrictions on men’s right to sexually access a class of women, most of whom are in that position as a result of the conditions of capitalism, racism (90% of women in prostitution in Ireland are migrant women), classism exploitation and most crucially male demand.

There’s something disingenuous about all of this. There is something about how this sexism is couched in doublespeak about safety, equality and choice. There is something about our concern for women’s sexual autonomy in an arrangement where women’s bodily autonomy is largely directed by the sexual/power fantasies of men. There is something about us getting on board with any women’s rights issue as long as it never interferes with our sexual primacy that calls to mind Andrea Dworkin’s axiom that it is “Only when women’s bodies are being sold for profit do leftists claim to cherish the free market”. Hijacking the language of ‘my body, my choice’, we speak of women’s sexual choice and sexual liberation in sloganeering generalities as if it somehow exists outside of material and social power imbalances.

In other words, sexual liberation is for everyone, but people with penises still get to frame what constitutes choice, liberation and indeed, at whose expense ‘everyone’ gets to express this liberation. Prostitution exceptionalism places the purchase of sex in a very special place for these guys. The poverty, addiction, abuse and race issues that they speak so passionately about as being structural problems of capitalism are simply denied or minimalised as entry points for women in prostitution when it comes to the €180 million a year Irish sex-trade (for a proper socialist analysis of the sex trade read this excellent piece by Laura Fitzgerald of ROSA).

A system with asymmetrical power arrangements that privileges freedom over equality invariably benefits the oppressors. In the case of men paying for sex, freedom means freedom for whom? In any conceivable situation, the man buying sex is the only one we are sure has complete freedom of choice. There are any number of situations that imply coercion for the woman from poverty to trafficking to abuse. A man with money in his pocket chooses whether to buy sex regardless of what situation of coercion (or ‘choice’) brought that woman to that position. His is the only choice we know to be made free from coercion. When we talk about freedom we’re actually talking about his freedom, regardless of whether or not hers ever existed.

With France adopting the Nordic Model earlier this year, Ireland’s upcoming Sexual Offenses Bill, and a push to end demand in the UK, 2016 could undo much of the damage of the previous year. 2015 was a landmark year for the liberal refusal to treat women as human beings. Much to the understandable chagrin of survivors of prostitution, Amnesty International’s sex-work policy framed the purchase of sex as a human rights issue, a position Irish sex-trade survivor Mia DeFaoite described in her blog as ‘The Last Insult’ (the Amnesty vote was taken in the same hotel in Dublin where she and her friend were gang-raped while they were prostituted). Apparently the testimony of those with a vested interest in liberalising the purchase of sexual access to women and girls holds more influence than, not only survivors of prostitution, but studies by Harvard and the London School of Economics. Amnesty’s policy is a position that is unable to hold men to account for contributing to demand for a harmful and unnecessary global industry worth billions, an industry that most frequently harms and kills the most vulnerable, an industry that is built upon and is the most obvious manifestation of male sexual entitlement.

In an unforgivable misunderstanding of the word ‘voluntary,’ Human Rights Watch (HRW) CEO Ken Roth suggested prostitution was a valid way out of poverty. Framing prostitution in this manner or comparing prostitution to other types of wage-labour does nothing to question the class, race and gender imbalances that exist in that particular system, not to mention the routine violence rape and exploitation. It is willfully disingenuous to claim that there is nothing particular to prostitution that is inherently dangerous, and what is dangerous about it, Ken Roth, is the men who buy and sell women. So while it is meant to be the remit of HRW to tackle the structural inequalities that force women and children into situations of male validated sexual abuse you continue to allow this abuse go unchecked while discussing these issues at a policy level to ensure that women are free to choose to continue to be exploited – that’s what we meant by human rights when it comes to women in 2015.

When Kat Banyard wrote this piece (later included in her book Pimp State’) exposing convicted pimp Alejandra Gil having a major role in the framing of UN Aids, WHO and later influenced Amnesty International’s policy on prostitution, there was silence from men on the left. When brothel-owner Douglas Fox was alleged to have consulted on, or even written much of Amnesty’s policy, there was silence from men on the left (Amnesty denies this, despite Mr Fox himself taking credit for it).

Quite apart from international human rights groups surrendering their moral obligations, full decriminalisation is bad policy. The Nordic model which decriminalises the prostituted person, while criminalising the purchase of sex as well as providing exiting services for people in prostitution has been in effect in Sweden since 1999 and has run parallel to models of legalisation and full decriminalisation in the Netherlands which came into effect in 2000, to New Zealand (2003) and to the German model which came into effect in 2002. One look at the deaths of prostituted women in those countries reveals a disturbing trend for those that have adopted models of complete decriminalisation or legalisation:

Sweden (since 1999): 1 death of a prostituted women, murdered by her ex-partner, not a punter.

Germany (since 2002): 69 murders and 28 attempted murders of prostituted women by pimps or punters.

Netherlands (since 2000): 28 deaths of prostituted women by pimps or punters.

New Zealand (since 2003) At least 8 deaths of prostituted women by pimps or punters.

Are we to seriously believe that there a massive gulf in cultures of misogyny and violence against women between these countries?

If the policy, as Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other opponents of the Nordic Model like Minister Halligan claim, is to ‘protect sex-workers’, they have to answer to these figures first and foremost.

They also need to answer to these figures:

400,000 women are now in prostitution in Germany, the vast majority poor women from abroad, with a linked exponential spike in sex trafficking.

In 2007, the Dutch government closed approximately one third of the legal brothels in Amsterdam because of its inability to control traffickers and other organized crime.

Former Mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen, recalled that in 2000, the Dutch legalised prostitution, intending to make the sex trade more transparent and protect women by giving them work permits. “We realize that this hasn’t worked, that trafficking in women continues,” he said. “Women are now moved around more, making police work more difficult.”

An estimated 50 to 90 percent of women in legalised brothels were “working involuntarily.” Based on these estimates, the Amsterdam legal brothel sector alone would “employ” 4,000 victims of human trafficking annually.

Police in Victoria [Australia] estimate that there are 400 illegal brothels as against 100 legal ones. Trafficking in women and children from other countries has increased significantly. The legalization of prostitution in some parts of Australia has thus resulted in a net growth of the industry. One of the results has been the trafficking in women and children to ‘supply’ legal and illegal brothels.

Meanwhile in Sweden:

Since the introduction of the ban on the purchase of sexual services, street prostitution in Sweden has been reduced by 50%. The prevalence of street prostitution was about the same in the three capital cities of Norway, Denmark and Sweden before the ban on the purchase of sexual services was introduced, but the number of women in street prostitution in both Norway and Denmark subsequently increased dramatically.

Less than 7.8% of its active adult male population buys sex compared to 13.6% before the law was enacted.

In 2008, the number of people in street prostitution in both Norway and Denmark was estimated to be three times higher than in Sweden.

Since 1999, Sweden has recorded a significant decrease in trafficking activity in the country.

It’s not difficult for men to make a strong stand for women’s choice as long as it benefits us or as long as men as a class still get to maintain their sexual aggression and primacy, to legally exploit their privileged position to purchase sexual access and then claim it as feminist. It is not difficult for Minister Halligan to express his concern for the rights of lonely and disabled men to sexually access a marginalised class of women and frame it as “two consenting adults” as if that sexual transaction existed on equal terms. It is not difficult for men to attest to the inevitability of the sex-trade by proffering hopelessly that ‘men are pigs’, as if there is nothing we can do about it, as if it isn’t men just like us who contribute to the lion’s share of the demand usually at the expense of women, as if there is simply no conceivable society where men could be discouraged from this activity – no, because men are pigs – right? It’s one thing for Minister Halligan or Human Rights groups to make an uninformed guess that liberalising the purchase of sex will make things safer for women (as I did unthinkingly for some years), it’s quite another to be aware of the numbers listed above, to be aware of the attitudes of sex-buyers, to be aware of the links to trafficking and organised crime, (figures that have increased everywhere the purchase of sex has been liberalised) and  to listen to the many harrowing testimonies of survivors and still virulently oppose the Nordic Model.

Denial and Minimisation as a Defence of the Sex-Trade

The attempts by those who oppose the law to defame and outright deny the testimony of survivors with whom we have worked with over the last few years can only be compared to the minimalisations and denials made by so-called Men’s Rights Activists and other anti-feminists towards women who have survived rape and domestic abuse. Irish survivor, founder of SPACE International and author of the searingly honest book Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution Rachel Moran, who as a result of poverty and homelessness, began her seven year journey in the sex trade as a fifteen year old child is regularly accused of fabricating her story.* Proponents of the sex-trade who regularly deny or minimise her experience are the very same who will implore you to ‘Believe Women’ when talking about other forms of male violence committed outside of the sex-trade, compartmentalising women into those who should and those who should not be believed or listened to. Despite this, it is not the men who exploit and abuse women in prostitution, but proponents of the Nordic model who get lumped with the lurid label ‘whorephobic’.

If you are a man claiming to be a feminist ally who believes that your or your mates money and social position can buy consent, please reconsider what term ‘ally’ means.

Positions taken by Minister Halligan and Human Rights organisations are the institutional equivalent of saying ‘men are pigs.’ They are at best meaningless, empty word-drool; concessions to the status quo puffed up to look like concern for women, at worst dangerous. As for Minister Halligan’s comments we were shocked to hear that a man who prides himself on supporting the oppressed could be so dangerously wrong on this issue. For him and for the rest of us, we can continue to believe that our exhortation of meaningless slogans are helpful or we can engage with the material injustices that sustain the systems of power and oppression that underpin the sex-trade. We don’t need male platitudes or even guilt. We need to stop validating male demand for commodified sex. We need to stop buying sex.

To end demand for sexual exploitation in Ireland, take action here
To end demand for sexual exploitation in the UK, take action here

* Shortly after the publication of this piece, Rachel appeared in a documentary on RTE with a member of An Garda Síochána (Irish police force) Alan Bailey who spoke about her arrest from a brothel in 1992 when she was just 16 years old, falsifying the ridiculous claim repeated by many pro sex-trade lobbyists that she lied about her past.

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My Appeal to Men as a Partner of a Rape Victim

24th of May. My birthday. My favourite day of the year. Until last year. By Simon Schwall. It was the night of the 24th of May 2015. Back then I lived in Papua New Guinea. I was driving back from a…

Source: My Appeal to Men as a Partner of a Rape Victim

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My Appeal to Men as a Partner of a Rape Victim

24th of May. My birthday. My favourite day of the year. Until last year.

By Simon Schwall.

It was the night of the 24th of May 2015. Back then I lived in Papua New Guinea. I was driving back from a party with Shira, my cherished girlfriend. She organised an amazing day of celebrations and fun for me with our closest friends. But by 11pm the day turned into a nightmare. Two men armed with home-made guns stopped us at a gate. They pointed their guns at us while a third person fired in the air. They took me out of the car and drove away. When I stood up, I realised Shira was still in the car and was being abducted. I ran after the car and desperately tried to open the door, but it was locked. I hit the window with all my strength. But they pointed a gun at me again, and I had to let the car go. I watched the car zooming away and the world crumbled under my feet.

The car was equipped with a tracker, so with the help of a security company we found the car 30 minutes later. It was open. When I opened the door I saw a shoe of Shira’s, nothing else. I put all my energy into alerting neighbours, police forces, private security companies, and all possible networks.

While I was organising the search and the rescue, she was being taken in the forest. The hours passed by, I knew the chances of finding her alive and well were decreasing. I started to imagine what she was going through and broke in tears. They were the longest hours of my life.

During this time, the offenders tore her clothes, made her run barefoot in the dark, hit her, and raped her. They raped her repeatedly, and collectively. She was constantly threatened with being killed. It went on for three hours until she managed to trick them into releasing her.

I want you to know how brave Shira was, how much I admire her for negotiating her way out of it alive, and how proud I am to see her get her confidence back, accept her fears and learn to live fully again. And it is not just me: her story is publicly available and has made the headlines in many leading women’s magazines.

But if I share this story today, it is to speak specifically to men, as a man. A man who has been very close to rape and who has experienced the effects of his partner being raped. Before that I was a man who like many others felt quite distant from rape. Partly because of the low probability I had to ever be a rape victim. But most importantly because it is treated as a women’s issue.  I cannot recall having ever read about rape in male magazines. And that’s where we get it all wrong: rape is not a female problem. It is a male problem.

First, because it is men who rape women, and secondly because we men who are the loving partners of those women, who are collateral victims.

In male culture no-one ever told you how it feels to have your girlfriend kidnapped and raped. But I am sorry to have to tell you that you need to know. With broadly one woman out of three being a victim of sexual violence in her life, a day will come when a woman that you love will tell you that she has been raped. You will go through a lot of painful feelings. Of course all the pains I will describe hereunder are minor compared to what victims are experiencing. But it is a life-changing trauma for the partner as well.

At first comes the shame, the shame of being a man. “How can I share something with these horrible rapists?” is a thought that haunted me for a while. I hated being connected by my sex and gender to her attackers. Am I a potential monster myself? Is it programmed deep in my reptilian brain? And in every man’s brain? Is my penis a weapon? I seriously believed I would never want to have sex again.

Then came the guilt. I was already familiar with the “Damsel in Distress” pattern and how it forges a distorted image of women as needy and weak. But now I could relate to the other side of the story. Men are heroes. Men are saviours. How comes I couldn’t save her then? Why did I not attempt a bold Bruce Willis-style move and kick the attackers in the face? Am I a coward? Do I deserve her?

There are also the nightmares, the visions invading all your thoughts, the horrendous things people say like “Do you not think of her as a spoilt woman now?”, the feeling that you will never feel as innocent again. It is too early to say if this feeling will ever fade away. I don’t perceive things the same way anymore. I can’t hear “Blurred Lines” without feeling nauseous, I can’t feel safe when Shira takes the bus alone, I feel uncomfortable every time I walk past a group of guys in the street at night. I will forever be overprotective, suspicious, sometimes prejudicial. I don’t like it, but I can’t change it.

So now you know and you’re very welcome.

Finally, you will have to go back to a “normal” life. And like me, you will probably realise that a “normal” life is not enough anymore. Sexual violence is something you won’t be able to ignore any longer, and you will come to the realisation that things need to change, but that this realisation comes too late.

And that leads me to my second point. Rape is mostly a male problem because if we don’t fight it, then we support it. You might think that you’re doing nothing wrong by being a good man yourself. But you are still guilty if you don’t fight rape-supporting behaviours. We men must speak up when we have the opportunity to denounce sexual violence. If we don’t we are sadly on the wrong side of the fence.

It is a beautiful and courageous battle to fight sexual violence, and it is our role as men to lead the fight. We are unfortunately far from doing that. Who parades on International Women’s Day? Who denounces sexual violence and misogynist behaviours? Even the spokesperson of HeForShe (a branch of UN-Women encouraging men to take action) is a female celebrity. At last there are some men who are willing to support her. Ten male heads of state have been appointed by the UN as advocates of HeForShe. We can follow their lead.

After Shira was evacuated I led an investigation to find her attackers. And quite quickly I found people who knew crucial information! But sadly they wouldn’t speak. Through fear, or some misguided sense of respect for their community, they wouldn’t give me any names, and “recommended” that I stop searching. It was revolting. And still is. They didn’t realise that they were protecting the people who would one day rape their wives, their daughters, their sisters. As I write these words I can feel the rage pumping in my chest. The offenders have never been arrested of course.

This is also what men do when we share a sexist joke: we create an environment protective to rapists. Same goes when we use excuses for the offenders like “Look what she’s wearing”, “He is a good boy, he was just drunk”, “She just regrets it afterwards, but surely wanted it” and so on, or call women names.

If you don’t stand up for women’s dignity, you create a world that is safe for rapists. A world where you too will fear for your cherished one when she takes the bus. A world where you too will be ashamed of being a male. A world where your daughter won’t be as free as your son.

I am urging you today to join the fight. Maybe if we want to remain heroes in popular culture we should to something to deserve it. So react to that sexist joke. Teach your sons how to behave. Parade on the 25th of November[1]. Follow HeForShe and WhiteRibbon and share their posts. Praise the woman you admire on the 8th of March[2] and every other day too. Tell the women you love that you love them no matter what sexual abuse or sexual violence they have experienced. Put the street harassers to shame, and don’t you ever take side with the offenders.

Don’t wait until you feel guilty for not having protected the one you love. Don’t wait until you feel helpless and angry. Start today: your pledge is the only thing I want for my birthday.

Simon Schwall 19th May 2016.

#WhiteRibbonIrl #HeForShe #WhiteRibbon #MakeThePledge #NoExcuse #EndMVAW

This article is also available in French and Hebrew below.

You can also see Shira’s story at this link:,7340,L-4774012,00.html

[1] International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

[2] International Women’s Day


24 Mai. Mon anniversaire, et la journée de l’année que je préfère. Ou préférais…

By Simon Schwall

24 Mai 2015, je suis à Port Moresby, Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée ou je résidais. Je rentrais de soirée avec Shira, ma compagne bienaimée. Elle avait organisé pour mes 29 ans une journée incroyable : amis, surprises, barbecue et bières fraiches au soleil. Mais vers onze heure du soir, une autre surprise nous attendait, bien moins enthousiasmante.

Deux hommes armés de pistolets, au regard déterminé et comportement hystérique arrêtent notre voiture. Ils nous braquent pendant qu’une troisième personne tire des coups de feu. Ils m’extraient de la voiture et prennent la fuite. Quand les coups de feu cessent je me relève et réalise qu’ils n’ont pas fait sortir Shira. Ils l’enlèvent. Comme possédé, je cours après la voiture et j’essaye coute que coute d’ouvrir la portière. Elle est verrouillée. Je frappe la vitre de toutes mes forces mais je vois alors le canon du pistolet pointé vers moi. Je n’ai plus d’autre choix que de lâcher prise. J’observe la voiture disparaître dans la nuit, et je sens le monde s’écrouler sous mes pieds.

Grace a un trackeur et a une société de sécurité privée, je retrouve la voiture 30 minutes plus tard. La portière est cette fois ouverte. A l’intérieur il ne reste de Shira qu’une chaussure. Pas de signe des agresseurs.

Je rassemble mes forces pour alerter les voisins, la police, les compagnies de sécurité privées et activer tous les réseaux à ma disposition. Pendant que j’organisais les recherches et les secours, Shira avait été emmenée dans la jungle. Voyant les heures passer, je sais que les chances de la retrouver saine et sauve s’amoindrissent. Ayant épuisé toutes les solutions a ma portée, je commence à m’imaginer ce qu’elle est en train de vivre et j’explose en sanglots. Ce sont les heures les plus longues de ma vie.

Pendant ce temps, ses ravisseurs avaient déchiré sa robe, la faisaient courir pieds-nus dans le noir, la frappaient et la violaient. Ils la violaient collectivement et sans interruption. Lorsqu’ils s’arrêtaient ce n’était que pour la menacer de la tuer. Après trois heures de souffrance, elle réussit finalement à les manipuler pour qu’ils la relâchent.

J’aimerais vous raconter combien Shira a été courageuse, combien je l’admire d’avoir négocié sa libération, et combien je suis fier de la voir regagner sa confiance, accepter ses peurs et vivre pleinement sa vie a nouveau. Je ne suis pas le seul a l’admirer : son aventure a été rendue publique et a fait la Une d’un magazine féminin important : (,7340,L-4774012,00.html).

Mais si je raconte cette histoire aujourd’hui c’est pour parler aux hommes, comme un homme. Un homme qui a vécu le viol de près et qui connais le quotidien auprès d’une femme qui a été violée. Avant cet événement j’étais distant des problématiques du viol, comme beaucoup d’autres. Sans doute parce qu’il était peu probable que je sois violé moi même, mais aussi et surtout parce que les médias en parlent comme d’un problème « féminin » (je ne me souviens pas avoir jamais lu un article sur le viol dans les magazines pour hommes). Et c’est selon moi la clé du problème : le viol n’est pas un problème féminin. C’est un problème masculin.

C’est un problème directement masculin parce que ce sont les hommes qui s’adonnent au viol. Mais également indirectement parce qu’entant que partenaire, pères, frères ou amis nous sommes les victimes collatérales des actes d’autres hommes.

Aucun magazine masculin ne vous dit comment gérer le viol de votre compagne. Pourtant – et je suis désolé d’avoir à vous l’annoncer – c’est quelque chose que vous devez savoir. Avec environ une femme sur trois qui est victime de violence sexuelle dans sa vie, un jour une femme que vous aimez vous racontera qu’elle a été violée. Et vous allez connaitre de nombreux sentiments différents.

Bien évidemment les douleurs que je vais décrire sont mineures en comparaison de ce qu’a vécu Shira. Mais le traumatisme reste réel.

Le premier sentiment est la honte. La honte d’être un homme. « Comment est-ce possible que je partage quoi que ce soit avec ces monstres ? ». L’idée que j’appartienne au même « sexe » que ses violeurs mà rendu longtemps malade.  Suis-je moi-même un monstre en puissance ? Est-ce programmé au fond de mon cortex reptilien ? Dois-je soupçonner tous les hommes désormais ?  Est-ce que mon sexe est une arme ? J’ai sérieusement pensé que je ne serais plus jamais capable de faire l’amour.

Ensuite vient la culpabilité. Je connaissais déjà le schéma de la « Demoiselle en détresse » et la façon dont cette image populaire réduit les femmes a des personnes faibles et vulnérables. Mais je pouvais désormais m’identifier a l’autre versant du cliché. Si les hommes sont les héros, les libérateurs, comment se fait-il que je n’aie pas été capable de la sauver ? Pourquoi n’ai-je pas mis K.O. nos agresseurs d’un « spin back kick » bien placé sur la trachée ? Ais-je été lâche ? Est-ce que je la mérite vraiment ?

Il y a aussi les cauchemars, les souvenirs invasifs qui perturbent vos pensées, et les choses horribles que les gens peuvent dire, comme « est-ce que tu as l’impression qu’elle est salie désormais ? ».

Aussi le sentiment que vous avez perdu votre innocence. Il est trop tôt pour dire si ces sentiments vont persister, mais pour l’instant je ne peux pas écouter les paroles de « Blurred Lines » sans avoir la nausée, je ne suis pas rassuré quand Shira prend le bus seule, je suis suspicieux quand je croise un groupe d’hommes dans la rue le soir. Je serais désormais excessivement inquiet et protecteur, parfois intolérant. Pas par choix, mais parce que cette expérience a changé quelque chose en moi.

Voilà, maintenant vous savez. De rien !

Finalement, vous devrez revenir à une « vie normale ». Et comme moi, vous vous rendrez vite compte qu’une vie « normale » n’est plus appropriée. Les agressions sexuelles sont un problème que vous ne pourrez plus ignorer. Vous aussi, vous voudrez changer les choses. Mais cette prise de conscience arrivera malheureusement un peu tard.

C’est ce qui me conduit à mon autre plaidoyer. Le viol est un problème masculin parce que si nous ne le combattons pas, nous l’encourageons. Nous avons le sentiment que nous ne faisons rien de mal en étant des gentlemen. Nous sommes pourtant coupables si nous ne dénonçons pas activement les comportements qui incitent au viol. Nous, les hommes, devons prendre la parole pour condamner les violences faites aux femmes chaque fois que l’opportunité se présente. Si nous ne le faisons pas, nous restons malheureusement du mauvais coté de la bataille.

C’est un beau et courageux combat que je vous propose, et c’est à nous de mener cette bataille. Ce n’est pas le cas aujourd’hui : Qui défile pour la journée de la femme ? Qui dénonce les comportements misogynes et les agressions sexuelles ? Même l’égérie de HeForShe (branche de ONU Femmes qui encourage les hommes à s’investir pour l’égalité des femmes) est une femme célèbre. Ce n’est que récemment qu’une dizaine de chefs d’état hommes ont été nommés porte-paroles de l’organisation. Nous nous devons de suivre leur exemple.

Une fois que Shira a été évacuée hors de Papouasie, j’ai conduit des recherches pour retrouver ses agresseurs. Et rapidement j’ai trouvé des personnes qui détenaient des informations cruciales. Mais ils ne souhaitaient malheureusement pas parler. Par peur, ou parfois guidés par un sens mal placé du respect de leur communauté. Ils ne voulaient pas me donner de noms, et m’ont même « recommandé » de mettre fin a mon enquête. C’était révoltant. Ça l’est toujours. Ces gens ne réalisaient pas qu’ils protégeaient ces mêmes personnes qui violeront un jour leurs femmes, leurs filles ou leurs sœurs. En écrivant ces mots je sens encore la rage monter en moi. Ils n’ont bien sur jamais été retrouvés.

Ce n’est pas seulement en refusant ouvertement de dénoncer les violeurs que les hommes créent une culture du viol. Quand nous rigolons à une blague sexiste : nous créons un environnement favorable aux violeurs. Idem lorsque nous excusons les agresseurs : « il faut voir comment elle était habillée ! », « C’est un bon garçon, il a seulement agi sous l’emprise de l’alcool », « elle regrette maintenant, mais elle l’a surement cherché » etc.

Si vous ne vous battez pas pour la dignité des femmes, vous créez une société qui protège les violeurs. Une société où vous aussi vous aurez peur pour celle que vous aimez quand elle prendra le bus. Une société où vous aussi aurez honte d’être un homme. Une société où votre fille ne sera jamais aussi libre que votre fils.

Lecteur, je t’implore donc de rejoindre nos rangs. Si nous voulons rester les héros dans la culture populaire, nous devrions peut-être le mériter, non ? Alors remet ton pote a sa place quand il fait une blague sexiste, apprends à ton fils comment se comporter envers les filles. Bats le pavé le 25 Novembre[1]. Suis HeForShe et WhiteRibbon sur Facebook, et partage leurs articles. Fais les louanges des femmes que tu admires le 8 Mars[2] (et tous les autres jours). Dis a la femme que tu aimes que tu ne l’aimeras pas moins quelque soit l’agression dont elle a été victime. Ridiculise celui que tu surprends a haranguer vulgairement les filles dans la rue, et ne te surprends jamais à excuser un violeur.

N’attends pas de te sentir coupable de ne pas avoir protégé une femme que tu aimes. N’attends pas de te sentir démunis et haineux. Commence aujourd’hui. Cette année ta promesse est la seule chose que je veux pour mon anniversaire.

Simon Schwall   19/5/16

#WhiteRibbonIrl #HeForShe #WhiteRibbon #MakeThePledge #NoExcuse #EndMVAW

[1] Journée internationale pour l’élimination de la violence a l’égard des femmes

[2] Journée de la femme


ה -24 במאי; יום ההולדת שלי והיום המועדף עלי בשנה. עד השנה שעברה.

ה -24 במאי 2015: אז גרתי בפפואה גינאה החדשה עם שירה, החברה האהובה שלי. היא ארגנה לי יום מדהים של חגיגות וכיף עם החברים הכי הטובים שלנו, אבל עד 11:00 בלילה היום הפך לסיוט.

נסענו חזרה ממסיבה כששני גברים, חמושים באקדחים תוצרת בית, עצרו אותנו בשער. הם כיוונו אלינו את כלי נשקם ואילו גבר שלישי ירה יריות באוויר. הם משכו אותי אל מחוץ למכונית ונסעו משם תוך כדי ירי. כאשר היריות עצרו לבסוף קמתי והבנתי שהם לא אלצו את שירה לצאת מהמכונית; היא עדיין הייתה בתוכו ונחטפה.

רצתי אחרי המכונית וניסיתי נואשות לפתוח את הדלת, אבל היא הייתה נעולה. היכיתי על החלון בכל כוחי, אך הם כיוונו את האקדח לכיווני שוב. בסופו של דבר נאלצתי לתת למכונית לנסוע. צפיתי בה מתרחקת משם והעולם התפורר תחת רגלי.

בעזרת חברת אבטחה ומכשיר איתור ברכב, מצאנו את הרכב 30 דקות מאוחר יותר. היא לא הייתה נעולה, אבל כשפתחתי את הדלת ראיתי רק אחת מנעליה של שירה ולא שום דבר אחר. השקעתי את כל האנרגיה שלי בלהתריע את השכנים, המשטרה, חברות אבטחה פרטיות; כל אחת ואחת מהרשתות האפשריות שיכולתי.

עם חלוף הזמן, ידעתי שהסיכוי למצוא אותה בחיים ובריאה מתמעטים. התחלתי לדמיין מה עובר עליה ונשברתי בדמעות. אלה היו השעות הארוכות ביותר בחיי.

בעודי מארגן את החיפוש ואת ההצלה, שירה נלקחה ליער. התוקפים קרעו את בגדיה, גרמו לה לרוץ יחפה בחושך, היכו אותה, אנסו אותה. הם אנסו אותה שוב ושוב, שניהם. סכנת מוות איימה עליה כל הזמן. זה נמשך שלוש שעות עד שהיא הצליחה להערים עליהם לשחרר אותה.

אני רוצה שתדעו כמה אמיצה שירה הייתה וכמה אני מעריץ אותה על המשא ומתן שנקטה כדי לצאת מזה בחיים. אני מעבר לגאה לראות אותה מקבלת את הביטחון שלה בחזרה, מקבלת את פחדיה ולומדת לחיות בצורה מלאה שוב. שירה שיתפה את סיפורה בפומבי ותוכלו לקרוא אותו כאן (,7340,L-4774012,00.html).

בעבודה זו אני רוצה לדבר דווקא לגברים, כגבר. נקודת המבט שלי על אונס השתנתה באופן בלתי הפיך לאחר שאני חווה את ההשפעות של האונס של בת הזוג שלי. לפני כן, הייתי אדם, שכמו גברים רבים אחרים, הרגיש מאוד רחוק מאונס. גם בגלל ההסתברות הנמוכה שיש לי אי פעם להיאנס, אבל בעיקר כי זה נחשב בעיה של נשים (למשל, אני לא זוכר שאי פעם קראתי על אונס במגזינים לגברים). זה המקום שבו אנחנו מבינים את זה לא נכון; אונס הוא לא בעיה נשית, היא בעיה גברית.

זוהי בעיה גברית ישירות כי אלו גברים שאונסים נשים. זה בעקיפין עניין גברי, כי גברים כשותפים אוהבים של אותן נשים, הם קורבנות משניים.

בתרבות גברית אף אחד לא מדבר על איך זה מרגיש כשהחברה שלך נאנסת, ולמרבה הצער זה משהו שאנחנו צריכים לדעת. כשבדרך כלל אישה אחת מתוך שלוש היא קורבן של אלימות מינית, יום יבוא ואישה שאתה אוהב תגיד לך שהיא נאנסה. אתה צריך להיות מוכן להתמודד עם הרבה רגשות כואבים כדי לתמוך בה בדרך הטובה ביותר. כמובן, הכאב שאני מתאר במאמר זה הוא משני לזה ששירה חווה, אך חשוב שנכיר בכך שבני זוג גם חווים את טראומת האונס שמשנה חיים.

ראשית מגיעה הבושה הכרוכה בלהיות גבר. “איך אני יכול לחלוק משהו עם האנסים הנוראיים האלה?” היא מחשבה שרדפה אותי. שנאתי לחלוק את אותו מין ומגדר עם תוקפיה. “האם גם אני מפלצת פוטנציאלית?” שאלתי את עצמי. “האם זה מתוכנת עמוק במוח הזוחלי שלי? ובמוחם של כל הגברים? האם איבר המין שלי הוא נשק? “האמנתי ברצינות שאני לעולם לא ארצה לקיים יחסי מין שוב.

אחר כך הגיע תור האשמה. כבר הכרתי את דימוי “העלמה במצוקה” ואיך הוא מייצר תמונה מעוותת של נשים נזקקות וחלשות, אבל עכשיו התייחסתי אל הצד השני של הסיפור בו הגברים הם הגיבורים. אם גברים הם מושיעים, איך זה שאני לא יכול להציל אותה? למה לא ניסיתי מהלך נועז בסגנון ברוס וויליס ובעטתי לתוקפים בפנים? אני פחדן? האם מגיע לי אותה?

ישנם גם סיוטים וחזיונות אפלים שפולשים לכל המחשבות שלך. הצורך להתמודד עם הדברים הנוראיים שאנשים שואלים כגון “האם אתה חושב עליה כעל אישה מקולקלת עכשיו?”

התחושה כי לעולם לא תהיה תמים שוב. זה מוקדם מדי לומר אם תחושה זו תתפוגג מתישהו. אני לא יכול לשמוע את “קווים מטושטשים” (“Blurred Lines”) בלי להרגיש בחילה. אני לא יכול להרגיש בטוח כאשר שירה נוסעת באוטובוס לבד. אני מרגיש לא בנוח בכל פעם שאני עובר ליד קבוצה של בחורים ברחוב בלילה. זה מרגיש כאילו אני לנצח אהיה מגונן מדי, חשדן ולפעמים בעל דעות קדומות. אני לא אוהב את זה, אבל החוויה הזאת שינתה משהו מהותי בתוכי.

אז עכשיו אתה יודע. בבקשה.

לבסוף, בשלב מסוים, תצטרך לחזור לחיים “נורמליים”. כמוני, סביר להניח שאתה מבין כי חיים “נורמליים” זה כבר לא מספיק; אלימות מינית היא משהו שלא תוכל להתעלם ממנו, ואתה מבין באיזו דחיפות החברה צריכה להשתנות. אך הכרה זו באה מאוחר מדי.

וזה מוביל אותי לנקודה השנייה שלי. כגברים אנחנו צריכים להיות חלק ענק מהשינוי. אונס הוא בעיה גברית, כי אם אנחנו לא נלחמים בו, אז אנחנו תומכים בו. אתה עשוי לחשוב כי אתה עושה את חלקך בכך שאתה אדם טוב, אבל אם אתה לא נלחם בהתנהגויות תומכות אונס, אתה מיסודך אשם. גברים צריכים להרים את קולם ולגנות אלימות מינית. אם לא נעשה זאת, אנחנו בעצב בצד הלא נכון של הגדר.

זהו מאבק יפה ואמיץ להילחם באלימות מינית, וזה התפקיד שלנו כגברים להוביל את המאבק. נכון לעכשיו, אנחנו רחוקים מאוד מלעשות את זה. כמה גברים אתם מכירים שצועדים ביום האישה הבינלאומי? מי מגנה אלימות מינית והתנהגויות של שנאת נשים? אפילו הדוברת של HeForShe (ענף של נשות האו”ם המעודד גברים לפעול) היא סלבריטאית נשית. אבל יש סימנים של תקווה; האו”ם מינה עשרה ראשי מדינה גברים כתומכי קמפיין HeForShe. אנחנו צריכים ללכת בעקבותיהם, אחרת אפילו כלא-אנסים, אנחנו אשמים.

לאחר ששירה פונתה מ PNG, הובלתי חקירה כדי למצוא את תוקפיה. די מהר מצאנו אנשים שידעו מידע חיוני אבל לא היו מוכנים לדבר. בגלל הפחד, או איזו תחושה מוטעית של מחויבות לקהילה שלהם, הם סירבו למסור לנו שמות, ו”המליצו” שאפסיק לחפש. זה היה מבחיל. וזה עדיין כך. האם הם לא מבינים שהם מגנים על אנשים שיכולים יום אחד לאנוס את נשותיהם, בנותיהם, אחיותיהם? בעודי כותב את המילים האלה אני יכול להרגיש את הזעם פועם בחזי. העבריינים עדיין לא נעצרו.

אין זה רק דרך סירוב בוטה לדווח על אנסים, שגברים מאפשרים לתרבות אונס להמשך. כאשר אנו חולקים בדיחה סקסיסטית אנו יוצרים סביבה שמגינה על אנסים. כנ”ל כשאנחנו נותנים תירוצים לעבריינים, כגון “תראה מה היא לבשה”, “הוא ילד טוב, הוא היה פשוט שיכור”, “היא מתחרטת על זה אחר כך, אבל אין ספק שהיא רצתה את זה כשזה קרה”. אנו מעצימים אנסים כשאנחנו קוראים לנשים בשמות גנאי ומביישים אותן על מיניותן.

אם אינך עומד על כבוד האישה, אתה יוצר עולם בטוח עבור אנסים. עולם שבו גם אתה תחשוש עבור היקרה לך, כשהיא נוסעת באוטובוס. עולם שבו גם אתה תתבייש בהיותך גבר. עולם שבו בתך לא תהיה חופשיה כמו בנך.

אני מפציר בכם היום להצטרף למאבק. אם נרצה להיראות כגיבורי התרבות הפופולרית, אנחנו צריכים לעשות משהו כדי שזה יגיע לנו. אז תגיבו לבדיחה הסקסיסטית ההיא. תלמדו את בניכם איך להתנהג. צעדו ב -25 בנובמבר[1]. תמכו אקטיבית ב HeForShe ו WhiteRibbon ושתפו את עבודתם. שבחו את האישה שאתם מעריצים ב -8 במרץ[2] וגם בכל יום אחר. תאמרו לנשים שאתם אוהבים שאתם אוהבים אותן, ללא קשר להתעללות המינית או לאלימות שהן חוו. ביישו מטרידים ברחוב. ולעולם אל תצדדו בעבריין.

אל תחכה עד שאישה אתה מכיר תחווה אונס ולאחר מכן תרגיש אשם על כך שלא עשית כל מה שאפשר כדי למנוע אונס. אל תחכה עד שתרגיש כעס וחוסר אונים. התחל היום.

והשנה, שבועת תמיכתכם היא הדבר היחיד שאני רוצה ליום ההולדת שלי.

Simon Schwall   19th May 2016.

#WhiteRibbonIrl #HeForShe #WhiteRibbon #MakeThePledge #NoExcuse #EndMVAW

[1] היום הבינלאומי לציון מלחמה באלימות נגד נשים.

[2] יום האשה הבינלאומי.

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A letter to my Attacker

A letter to my attacker

May 27th 2007. Do you remember that night?
I do.
Do you remember anything significant that happened that night in a popular Dublin hotel?
I do.
You probably don’t. You had such an air of ‘entitlement’ about you that night.
You had just played at a sold out concert. I sense that because you were part of a well known Rapper’s entourage that you assumed because you were ‘somebody’ you were entitled to anybody.
You weren’t.
You had no entitlement to me that night. You took something from me that night without my permission, yet I would feel no shame if it had been my bag you had stolen that night. When your bag is stolen it’s never the victims fault, right?
Do you remember calling me ‘baby’? As if we were in a situation where pet names were appropriate. Baby. I shudder at the thought.
You were drinking whiskey. Straight. No ice. I remember you placing it down on a cabinet beside me. I didn’t realise straight away why you were in the room with me. Was I naive in thinking I was safe, as if you had just come for a chat.
I often wonder when you spotted me that night. My jeans were pretty bright. Red topshop one’s. Is that how you noticed me? I remember seeing you with another girl for most of the night. She looked happy. I was quite bored. Everyone was drinking. I was sober. I decided not to drink as I had work early the next day. Little did I know a hangover would be the least of my worries the next morning.
I wonder do you have children now? Perhaps you were already a father the night you raped me? You were so calm. Do you remember casually taking a sip of your whiskey and leaving the room?

Do you remember any of this? I doubt you do. In the days after I thought not of you, but of your next victim. You were leaving for Sweden the next morning to continue the tour. Is there a girl in Sweden now remembering the same thing as me?
Do you have a daughter? What are your fears for her?
You were my worst fear.
The type of monster I knew existed but hoped I’d never meet.
If you have a son, how are you raising him? What are you teaching him?
I’ve had a daughter since. I have hopes and dreams for her. Fears too. I fear that people like you exist in this world. I worry that every time she decides to go to a party as a teen, I will think of that Monday night in 2007. I fear that I can’t protect her from men like you. That terrifies me.
I hate that in the aftermath I felt it was my fault. I let you have that power. I blamed myself, for attending a party. For existing. For simply being a woman.
Did you ever think of me after? You didn’t seem one bit afraid or nervous. You probably knew I wouldn’t report it. 80% of sexual violence cases go unreported.
I know these statistics because since you committed this crime I have become actively involved in working with groups dedicated to helping women like me. I have met men and women whose lives have been turned upside down by men like you.
I found my passion and voice in the aftermath of that night.
How would you feel if this was your own daughter’s story?
It’s hard for me to imagine you have an ounce of decency in you, its easier to think that you aren’t human, like the rest of us, but I’m sure you love and are loved.
By those who don’t know about May 27th 2007.
Do you remember that night?
I do.

This piece was written by a representative of the White Ribbon Ireland Campaign working group. She is interested in equality, creativity and social change. If you would like to know more about the White Ribbon Ireland campaign to end men’s violence against women and promote Gender Equality please visit the website.

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When We Use The Abuser’s Voice

by Tom Meagher

In our rush to push away violent men as ‘other-than-us’ we are often blinded to how our actions can facilitate a culture of violence against women, which is, at times reaffirmed by how this violence is reported by the media or discussed in our wider culture. Men who abuse are not so much those who refuse to learn social norms, but those who have absorbed and internalised cultural messages of male dominance. They are a manifestation of our cultural norms rather than the reverse. 

In various conversations across many venues over the last two years about male violence, similar questions arise about what it is specifically in our culture or peer groups that facilitates the self-justification of perpetrators of violence. At times, voices come back claiming that violence against women is in no way tolerated by most of our society, and some claim (perhaps condescendingly) that I am a victim of my own tragic loss, that I may be more prone to see violence where there is none, because my life has been shattered by it, after the violent death of my wife. While I accept that I may be more aware of violence, the source of this awareness comes from it’s presence, rather than from my own limited imagination. It can also comes from how we often unconsciously become an unwilling ally for abusers rather than for victims or survivors by social osmosis and conditioning. In one recent discussion I was challenged to provide examples of this in everyday conversation.

Not Defining the Problem is a Problem

One of the the most immediate problems is that we often don’t define male violence correctly. Naturally there is low cultural acceptance for what we imagine to be a ‘partner-abuser’, the dangerous popular myth that domestic violence is committed by vest-wearing, perennially unemployed alcoholics. The attitudes and beliefs that cause violence are ubiquitous and are not confined to geographic location, alcohol, anger-management issues, or biology, nor is it confined to physical violence. Limiting violence or abuse to punches, kicks and slaps makes it easy for us to condemn it, while simultaneously making the abusers arguments for them. The very conception that violence is confined only to the physical element allows the abuser to differentiate himself from the ‘real abusers,’ while isolating the victim even further. For the abuser, the paradigmatic image of the perpetrator of domestic violence, is an ideal model of how he can convince his partner that he’s not really an abuser, because he doesn’t do x or y. Often the victim will be convinced that she’s imagining the abuse as a result of her abusers insistence as well as this culturally limited conversation. Abuse, at it’s core, is about control and power and is often exercised by creating a dependency on the abusive partner by:

  • Isolating her from her friends and family.
  • Extreme jealousy & constant accusations of infidelity.
  • Controlling her finances and movements.
  • Gaslighting – convincing her she’s crazy.
  • Forcing your partner to engage in any sexual contact against her will through physical coercion, guilt or mental torture (such as not allowing her to sleep/not allowing her to leave).
  • Shoving or controlling her movement or making contact with her body to limit her movement.
  • Threatening violence, or intimidating her.
  • Making her believe she will be harmed, or frightening her.
  • Emotionally manipulating her through domination, shame, degradation, ridicule, making unreasonable demands.
  • Creating an atmosphere where you exercise power and domination over her/Giving yourself a privileged position over her.

An abuser often surrounds himself with people who reaffirm his attitudes and beliefs, so it is incumbent upon us to be conscious when we are speaking with the abuser’s voice:

When we express sexual entitlement

Sexual entitlement and control over a partner’s body is the abusers and the abusers only. If he ever accepts the denial of sex from his partner, it is also only up to a point. Since ownership of her body is ‘part of the deal’, he expects sex whenever he feels like it, regardless of her mood or her refusal. At the same time the abuser feels he has the right to deny sex whenever he wants and does not expect to be challenged. His sexual entitlement extends to the sex acts he desires, regardless of his partners reticence.

His reaction to her refusal of sex in social situations often takes the form of his own victimhood. It is in the abuser’s interest to have you agree with them on certain sexual myths. “She won’t have sex with me because I wouldn’t do x or y.” “She’s withholding sex because she’s a controlling, calculating bitch who uses sex as a weapon.” He presents her as the abusive, controlling one. His refusal to see her as an autonomous human being, independent of his desires infuriates him because it runs counter to his ingrained beliefs of possession and ownership. Moral accountability in sexual relationships is inverted whenever the abuser feels aggrieved, so that her disinterest in sex is more egregious than his insistence that she complies with his sexual desires. He’s not simply pissed off that he’s not ‘getting sex’, he’s furious at the temerity of her refusal.

It is often seen as acceptable to say to a man in a long-term relationship that he has ‘sex-on-tap,’ as if the agency and desire of the other person in the relationship is unimportant, compounding issues around consent in relationships. The abuser who looks upon his partner as ‘sex-on-tap’, is often the first to condemn rapists. He doesn’t see his scant regard for his partners consent as rape because she’s his property, but other men who rape are vile scum. Essentially, the abuser sees the right of refusal for a woman as contingent on whether or not she has said no to him in the past. As soon as she says yes once, he considers it yes for as long as he wants.
When we say: “He loses control”

This absolves the abuser of any personal responsibility. The notion that he loses control implies that whatever he did, it was somehow beyond his conscious reasoning. This myth is among the most common misconceptions about domestic violence, and one that is observably untrue. Most men will not go beyond a certain point in their violent behaviour. Often they take ‘body-shots’ so that there that no observable mark is left on his victim. He makes calculated decisions at all times. The arrival of a friend, neighbour or police magically puts him back in control of his rage that he had found utterly impossible to control seconds earlier.

When we claim an abuser lost control of the situation, we are using his excuses. Rather than hold him to account, we accept that, at a certain point there is only so much a man can take, that his actions are the consequences of her behaviour, not his choice. He is not losing control, he’s consolidating his control. The abuser externalises blame for his actions. If we suggest he lost control, he can internally legitimise his actions by claiming that the provocations of his partner ‘made him’ lose control. Usually the abuser’s unwillingness to resolve conflict in a non-violent manner does not extend beyond his partner. An abuser may resolve workplace conflicts, or disagreements between friends in a controlled manner, but his belief in his ownership of ‘his’ woman means he cannot abide any loss of domination or power in that domain. Assuredness in his own moral decency, despite his behaviour rests in entitlement and the wider social insistence that females accept a portion of blame for, (or at least have the decency to be uncertain about it) the crimes of men. Resist the temptation make his excuses for him by claiming it was a momentary lapse of control, or that he was drunk or depressed and didn’t know what he was doing.

When we blame his addictions/mental illness

The abuser may indeed have addiction or a mental illness, but he’s still an abuser, and being an alcoholic, or mentally ill is not the reason for his abuse, nor is the abuse solved by him giving up alcohol. There are people I know who have addictions and have never acted in an abusive manner. Equally when we blame mental illness or addiction, we contribute to the unwanted social stigmas that surround them. Addiction and abuse are too often lumped together to feed the abuser with a socially sanctioned excuse for his behaviour. Those who become abusive when they drink can perpetuate their own self-denial. They see their abuse as part of their drinking problem and we often fortify this belief for them by evasive statements like, “he’s a really good guy, he’s just a bad drunk.”

Often the abuser freely admits his alcohol problem, but he can use it as a weapon of abuse rather than as an admission of guilt, or as a tool to refuse to make amends for his behaviour. He is always the centre of attention, and his vulnerability while attempting to deal with his addiction requires his partner to walk on eggshells. She cannot bring up the past without him acting like the victim, or making her out to be insensitive for dragging up the past. He may even threaten to drink if she brings it up again, which, by extension, is a threat of abuse in and of itself. The abuser insists on a forgiving woman, who will understand and allow for all of his flaws, his contradictions, his cruelty and his moodswings. He insists on a female reflection on his maleness by cowing to his masculine ‘impulses’ towards drunken violence and sexual exploitation with ladylike acceptance of a man’s needs. He expects that she has recognised the heroism of his sacrifice for her in curbing his outlet, and is enraged by her questioning of this grand gesture.

This forced silence is abusive behaviour. She is forced to deny her own pain, so that he can feel like he is being supported. He may try to curry favour with his friends by suggesting she’s not being supportive and keeps bringing up things he did wrong when he was drunk. She may even be advised by her own friends to back off because he’s going through a tough time, or that he’s dealing with his problems now, so she should let it go. The first problem with that is that her legitimate pain is discounted and everything is, once again, about his issues. The second problem is that he’s not dealing with his abuse problem, he’s dealing with his addiction problems. The two are not the same.

When we say: “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

This question is often repeated, but even a cursory look into dynamics and power imbalances in an abusive relationship show how careless this question can be. Firstly, ‘just leaving,’ without a plan is often unsafe for the woman and her children. His belief in his ownership of her means that in his eyes, she has no right to end the relationship. Abusers do not like to be left, and the danger of murder, revenge rape, threats to her family and children increases immeasurably when a woman decides to leave an abusive relationship. In order to keep herself and often her children, safe a plan is essential. The term ‘just leave’ ignores the complexities of the relationship and places responsibility to fix the situation at the feet of the victim, allowing the abuser to shift blame, while simultaneously returning to his favourite place – at the centre of her attention.

The abuser routinely attempts to curb any sign of independence, and emotionally batters her self-belief, so that assembling the strength to leave is exhausting. He uses guilt as a weapon and makes her believe she is always in the wrong, and that she makes him act the way he does. The abuser always has allies that remind the victim that her child deserves their father, as if growing up with an abusive father is better than growing up with a mother who is not being degraded and controlled on a consistent basis. Asking why she doesn’t ‘just leave’ is an abusers get-out of jail free card. It means that he doesn’t have to answer for his crimes, she does.

When we perpetuate gender stereotypes

Men are so often told that women exist to serve them sexually, emotionally and gastronomically that the abuser has countless cultural lies and assumptions to fall back on. The abuse of women has its roots in our attitudes across any given culture, and informs our behaviours. The abuser gets a good deal of his enablers here, where ugly sexist stereotypes are wheeled out regardless of their truth or relevance. Male ownership of women was long established in common law systems (informed by social gender constructs) and it’s legacy is alive and well. The legal problem is ingrained and circular – men are responsible for most of the violence in society, but men also define the response to that violence, through centuries of legislation that saw (and still sees) men write laws on women’s bodies and movements. Legislation or norms exist within the framework of centuries of laws and social structures made by men for men, hangovers from a time when women were the properties of men. Some specific laws have changed in that regard, but attitudes that underpinned the making of those laws still exist.

Abdication of responsibility is foremost in an abusers toolbox, and therefore gender stereotypes are both the making of him and his closest ally. The myth that women are vindictive, for example, allows the abuser to paint himself as the victim while playing into a deeply ingrained social construct that women are only out for his money, or that they want to take his kids away, or that they make up stories about rape and battery to punish him for an infidelity, or a mistake he made. He plays on men and women who have been conditioned to view women with suspicion and feeds their prejudice by reinforcing his own attitudes onto them. Engaging in these stereotypes enables an abuser and reaffirms this story back into the society that perpetuates it. Despite a lifetime of social conditioning, millions of men have managed not to abuse. We cannot allow our negative cultural characteristics as an excuse to abuse or to enable abuse, use it as an reason to transform that culture.

When we say: “He’s not the type”

The abusers public image needs to be maintained in order to preserve a veneer of blameless victim, or great husband and father. The more the abuser is able to present himself as charming and generous, the more isolated and confused his partner becomes. Her isolation and depression may be interpreted as anti-social or closed off to friends and family, while the abuser appears open and amiable. If a claim of abuse is dismissed as impossible because a man appears meek, mild mannered, kind, sweet or a self-proclaimed feminist, then you must be entirely satisfied that you have looked beyond the fact that seems like a thoroughly nice bloke, and ensured you have listened very carefully to the abused, and not fall victim to the ‘women are crazy’ stereotype that has protected violent men for time immemorial.

When we say: “What about the men?”

This one I deliberately left until the end, because:

1) It never fails to come up,
2) It is often well-meaning, but ultimately unhelpful and
3) I have continually referred to the abuser as ‘he’ throughout this article.

I do not deny that men get abused, nor am I denying a genuine male victim of abuse suffers any less than a female victim. My major objection to this counterpoint is the cynical undertone of the argument and the assumption of parity in numbers of those who suffer this violence. Yes, some men suffer from violence at the hands of women, and by writing or talking specifically about men’s violence against women, I am not axiomatically denying the possibility that some women are violent, or that men never suffer violence, nor am I trivialising the pain of those men who are victims of this violence. If I talk of men’s health in the context of male suicide, I speak of it because it is a gendered phenomenon. These issues affect men differently and in greater numbers and it is not a denial of female victims of suicide. It is a recognition that there are social factors that make men more likely to take their own lives.

Exploration into male victims is a worthy conversation to have, as long as it’s not an attempt to use these men’s pain as leverage to shoot down a conversation about men’s violence against women. When we talk of a social dismissal of male victims of rape or domestic violence, we need to talk about the patriarchal idea that men can’t be raped and women can’t rape. It is a gendered assumption of where power should belong. Male victims are our allies, not fodder to undermine the global emergency of men’s violence against women, or to deny who is perpetrating most of the violence. It helps nobody to use a male victim’s pain to falsely point out how their female counterparts are over-represented. This kind of talk about male victims is used far too often as a tool in which to deny and mimimalise, rather than to highlight the issue of male victims of domestic abuse.

Rather than drawing attention to the issue in any meaningful way, the question is often cynically used to attack those who work to dismantle the social roots of gender-based violence. The ‘what about the men-ers’ often talk of how the legal system is controlled by women, or claim that women exaggerate their stories, as well versed as abusers are in habitually blaming women for their failings. They almost always minimise non-physical abuse and place a false parity on the figures of gendered violence. When we ask this question to counteract conversations about men’s violence against women, we too often reaffirm the abusers voice, that he is the victim, or that the blame lies elsewhere. Conversely we may be inadvertently putting roadblocks in the way of the victim with further self-doubt and self-blame.en we speak with the abusers voice, we forget the humanity of his victim. When we are silent, we speak with the voice of the abuser. When we blame the victim,we speak with the voice of the abuser. When we deflect the conversation, we speak with the voice of the abuser. When we refuse to recognise our privilege we speak with the voice of the abuser.

The more we support the victims, the less isolated they will feel. The more we listen to them, rather than preaching at them, the more empowered they will feel. The more we tell them they’re not to blame, the stronger they will feel. Refuse to speak with the voice of the abuser, listen to his victim.

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Sex and Violence: Sexual intimacy with an abusive partner

by Avril D’Arcy

Sexual relationships within an environment of abuse, is an incredibly complex topic of conversation. Apart from conversations that I have personally instigated, I don’t know that I’ve come across discussion in this area. While academically I am sure there has been research, I found little consolation or conversation about something that, after I had left my boyfriend, I needed to talk about. While counsellors and therapists are an incredible source for healing, my need to feel valued and understood often lies in the understanding of the ‘civilians’ in my life. As any taboo subject, sex will generally be greeted with giggles, disgust or clinical evaluation. While I understand that people can feel awkward or uncomfortable, they will never feel as uncomfortable as the women who have had or are having sexual relationships with an abusive partner. While I have many lasting, latent emotions surrounding my experience of abuse, this one of the last areas I have tried to come to terms with. It is also one of the areas that I have found myself carrying over into new relationships. To be deemed as useless, treated as an object and told that I had a role to fulfill, sex became a daily worry.

When are we going to stop believing that violence has different faces? The inevitability of damage caused by abuse of any kind should have taught us that it is all the same demon: power, entitlement, dehumanisation, objectification, sexualisation, control, bullying. It is all violence; it is all the mask of a violent mind.

I recently went to the launch of a campaign against the purchase of sex and the sex  trade. I thought the subject matter didn’t personally affect me, but I wanted to show my support. I wasn’t expecting to identify with the stories told or the issues discussed. I was very wrong. As a woman who has suffered abuse, I thought I had sufficiently compartmentalised my experiences. The stories and theories put forth changed my mind. Although everyone’s story is unique, I am no different to any other woman that has suffered gender based violence. There is a common denominator in all of our stories: Male privilege, male entitlement, and the suffering of women through men’s hands. I stand with my sisters who have had their lives changed through a tapestry of male-torment none of us thought would happen to us. There is no isolated incident. I am no better or worse than any other woman who has had their lives dictated or directed by a man who told us he would make it better. He would make the pain go away, if we did what he said.

I didn’t expect to identify with these women in the way I did. The idea of consent is much more far reaching than we allow ourselves to contemplate. Suspending the right of consent; suspending the idea that we hold bodily autonomy, the idea of male entitlement to sex with any partner is frequent and pervasive and is blamed on the uncontrollable male libido. Why wouldn’t I do anything to fulfil my partner’s desires, regardless of my own feelings or my own comfort levels? This is what I owed him; this is what I was supposed to do to make him happy. My mood didn’t matter; he didn’t care whether my mood was there. I became an object of his power and control, a metaphor for his male sexuality and his prowess. If I didn’t do this, I didn’t really love him. He was trying to fill a hole in his psyche and personality that he couldn’t fill himself. His power and the aggression with which he grew to express his sexuality and needs became overbearing and overwhelming. I was screamed at for not staying awake for him. I suffered the manipulative anguish and anger he would express in coercing me to act in ways I wasn’t comfortable. Sex was no longer an expression of love, but a means of distraction, a means to placate, a means to suspend another bad mood or another explosive argument and another two weeks of being ignored or taunted.

There were times when I drank to not care that I would have to sleep with him. There were times when I drank so that I would fall asleep and not have to come up with another excuse. There were times I pretended to be asleep, to have my period, to feel ill and there were times when I had sex with him because I had run out of options. Sometimes I spurred him on, just so he would finish.

There were also times when I missed the intimacy of a loving healthy relationship and tried to find that old friend of making love to my boyfriend. But the underlying feeling that I would be in trouble if I didn’t was never far away and would often ruin any genuine affection we shared. There were also times that I needed the comfort of sex and pleasure to feel better about a bad day with my boyfriend: To try and find some sort of physical love, comfort and affection through sex instead of the nasty arguments and name calling. If I could find him in the bedroom, maybe I could find him outside it.

Sometimes it was just a matter of wanting comfort, to be loved. If I could just please him somehow, I can get to the other side. It will be over soon.

I had no input however. I wasn’t allowed to comment during sex at all, lest I be accused of putting him down or turning him off. If I giggled, I was accused of laughing at him, if I didn’t make enough noise, I didn’t care. As in other areas of our relationship, sex had ever-moving goalposts and rules that I couldn’t keep up with. Once you start using your body for anything other than pleasure or love, once they have been taken out of the equation, it is very hard hold your self-worth or value. In using your body for the validation of another person, we inhabit a very dark place that has seriously damaging consequences.

I know I am not alone in the way I feel about this. I know other women have experienced the same things and have had to cope with it alone. I know that it is not talked about and that it is difficult. But the silence deafens me. I don’t want to be isolated in this, I don’t want to be pushed towards doctors and care agencies. I want the people I know to understand what this does to a person, in the hopes that it doesn’t happen to another. As a survivor of rape, as a survivor of abuse, I stand beside my sisters and ask for the enlightenment of men and boys and the pledge to not harm another.

Every day there are women that are going through this experience. Maybe they are planning to leave their partner, and have to engage in sexual intimacy in order to maintain an appearance of normality. There are women that are using their bodies to distract and disarm their abusive partners. There are women that are trying to avoid pregnancy with partners who refuse to use contraception. I know of many women that have been scolded for even the suggestion of using, in particular condoms, as if this was a matter of trust. Then there are men that break that trust by removing condoms without their partner’s knowledge. The phrase barefoot and pregnant didn’t come out of nowhere. I have many vivid memories of having to defend my fear over unplanned pregnancy, as if in some way I was insulting my partner. Why wouldn’t I want his child, regardless of anything else going in our lives at that moment? We were in love weren’t we? His ego was so inflated that apparently he would ‘know if he were to get me pregnant’ and would get angry with me at the thought of wasting money on anything as irrelevant as emergency contraception. In addition to that, infidelity is also commonplace with abusive partners, and as such, other major health worries come into play.

I’m not sure when the time will come where I don’t balk at the memory of waking up with my partner already on top of me, the memories of being told I wasn’t good enough if he wasn’t satisfied or the many memories whereby I felt more object than person. I do know however that we need to be able to talk about this aspect of life with an abusive partner. There are women who are engaging in sexual activity to avoid being hit, being shouted at, being hurt in any number of ways. It often seems like the easier option to forgo one’s own comfort to placate an aggressive partner. The system of manipulation and coercion is never more present than in the sexual relationship with an abusive partner. The feeling of responsibility lies with the women, of entitlement with the man: this dynamic becomes so poisonous that you begin to believe their twisted logics. Without open conversation on perceived male sexual entitlement and consent, we are only getting half the story. Violence takes many forms and abuse is at epidemic proportions.  Just because he’s not hitting you, doesn’t mean he’s not hurting you.

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Teens: The Impact of Social Media in 2015

by Sarah Gorry

It is not a surprise to anyone that the use of social media has changed the world as we know it. From checking in for flights, online shopping, ordering your favourite takeaway in one simple click, it’s hard to fault the easiness of phones and tablets. It has become a new way to do business and work together. We stay connected to friends through Facebook and Skype, we share moments of joy and sadness, funny times and hardships. We offer virtual hugs to our friend’s who are not near by and keep up to date with family across the world. In many respects, a brilliant thing, but as with everything there is a darker side to social media, a dangerous side to smart phones. A lot of that darkness lies on the shoulders of our teenagers.

I’m 28 and still get asked for ID on nights out so, I suppose my teenage years don’t seem so long ago. In fact I blinked and they were over. I didn’t know then, but those years between 15 and 18 were so full of fun and laughter I would go back to it in a heartbeat. It was a time I would describe as stress-free. I had very little pressure on me to be anyone or do anything I didn’t want to, something our teenagers today don’t get to experience. Sex was something that happened naturally in relationships. It was typical teen sex, awkward and not sexy in the slightest. There were fewer expectations or pressure to be of a certain standard back then.

I recently sat down with two teenage girls, who kindly gave me their time to talk all things sex, consent and being a teenager in general. I was quite saddened after it. It almost burst my bubble of thinking back to my younger days and I worried I had been looking back through rose tinted glasses. Maybe it wasn’t that fun after all? But my eyes were soon opened to the differences between my teenage years and life as an adolescent in 2015.

There is a huge crisis going on right now with our teens. My dad actually put it bluntly, we are focusing too much on what our kids are eating and how waist sizes are increasing and not doing anything to tackle other issues that desperately need to be addressed; ‘sexting’ being one of the most vital problems that needs attention.

A report carried out in 2014 showed 1 in 4 Irish teenagers have sex texted, with children as young as 10 sending sexual explicit images. Yet nobody is talking about it. It’s the elephant in the room that seems to be ignored by parents, schools and the wider culture.

The young girls I sat down to chat with explained to me that sending a nude is a normal thing to do. While not everyone one does it, most do engage in the exchange of sexual images. There is huge pressure on young girls to send naked ‘selfies’, these images are then usually shared around without their consent on apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Snap Chat. If you ask them why they feel they need to engage in such behaviours they will explain if you don’t you’re deemed uncool, frigid, and the person will just simply move on to another person to ‘sext’. Keep in mind the request usually comes from a boy they really like, resulting in girls feeling they must keep their crush interested or someone else will. This is leading to a huge amount of adolescents having unhealthy relationships.

Being the mother of an almost six year old daughter, these trends and behaviours are terrifying to me. What is even more terrifying is that they are being ignored. I discussed this with a male friend recently, his view was, it was bad when we were kids too we just didn’t have access to camera phones, whilst I know times change and progress, does that mean we just have to accept this? The mother in me finds it really hard to just brush it off as ‘kids these days’. It’s too dangerous to turn a blind eye.

One of the main factors in these behaviours becoming the norm is how accessible porn has become. At The Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation summit in the U.S last May it was stated that porn sites now get more visitor’s than Amazon, Netflix and Twitter combined. This is huge. And it is affecting Irish teens greatly. Its leading teens, who are not mature enough to engage in watching porn to have unrealistic expectations of sex, it’s also affecting how we view women, and our teen boys are growing up with a more aggressive attitude toward women than ever before. I see this on an almost daily basis. I hear it personally when I walk by a group of young boys, the language they use to sexualise me, and many other girls, is unbelievable. I’m 28, a mother, and very tough-skinned, but I worry how this type of language will affect teenage girls. We cannot and must not except this. I feel this is becoming so normalised that our girls just expect to be spoken to in this manner. Mary Ann Layden of the University of Pennsylvania who specialises in sexual trauma says that, ‘The earlier males are exposed to pornography, the more likely they are to engage in non-consensual sex’. Given the amount of young males accessing porn so easily nowadays this is shocking to hear. And in Ireland, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop said the same link between early porn usage and later attacks on women is being recorded in this country. She states ‘from our own annual reports we can see that there is increasingly additional violence involved in sexual assaults, and that can be traced to the growing availability of pornography sites that are increasingly extreme’.

Both people I spoke to said that there is no respect from males in their peer group. When I asked them about street harassment they explained how much the hate it, they cannot walk anywhere now without something sexual being said as they walk by, one of the girls described to me that sometimes there can be two separate groups of boys, on each side of the street, debating while they walk by whether your body is good enough or not. With no concern or thought for the girl involved. One of them put it simply and quite sadly “it’s not fair just because we are girls this happens to us, nothing gets said to them but we must look perfect or a certain way all of the time”.

Another personal story one of the young women shared with me was horrifying. She explained to me that when she was fourteen, a boy she had been out on a walk with held her down and demanded her to perform a sex act on him in the park. She luckily was able to escape to safety but in the weeks after the incident she received verbal abuse online from the boy who had done this to her. She rejected his advances, and escaped rape yet he was still abusing her online calling her ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’. She never discussed this with a parent or teacher. Although she knew it was wrong, it wasn’t all that shocking for her, because “this stuff happens all the time now”. This left me fearful that perhaps our teenagers are unaware of what constitutes rape and consent.

I didn’t sleep properly for three nights after hearing that story. I felt physically sick and angry. Really angry. Why is no one taking action? Surely if I am able to do research for this piece and look on thirteen-year olds Facebook pages that are set to public, then their parent’s can see the same things I could, and step in? I was stunned at how much private information I was able to read. I started writing this piece weeks ago, but admittedly I found it really hard to do. I have watched men in their thirties chat up young girls, I have seen them write ‘why can’t you just just hurry up and be 16’. I have witnessed girls offer oral sex to boys. I’ve discussed videos that have been leaked by males and I’ve been told of bribery for sexual exchanges.  Understandably this has been a dark world to submerge myself into. Especially when I have a daughter of my own. It scares me. A lot.

So what has changed over time? It’s apparent that respect and consent are diminishing concepts for these groups of teenagers. I feel the responsibility for these issues lie on many people’s shoulders; parents, schools, sports clubs. We must ask ourselves are we raising our boys to treat women equally and with respect, are we teaching them from a young age no means no, and the absence of a no doesn’t mean yes? There are so many worries here. We must instil beliefs of gender equality into our girls from a young age too, so they realise they are so much more than the names thrown at them as they walk down the street. We, as parents have a lot of work to do here, to ensure the safety of all our children. We need schools, sports clubs, and Gardai involved in this epidemic. Education is key in this area. Parents need help in addressing these issues at home. We should want our kids, male and female, to grow up with respect for one another, to know rights and wrongs. Consent needs to be clearly understood. If we miss these important lessons as they are growing up it will undoubtedly lead to a huge increase in abusive, unhealthy relationships. As a society we should want more than that for our next generation of adults.

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The Story Behind the Stereotype: Parenting Alone.

by Sarah Gorry – National One Parent Family Network

I was 23 years and 2 months when I became a lone parent. My daughter was a cuddly bundle of six  month cuteness. I had spent the six months prior in a bubble of new motherhood, adapting to my new life as well as coping with post-natal depression and coming to terms with my mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 61.

My life had quite literally changed overnight. I wasn’t surprised when my relationship broke down. It was on the cards. It was very apparent we weren’t compatible and it would have been near impossible to raise a child in that cold environment of walking on eggshells, being anxious and unhappy, but the life I was thrust into was a huge surprise to me.

Growing up I had a wonderful childhood. I had security. I had a stable home. I had parents who shared a deep bond, love and friendship together. I never heard my mother say we can’t afford to eat this or that. I never watched her cry or vomit when her bank account was overdrawn.  My daughter’s early years were a stark contrast to my own. At my worst, my weight plummeted to 36 kilos. I would throw up as soon as I woke up. I stopped eating completely. My body was so controlled by anxiety, which I tried so hard to get rid of by making myself sick every single day. I was faced with homelessness when my landlord  increased my rent and I was already struggling to pay before the increase. I spent morning, noon and night trying to find a new home to rent. It was impossible. I was struggling to feed my child and heat my home. I was living off 190 euro per week from my one parent family payment. I wasn’t receiving any maintenance for 2 years for my child and as much as they helped there was only so much my family could do. I was stuck in a poverty trap.

It was during my bleakest, lowest time that I met a group of women on a wet, miserable December afternoon in 2012 outside Dail Eireann in Dublin. They, as well as myself had gathered for a small protest after the budget was announced. That budget of 2012 changed the lives of nearly every lone parent in Ireland. Little did I know that those bunch of girls standing with placards, speaking through megaphones, would become my best friends, my biggest support and the most inspirational group of women I have ever met. Our baby, National One Parent Family was born.

We have spent the last 3 years lobbying against the disastrous cuts to one parent families, highlighting to our government they are pushing thousands of families into further poverty. 98% of lone parents are women. The cuts over the past 3 years have pushed us to the brink, we have had to abandon degrees and jobs, we have become homeless, we have battled with illness and stress and depression, all while parenting alone, while trying to give our children a happy secure life that every child so rightly deserves. To give them at times enough love and encouragement to make up for the absent parent, to play good cop/bad cop day in, day out, with no respite. On top of all this, lone parent are labeled by society.

Lazy, slut, whore, scrounger. Words I never heard in everyday vocabulary until I became a lone parent. ‘Should have kept your legs closed’ is another statement thrown so easily at us. I couldn’t believe how society viewed lone parents and I was shocked that I was constantly stereotyped. I wanted to scream so many times to people ‘Come live with me’ to see how they would manage in my shoes. I yearned for the people of Ireland to stand with us not against us, but I soon realised that would never be the case. We got ourselves into this situation they would say, so nobody is going to help you out.

The idea that so many people questioned why we didn’t use contraception was shocking, that they thought all of our children were unplanned mistakes. There is a common misconception that the majority of lone parents are teenagers, when in fact teenagers only make up 1.5% of one parent families in Ireland (One family 2010). People probe us as to why we allowed ourselves get pregnant, as if we all had drunken one night stands down an alley way and didn’t know our children’s father. Yes that happens, its life, we should support anyone’s choice in how they want to deal with an unplanned pregnancy and respect their decision but it’s certainly not the case that most children in one-parent families are the result of unplanned pregnancy. The majority are parenting alone is due to a marriage or long term partnership ending, with domestic violence and psychological abuse being the 2nd biggest reason for people parenting alone, according to National One parent Family Network’s latest ongoing survey.

Over the past few weeks I gathered stories from other women about their experiences. It opened my eyes to a world even I didn’t want to believe exists. It hurt and saddened me to read my friend’s experiences.  These are women I’ve known for some time, yet we have never fully divulged this information to each other, the darkness of our past, the events that led to us all to become friends, and I realised we were so much more than the labels put on us. Many of us were victims, and as hard as it is to live in poverty week in week out, every single person I asked ‘were they happier now?’ said yes. These women have ran in the middle of the night, they have sought shelter in a neighbour’s house with their children, they have fled their homes to stay in a women’s refuges. I collected stories from these women over the last month and I found it difficult to hear these accounts. I posted it on our Facebook page and I received over 100 replies when I asked, ‘How many of you experienced any type of abuse in your relationship prior to becoming a lone parent’. The results were shocking. Even for me:

‘I was, my ex was depressed too but I still dismissed that as a good excuse to rape me. I wanted to leave him well before but he actually made it easier for me by abusing me every night for a full week. I couldn’t take it anymore. I contacted women’s aid and left, my youngest child was 4’

‘Mine wasn’t physical but mental abuse. Constantly checking my phone, asking why I was smiling, he wouldn’t let me sleep and he enjoyed that’

‘I’m free 8 years now I threw him out after he tried to rape me. His abuse towards me was mental, physical and sexual. He still tries to control me now through our children’

‘Mine was 15 years of abuse, I left when my boys were 7 months and 2yrs when he took a knife at me In front of the children, I knew I had to get out’

‘I got my hand smashed and my neck sliced with a cut throat razor’

‘I went down to less than a size six and was still called fat, I breastfed for three years yet was called lazy if I didn’t have his dinner on the table at 2am, if I spoke to any other male including my father’s friends I was accused of cheating’

These are just some example’s of the many stories I received. These women are still recovering from the years of abuse, most of them left with very low self esteem and little confidence, worn down for years on end while trying to make everything right. And then to face a life of poverty and judgement after escaping from these relationships. Surely there should be better treatment than we receive right now.

Its time to ask why? Why are we victim blaming here? Why is the primary caregiver the ones who are attacked in society? We need to change how we view people parenting alone as a nation. Its time to open our eyes and minds to the true reality of what these people have gone through before you judge them.

We need proper support structures in place for people who have come to a point where they have to parent alone, lone parents countrywide are crying out for a help up not a hand out, help returning to education, training and the workforce. We should be recognised for the care we are providing for our children, not penalised for wanting a better, safer life for ourselves and our children or for being abandoned and left with no support.

We are marginalised. We are name-called. We are frowned upon. We are hated. We are unfairly stigmatised.

The truth is very different, we are none of the above. We are survivors. We are brave, and we are heroes, to our children and to ourselves.

Change is needed to recognise the truth behind the stereotype.

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Garden Variety Creepiness – Romantic Heroes or Abusive Men

by Tom Meagher

I purposely almost passed on the opportunity to add to the clamour of comment on the social and cultural toxicity of 50 Shades of Grey, because frankly it has been heavily remarked upon by people much brighter than I am. What I did find interesting was Christian Grey’s place in the great body of male leads, and the conceptions of love that inform those characters. The story’s grim valourisation of abuse and past Hollywood standards compelled me to explore the dynamics and background that led to the celebration/condemnation of Christian Grey and the historic and current position of abusive men as romantic heroes.

I would imagine it seems reasonable to most Hollywood executives that they are (to use problematic language) post-gender, post-race, and post all of the ugly stuff of historic inequality. We’re so often told that male-centrism in movies is not about male-domination, it’s about what sells; they simply go with what sells. It’s not about black or white, it’s about the box-office. What we never need to question is why that standard sells. The danger of the repetition of the toxic is that the foundation on which it rests becomes standard, and when the voices of opposition fall silent, that standard is re-established as the default setting, the one that has always worked when everything else falls apart. It rests on the retrospective illusion that progress is at once linear and inevitable, and that we are in our current position because history happened as it was meant to happen.

For the most part Hollywood movies are an exercise in administration rather than in creation. Male romantic characters enact questionable habits by rote, by virtue of how that role has previously existed and the viewers reaction to that standard romantic dynamic. The rare points of departure exist, but continue to be the exception. This device informs us that mistakes in executing new ideas prove the paucity of that idea, rather than external/unforeseen factors, the stubbornness of old values, or an ineptitude in the administration of those ideas. Even revolution brings with it some of the assumptions of the past, and it is usually through a lack of thinking rather than through rigour or imposition that standard ideas remain. I believe those Hollywood execs who say their intention is not subordination based on gender or race. They exist within, rather than produce the inequalities from which they benefit and unthinkingly perpetuate.

Women have been a plot device for male entitlement for as far back as stories were being told, as trophies for creepy behaviour, as the spoils of war, as the property of men, as the maiden-in-waiting for her adorable coercive, overly-persistent prince-charming. This canonical romance fodder is by no means confined to Hollywood’s conveyor-belt of repetitious creepy men and two-dimensional women. Romantic notions of ownership and possession have been cultural touchstones from Homer’s depiction of the Trojan war to countless Marvel and DC superheroes, to the princess in Super Mario Bros. The endless list of women as representative and actual rewards for men in every facet of media almost always stops when the reward is won. In 50 Shades we have a rare peek into the post-prize horror, the abuse and possession that comes from viewing women as things to possess, while glamourising that man as a brooding troubled Adonis with a haunting past.

After seeing that four foot high visual of a man grabbing a woman by the throat on the movie poster for 50 Shades, I asked a number of people who had read the book what they thought it was about. Most said it was a just a story about humping and BDSM, some said they found it ludicrously dull, almost all (whether they enjoyed it or not) found the prose unreasonably bad, but some agreed with its author E.L James that this was not just about BDSM, but a love story.

As I flicked through my memory bank of love stories with which to compare it, I concluded, although not as overtly ‘abusive dressed as sexy’, the scale of abusive or controlling and manipulative man on our screens who are cast as ideal and beautiful love-matches is so frequent it’s past remarkable. On the grand scale of love stories and conceptions of love that have had sustained across cultures for centuries, our depictions of love can be brutal, possessive and obsessive. 50 Shades has it’s place in the pantheon of disturbing fictional relationships, but it is by no means alone. What it does is show us what most of Hollywood’s romantic heroes might be like if we had the opportunity to see beyond the usual ending of the lead character (almost always the man) working out how to ‘get’ the woman.
The first story that crossed my mind was modern day tear-jerker The Notebook which I had re-watched over the holiday season and predictably sobbed uncontrollably. I remembered the great moments of nascent love I’ve had in my life, and of how some messy, many were awkward or downright embarrassing. None were as confidently and creepily coercive and abusive as the character of a seventeen-year-old Noah in this movie. The male lead (swooningly played by Ryan Gosling), gets an idea that he’s in love with a young woman he sees at a local carnival. He pursues this interest by asking her out. When she refuses his initial advances, he climbs a Ferris wheel she’s riding on with her date, and threatens to plummet to his death unless she agrees to go out with him, a concept we’re supposed to find impish, cute, and oh so romantic (imagine this played by a demented wide-eyed Nick Cage, then tell me it’s cute). Threatening suicide if a woman does not defer to your will is not a fun prelude to a great romance, but psychological abuse from the first moment of contact. To be fair, this story actually does go beyond the usual – stop it when they get together – bit, but only to show the couple in their first flushes of love and then when she tragically gets Alzheimer’s in old age. There are undoubtedly some touching and heartbreaking moments of love in their elderly relationship, but this switching between youth and old-age device allowed the filmmakers to avoid the couple’s entire adult relationship.

The enshrinement of these narratives in popular culture oscillate between the sacrificial notions of the romance of male protector-narratives of Titanic to the female subordination and power-imbalances of Pretty Woman. From the love-über-alles yarn of heroic poor men dying for rich woman, to the valourisation of rich guys who purchase sex, and eventually exploit their elevated social and economic position to keep that woman around as his very own PA/sexual escape-pod from the boredom and inauthenticity of his life, the ubiquity of ownership narratives or selfless/pointless sacrifices in popular culture are borne out by a history of thinking about romantic love as a divine and idealised form of male ownership of another human being.

These relatively recent snapshots of idealised love as eternal and immutable property have a rich and uncomfortable relationship with the romance of obsession, which places the object of affection as just that; an object, stripping that beloved other of the humanity of their imperfections. The upshot of the power-relations that surround the imposition of romantic love as the ultimate quest, the Holy Grail of meaningfulness and secular religiosity is that it places idealised forms of beauty and goodness into socially fluid and volatile constructs of power that often deny the agency of the beloved if the scales fall and that beloved fails to live up to the divine expectations of the lover.

50 Shades, as a manifestation and sexualisation of an abusive relationship, packaged and sold as ‘hot’, was perhaps unusual in its mainstreaming of unambiguous manipulation (and that it provided fodder for us to snigger at the peculiarities and cultural novelty of ‘female sexuality’), but burgeoning abusive behaviour is hardwired into the ‘normal’ aspirational heterosexual love-stories we watch and re-watch. Long before the divinity of heterosexual couple-love became a staple of Hollywood’s lazy conservatism, the path was well and truly beaten for them by a dangerous notional cocktail of male predators and female gatekeepers, whose bodies and hearts can be won through deceit or grand gestures that, off-screen could be bullet-points in the Dummies Guide to Stalking (Hugh Grant starting a cringe-inducing international incident with the United States as UK PM as a gesture of power and abandon a la Love Actually – or indeed any story in Love Actually, or the iconic creepiness of John Cusack with a boom-box in Say Anything). Follow any of these stories past their ‘happy ever after’ conclusion and the male characters would very likely display some creepy, dangerous Christian Grey-like behaviours.

The problem with the notion of romantic love relationships as unconditional, unchanging and unending is the impossibility of its demands, the demands of the dominant partner setting out the terms of those impossible demands, and the difficultly of leaving a lover within the confines of those aggressive expectations.

One of my favourite opening lines from a novel is from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ It opens at the scene of a suicide and the first line is:

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

This beautifully written line is infused with inescapability and the hopelessness of a love unrealised – Garcia narrows the choices of the rejected lover only to death when he invokes words like “inevitable” and “fate”to describe the power and destiny and ultimate cruelty of love, begging the question: if the absence of mutuality can only lead to death, what does the withdrawal of mutuality inevitably lead to? Disturbing indeed, but this idealised ‘love as the search for ideal beauty’ can traced all the way back to the ancients, a time where power relations, indeed all relations between men and women, and indeed men and men would be unrecognisable in today’s world, but somehow this conception of love has sustained through millenia. Ideal forms of reaching for beauty is so enshrined in our conception of how we love that there is an ill-conceived idea of love as our only unconditionality. That wonderful human need for affection and love that can inspire and delight is repeatedly framed in an almost religious craving for the eternal – an immutability that can be grasped in the beauty of one lover. The arbitrary and unchosen nature of love itself is often framed as inescapable, using deterministic language like destiny, eternity and unconditionality.

The loved one’s reciprocation is not even remotely required for this devotional love. Take the common Hollywood theme of leer from afar, turned stalking pest – like Ben Stiller’s character (and, as it turns out, all the male characters) in ‘There’s Something About Mary’. The consent of the female character is entirely optional. Love, conceived this way is relational only in terms of woman as a means to the man’s goals of fulfilling his desire for her. This desire allows him to invade this other human’s space, private moments and movements.

Conceptualised through a lens of male entitlement, heterosexual love can be normalised in the most dangerous of ways, and Christian Grey can be easily conceived of as a seductive romantic hero rather than a controlling manipulator. The dark side of the romantic idealisation of the other is linked with male infantalisation of women, sexual entitlement to women in general, but particularly to ‘my’ woman. This intensification of control and objectification is reinforced and validated by a social edifice that commands and worships male domination, the sexualisation of young women, and the disposibility and demented desexualisation and mumsification of older women, to the point where it is a either a seam-busting joke, or a disastrous near family destroying abuse-storyline if an older woman expresses any sexual desire (see Thirteen or even Patricia Arquette in Boyhood).

In 50 shades, we see the egregious result of every Hollywood ‘ending as beginning’ in a way that still lionises the abuser. Hollywood’s classic arc is to portray a controlling man only up to the point where he ‘gets’ the girl (which, of course, is presented as romantic). If we could attach a three-years-later scene to our Pretty Woman example, where Julia Roberts’ doesn’t live up to the idealised notion of ladylike perfection that Gere’s character groomed and trained her to be, the unsurprising and disastrous results wouldn’t shock us. We would have clearly seen the warning signs. Gere was a creep from beginning to end, but, goddamn it, he got the girl, he saved the girl, he showed the girl how to live ‘properly’. Thank heavens for Hollywood’s abusive creep instructing women on their behaviour.

The status quo is not difficult to enact. It is the path of least resistance. Hollywood does not enact the privilege of the abusive, white, heterosexual man, rather it is reflexively reproduced by the society that so keenly values those attributes, and their relationship to power and ruling classes, and projects it back to that society. The fact that the systematic supremacy of those attributes have been in operation for as far back as memory reaches means there is no requirement to consciously exercise oppression or even acknowledge its existence. Routine reproductions of power and oppression are more often imposed by not thinking, or enacting, but through box-ticking and repeating criteria. Hollywood exists in this unconscious repetition of established norms, popping up only very occasionally to think.

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