Why it's different for girls: slut-shaming in the digital age

In the world of popular sexual mores, public oral sex is apparently seen as pretty much neutral for men. It's the woman who gets to be the repository for everything deemed "shameful" or "disgraceful". A culture that hates women for having sex is one that

Welcome to today's reminder that it's different for girls. A picture has been circulating on Twitter and Facebook since last night, reportedly taken at Eminem's Slane Castle gig yesterday. It shows a cluster of men looking at a young man and a young woman. Him: shirt off, shorts down, cock out, arms held high, beaming with triumph. Her: fully clothed, kneeling, sucking.

It's a grotty scene, and so are the reactions to it, because while there are two people at it in the picture, only one of them has been the focus for the attendant flack. She was given a nickname that's been trending since (we're not reproducing it here, because although this is an issue we need to talk about generally, the girl in this specific case has suffered enough publicity). She was also labelled with epithets like "dirty", "slut", "rank" and "this is why men fear having daughters". The guy? He's as much of a bystander as the ones watching, apparently.

In the world of popular sexual mores, public oral sex is apparently seen as pretty much neutral for men. It's the woman who gets to be the repository for everything deemed shameful or disgraceful about sex. If a man gets caught in some non-socially-sanctioned screwing, he's just being a man, and his reputation is unharmed.

The woman, though? She's disgusting, and deserves all the humiliation people can find to fling at her.

The main way people have chosen to enact this humiliation is by sharing the picture – which means a lot of people either have great confidence in their ability to judge a girl's age from the back of her head, or are very happy to distribute what could well be an obscene image of someone under the age of consent. He looks willing enough, but you can't tell if she was coerced or even competent, and if you can't tell that, you shouldn't be gawping.

Still, whatever the participants' date of birth, you wouldn't say that either of them look old enough to know better. A smuggled bottle of mixed spirits, the thrum of a crowd full of strangers listening to music, being horny and dumb and young: all of these things combined mean that embarrassing yourself at a festival is a fairly universal experience. That's what gigs are for, partly.

Festivals are a temporary suspension of the rules, a window of carnival. There's a grim side to this convention of lawlessness, too: in the Sleater-Kinney song #1 Must Have, Corin Tucker asks urgently, "And will there always be concerts where women are raped". The more macho festivals have always had a reputation for crime, including sexual violence, and there's something of the same viciousness in the way this picture was taken and shared: sex being used as a weapon to attack the girl in the photo.

In a smartphone and social media world, there's not much room for making mistakes, even in the kind of place where you're supposed to run wild. Young people grow up knowing they're in public (my children make a point of asking if I'm uploading an embarrassing picture or story to Facebook, and the answer is usually yes), but that doesn't mean they've got a perfect grasp on the difference between public and private.The Festival-You might think it's pretty rock-and-roll to be photographed in your own impromptu porn scene, but Normal-Life-You can still be mortified.

Still, assuming it was consensual and both participants were over the age of consent, all that happened was a bit of oral in the wrong place. Someone got sucked off and somebody did the sucking: no one got hurt, however much they'd have rather not seen it.

Or rather, no one got hurt until afterwards, when some people tried to use the pictures to shame, trash and demolish a young woman. The lesson from misogynists is this: "We will come for you."

And not just for being a woman and having sex, but for being a woman and not joining in the condemnation: women who asked why the boy didn't get the same judgement have called man haters, told they need to raped or threatened with a "kick in the flaps". A culture that hates women for having sex is one that simply hates women, and that is the grotty truth photographed at Slane.

Festivals are a temporary suspension of the rules, a window of carnival. Photo: Getty

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.