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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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.