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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear