When our teenagers watch free, cheaply made porn, where women’s necks are held in a stranglehold as the rest of their bodies are used for pleasure, adults can no longer act surprised, writes Joyce Fegan
All week, I’ve been imagining the sheer terror 14-year-old Ana Kriégel must have felt in her final moments.
As she lay naked, apart from her socks, in a disused farmhouse in Lucan, being physically and sexually attacked by a boy she knew — I am unable to fathom the fear that must have been coursing through her every vein, the helplessness of it all.
I also cannot understand how any human being, especially two seemingly normal 13-year-old boys, could hurt, let alone end the life of, someone they knew. For absolutely and utterly no reason.
What was the motive?
During the trial of Boy A and Boy B, we hoped for answers. None came. Then this week as their sentencing was handed down, it was as if we waited with bated breath for the answer to that all-important question — why?
Why did two teenage boys murder a 14-year-old girl?
We have raced to answer that question. Nature abhors a vacuum as much as the human brain hates ambiguity.
Porn has been one of the most common answers offered; porn and smartphones, free wifi, and easily accessible sexual content of a graphic and violent nature.
If you find a brave teenager and ask them about what’s going on among their peers when it comes to sex and intimacy, they’ll inevitably tell you about porn. They’ll tell you how some boys watch it and expect girls behave in the same way the actors in the videos have “performed”.
The girls may feel pressurised to act accordingly, because if they don’t, the whole school will be told they’re a “frigid prude” or else the “nudes” they already exchanged with their boyfriend will be sent around unless they agree to comply and act like the girls in the videos.
And, like most things in life, misogyny runs deep.
So often porn videos will depict a man in charge, dominating, controlling, and directing. You will see a hand clasped around a woman’s neck, like in a chokehold.
But men are not our problem —misogyny is.
In a misogynist culture, we are fine with the perfume ads where a woman is held up against a wall by a well-known male music star. In fact, we are so used to it, we do not bat an eyelid.
A “feminist” might call it out, only to be shouted down as a joy-killing“feminazi”.
Or there is the other big billboard ad, of a popular high-end label, where a half-naked woman is held to the ground by one man as three others stand around and watch. They look ready to pounce, join in. Again, we are unfazed by the normality of it all.
We also have the long run of misogynistic TV shows and movies, fictionalised portrayals of real-life crime stories, where women were raped and murdered.
There was Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the Ted Bundy biopic starring Zac Efron. Netflix presumably made a lot of money off that one, as so many of us were engrossed in this familiar narrative of the helpless female victim.
It’s as if female victim has become a genre of its own, but don’t just blame production companies and streaming services, it is us who are fascinated and entertained by that kind of crime.
In our treatment of people in politics, we see US Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being shredded over the cost of her hairdressing bill or the good quality fabric in her work suits.
Meanwhile, the man in charge, Donald Trump, can “grab ’em by the pussy” and still get elected to the highest office. Then, when he is being held to account, he plays the victim, claiming he is the subject of a, wait for it, “witch hunt” or “lynch mob” —borrowing terms that were used to describe the abuse and murder of women and people of colour throughout history.
Misogyny is a normalised part of our society. It is part and parcel of our fairytales, where princesses and girls fall victim to evil forces, be they wicked wolves or princes who hold the key to their freedom. It is in our ballet, opera, our pop music, and our TV ads.
So when our teenagers watch free, cheaply made porn, where women’s necks are held in a stranglehold as the rest of their bodies are used for pleasure, adults can no longer act surprised. It’s just a continuation of the misogyny that already infiltrates so much of our media.
It is our world children live in. Our adult world, where smartphones are affordable to the masses, our adult world where social media companies profit off our interaction and attention, and our adult world where free wifi can bring a young, impressionable mind down an infinite number of paths. Children live in the world we have created, and accepted.
We may never know why two young boys murdered a 14-year-old girl, but in our digital world there is one thing we can be sure of: Sex is becoming synonymous with violence.
But sex is a normal human function, as normal as hunger, sleep, and breathing. When we fail to talk about it, we leave it fall victim to darkness and cheap porn. Then, in our embarrassed silence, our young people turn to that for their education.
In so much porn, women are the objectified ones, just like in our ads, TV shows, and movies. The objectification and dehumanisation of women is the core problem at the root of gender-based violence.
Where to from here?
Last week, Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood was talking in Dublin. She was asked how we can ensure that men have women’s backs when women are not in the room.
The author, revered as a feminist icon, gave two examples of how men do indeed have women’s backs.
When women sought the right to vote, it was men in parliaments around the world that voted for legislative change. Female activists agitated and mobilised and men voted in support.
She also gave the example of Ireland, where hundreds of thousands of men last year voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Likewise, tackling our society’s objectification of women and acceptance of misogyny is going to take team effort. And it’s not just girls and women who will benefit; the whole of society will.
We might be lost for answers right now, but that doesn’t mean we have to be paralysed into inaction.