Non-Fiction

The Sex Scandal Where Nobody Did Anything Wrong

The idea that there's something wrong with women having sex is a very Irish, very Catholic notion.

Many of you will have heard about the honest-to-God Kilkenny GAA sex scandal. After the Ballyragget club won the county final, six or seven players went to a party which the team management have since stated was a birthday party unconnected to the club. A stripper gave one of the players a blowie, someone posted pictures and video to Snapchat, it was passed around WhatsApp, and here we are.

I don’t especially want to put the video on this blog. If you really must, then:

  1. I feel I should inform you that there’s a lot of this kind of thing on the internet for free and most of it isn’t shot on a smartphone
  2. Fine, here’s the video the Sun ran with. It’s footage of an earlier scene at a club rather than of a sex act. This is obviously NSFW albeit pixelled-out.

Randomers in comment sections have opined on the moral characters of millennial women, presumably while searching everywhere for the video so they could jerk themselves into a disability.

The concern raised by others is that the stripper may have been paid. It’s illegal to buy sex in Ireland and while it’s not technically illegal to sell sex, it’s still a criminal offence (it turns out the law is confusing).

Ruhama, a charity that helps women chewed up by the sex industry, have been asking if the girl was paid.

It would be foolish to dismiss the work of Ruhuma. The sex industry exploits and harms all sorts of people, especially women. Sexual assault like that committed by Weinstein isn’t some States-based curiosity removed from the rest of the world. Students will not have to dig too deep into campus politics to find crimes being kept quiet. This problem is closer to home than you know and porn isn’t helping.

So, this article will not dismiss concerns about the societal problems of assault and the effects of porn on society. Instead, this piece aims to ask questions about the way we talk about these issues. Should we condemn sex workers? Why?

There is a more complicated conversation to be had as to whether sex work is feminist. This isn’t something I’m comfortable drawing a conclusion on as I don’t think I have the right perspective on it. In discussing the story with my friends, this is the only part that led to disagreement.

A housemate of mine made the point that people’s positions on moral grey areas are often convoluted rationalisations of whatever most appeals to them by intuition. The question of porn and feminism is no exception. If you like porn and consider yourself a feminist, then you’re likely to decide that porn is feminist. From there, you’ll probably make up a logical process that leads to the conclusion you’ve already decided upon.

In talking about this with my partner, I found that what exactly ‘being feminist’ means is very broad and means different things to different people. She doesn’t think it makes much sense to pressure sex workers into giving up their professional happiness so that they can conform to new standards of equality set out for them. If women happen to like the gender roles, let them live.

Let’s consider hurling in terms of gender (and I should shove myself in a locker for saying even that much but here we go). For context, I’m from Kilkenny. As a child, I found myself playing hurling a lot. I never wanted to. This happened even though my family had no interest in pressuring me into anything. Hurling is just built into the way primary schools are run in Kilkenny because it’s built into everything else about Kilkenny. The reason we keep winning the Liam McNeeson Whatever is because we’re generally obsessed.

I would go so far as to suggest that hurling is a peculiar, local aspect to hegemonic masculinity.

It’s not a perfect fit. Every girl in primary school also plays hurling (or rather camogie, which is Hurling For Girls). Once I went to secondary school, I was never again required to play hurling.

All the same, the whole thing stank of gender. Perfect hegemonic masculinity was never something I quite managed to live up to, even before I was a huge queer. Rough-and-tumble kinds of things were never of interest to me. Hurling was a big part of that.

This bit is kind of a hot take: in Kilkenny, you’re not a Real Man if you don’t play hurling. At least, if you don’t, then you have to make up for it with some other rugged, masculine activity like carpentry or beating your wife. Nobody will exactly say this but, by accident and unconsciously, we learn it and teach it.

This bit is a personal feeling about where I grew up rather than a disconnected, objective sociological treatise (not that any political writing is disconnected). All I want to say is that when a bunch of hurling lads celebrate something by hiring strippers, that’s not necessarily an entirely harmless bit of auld craic. It’s part of something at least a little bit bigger.

In spite of all my jibber-jabber about masculinity, I will say that a failure to ‘be feminist,’ whatever that means, shouldn’t be a criminal offence even if it’s a moral failure. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that sex work is a failure to be feminist. You might say that because of this, it follows that it should be against the law. But, by that same logic, it should be illegal for women to take other jobs that perpetuate gender stereotypes. It would be illegal for any woman to be a cleaner or even get married.

The idea that there’s something morally wrong with sex work comes back to the idea that there’s something wrong with women having sex. It’s a very Irish, very Catholic notion.

 

 

Feminism, especially Irish feminism, has had a clear stance on sex for a long time, which is part of why Iona Institute director David Quinn’s recent tweet was so baffling:

What, indeed? We just don’t know.

That was a lie. We know perfectly well. Feminism’s “strict rules of sexual conduct” are that consent is completely necessary and sex with consent should be shameless. Of course, in reality, a lot of women are shamed for sex. The Ballyragget story has drawn moralistic tutting from even secular, liberal-minded commentators.

This phenomenon of slut-shaming was best seen in the 2013 case of Slane Girl. You might have heard of her: she was filmed on her knees in front of a man at an Eminem concert while being jeered on by the crowd. She was shamed widely. An allegation was made by her later that she didn’t consent to the sex act. She certainly didn’t consent to the filming and distribution of the scene. This was no sex worker. She was just a random young woman.

The Slane Girl incident should be understood as an event in the narrative of sexual assault and slut-shaming. It shouldn’t be used to argue against porn. To do so implies that the woman herself is a symptom of some moral depravity in our society. Some well-intentioned feminists writing on this topic ended up sounding like the dude in the trenchcoat from Watchmen. You know the one (unless you don’t).

Slut-shaming has been a hot topic in storytelling over the last few years. Louise O’Neill’s best-selling novel Asking For It tells a story similar to Slane Girl in a rural setting. It scathingly attacks the way that small-town Irish communities fail victims and will sadly be relevant for many years to come.

The topic was also explored exceptionally well in the video game Life Is Strange. A ham-fisted but well-intentioned take can be found in the delightfully overblown Riverdale‘s first season.

You might be thinking that if Slane Girl is so terrible, then this Kilkenny scandal must be bad too. The difference is consent. The great injustice suffered by Slane Girl is that her picture was circulated around the entire internet without her consent. The Kilkenny sex workers seem much happier about the hubbub that’s been drummed up around them. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re selling a service and the exposure is good for business.

If you’re talking or thinking about the Kilkenny GAA sex scandal, don’t be too harsh on the strippers. They’re just living their lives and doing their jobs.

And if they accepted money (as it seems they did), could you blame them? I’d expect €50 up front before I touched any hurler’s mickey.


Hey, thanks for reading! If you like my work, maybe follow the blog, or my Twitter, or maybe even throw some money in my hat on Patreon.

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