I wish I could say I was surprised to hear reports of a private Facebook group, in which 200 male UCD students have been sharing and rating stories and photos of girls with whom they claim to have had sex. As grim as it is, there is nothing unprecedented about it. Less than a year ago, details emerged about another Facebook group, titled ‘Girls I’d shift if I was tipsy’. Just days later, one of its members was elected president of the Students’ Union. And just over a week ago, a high-profile misogynist was given a warm welcome by hundreds of students in Theatre L.
When I first read about this latest scandal, two recent incidents immediately sprung to mind. The first involved a group of young male students casually (and very loudly) discussing “the fuckin’ damage” they’d do to a lone woman who had just walked past – and was probably still within earshot. I said nothing because I didn’t want to create a scene. This happened when I was waiting outside a lecture theatre in the Agriculture and Food Sciences Building in UCD. I hate having classes there because it’s possibly the only building that makes the Arts Block feel bright and airy. I also hate it because it happens to be heavily populated by the kind of boorish twats who bring back unpleasant memories of secondary school.
The second incident occurred in the James Joyce Library, during the Christmas exams. A couple of lads (Ag Science students again, for what it’s worth) were trying to decide whether a girl on Facebook was old enough to “destroy”. The consensus was that they’d be prepared to “do time” for her. They said lots of other stuff too, but I don’t see any point in repeating it for shock-value. After a couple of minutes, I turned around and gave them that passive-aggressive ‘look’ that you give someone in a library when you want them to shut the fuck up, but don’t want to create a scene by telling them to shut the fuck up. And that was that. Their conversation continued, but in the form of indecipherable mumbling.
Maybe they were members of that Facebook group. Maybe the girl they were discussing was one of its victims. Maybe if I had actually been brave enough to call them out on their arseholery, they might have stopped and taken a long, hard look at themselves. That hypothetical chain of events might be highly unlikely, and maybe it’s even more unlikely that they’d take heed of a sanctimonious scolding from some eavesdropping mature student anyway, but as long as men like me are too meek and cowardly to speak out against this kind of shit, it will not stop happening.
When men, as a collective group, are criticised over stuff like this, it’s inevitable that some will react with that familiar shrill, overly defensive cry of “NOT ALL MEN!” – as though a perceived unfair generalisation is the real issue here. But until all men – or even just most men – are prepared to actively challenge this poisonous, dehumanising culture when we see it among our peers or colleagues, we will continue to be part of the problem.