It's Time to Get Your Knickers in a Twist
Every year, my mother puts some pretty underwear in my Christmas stocking. It’s a small gift, but as a student much more likely to head to Penneys (Primark) for the cheaper version, I appreciate it. We’re the only two women in the family, and these small pieces of fabric speak to our mutual appreciation of pretty things. Little did my mother know that a pair of knickers similar to those she gifts me each year would be used against a young woman in a courtroom just over 5km from our house. Little did either of us think that this love for nice fabrics and pretty colours could be used as evidence to help acquit a man of rape.
The recent trial in Cork, in which the defendant’s lace underwear was held up in court as ‘proof’ that she had intended to have sex on the night of her alleged rape (when she was just 17), has sparked outrage across Europe. Hundreds of people marched in Cork and across cities in Ireland to protest this flagrant sexism and slut shaming. One woman stood in the middle of Cork city in her underwear, with “This is not consent” written all over her body. Why? Because in 2018, what a woman was wearing on the night of her rape is still used to blame and condemn her, and to excuse the behaviour of her rapist. Once again, a piece of clothing is seen as intent to have sex on the part of a woman. Once again, the point of consent is missed by the legal team of the defendant. Once again, the possibility that a woman maybe wanted to have sex on the night that she was raped is used to discredit her, as though she does not have her own mind to change or decide about what she wants to do. This recent trial, and the trial of the two Ulster rugby players in Belfast, have been high profile examples of how rape victims are treated in the courts. It has prompted a review of how these cases are dealt with in the two countries, and the #IBelieveHer and #ThisIsNotConsent hashtags are ensuring that legislators and governments are beginning to pay attention. We will not stand for this blatant prejudice and misogyny, and will continue shouting until we are heard. Ruth Coppinger, a TD in the Irish government, held up a thong in the Dáil calling for the government to make drastic changes in how trials are conducted. This is a positive step, and needs to be followed by introducing consent classes into schools, and frank, honest, discussions with young boys and girls about what constitutes an appropriate sexual encounter. There is so much work to do be done to ensure the rape culture in our cities is changed, with three female students in Cork reporting rapes within the first two weeks after the universities reopened in September.
This trial serves as another reminder of the injustice with which rape and assault victims are treated in the UK and Ireland. The audience of this piece is likely to be aware of the problematic rape myths and beliefs that serve to degrade and repress women to this date. However, until this type of shaming stops, I will keep saying it, even if I am preaching to the choir:
My clothes are not consent.
My underwear is not consent.
My naked body is not consent.
Victims are not to blame when they are raped, and those who press charges against their attackers are not looking for their “15 minutes of fame”. They are not out to ‘ruin the futures’ of ‘respectable young men’ who have ‘their whole futures ahead of them’. Women are not property that can be used to satisfy your every whim. I do not wear frilly underwear solely to please men. Women are full people, with our own futures, minds, and desires, who sometimes even wear sexy underwear simply because we want to (shocking, I know).
I’m still expecting a pretty set of underwear this Christmas, but I might keep this pair in my pocket, ready to wave in the face of anyone who dares to question my authority over my own body.