Belfast has a problem with Rape Culture. Eating lunch, buying clothes or even just walking down the street, women in this city are met with a barrage of misogynistic material. Violence against women is made light of and women’s bodies are used as room dressing. We have a high rate of violence against women and the way women are presented in pop culture is part of the problem.
In February 2018 the David James Kerr clothes shop was called out on its misogyny for this poster showing the lower portion of a couple having sex. The owner responded to the suggestion that the image was demeaning to women and inappropriate in a clothes shop by posting ‘its only a toilet door FFS’ on social media. The pornographic image is degrading and it is outrageous that the shop’s Instagram feed shows a pic of a child posing in front of it. The toilet icon above the poster is also deeply concerning, It shows a male character looking over a stall divider at a female character. This is an image of a man assaulting a women and it is being casually displayed in a clothes shop. This shop is popular with children.
Some have tried to dismiss this as a bit of fun or just lad culture but this kind of behaviour has real world consequences. In 2016 there were 3,160 reported sexual assaults in NI including over 800 rapes. Crimes of this nature are notoriously underreported and so we know this is only the tip of the iceberg. NI clearly has a problem with men’s attitudes to women and sex. Educating young men about the basic concept of consent is an uphill battle when this kind of imagery has been in their faces and infecting their sub consciousness since they were children.
The décor of Made In Belfast, a trendy restaurant in the Cathedral Quarter is more subtle in its misogyny. They display vintage looking prints of women in their underwear across from a giant mirror with the words ‘treat me like a piece of meat’ printed on it. Northern Ireland definitely has a problem with rape culture if we consider this appropriate room dressing for a restaurant. Pairing these items together evokes the age old trope that women are somehow asking to be the victims of sexual violence. The pervasiveness of images and messages like this in our society creates the impression that misogyny is acceptable.
In 2017 Ribs and Bibs restaurant on Botanic advertised its bargain lunch with this catchy slogan, ‘ya can beat the wife but ya can’t beat a 5 pound lunch!’. The restaurant’s initial response was to try and gaslight people who found making fun of domestic violence objectionable by telling them to ‘get a life, it’s a bit of wit’ on social media. This did cause a substantial backlash and Ribs and Bibs eventually said it would discipline the employee responsible but that person still thought it was okay to try and use domestic violence as a marketing tool and their boss thought this was witty. Northern Ireland has a shockingly high rate of domestic violence (one call to the PSNI every 18 minutes in 2016) and maybe part of the problem is that as a wider society we don’t take violence against women seriously enough.
That is the common thread running through all these examples, that we as a society do not take violence against women seriously. Women are abused by partners, assaulted and treated like a piece of meat. Our bodies are disrespected and denigrated and our privacy and safety are compromised. Some of those actions are illegal, all are morally reprehensible but we are not going to make real progress in tackling them as individual issues unless we dismantle a culture which thinks it is okay to use them to sell us stuff.
The next time you’re out shopping or grabbing lunch and you see rape culture looking back at you, point it out to the proprietor and let us know on twitter and Facebook. No more women hating in public spaces.
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