Edward Armitage: The Siren (Leeds Art Gallery)
A dreadful tale of woe broke in Ireland over the last few days. Pictures of a girl engaged in sexual acts with young men at the Eminem concert in Slane went viral. As the story matures you get the sense of it unfolding layer after layer like an onion.
As with anything that goes viral, you get imagery or happenstance with no back story. The photos from Slane were greeted with black and white reaction. Half the world celebrated her “freedom” of sexuality while the other half condemned her as a slut. How many even commented on the young men involved, other than to laugh and say “good man”?
The double standards we apply to men and women in such situations are really quite sickening. He is given a pat on the head for sowing his wild oats and she is vilified and disgraced.
But then the details of the back story begin to emerge. She reported a sexual assault to the police at the concert. So, maybe this was not all “free love” and promiscuity. Or did she make the report to cover her embarrassment? Another layer of the onion peels away.
She is admitted to hospital in a distressed state. She has to be sedated before they can even carry out tests. There are suggestions that her drink was tampered with at the event. Another layer of the onion peels away.
Suddenly the image of a gang of young males cavorting around the young girl in the photo takes on a far more sinister look.
The layers of the onion keep peeling. With every layer her life is ruined further. Only a small population saw the images before they were removed by internet service providers for breach of terms. But the bottom feeding frenzy continues to trawl up copies of the images and the story. The news media are all over it like a juicy bone. And as for Slane Girl, well she is just collateral damage.
What is very clear is that we continue to live in a society beset by double standards. Male chauvinism is alive and well and women remain largely confined to the role of sluts or “lovely girls”. We saw all the lovely girls doing their little party pieces down in Tralee. Congratulations all round to the Texas rose. A lovely girl. A nice clean and respectable girl that you might marry.
But in the western male dominated sexist society is there any real difference between Slane Girl and Texas Rose? The point here is that women are dangerous, unless they are under the control of men.
Our literature is replete with the tales of men who have been seduced and subsequently ruined by women. The Sirens on the rocks sang beautiful songs to lure sailors to their deaths. Queen Circe used magic to transform men into animals, and Odysseus was instructed by the gods to subdue her with force to bend her to his will. Only then was she safe to take to bed (for a year).
Look at the fascination we have with women like Sada Abe, Mata Hari, Wallace Simpson or Christine Keeler who lured men onto the rocks with their siren song of sexuality.
The Christian church began with a woman, Mary Magdalene, in a position of power. It did not take long to root out the women and turn it into a men’s only club, at least in the power positions. Men may rule the church, but women may only serve.
Look at what happened to “wise women” and women healers through history. They were labelled as witches and burned at the stake. Medicine is too profitable a business to allow any control to women.
Westerners frequently criticise oriental practices such as purdah and the Arabic attitudes to covering up women. What short memories we have. Western women are only recently freed from their own forms of “control” clothing. In many countries (Mediterranean especially) widows are expected to don black for the remainder of their lives as a means of desexualising an available woman. Here in Ireland it was expected that women would cover their heads with a hat, or scarf or shawl as recently as the 1970s, and it was insisted upon in church.
Some African societies employ the dreadful practice of female circumcision as a means of amputating the sexual power from the female.
Slane girl was controlled by capturing her image and posting it to the world. She immediately became labelled as a slut, and that is a powerful form of control. What hope does she ever have of rising to a power position without that little indiscretion coming out? She will have to bow her head and hide away below the radar for the rest of her life.
Texas rose of Tralee does not have to hide away. She can celebrate her celebrity. We men will allow her that, because it is a celebrity given to her by men, for being a lovely girl.
A free-thinking, mature, powerful, sexual female is the most frightening thing in the world for the average male chauvinist. The male fantasy of the nymphomaniac is in truth a nightmare.
Siren Song; by Margaret Attwood
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.