Revenge porn and me – and a Dublin taxi driver I once knew

An article in today’s Guardian about Emma Watson and revenge porn – or, rather, a hack of photographs that in no way constitute revenge porn – got me thinking about my own life. (Of course, I’m turning this into a story about me.) More specifically: I was thinking about the things I’ve done that I could be publicly shamed for. And, reader, there are quite a few.

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I slept with a taxi driver once. We met, obviously, in his taxi; he was taking me from my house in Stoneybatter to drinks with friends in Ranelagh. I can’t remember what we talked about but he was cute and I fancied him in the way that you fancy handsome men you don’t know.

Later that night, I texted him to say thanks for the lift (I can’t be sure, but I sincerely hope I didn’t use the word “ride”). I told him it was nice talking to him and that we should go for a drink some time.

We never did go for that drink, but for a few weeks following that first meeting, he would call me almost nightly. We’d chat about this and that; to be honest, we didn’t have a lot to talk about and I’m pretty sure he found me really perplexing. My views on gender roles, for example, confounded him. “Girls and boys are just different!” When I used a book I’d recently read to explain the nature-nurture theory, he said, “I bet you read a lot of books, do you?”

In a later exchange, he asked: “How many points did you get in your Leaving? I’d say you’re clever.” I felt embarrassed to tell him the truth. (I got 530 points and I suspected he was once the kind of teenager to call girls like me nerds.)

It’s fair to say that we didn’t have much in common. It was clear that we were never going to be a love match, and I soon gave up on wanting to go for a drink with him. Still, I decided I’d quite like to sleep with him anyway. So one night, after a few drinks, I called him to ask him for a lift home. My intentions were pretty clear.

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The calls continued for a couple of weeks after our encounter, but they soon fizzled out. I think we both knew that it was what it was and would be no more.

I was at The Irish Times by then and working on raising my profile by whatever means necessary. I’d started appearing semi-regularly on Xposé, styling segments that explained to hapless viewers how to wear culottes and where to shop for flattering jumpsuits. My proudest moment had to be a segment I styled on cosy socks – for those cold, winter nights.

One day, relatively out of the blue, I got a text from said taxi driver. “Did I see u on the telly?” I was slightly mortified, but I’m not sure why – maybe it was the socks. I confirmed that yes, he had indeed seen me on the telly. “Are you going to sell your story to the Sun?” I quipped. (I thought this was hilarious.) “Nah,” he said. “I’ll wait ’til you’re more famous.”

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I didn’t ever really suspect that my taxi driver would shop me to the Sun. If nothing else, I highly doubt there is a tabloid out there that would pay for that story! But it did freak me out ever so slightly. The idea that something I had done in my past – a consensual sexual act, engaged in safely and enjoyed by both parties (I think) – could come back and be used to shame me is kind of grotesque.

Why, after all, should I be ashamed when – in this hypothetical moment of what-iffery – he clearly wouldn’t be? What is so shameful about a woman having and enjoying casual sex?

I think the ultimate take-home from stories of revenge porn is that “women should have more self-respect”. It’s a line I’ve heard before – from older women in my family, for one, but also on television and from friends.

But what is self-respect? Google defines it as “pride and confidence in oneself; a feeling that one is behaving with honour and dignity”. Surely listening to one’s sexual urges and obeying them is behaving with honour and dignity. I have pride in myself and, some would say, more than my fair share of confidence. By that token, I don’t see how anything I’ve done (bar that time I let a former army man shout at me for a week) denotes a lack of self-respect.

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The whole concept of revenge porn implies that there is some act that the perpetrator is taking revenge for. But if we accept that women have a right to decide who they are with – sexually and otherwise – then surely there is no original offence to warrant that revenge.

It may, in fact, be time to accept that, in the case of revenge porn (and its ilk; I am aware that selling a sex story to a newspaper is not, strictly speaking, “revenge porn”, but I would argue that it’s in the same stable), the original “crime” is that of being female, of daring to engage in sexual activity and, furthermore, of being unashamed of said sexuality and all that comes with it.

Life is not a zero-sum game, and arguments about feminism and sexuality cannot be summed up by the idea that “if men can do it…” However, there is a value, at times, in asking ourselves what the opposite sex is made to feel about things that we, as women, are shamed for – and, then, asking ourselves why.

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