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The discussion we need to have about Roddy Doyle's 'The Snapper' and Irish sex education

It’s time to question one of the nation’s favourite films.

unnamed Source: RTÉ

BEFORE YOU PROCEED, I’d like to make it clear that this article will discuss rape and the lack of consent in the movie, which some readers will naturally find uncomfortable. If that is the case and this sounds too heavy, this video of a dog saying “cow” is a lot more lighthearted and hilarious. There are also some resources for anyone affected by those issues here.

When I was in secondary school and had a free class (which was something that happened several times a week), my teachers always stuck a film on to keep us quiet. We usually got to vote on it, so we ended up watching the same two movies over and over again. These films were The Notebook and The Snapper.

PastedImage-68962 Source: Youtube

The teacher who curated the majority of these free class film-days was a woman who juggled the three roles of being our religion/history/sex-ed teacher.

Sex-ed in this instance means that she showed us the calendar of a menstrual cycle once a year to refresh our memory on how often we were meant to get our periods (and never any advice on what to do if we didn’t get our periods every 28 days, mind you).

This wheel was the extent of my school’s offerings for sex education:

menstruation_cycle Source: Pinterest

I won’t say she’s completely to blame because she did once express that she wanted to teach us about contraceptives. She told us that the school wouldn’t allow her to discuss contraceptives due to prior complaints made by a parent before we had even enrolled in the school.

It’s pretty ironic how much religious education depends on a basic level of sex education to be understood.

It ranges from most essential elements of Catholicism that we learn about from a really young age – such as immaculate conception (what’s so special about that if you don’t even know how babies are conceived? Aren’t all conceptions immaculate as far as you know at this age?) to the smaller details, like circumcision.

On this day in history - Bernadettes visions at Lourdes Source: PA Archive/PA Images

In the Junior Cert cycle, kids get their first chance to learn a few bullet points about world religions to look at what makes them different to Catholics.

Muslims say their prayers in a mosque instead of a church, Hindus don’t eat cows and Jewish men get circumcised. That final fun fact we learned often led to variations of this dialogue occurring repeatedly:

“What does circumcised mean?”

“It means their foreskin gets removed when they are babies.”

“What’s a foreskin?”

“Skin on their penis. Back to the book now, please.”

I’m sure there are plenty of people who finish secondary school with no idea what something as simple as circumcision is or how it works, despite how frequently it was mentioned in religion classes.

Yet religion is the very reason why teenagers in school cannot be taught about medical procedures and basic facts about sex organs.

In an ideal world, the religion teacher who supposedly dabbled in sex-ed would have steered the class discussion to the issue of consent in The Snapper each time she allowed us to watch it.

This wasn’t the case, though. By the time I was seventeen years old, everyone I knew had seen The Snapper. Today, if you tell someone you haven’t seen it, you’re met with an incredulous “You haven’t seen The Snapper?!”

Everyone had seen it, yet it wasn’t until recent years that I actually heard someone say that Sharon Curley had been raped.

snapper_br_video_poster Source: Irish Film Posters

During the nauseating scene at the car, my whole class was squirming and audibly expressing their disgust at an old man like Georgie Burgess going near Sharon Curley.

There’s no doubt we were all sickened by it, but plenty of people also saw Sharon being raped as a kind of comic act. As in, “Oh she just got drunk and had sex with some gross old man,” which is not the case at all.

Everyone repeated the jokes from the film and everyone still does. Nobody in my class ever raised the point that legally, this was rape. Nobody suggested that she could have gone to the Gardaí because nobody even realized that what George Burgess had done was a crime. It was disgusting, it was hard to watch, but we accepted it as just a bad thing that had happened.

Parents and teachers allowing kids and teenagers to watch this film have a responsibility to explain these things.

PastedImage-72977 Source: Youtube

In the book, Roddy Doyle makes it more explicitly clear that Sharon has been raped. In the film’s depiction of the story, however, the narrative does little to separate George Burgess’ act from the comedy of the rest of the movie. It all blends into one. It is treated as an unfortunate thing that happened to Sharon rather than an actual crime committed against her.

In The Snapper, rape is a normalised occurrence.

Parents and teachers of any young person watching The Snapper need to make it very clear that Sharon was taken advantage of. It’s not normal or okay to do that to a drunk person nor is it normal or okay for someone to do that to you while you are completely inebriated.

Teach young people that rapists aren’t just “monsters” who randomly attack people down alleyways.

Don’t say things like “a real man would never do a thing like that”. It doesn’t help and let’s be real, yes they do. That’s what George Burgess just did. The movie goes on to depict him as a pathetic loser, but at the end of the day he’s involved in the community and still in the same social circles as Sharon’s own father. He’s as real a man as any.

PastedImage-28963 Source: Youtube

Rapists can be, and often are, men and women that their victims knew and trusted. They can be popular, they can have friends, they can have good jobs. They can be family friends that you had no reason to distrust before, like George Burgess. 93% of perpetrators are known to their victims. Rape isn’t just committed at knife point by masked strangers.

Yet the cases that people sympathize most with are people who are randomly attacked while innocently going about their day in public, which makes up a very small portion of cases. This is because people have been conditioned to believe that rape doesn’t count if the victim was acting a certain way or wearing certain clothes.

Getting drunk to the point where you are unable to talk properly does not mean that you deserve to experience any kind of sexual violence.

Make it clear to young people that what happened to Sharon Curley is not an acceptable thing to happen to anybody. It’s completely wrong and it is most definitely not something to laugh about.

What is most jarring about Sharon’s situation is that it could easily still happen today.

It’s hard to find the humour in a situation where a drunk girl is taken advantage of and impregnated against her will when it still happens today. The Snapper is set in the 1980s, a time when some Magdalene Laundries were still fully operating.

Her pregnancy is a big joke, but at that time in Ireland, girls her age were being institutionalized for getting pregnant.

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People will still debate as to whether or not Sharon Curley expressed consent in The Snapper despite the fact that the book confirms that she was raped. Sharon even debates whether it was herself and consciously chooses not to report it because she doesn’t recognise it as rape. The same thing happens to many men and women today.

The Snapper isn’t completely irredeemable.

There are few realistic representations of what Irish life was really like in the 1980s and 1990s outside of Roddy Doyle’s The Barrytown Trilogy. There are a few good jokes and the wardrobe is relevant today too. It can be used in a school environment to prompt conversations about consent and other aspects of sex education.

PastedImage-71650 Source: Youtube

However, like anything else, it should be presented with warnings like most TV shows dealing with sensitive topics because the reality is, people who have experienced this may feel uncomfortable not only reliving it by watching the film, but by witnessing other viewers laughing at it.

Once again, if you have been affected by any of the issues raised here, you can speak confidentially to the Rape Crisis Centre.

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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