Vessels

Standard

Content note: abortion, suicide, obstetric violence, force-feeding.

I long for a day when Ireland is no longer synonymous with brutal patriarchy.

I long for a day when a person’s reproductive choices do not make it into the headlines.

I long for a day when pregnancy no longer means that you surrender your dignity, your bodily autonomy, your basic humanity.

I long for a day when our health services and legal system no longer violates women.

I’m furiously tapping away at the keyboard in a cold rage.

A young woman, a vulnerable highly distressed young woman was admitted to hospital, seeking an abortion. She was assessed by a panel of three experts, and they agreed that she had suicidal thoughts. According to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act says a termination can be carried out if a woman’s life is at risk, including a risk of suicide.

Her request, however, was refused. She was forced to wait until the foetus became viable, at which point she had to undergo a C section.

In Ireland, once you become pregnant, your life is not your own. Your body is not your own.

This week, we heard a lot of public figures making sympathetic noises about mental health and suicide. Talk to someone! Don’t be afraid! Open up!

Where does forcing a suicidal pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy, force-feeding her and making her get a C section against her will fit into the National Conversation we’re all meant to be having?

The dire warnings of floodgates and abortion mills from last year look darkly comical in the light of this horrendous case.

Nothing has changed. We’re still merely vessels, and nothing more.

 

Repeal The Eighth.

Advertisements

So you’re not one of *those* men

Standard

Content warning-this post discusses violence, gun violence, violence against women, misogyny, ableism.

 

I’ve spent the morning reading with horror about thehorrific murders in Santa Barbra, California, and about Elliott Roger, the man responsible.  According this Daily Kos article, Rodger was influenced by the Men’s Rights movement. In his chilling video manifesto, he stated:

On the day of retribution I will enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled stuck up blonde slut I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them. While they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true Alpha Male.

There you have it, in the man’s own words. Violent misogyny. Rape culture. male entitlement.

In the aftermath of the murders, the usual script was trotted out. “He was a madman”, “a lone psycho”, an outlier. Why is it that people are so averse to calling violent misogyny for what it is, they won’t name what is in front of their own eyes? Why are they prepared to throw the vast majority of people with mental illnesses who don’t murder under the bus to deny this?

Of course, as commentators raised the issue of male violence and misogyny, the predictable response was “Hey, we’re not *all* like that!” How incredible it is, that we can’t even have a conversation of hatred of women and male entitlement without it becoming, once again, all about the men. Yes, men, we know you’re not *all* like that, however, don’t be waiting for a pat on the back for not being a violent abuser of women.

Not all men.

Yes, of course, we *know* that not all men are violent misogynists, but the reality is, a significant proportion of  men are. Let’s look at Ireland, as a microcosm. A study carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that a quarter of Irish women have been victims of violence.

The survey suggested 26 per cent of Irish women (394,325 women in 2012) had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or non-partner since the age of 15.

Almost one in three Irish women (31 per cent or 470,157 women) had experienced some form of psychological violence by a partner.

A total of 15 per cent of Irish women (227,495) had experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner and 8 per cent had experienced sexual violence by a partner or non-partner.

Not all men.

“Yes”, I hear you say, “but those men are violent monsters, I’d *never* lift a finger against a woman”. Well, good, have a cookie, you’re not a reprehensible human. These abusive men do not exist in a vacuum. Violence against women is not limited to a raised fist. Do you make sexually objectifying comments about women on the street? Do you feel so entitled to police our bodies and behaviour that you growl at women you don’t know in a pub or nightclub, telling them to smile? Do you earnestly believe that the friendzone exists? Do you think PUA sites are sound relationship advice? Do you think that women owe you sex? Do you think that some women are asking for it?

Not all men.

“Ah now, you’re really being unfair here, it can’t be that bad?” I urge all people to spend some time viewing the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. Countless testimonies from women of violence, assault, harassment, catcalling, victim-blaming, shaming. Stories were shared of “rape schedules”, the strategies that women rehearse when walking home  in the dark, keys gripped between the knuckles. When we are laying our lives and experiences bare, and your first response is to scrunch up your face and whine “that’s not me,” that tells me that you feel so assured of your status, and so steeped in privilege that the testimonies of thousands, if not millions of women, adds up to less than your feelings.

Not all men.

Misogyny is not just a few violent outliers. Misogyny is structural, deeply ingrained into the very fabric of our society. Misogyny is in our courts and judicial system, where a violent man can walk free if he can wave enough notes in front of a judge’s face and if he’s from a respectable family. Misogyny is inherent in victim-blaming. Misogyny is in the disproportionate targeting of women and their children in the government’s austerity programme. Misogyny is visible in rape crisis centres in the midwest of Ireland having to shut down because they just haven’t the funds.

Men; when women are sharing their lived experiences of violence and sexual abuse and harassment, your first  impulse should *not* be to fire back a wounded “Hey, we’re not all like that!” Believe it or not, everything is not about you. Just because you’re not like these men you’ve decided are monsters, that doesn’t mean that your work here is done. Examine your attitudes and behaviour. Have the courage to call out friends. Listen to women; sometimes the best way you can contribute when marginalised groups are speaking out about their lives is to take a step back, listen, reflect.

You’re not like *those* men? Show, don’t tell.

Reproductive Rights Are Non-Negotiable

Standard

I am loathe to give any credit to anti-reproductive rights organisation The Life Institute, but they very thoughtfully compiled this little list of candidates that they deem suitable to represent the good holy people of Ireland in Europe. The candiates were asked two questions:

  1. Do you support the repeal of the legislation which permits abortion on suicide grounds, and support making Ireland a place where unborn children are legally protected and mothers get all necessary life-saving treatment in pregnancy?
  2. Will you oppose measures in the European Parliament which seek to liberalise Ireland’s abortion laws and support pro-life measures such as the One of Us campaign?

The independent candidate for Ireland South, and activist with the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ campaign Diarmuid O’Flynn replied as follows:

“On a purely personal level I disagree with that particular legislation and the suicide clause but as stated in the original mail, it is not a European issue, it is a national issue.

The second, absolutely I would oppose any such measures. There are some questions that are for a nation to decide for itself; this is one.”

 The intrepid folk at Broadsheet.ie asked O’Flynn if the quotes attributed to him were correct. 

O’Flynn went on to expand on his opinion on his blog.

He stated:

ABORTION

The ugliest word in the dictionary, leads to the ugliest arguments, the most vile and vitriolic of exchanges. In the recent debate leading to changed legislation following the X-case I stayed out of that debate. I had and have my opinions but they were nobody’s business but my own. I accept however that is no longer the case, that many people have a genuine concern about how I might vote should the subject arise in an EU context. Herewith then, my thinking, and undoubtedly a host of lost votes!

The only occasion on which I can foresee abortion arising in the EU is as an equal rights/civil right issue. I would vigorously oppose any such imposition on Ireland. 

We have been too slow as a nation to introduce and implement equal rights and civil rights legislation over the decades in this country and in that respect our membership of the EEC/EU has been a benefit – they haven’t so much shown us the way as dragged us kicking and screaming into becoming a truly equal society. However, I believe there are already far too many areas in which the EU is now dictating policy that properly belongs to a sovereign government, far too many diktats coming down from on high on issues minor and major. 

Abortion is an area in which we should remain sovereign; this is an issue for Ireland to decide, on its own.

I have further been asked if I would work to reverse that recent legislation on the above-mentioned X-case. This could happen only if I stood for the Dáil – that won’t happen, now or ever. I’m giving politics this one shot; win or lose, that’s it.

Again, however, I can see why people would want to know where I stand on this, even if there IS nothing I can do about that legislation in an official capacity (if elected as an MEP) one way or the other.

Over the years I’ve argued many an issue with my family – my mother, my four sisters, my wife, my daughter, my father, my four brothers, my son, all strong-minded strong-willed independent people – and with my many friends. Abortion has figured occasionally in those discussions. We’ve agreed on various topics, we’ve disagreed, but we’ve always got on, respected each other’s thinking and each other’s decisions. 

To sum up my thoughts on such a complex issue is difficult but has to be done.

There are lots of things I don’t know for certain, which is why dogmatism has never appealed to me. I don’t know if there is a concerned God who watches over everything we do, I don’t know if there’s not; I had all religion battered out of me by the Christian Brothers by the age of 14 (they weren’t too keen on the kind of questions I was asking, not in the 60s) so content myself now with my own spiritualism, my own wonder at and appreciation of the world around us.

I don’t know when life begins. I do know I don’t like to see it deliberately ended. There is life in a foetus, helpless life that needs nourishing and protection. Everything possible should be done to bring that life to the birth stage. 

I believe in the equal right to life of the mother and child. If there is a threat to the life of the mother there should be timely medical intervention to save her life. Every effort should also be made to save the life of the child; if this fails, it fails. Life hurls such tragedies at us and in this family, we haven’t been immune.

I can see why many people believe that such a threat to a mother’s life should include suicide. I don’t agree. I believe this then makes the life of the unborn foetus subservient to the life of the mother. 

Even for the most stable, mentally strong woman, abortion is surely a highly emotive decision. A suicidal prospective mother is already suffering serious emotional stress. An abortion will add to that stress.

In the situation where a suicide threat is deemed real (and I can’t imagine a situation where a professional is going to put her/his entire career on the line by saying ‘Ah, I don’t believe you’), the unborn foetus is aborted, its life ended. But how do we know the threat was real?

On the other hand, if the suicide clause is removed there will certainly be cases where a suicidal prospective mother will take her own life, in which case – even allowing for the fact that very often no-one really knows what triggers such a drastic decision – those of us who would push to have that clause removed stand accused of helping to cause this death.

It’s a lose/lose scenario, a most divisive argument and for very obvious reasons. But there it is. I know that in a situation where I’m going to need every vote I can get this will cost me but given that I’m coming out of nowhere I believe it’s only right people should know who I am.

 

The last paragraph of the piece struck me as fascinating.

So there we are. If those are your do-or-die issues for your favoured MEP candidate I’m probably dead in the water and either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will take a second seat in the Ireland South constituency, or Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour will take one each. If you take a wider view and prioritise the issues on my manifesto, the issues I see as critical to a new and better Europe and a new and better world, I have a chance.                  

For me, O’Flynn’s comments here epitomise so much of the rhetoric we hear from supposedly “progressive” men. How many times have we heard that feminism is so divisive, and that we should set aside issues like abortion, women’s rights, race, LGBTQ issues and so on to fight a common foe. 

O’Flynn is campaigning under an anti-austerity banner; in his campaign literature he pledges to campaign to reduce the bank-debt burden, to help Ireland move out of recession, and to force retribution from those responsible for the crisis. However, there cannot be economic justice without reproductive rights; the two are inextricably linked. The idea of Reproductive Justice, developed by women of colour activists in the United States, based on the idea that

 reproductive oppression is a result of the intersection of multiple oppressions and is inherently connected to the struggle for social justice and human rights. Women of low economic means suffer consequences from the lack of access to complete health care. Source

Abortion restrictions disproportionately harm marginalized people. This brilliant post on Feminist Ire illustrates this quite powerfully.

Have you been to the doctor? How far along are you? Do you know the further along you are, the more expensive an abortion is? Can you get a loan from a Credit Union? Or will you go to a money lender? Do you have anything you can sell to raise the money? Can you lie to your parents or friends to borrow money? Can you max your credit card? Do you even have a credit card? Are there any bills that you can get away with not paying this month? Have you gone through all your old coats and looked down the back of the sofa? How long will it take for you to get €1,000 together? Can you get an extra €20 off the Community Welfare Officer? Can you not buy coal for the next few weeks? Are you on the dole? Can you use your savings? Can you defer your year at college and save the money for your Master’s Degree again? Is it Christmastime? Can you return any gifts for a refund or sell them for cash?

 

Women with money have options, women with nothing have babies.

 

You cannot claim to be a voice for marginalised people if you mean to oppose reproductive rights. I myself am not in O’Flynn’s constituency, but if I was, I am afraid he would not be getting a vote from me. Any person who would oppose my right to bodily autonomy and my dignity is not someone I would want as a representative.

 

  

 

 

An International Women’s Day Wishlist #IWD14

Standard

I haven’t blogged in a while, mostly because I’ve been busy with my postgrad. In fact, that’s what I should  be working on now. Anyway, let’s make this (non-exhaustive) thing short and snappy.

  • Repeal the fucking Eighth Amendment already.
  • Scrap section 37.
  • I never, EVER want to see another male abuser of women or girls escape a jail sentence because he could produce a wad of notes to wave in the judge’s face.
  • In an addition to the above, I never wish to hear the words “He was from an upstanding family”, “pillar of the community” or any other qualifiers like that coming from the mouth of a judge in relation to a rapist or an abuser.
  • I want to see rape culture dismantled. I want zero tolerance on rape jokes. I never want to hear about a rape victims clothing, sex life or previous boyfriends. IT IS NOT RELEVANT.
  • I want contraception to be freely accessible.
  • I want to see kyriarchy dismantled. I’m not here for Lean-In, corporate, book-deal feminism that only lets white, cis, wealthy, well-connected women swap places with men at the top of the pile.
  • I want to see an end to white supremacist feminism.
  • I want transphobia and whorephobia to have absolutely no place in feminism and society in general.
  • I want to see an end to ableism.
  • I want the Magdalene survivors to get justice in their lifetime.
  • I want so-called feminist organisations to stop oppressing my sisters who do sex work. Using state violence to deprive women of a living is not my feminism.
  • I want reproductive justice.

Those are just a few thoughts that immediately spring to mind, this list is far from exhaustive, as I said. I hope all my sisters have a wonderful, peaceful and happy international women’s day.

The Year in Misogyny (Irish Edition)

Standard

Content note: rape, violence against women, anti-choice rhetoric, misogyny

It’s that time of year when we’re all casting our minds back over the last 12 months and reflecting on the highs and lows, and what we’ve learned as we’ve gone along. I’ve been looking back at my bookmarks, blog posts and tumblr scribblings and have been struck by how depressingly far Irish society still has to go in terms of achieving equality. Here are (in no particular order) some examples of the misogyny that made women fume this year.

The Slane Girl Controversy: The last few days of summer were dominated by discussion of this infamous Slane photo. I wrote at the time about the horrible slut-shaming double standard at play here, as did others. On a more positive note, the #slanegirlsolidarity tag was flooded with messages of support, and ‘I’m Spartacus’ type statements from other women who could empathise with the girl’s plight. 

The Irish Justice System: It seemed that hardly a week went by in 2013 without reading about a case of violence against women or girls that saw the attacker walk free, or face minimal sanctions. One horrifying case that was heard in Ennis court back in November involved a man attacking a woman in her own home with a metal  bar, who would walk away a free man, despite admitting his guilt. One judge, Martin Nolan has attained quite a reputation for his handling of similar cases, as a quick browse of the depressing ”judge of the day” tag on broadsheet.ie will attest. An Cailin Rua wrote a masterful piece on this very topic that I urge you all to read.

Rape Culture: This entry and the previous one are interchangeable in many respects. Rape culture is a term used to describe how society creates a hostile environment for rape victims, and often engages in apologism for perpetrators. There were several examples that I could pluck from the Irish media in 2013, but none exemplifies rape culture more so than the case of John Murray, the former Lord Mayor of Cork, and the priest who hijacked a funeral to urge the congregation to offer prayers that he would be cleared of sexual assault charges. We see this scenario time and time again; a powerful or wealthy man commits a sexually violent crime, and everyone from the clergy to the judiciary to the general public leaps to their defence, emphasising their family status and reputation,  with little regard for the feelings of the victim.

Anti-choice Nastiness: The last year has seen the anti-choice movement sinking to lower and lower odious depths. Youth Defence, as ever, have been central to proceedings, with antics ranging from the utterly hideous (the truck in question was parked close to a rape crisis centre) to the surreal (via OireachtasRetort’s tumblr). As legislation became increasingly likely and abortion once again became the subject of increased public debate, a succession of campaigners and politicians appeared on current affairs shows and proceeded to show their asses. It was the year of “abortion mills” and other choice epithets, as exemplified by Peter Mathew’s now infamous appearance on Vincent Browne. Thankfully, some light relief came in the form of this beautifully observed anti-choice bingo card and the Tara Flynn sketch ‘Judge, Jury and Obstetrician’.  

Our Abortion Laws (still): Legislating for the X case finally became a reality this summer (only 21 years on) with the passing of  the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. However, for many advocates of reproductive rights, it was a somewhat bittersweet occasion, the horrific section 22,  which recommends a jail sentence of FOURTEEN YEARS for those who have terminations outside of the law and the fact that the bill simply does not go far enough. Irish people will still be travelling to the UK and elsewhere in their droves, and until the reprehensible Eighth Amendment is removed, nothing will change in a meaningful way.

We’ve come a long way, but it’s clear we have a long, long way to go. Ireland, do better in 2014.

Today in Irish Patriarchy

Standard

Three news stories that dominated my newsfeeds today show just how far Irish society has to go before it can dismantle the patriarchy that still runs through this place like letters through a stick of rock.

The last few days have seen a shameful outpouring of online misogyny following the uploading of the Slane photo. A young woman has been slut-shamed and subjected to unbelievably vile abuse by dozens of strangers, much to detriment of her own mental health. I’ve already expressed my thoughts on this here, so I’m don’t have much left to say on the subject, other than express my utter disgust and contempt at the fact that in this day and age, a young girl needs to be hospitalised for being seen as somehow less than human.

The second story is that of the 17-year-old girl who took a sexual harassment case against her former employers. The girl was subjected to a horrendous levels of sexual harassment:

She started work in June 2008 and was told not to speak to her mother, who worked in the same Dublin store. She alleged that two supervisors started making inappropriate sexual remarks to her.

They told her: “You are only letting on to be a little Virgin Mary to your mammy, we know what you really are,” and: “You are nothing but a little hypocrite, you little Virgin Mary.”

She alleged that the two supervisors taunted her at work by asking whether she was a virgin and whether or not she was performing oral sex. They also told her mother that her daughter would come home pregnant from her holidays.

This story of male sexual entitlement, intimidation and misogyny is sadly all too common in Irish workplaces.

The concurrence of the Slane story and the “Virgin Mary” store also is a perfect illustration of the bullshit virgin/whore dichotomy, a girl can only be a dirty slut or a frigid prude, but in neither case is deserving of any respect. 

The final story that made my blood boil today was that of a UL student, Úna Roddy, who was refused the pill by her family doctor.  The paternalistic attitude of the doctor was enraging, but sadly unsurprising. 

Dr X began by assuming I had a boyfriend if I wanted to go on the pill, when in fact my relationship status is none of his business or anybody else’s. He didn’t seem to understand the fact that this is the 21st century and my contraception and my relationship status are two completely unrelated things. He then went on to declare that “co habiting” (he made little quotation marks with his hands) couples had a higher rate of break ups than married couples. He also threw in the fact that ‘fellas’ often experience so much they don’t know what to settle for. Aside from the fact that I’m not something to settle for, it really didn’t seem to register that I was having sex because I wanted to – not because my imaginary boyfriend did.

That this kind of archaic moralism can trump a woman’s right to self-determination and bodily autonomy is utterly depressing and an affront to us all. 

Why, in TWENTY FUCKING THIRTEEN is a hashtag like #slanegirlsolidarity still necessary? Why can’t a woman do a day’s work without being harassed? Why can’t a young woman avail of basic healthcare without being lectured and patronised? The answer is simple folks-patriarchy. 

Patriarchy. Misogyny. These aren’t swear words, folks. Recognise them for what they are, and don’t let anyone dare tell you that feminism is no longer necessary.

 

 

A Summer of Shaming

Standard

Content Note: misogyny, slut shaming

Sometimes, I get complacent and think that Irish society has progressed. Sometimes I think that we have moved on, and dispensed with the old hang-ups about sex and sexuality, women’s sexuality in particular. However, a couple of events that unfolded over the last few weeks have reminded me that the reality, sadly, is otherwise.

The most recent incident,  the one that motivated me to write this blog, is the circulation of the so-called ‘Slane girl’ photo. The photo, which features a young woman performing oral sex, supposedly taken at the Eminem gig at Slane, appeared on social media on Sunday, accompanied with slut-shaming commentary, to the tune of “Her parents must be so proud”. With depressing predictability, most of the negative comments were directed at the girl, not the male recipient, and, tellingly, little ire was directed at the people who disseminated the photo for no ostensible reason other than humiliating its subjects for a few cheap laughs. A notable example was this misogynistic shit-bit from FM104 presenter Jeremy Dixon. Whatever your views are about the nature of the act in question, the publication of this image and the online fallout is a damning indictment of certain sectors of Irish society -cruel, immature and misogynistic. Many people I follow on Twitter (who I’m relieved to say were mostly sympathetic to the girl’s plight) commented on the youth of the participants, and warned that what we are dealing with here is child porn. This may well be the case, and if so, the “photographers”, and every single person who shared the photo are complicit in a child sexual abuse crime, all in the name of demeaning a young woman for a bit of late summer entertainment.

Earlier in the summer, another supposed scandal of a sexual nature blew up on the internet. A woman allegedly engaged in a threesome with two Irish rugby players, and was forced to temporarily leave the country as she was subjected to a deluge of vitriolic abuse online as content of a private conversation disclosing the identities of the participants went public. The bile she received, much like the girl in the Slane photo, was misogynistic in nature. The Sunday Independent revelled in the non-controversy, carrying the story an incredible four weeks in a row, one occasion carrying a typically eye-rolling admonishing piece by Eilis O’ Hanlon for good measure. In a particularly galling move , PR consultant Max Clifford offered his two cents, essentially placing responsibility solely at the woman’s doorstep.

Ugly as both episodes were, they were instructive as to the attitudes that are still prevalent in Irish society. Women are still shamed for their sexual choices, whereas the part that the men play in sexual encounters that capture public attention is either overlooked or lauded. It is, to some minds, inconceivable that a woman could possibly want to engage in some frivolous sex, commitment-free sex and move on with their lives the next day. Our radio friend’s tweet may have been repulsive, but it was revealing-this behaviour is not seen as womanly. The lack of empathy with the young women at the centre of these controversies is dismaying; their online notoriety is seen as just desserts for their actions.

Another implication that frequently popped up was that these girls had no “self-respect”. This is a baseless claim that only truly makes sense if you believe that a woman’s self worth is tied in entirely with her sexuality, and the amount of sexual experience she has. Do I think that a woman who has lots of sex can also have self respect? Absolutely! This can be further enabled by establishing a consent culture and implementing effective sex education, so people can be empowered to explore their sexuality in a safe manner, free from coercion. We also have to recognise this moralising over women’s bedroom exploits for what it is-old fashioned sexism and misogyny.