The Year in Misogyny (Irish Edition)

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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.

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Abortion legislation, the Eighth Amendment and working toward a pro-choice society

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Well, I’ve done it, I’ve finally pulled the finger out and carved out my own little space on the internet! For my first WordPress venture, I’m going to share some ramblings on the abortion issue.

After 21 years, it finally looks as if we are making some headway with legislating for the X case. However, having studied the wording of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, it is clear that little will really change here, and the familiar scenario of women booking a flight to the UK will be replicated again and again.  There is no provision for women or girls who are victims of rape and/or incest, nor is there one for women with fatal foetal abnormalities. I am cognizant of the fact that the government has limited scope with which to legislate, it is becoming increasingly clear that, in order for real change to take effect, we need to repeal the eighth amendment.  At the minute, the debate is framed in terms of saving lives, but what of women who-whisper it- are simply pregnant and no longer want to be? The anti-choicers have set the agenda for the abortion debate here to the extent that we rarely hear from women who have lost jobs and livelihoods; women in abusive relationships; mothers who have had their supports cut due to harsh austerity merits and can barely support the family she has, let alone a new baby.

Once the legislation is in place, there is still some work to be done to create real reproductive choice for women in this country

Access-women need to be able to have access to a safe abortion. As it stands, abortion is a reality in this country, but by and large these women are women of means. According to @AbortionSupport, women who travel to the UK incur expenses of anywhere between £400 and £2,000 or more, and that is before we take into consideration payment for necessaries such as childcare. Rural women, poor women and young girls who are dependent on their parents need to be able to undergo abortions at a location that is convenient, involving a minimum of expense and time.

One of the most crucial changes that needs to occur is putting an end to abortion stigma. Women need to be supported in their choice and feel that they can be upfront with their GPs and other health professionals. Abortion on request is frequently presented# as a lifestyle choice by people such as this misogynist, but abortion is more often than not a very responsible choice.Twelve women a day travel for abortions-they are our sisters, cousins, friends, girlfriends, wives and co-workers. This is not some abstract academic conversation, it is an everyday reality for women, so why can’t a woman say in a confident and matter-of-fact way “I had an abortion?”

Of course, to ensure real reproductive choice, women and families must also have the necessary support. The religious right constantly bandies about phrases such as “anti-family” when referring to marriage equality, but are reluctant to describe the inhumane regime of austerity, that is deeply detrimental to well-being of families as such. 

While the need for access to contraception and comprehensive sex education for young people goes without saying, we must also remove the stigma against teenage pregnancy and parenting. We need to demolish the baseless, misogynist myth of the feckless girl who “got herself pregnant” and value teenage mothers

Finally, we need to stop idealising the so-called “traditional” family unit of Mum, Dad and 2.4 children and value all family arrangements, be they single mums or dads, same-sex couples, foster families, etc. A cheesy cliché it may be, but support, nurturing, respect and love is not exclusive to “traditional” set-ups. 

Pro-lifers urge us to “love them both”. I agree; let’s love all children who are wanted and love women, their lives and their right to choose.