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.

I Refuse To Call Them Pro-Life

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How did we let the term “pro-life” slip into our lexicon as the standard synonym for “anti-abortion?” As a phrase, it is utterly redundant. Also, that opposition to abortion is the metric for being considered pro-life is utterly ridiculous. One might oppose abortion but perpetuate oppressive ideas and structures that are anti-life. For instance,  politicians may be dyed in the wool “pro-lifers” favour austerity measures which may cause deep personal hardship and psychological trauma; more of that later.

In discussions surrounding pregnancy and abortion, anti-choicers tend to pay lip service to the lives of women, but their main concern is with the fate of the foetus.

What was pro-life about the treatment Savita Halappanavar received?

What is pro-life about forcing people to endure a pregnancy that may irrevocably damage their health? What about denying sick pregnant women lifesaving medical treatment, as in the cases of Michelle Harte and Sheila Hodgers?

What is pro-life about forcing a person who has been raped to carry that pregnancy to term?

What of the twelve people who travel abroad on a daily basis for terminations? Where’s the compassion in forcing someone to go through the stress of arranging flights, accommodation, organising time off work,  perhaps childcare?

I could go on an on. These examples underscore the dis-ingenuousness of a  pro-life position for whom a foetus  trumps the suffering of pregnant individuals.

These so-called “pro-lifers” are also disingenuous and cowardly. They know as we all do about the incessant traffic to the UK, and are quite happy to see women slipping away in the night like criminals, without the support of their families. These are women with the means and wherewithal to do so. What of the women who don’t? Do these people, who claim to cherish life, think that suffering an unwanted or harmful pregnancy is somehow a fitting punishment for these women? Do they think that physical, emotional and psychological torment is an appropriate sentence for the crime of being female and poor?

The following is a list of TDs that voted against a motion to reverse the cuts to home help hours. I’ve somewhat arbitrarily chosen this particular set of cuts, as there was a neat list available online;  I could just as easily be talking about a myriad of other cuts to services, such as the mobility allowance, respite care and special needs assistants. Among these names you’ll notice Peter Mathews, Brian Walsh, John O’Mahony, Peter Fitzpatrick, Damien English, Michael Creed and Billy Timmins, all who have, according to this Irish Times article, have expressed reservations about the abortion legislation. Let’s focus on Peter Mathews for a minute. Mathews has been most vocal over the last few weeks and months about the life of the unborn, not least on this unforgettable star turn on Tonight with Vincent Browne. Clearly, for Mathews, women and girls register a good few points lower than unviable foetuses on the scale of things that are worthy of concern.

Home help services are provided in order to assist people to remain in their own home and to avoid going in to long-term care. It is imperative to the quality of life for families throughout this country. Now, Mathews sees himself as a champion of life, but what about life as it lived on a day-to-day basis? How can you claim to be pro-life when you are actively approving measures that are making life more difficult for people? Would it be audacious to suggest that in straitened circumstances may opt for abortion in order to feed the family she already has? Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, that is an avenue closed to women in Ireland without the means to travel. Women with money have options, women who don’t have babies.

I’m pro-life, I don’t know anyone who isn’t. I am also pro-choice. I don’t think being pro-choice is the opposite to be being pro-life. On the contrary, I believe that the pro-choice position is inherently pro-life, as it respects the nuances of life and people’s various lived experiences. Anti-choicers who have anointed themselves custodians of the pro-life cause are not only supremely arrogant; they are the term a great disservice.

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.