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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Victory?

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Content note: hostility to agency, anti-choice rhetoric, suicide

So, it’s happened. The Dáil has passed the second stage of Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill by 138 votes to 24. While I’m pleased that our elected representatives have finally ensured that pregnancy need no longer be a death sentence for a woman, I don’t really feel like celebrating. I’ve outlined in an old post why I believe this legislation does not go far enough, but having reflected on it more in the meantime, I’ve come to the conclusion that, not only is this legislation too narrow in its remit, it is actively harmful. It is too restrictive, too punitive, with its terms almost feeling like an Inquisition of the Pregnant.

The reprehensible section 22,  which recommends a jail sentence of FOURTEEN YEARS for those who have terminations outside of the law absolutely needs to go. It is cruel, inhumane and cements abortion stigma in the law of the land. It conjures up for me a vision of a future where a suicidal pregnant woman who has been denied an abortion, but survives an attempt to take her own life  is convicted under this law because the pregnancy was ended. It paves the way for a repeat of the horrendous story of Bei Bei Shuai in Indiana, USA. Even if this law is *never* fully enforced, its mere existence  it creates a climate of fear and shame, and places women who have abortions outside the terms of this legislation into a category alongside some of the most violent, most heinous criminals out there.

A referendum needs to be held to repeal the Eighth Amendment.  We absolutely need to legislate for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities and for pregnancies arising from rape and incest, that’s a given; I’d go further, and argue that we need to legislate for abortion on request. In my ideal world, a person who was pregnant and no longer wanted to be should be able to end their pregnancy safely and legally.

In an Irish context, given our oppressive history and long-standing hostility to abortion and reproductive justice, the success of this bill is a massive breakthrough, I accept this. However, I’d have a bit more of a spring in my step this evening if this legislation was less, well, anti-choice.

I don’t know what I expected-John Waters & his putrid misogyny

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I’ve spent the last while trying to process this unbelievably misogynistic word-turd in the Irish Catholic by John Waters.  I’ve read enough Waters to be desensitized to his odious views by now, but this was so terrible, so nakedly anti-woman that I just had to respond.

In the lede, Waters quotes a letter from a correspondent, which he subsequently describes as “very good” and its premise “entirely reasonable”:

‘What is the difference, in human rights terms, between a situation in which a distraught male goes in to his doctor and says that his partner is making him suicidal and that he fears that unless he/she (the doctor) arranges to have the partner killed he will kill himself, and a situation in

which a distraught female goes to her doctor and says that her unborn child is making her suicidal and that she fears that unless he/she (the doctor) arranges to have the child killed she will kill herself?”

From the outset, we have an equivalency between the life of a foetus and the life of a woman or girl. Indeed, further on, Waters states that,

“there can be no moral distinction between the idea of killing an adult woman and killing an unborn child.”

Having firmly established that women are not full human beings, Waters bravely goes on to make an impassioned plea for mercy for disenfranchised cis white men everywhere.

At a superficial level, the refusal to publish the letter might be deemed ‘sexist’, but this would amount to a naïve understanding of things, since it has long been obvious that ‘sexism’ is a concept available only for the protection of females

John, “reverse sexism” is not a thing, anymore than anti-white racism or heterophobia. Sexism and other “-isms” only have impact when perpetrated by the  institutionally poweful group, i.e. men against the disenfranchised group, i.e. women.

From October 2012 to the present – approximately 300 Irish men have ended their own lives, roughly one for every day of this debate.

Indeed, the spectre of male suicide in this country is a deeply tragic one, however, nowhere does Waters address issues that may be at the root of this-austerity, economic woes, inadequate mental health services, homophobia, expectations of conformity and rigid gender roles, to name but a few. No, Waters does not truly care about these men or challenging the status quo, the suicide statistic is merely another weapon in Waters’ crusade against feminism.

And yet, discussion about male suicide – as a discrete phenomenon, which it is – has been accorded the tiniest fraction of the energy given to the theoretical idea of a pregnant woman wishing to kill herself because she is pregnant.

“Theoretical idea?” I can assure you, John, that there is not merely “theoretical” about women for whom the idea of carrying a pregnancy to term is a scenario end their own life. However, since abortion is merely an academic exercise for you, I doubt you’ve contemplated this.

If all that wasn’t suitably horrendous, Waters goes on to do the unimaginable and cross his Misogyny Event Horizon:

We have been conditioned to think about the idea of pregnancy as some kind of imposition on a woman and her life. This idea actually runs back through Irish culture, predating even the earliest clamouring for abortion rights.

When you’ve been pregnant, John, in your womb for nine months and faced all the attendant risks it poses, come back and talk to me about it being an imposition.

It is related to the victim-status claimed by and ceded to women in Irish culture, which has long disguised the true nature of power structures in the domestic realm of Irish life.

HA HA IT’S ALMOST AS IF WE HAVEN’T BEEN LIVING IN A PATRIARCHY FOR CENTURIES

Because women are prone to more extravagant shows of emotion than men…

Oh, he DID NOT

our society is far more willing to concede their demands than it is those of males.

LOLWUT?

Not only that, but, almost regardless of how much we claim to repudiate abortion, we refuse to criticise or question the women who seek this remedy for themselves. We will condemn the abortionist who wields the knife, the politician who implements the abortion-facilitating law, the campaigner who demands the change, and so forth.

But the person who obtains the ultimate ‘benefit’ from all this activity is regarded as some kind of enfeebled innocent, upon whom the ‘necessity’ for an abortion is always thrust by unfortunate circumstances, for which the woman has no responsibility herself. Even the priests and bishops who lead the moral crusade against abortion will never speak a word against those on whose behalf abortion is being sought.

 

You can almost visualise Waters hunched over his desk, frothing with misogynistic hatred. These words could only be written by a creature that truly despises women and their sexuality.

Do you think women who avail of abortion aren’t stigmatised, John? Why do you think it’s been TWENTY-ONE years since the X case and we’re only legislating for it now? Why don’t most of the women who’ve had abortions in the UK feel they can be upfront with their GP about it? Why are women and girls slipping off in silence to the clinics in the UK without whispering a word to a soul? Why, when the women of @TFMRIRE went public on the Late Late for the first time did I see tweets in my timeline calling them “murderesses?” I think it’s fair to say that women who have abortions are pretty fucking stigmatised.

Let’s revisit this sentence:

But the person who obtains the ultimate ‘benefit’ from all this activity is regarded as some kind of enfeebled innocent, upon whom the ‘necessity’ for an abortion is always thrust by unfortunate circumstances, for which the woman has no responsibility herself.

In John Waters’ world, no woman or girl is ever raped. No woman ever endures a pregnancy that will endanger her life or do grievous harm to her health. No woman has ever experienced fatal foetal abnormalities. No, in John Waters’ Good Catholic Ireland, a women who has sex  must be prepared for the “consequences”, and abortion is the preserve of brazen harlots who don’t deserve human dignity.

As Waters ploughs on to his conclusion, he makes a stab at a semblance of  analysis:

There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved. In the vast majority of the very limited number of cases in which this is not so, the factors underlying the difficulty usually relate not to objective circumstances but to either intuited societal disapproval

He actually acknowleges that every woman or girl may not be thrilled to be pregnant! Incredible! He also concedes that we need to change society! YES, YES, YES! Let’s dismantle patriarchy, ensure that everyone has access to sex education and contraception and OH WAIT HE DOESN’T WANT THAT AT ALL

selfishness on the part of the woman involved.

Yeah, no let’s not do that, let’s shame the sluts for being slutty, I mean that’s so revolutionary and totally not what we already do!

This article, and Waters’ oeuvre as a whole isn’t concerned with abortion per se. I’m sure Waters’ anti-abortion sentiments are genuine, but what really seems to be at the fore is a sort of rage against women, against difference;  middle-class, middle-aged, white Catholic men like Waters are having their position and ways of thinking challenged, and they don’t like it one bit. John Waters is hankering for a simpler time, when the world made sense to him, hence his rage. Let’s stride purposefully in the opposite direction.