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.

Today in Irish Patriarchy

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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

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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.

One Night Stands-an antidote to the College Times

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TW: misogyny and rape culture

Everyone is by now familiar with that College Times piece. It  seems to have disappeared from the site, with this inept nonpology in its place, although this Journal.ie piece gives a good flavour of the content, and there’s a screenshot here. The article is breathtaking in terms of its misogyny, and is steeped in rape culture.  It describes sex in terms of “predators” and “prey”, advocates sexual harassment, and advises the reader to get women inebriated in order to engage in (non-consensual) sex. The writer also suggests targeting a woman who has “low self-esteem and potential daddy issues”. This vile piece is indicative of so many horrible aspects of our culture-misogyny, rape culture, lack of respect for personal autonomy and slut-shaming.

First of all, let’s call sex with a person who is so intoxicated they are unable to give their consent what it is-rape. Non consensual sex is rape-period. That the College Times is selling this as some kind playful “lad bantz” is appallingly irresponsible and dangerous.

The article also reifies horrible, problematic tropes about women and sexuality. The notion of women as “prey” for men undermines our own bodily autonomy and sexual agency, not to mention being incredibly heteronormative. Also disturbing is the exhortation to seek out women with “low self-esteem and potential daddy issues”. I deeply resent the contention that if a woman enjoys no-strings sex she must (a) have low self-esteem (b) be somehow emotionally damaged.

As I’ve said multiple times, we in Ireland really need a sex-positive alternative to both pearl-clutching moralism & UniLad style “woarrgh, SMASH IT!” bullshit. Believe it or not, MOST WOMEN ENJOY SEX. Yes, despite what our bullshit, slut-shaming patriarchal Madonna/whore dichotomy culture dictates, some woman do like to have no strings attached sex with a hot guy or girl, and then move on with their lives afterwards.

Feminist objections to attitudes like the ones put forward in this article aren’t based on prudery, they’re based on a desire to establish respect for women’s autonomy, end rape culture and work towards equality. We need to develop a consent culture, where mutual respect for bodily autonomy is paramount. As Pervocracy writes,

I don’t want to limit it to sex.  A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well.

This is not about restricting people’s sex lives. This is absolutely not about putting your genitals in cold storage and joining some kind of enclosed religious order. If anything, restrictive sexual mores are what led to this situation in the first place. I want adults to be able to communicate like adults, as equals on a mutual footing. I want to end sexual stigma. As I said in a Twitter conversation earlier today, I want a culture where women carrying condoms on a night out is considered as normal as carrying lip balm.

So, to finish I’m going to offer some one-night stand advice for humans?

  • Find someone attractive that you want to have sex with.
  • Make sure that you communicate with them *exactly* what you want, and that they are cool with it.
  • Remember, consent is an ongoing practice. Be sure that they are clear and firmly comfortable with what is happening every step of the way.
  • Go forth and have sexy sex!

A Final Insult

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Content note: anti-choice propaganda

Today Broadsheet.ie shared this image of a truck displaying an billboard ad from extreme anti-choice organisation Youth Defence, which was parked opposite the Dublin rape crisis centre. A truly reprehensible to do, unquestionably. It puts paid, once and for all to the notion that they are “pro-woman”, but why a rape crisis centre? Even by Youth Defence’s abysmal standards, this is a despicable move.

My theory is this: Youth Defence have realised that they have lost the political battle. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that the overwhelming majority of respondents are in favour of legislating for the X case, if not further. Youth Defence are cognizant of this, and the only avenue left to them is to simply cause as much offence and hurt as possible, a final slap in the face. Abortion in cases of rape is not provided for in the legislation currently being proposed, but YD are no doubt aware that many women and girls who have conceived as a result of rape will be contemplating abortion, whether in the UK or by ordering pills online. The slogan on this poster is a direct message of abuse and intimidation to these women. Youth Defence’s political power is limited, but creating an atmosphere of misogyny and shaming may be good enough for them at this stage. 

I’ve said in the past that Youth Defence are low-hanging fruit in terms of agents of misogyny and woman-hating in Ireland. There are more insidious forms of misogyny in Ireland; institutional sexism and rape culture is runs through the fabric of Irish society, and abortion legislation will not remedy that overnight. However, what Youth Defence does have is a healthy bank balance, courtesy of their friends in the United States. Their legislative influence is not what it used to be, but while they can afford to beam these dismal, taunting slogans into the view of vulnerable eyes, they’ll be satisfied. 

Role Models

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Content note: misogyny, violence against women, rape apologism

 

Today, a vile misogynist screed masquerading as an article by Liz Jones appeared in the Daily Mail, asserting that Rihanna is a “toxic role model for her army of young fans”. I won’t link to this shit on the Mail site, but a reproduced version is available to read here.

Jones argues that despite the fact that the singer “has the voice of an angel and is self-made, feisty and confident”,

All these qualities pale to nothing when we know she went back to her abusive boyfriend, Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to assaulting her in 2009; that she promotes drug-taking, drinking and the sort of fashion sense on stage that surely invites rape at worst, disrespect at least.

Wow, that’s one clusterfuck of awfulness to unpack; victim-blaming slut-shaming, and rape apologia contained in a single paragraph. It’s utterly depressing that this needs to be re-iterated time and time again:

1. People return to abusive relationships for a variety of reasons. It is not my place to speculate on the ins and outs of Rihanna & Brown’s relationship, largely because it is fucking beside the point. Rihanna is a survivor of abuse, and if you’re going to demonise, demonise the fucking abuser. I know I keep plugging this Pervocracy piece like a divine screed sent from God, but it eloquently and thoughtfully breaks down the nuances and dynamics of abusive relationships.

2. […]sort of fashion sense on stage that surely invites rape at worst, disrespect at least.

Clothes do not invite rape. *Nothing* invites rape. Victims are not responsible for their rape, rapists are. That the Mail is tacitly endorsing one of the oldest, deeply problematic myths about rape is utterly disgraceful.

Jones’ entire thesis rests on the contention that Rihanna is a corrupt and contemptible person. Her language seethes with hatred; she is “toxic”, “poisonous”, she “infecting” the high streets. This nakedly hateful character assassination is, however, couched in the language of concern:

Is it fair that we berate female stars for being bad, when we don’t admonish men in the same way? Yes, it is fair. Because young women are far more impressionable than young men.

There you have it. Young women are more “impressionable”, apparently incapable of critical thought, and the best way to nurture a positive social environment for young people is to pour buckets and buckets of misogynist bile on a woman that has the temerity to be in the public eye! Why does this concern for young women look so much like misogyny?

Rihanna issued this response on her instagram:

LOL!!!! My money got a bad habit of pissing people off!! If you sincerely wanna help little girls more than their own parents do, here’s a toxic tip: don’t be amateur with your articles, you sound bitter! What’s all this about hair and nails and costumes and tattoos?? ….That shit ain’t clever!!! That shit ain’t journalism! That’s a sad sloppy menopausal mess!!! Nobody over here acts like they’re perfect! I don’t pretend that I’m like you, i just live… My life!! And I don’t know why y’all still act so surprised by any of it!! “Role Model” is not a position or title that I have ever campaigned for, so chill wit dat! I got my own fucked up shit to work on, I’ll never portray that as perfect, but for right now it’s ME!! Call it what ya want!! Toxic was cute, Poisonous Pop Princess had a nice ring to it, just a lil wordy! And P.S. my first American Vogue cover was in 2011…APRIL!!! #ElizabethAnnJones

Rihanna articulated something that has never sat very well with me when celebrities are being discussed. Why must female celebrities always serve as “good role models?” What is a good role model? To me, these discussions are ridiculously gendered. Footballers, singers and actors who misbehave are lauded as “lads”, while women in the public eye who drink and are unashamed about their sex lives are treated like toxic waste. When male celebrities are criticised in the mainstream press, they are never slated as being bad role models for young fans. For instance, the aforementioned Brown has been quite rightly upbraided in the press for his despicable behaviour, however, never to my recollection has he been dubbed a bad role model for young boys.

This insistence that female celebrities be purer than the driven snow, while often dressed up in the language of feminism feels too much like good ol’ fashioned patriarchal preaching and policing of women’s lives. Rihanna is derided for being successful, famous, talented, and crucially, confident and self-assured in a way that women, particularly women of colour, are not allowed to be under patriarchy. She refuses to “behave” according to the proscribed script, and this has rattled a few cages.

Yes, let’s have role models. Let’s have brilliant female writers, doctors, journalists, engineers, scientists, activists, musicians, singers, dancers, screenwriters, actors, directors, icons. There’s room for all of them. Do you know what I’d like to see less of? Hacky misogynist tabloid journos who exist to perpuate patriarchy. They’re no role models for anybody.