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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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.