International Women’s Day
Cause & Effect
The Siren Report
A Vision in Purple
Hope Springs Eternal
Looks Like We Made It
by Fiona Hyde
by Jean Sutton
Articles by Áine Travers, Ailbhe Durkin, Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin & Hannah McCarthy
by Cáit Fahey
by Darragh McCabe by Megan Nolan
20 Fashion: Haute Histoire 25
Put ‘em Under Pressure
The Unhappy Marriage of Feminism and the Market
Reviews by Fleur Moriarty, Alyson Henry, Michael Barry & Deirdre Kilbride
by Cathal Wogan
by Rónán Burtenshaw
30 The Boo Hag
by Karl McDonald
Dates for your Diary Compiled by Michelle O’Connor
Cover Photo; Photographer: Shane Andrew Kenny. Model: Fleur Moriarty This project is supported by the TCD Equality Fund.
ametes dipped and fused and a zygote formed, and I was either a woman from then, or I was as I came out screaming, or when my mother dressed me first in pink. Whatever you believe, I’m a woman now. Perspectives are shaped by experience, and my experience of life is rooted in womanhood – and that fact, in our curiously modern world, can be a troubling thing. It’s a world in which my Human League tee shirt’s slogan of ‘Don’t you want me?’ is seen as a personal invitation to the clientele of Whelan’s to lick my neck as I stand at the bar. A world in which a taxi drivers tell me I “must have brothers” because I know Schweinsteiger’s jersey number. (For the record: I don’t. I have three fantastic older siblings, and they are all women.) These are petty problems, minor grievances that are perhaps indicative of a status quo in Ireland, or perhaps indicative of nothing at all. However, it is also a world in which resistance wells up in arid, repressed countries. A world in which headscarves are worn proudly or dutifully, a world with kind ex-boyfriends and brave single mothers, where opinions mingle and clash - a world populated with strong women crying out for change, but also intelligent women ashamed to refer to themselves as feminists for fear it might appear somehow unseemly.These issues, so diverse and disparate, are all branched under the one, buckling umbrella of ‘feminism’. Life and our view of the world are not always positive, but equally, nothing is ever wholly negative. The poet e.e cummings wrote that “yes is a world & in this world of yes live (skilfully curled) all worlds”. We should choose to push Irish gender relations into this open world of yes. Rather than something that is perceived to be dogmatic (and thus exclusive) or negative (and thus easy to dismiss) every feminist should strive to focus their brand of feminism on how fantastic a woman, and her experience of the world, has the potential to be. Positivity and inclusion, and the incredible breadth of possibility that this curious modern world contains, should never be forgotten in the discussion of gender equality. This magazine seeks to promote a broad perspective, and to not only mark International Women’s Day, but to celebrate it. This duality of focus and diversity of experience is represented in our name, Siren. A siren is not only an alarm - a call to and for attention - but also an entrancing voice, and a woman considered simultaneously alluring and dangerous. In our appropriation of the traditional women’s glossy magazine format, we hope to appeal to women and men who don’t define themselves as feminists, but should. When Jean first approached me to work on this magazine with her, she told me that the vision would be that “a more sex equal Ireland is a better Ireland”. If you agree with that sentiment, then I believe that you will enjoy the selection of work we have presented to you in Siren. Thank you very much for picking it up, for reading it, for discussing it, for possibly even liking it, and for taking one small step with us into the curiously modern, wonderful feminist world of yes.
am frequently haunted by the self-perceived fate of George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke in the novel Middlemarch. Dorothea was an earnest young woman who felt “that there was always something better which she might have done if she had only been better and known better”. In the course of making this magazine I have often found myself wishing I had been better, and done this sooner. I’ve also met some fantastic people during this process and wished I had met them sooner, known them before. I have always been a feminist, but it was only in the past twelve months that my actions took on a real affirmation of such self-identification. I decided to speak up, to act, after my lecturer in Law, Gender & Equality in law school in Toronto told our class at the end of the semester that it was all well and good to talk about the ‘issues’ and potential resolutions, but that debate in the abstract was essentially valueless. Thus the catalyst for Siren was ignited. However, for inspiration and good intentions to manifest truly, a leap of faith is needed. I am eternally grateful to Fiona for agreeing to this, at times mad, project. Gloria Steinem once said if you want to make a difference in society you should “do one outrageous thing in the cause of simple justice. I don’t care what it is. Only you ought to know what it should be.” Siren is our small and outrageous act, and it exists because of the teamwork and goodwill of various women and men. It also exists because of my mother. She told me last October that the only time she felt her vote really mattered was in 1990, when she voted for Mary Robinson. That confession made me cry, which is why I am so heartened to see young women writing about politics in the Siren Report. We want our votes to matter again. While I may lament my not acting sooner, the fact remains that we did this now. This publication is not perfect, but we did try. And the fact you hold something tangible, something with weight that can cause even a minor paper cut, makes this whole enterprise worthwhile. I hope you enjoy it.
contributors EDITORS Fiona Hyde Jean Sutton (firstname.lastname@example.org) DESIGNER Dargan Crowley-Long (email@example.com) WRITERS Megan Nolan, Rónán Burtenshaw, Darragh McCabe, Aine Travers, Ailbhe Durkin, Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin, Deirdre Kilbride, Fleur Moriarty, Michael Barry, Alyson Henry, Karl McDonald, Cathal Wogan, Hannah McCarthy, Jean Sutton, Fiona Hyde. ILLUSTRATORS Mice Hell, Isadora Epstein, Sinéad Mercier, Sadhbh Byrne. COPY EDITORS Conor McQuillan, Ailbhe Durkin, Ellen Whelan, Ciara O’Brien, Michelle O’Connor, Grace O’Malley PHOTOGRAPHY Cover photography by Shane Andrew Kelly, Fashion photography by Dargan Crowley-Long, The photo essay of Irish Muslim women is by Cait Fahey. FASHION
Illustration: Sinéad Mercier
Harriet Burgess (stylist), Holly Acton , Katherine Reidy, Laura Morley, Ethne Barry (stylist’s assistants). ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Siren would not have been possible without the funding and help from the Equality Office (especially Karen Campos McCormack, with special mention for the Equality Fund’s gracious support), Trinity Publications (especially Tom Lowe) and TCD Students’ Union. We would also like to thank Probus Wines, Accents Cafe, 3FE on Abbey St, and Carousel boutique for their sponsorship of our fundraiser, and the Irish Islamic Cultural Centre, especially Sister Amina
This project is supported by the TCD Equality Fund
Besides all the wonderful people mentioned above, Jean would like to extend a personal thank you to the following people: Grace O’Malley, Emma Sutton, Mairéad and Jerry Sutton, Joseph Kielthy, Ciarán Lyng, and Michael Pidgeon. Fiona would like to thank her parents, Douglas and Patricia, for their continued support and kindness, and her three sisters for their advice, as well as Conor Leahy and Megan Nolan for their friendship. Finally, we would like to thank our sire John Condon for christening the magazine.
International Women’s Day By Fiona Hyde Illustration: Sinéad Mercier
hat is International Women’s Day? I was lucky enough in secondary school to have had a very switched-on English teacher, who insisted that the entire school be decked out in posters to mark the day, announcing proudly the brave and bold things that women around the world have done, and the many misfortunes that befall them everyday simply due to their gender. I’m aware, though, that this early and positive introduction to this important day is a rare one. Many people, male and female, around Trinity have had little or no experience of International Women’s Day, have never celebrated it – or even heard of it. This is a shame. International Women’s Day has a rich, beautiful and strong history, and it deserves awareness and celebration. It is a good Day - a Day of action, of information, of discussion, and of charity. The Equality Office has made strides in improving campus awareness of it, and long may their initiatives continue. Here is a brief rundown of the history of International Women’s Day, and less of my musings on its importance – I believe its history reveals this well enough on its own. International Women’s Day (originally termed ‘International Working Women’s Day’) is held on the 8th of March annually. Originally International Women’s Day was a socialist movement, begun in the United States in 1908. However it very quickly moved onwards, and outwards, spreading by 1911 into a less overtly political incarnation observed by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Women demanded that women be given the vote and the right to hold office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination. In the following years, International Women’s Day was celebrated in several more countries, including China, Spain and the then Soviet Union. It was not until 1977 that the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, giving the day an official status globally. In 34 countries around the world, from Armenia to Zambia, the day is a public holiday and is widely celebrated elsewhere, including in Ireland (see Dates For Your Diary) - in some countries a day or half-day off work is observed, but customarily it is marked by men
giving the women in their life a small gift, and sometimes viewed as an alternative to Mother’s Day. However, there is another important international tradition associated with the Day: that of protest. In Poland, the 8th of March is marked by large feminist protests in major cities. In Pakistan working women celebrate International Women’s Day to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights, despite facing many cultural and religious restrictions. This element of the Day has not come without its controversies. Violence was sparked in Tehran in 2007 four days before International Women’s Day when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. Dozens of women were then arrested and endured days of imprisonment, interrogation and solitary confinement. Several community activists (including Shadi Sadr the Iranian lawyer, journalist and woman’s rights activist) began a hunger strike and were eventually released on the 19th of March. International Women’s Day has been maintained and observed widely across the last century due to its essential marking of women’s roles in society. Large-scale events honour women’s advancement in many spheres, and reminding us of women around the world for whom basic equality is still a cause for which they must fight and struggle. The oppression of women goes on – in rape as a weapon of war, genital mutilation, culturally-accepted domestic violence, gender pay gaps, forced marriages, honour killings and much more. This is an ongoing injustice, and one that International Women’s Day reminds us of annually – that not only is this day a celebration of the positives, and of exceptional women, but also a reminder of the negatives that still abound in our world today. We must think globally, and act locally, in our remembrance of this troubling situation. On the 8th of March every year, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements – political rallies, parties, discussion groups, markets, and even projects like us here at Siren. Though I say my first experience of International Women’s Day was an uncommon one, perhaps it should not be so. More teachers, more schools and more universities should be highlighting the Day in big and small ways – from posters and parties to conferences and debates – and fostering a spirit where Irish people celebrate the fantastic women in their lives.
Rónán Burtenshaw in conversation with Jean Sutton.
our political views start at home. It certainly had a big influence on me. I grew up in a home in which I was made very conscious of discrimination, of difference, of inequality of all kinds. My Ma was then working with the Well Woman Centre. She was the Director during the cascade of abortion information cases, and ended up with a case in Strasbourg. The political consciousness she developed during her time as a feminist activist affected me and my values greatly. This is true even from an early age. She had developed an opinion that would have been critical of the Church’s role in Irish society. My Ma was particularly conscious of their attitudes toward women. But she also took after my Granny - who was one of many working-class mothers aware of the abuse of young people under Church care. Kids were threatened with going to Artane if they didn’t behave. The full extent wasn’t known, but a consciousness was there. So my Ma looked for an alternative education for me - a school that wasn’t run by the Church. I attended primary school at the multi-denominational North Dublin National School Project. We had no uniforms and called our teachers by their first names. It was on the Ballymun Road and we had a very mixed class. Half of the class didn’t do their communion or confirmation. I was one of them – I was never baptised. It wasn’t such a big deal for me to not be baptised, because my family background is mixed. Both of my parents would have been Catholics. But one side of my family would be AngloIrish Protestants. And my greatgreat-grandmother was Andrea Wolff, a German Jew. At the start of the twentieth century she came over from Britain with Alfred Burtenshaw. They worked in horse stables, outside Dublin, and ended up living in the tenements when the stables closed. Both sides of my family did, which wouldn’t have been unusual. My grandparents met there and then went to Gardiner Street and set up a B & B – it’s still around now actually, The Marian. My secondary school, Belvedere, was just around the corner from that. Ma
would have had a decent impression of the Jesuits as an order from their work in the community and I would have some respect for them too. Their idea of social conscience isn’t great. It’s like what Hélder Câmara used to say: “when you give food to the poor, they call you a saint. When you ask why there are poor, they call you a radical.” Belvedere would have been very comfortable with social piety - but not with challenging the system that enables one set of people to have enough to give away and the other to be in need of handouts. My Grandda would always have been very conscious about education. He would have seen what life in the inner city was like for women. He didn’t want that for my Ma or her sisters. So he saved up. It wouldn’t have been easy, working as a chef in the Gresham. But, because of it, they ended up being the three Gardiner Street girls in Mount Anville. After that my Ma got a job in the bank – the job to get. She left that job, the family had a nervous breakdown, and went to work as an administrator in UCD Students’ Union. That is where she first became politicised. She was introduced to a lot of young women who were having their first kind of experiences and getting into situations where the doctors in UCD wouldn’t prescribe contraception. Many of these girls were from conservative backgrounds where these issues weren’t discussed. Young women were becoming unhappy with the expectations being placed on them - to be subordinate, to be housewives, the male-dominated culture of Ireland at the time. Divorce was still illegal, contraception difficult to come by. It’s a very difficult context for us to get our heads around now. A women’s movement was growing in UCD at that time, around the need to support each other. People like Ailbhe Smyth, a lecturer at the time, were very influential. She ran reading groups to educate and motivate women - many of whom got active. My mother came out of that network of women. It was a deeply political world for students then. The North, a developing gay movement and the women’s movement. These were the kind of issues that made politics real for people. My mother’s passion was feminism but she came out of a very politicised climate. She later went on
to Trinity and worked with the Students’ Union there. Trinity had a more established and powerful women’s movement. There was a different attitude, maybe linked to class and culture. Women were more empowered. Our SU also would have been heavily involved in the Irish anti-apartheid movement. Kader Asmal, the South African activist, was lecturing in TCD at the time. A lot of Trinity students took part in marches, demonstrations and the boycott. Nelson Mandela made a statement when he was released that thanked organisations specifically – it was a long list, but our Students’ Union was on it. We forget our own history sometimes. My mother then went onto to work in the Well Woman Centre - when they were in the midst of our culture wars. I’d have been too young to remember anything, really. I have a nice memory of sitting in my aunt’s house and seeing her on the TV speaking to a reporter. It would have been around the time of the Strasbourg case.
One of the most important things she did there was access statistics from the British CSO about the number of Irish women travelling for abortions. Those numbers made people aware that it wasn’t some minor occurrence. It was women you knew, many of them married or middle-class with a job. That changed perspectives, I think. That feminist saying – the personal is political? It really is. My Ma’s politics and her activism has had a huge effect on me. Y’know, I’ve gotten a lot in life. It’s important that I think about my position of privilege and what it means. It demands that I give something back, spend some of your life working to improve the lot of others. There’s so much that needs changing in the world. I think my Ma taught me that if you’re in a position to effect some of that change you’ve gotta do it. Alice Walker has a quote, “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” That whole period of my mother’s life? That was her rent.”
hen Jean and I sat down to comb through the Siren submissions, we noticed a trend emerging. Young Irish women were submitting their opinions to us in droves - on the current face of Irish femi-
Illustration: Mice Hell
nism, and its relation to the DĂĄil, to society, and to our collective future as a people. We decided that in order to represent these voices, something more than just disparate articles was needed. We asked the following women to sit down with us one sunny afternoon in the Trinity Publications Office in order to piece together a more coherent, inclusive, and comprehensive view of the current situation, one
that really gets to the heart of whatâ€™s going on. We asked these writers to investigate the pressing issues for women in Ireland of 2012, be that the problematic conversation around voting quotas, the troubling lack of legislation for abuse, or the shifting perceptions of feminism in the public consciousness. The Siren Report was born. - Fiona Hyde
Feminism is Useless if it is Exclusive Áine Travers on the shifting social mood towards feminism, our predecessors and how we can try to shape the changing Irish perspectives towards gender equality
t was just a few short months ago that I halfwhispered to a friend: “It’s happening! People are talking about it!” He cast me a sceptical glance and said “People have been talking about feminism for the last 30 years, it’s not new.” I replied, “Not like this. They haven’t been talking about it like this. Not in so many circles, and so often! Can’t you see?”
Perhaps my companion’s impartiality was somewhat justified. Of course, he’s right - feminism is certainly not new. Yet I cannot help but feel like we’re in the midst of a sea-change of sorts. Feminist debates are hitting the spotlight more and more often, with new blogs and activist groups binding them together into a clear voice. Although the current atmosphere in Ireland is heavy with pessimism, there are cheering social developments on the horizon. Things are not perfect for Irish women, but they are a hell of a lot better than they were thirty, or even ten, years ago. We have more platforms from which to express ourselves and we have more personal autonomy. As a feminist in Ireland today, I cannot help but sense something wonderful is happening. Something special. A burgeoning, blossoming, fiery, exhilarating something is on the tips of all our tongues. Of course there is plenty to be angry about; still a long list of ugly injustices to contend with. However, it is worth remembering that times of adversity have often galvanised positive social change. It is important to highlight and criticise inequality in all its guises, but it is also a valuable exercise to take stock of what’s been going well, because plenty has, since the concept of feminism arrived on this island. Strong, tough feminists like Nell McCafferty, Nuala O’ Faolain, Nuala Fennell, Margaret MacCurtain, and June Levine came out fighting in the 1970s. And it is a good thing they were strong and tough. They were up against an imposing patriarchy which viewed women’s bodies as being at the
disposal of men. They had to contend with the attitude that every woman’s primary duty in society was to bear children, and to please their husbands. Women lacked control over most of the central decisions in their lives, such as family planning, and being part of the workforce. These women drew attention to the ways in which modern Ireland was built on the sexist prescriptions of the Catholic Church. Nell McCafferty has been a pioneer of justice on these issues, unafraid to publicly tackle powerful religious figures and institutions to provide us with a portrayal of the faults in this shaky foundation. Irish feminists exposed the bias in the way in which our country’s history was written, and indeed in the way women have been written out of it. They’ve provided us with analyses of the roots of the injustices in our constitution, which was drafted in political circumstances that created a national desire to establish a concrete cultural identity. The resulting identity was conservative, inextricably bound to the teachings of the Church. That such ideas are now accepted by most as hopelessly archaic is alone testament to how far feminism has come, and an illustration of the difference that can be made in a short time by showing steady resolve and dedication. And resolve women have shown, by the bucket load. The work Irish feminists have done to counteract sexism is astounding. We are now empowered by access to contraception, and liberalised attitudes towards sex. Our past two Presidents have been gifted, driven females, and our current president is a self-identified male feminist. Feminists have spoken out in the past few decades, with a visceral belief that is palpable, and with nothing supporting them but the courage of their convictions. If they could do that, in the bleak environment in which they did, then we can do anything. Gender equality problems have not evaporated. A vox pop video made by the Irish Feminist Network last year showed how people squirm and shrug when queried about their position on
Illustration Isadora Epstein,
feminism. It is still seen as taboo by many to identify as a feminist. And despite some diversification, the bulk of popular media aimed at girls and women is still patronising and didactic, and perpetuates damaging stereotypes and skewed ideals about personal values, sexual norms and life goals. Women are still being stereotyped and objectified; they are still being raped and getting blamed for it. Glazed eyes stare out at us from our media; passive and ubiquitous. However, the most important thing is that we’re more aware and tuned in to these problems than we used to be; we really care. Lots of us are talking about it - some of us are shouting about it. 2011 was witness to some real progress. Ireland’s first Slut Walk took place last October, attempting to challenge the way people think about women’s sexual expression and sexual assault. It was organised by the Feminist Society of NUIG and received national media coverage. Vibrant groups of women and men dedicated to pointing out and banishing inequalities are springing up everywhere. The 50/50 Group was established to push for equal representation for men and women in the Dáil by the year 2020. The initiative Women on Air is tackling the problem of poor representation of women in the media, by providing support to women to share their expertise, and compiling a List, to which they can add their credentials, to be contacted by media seeking their perspectives. The problems are still there, but the difference is that not only do a few exceptional, powerful women feel able to speak out against them; now lots of us do. And whatever your background, whether you are male or female, this is one bandwagon you want to be jumping on. Lap it up,
drink it in - realise that we are on the cusp of something with the power to change Ireland. Get together, work together, use social media to find ideas and spread them. Attend a group, start an organisation, run an event, feel the thrill when ideas are shared and gather momentum. Read, and watch, and don’t forget the women who laid these foundations. They’ve shown us how to shine the light on what’s wrong, and open the dialogue. We need to take that initiative and be thinkers; help one another, and help ourselves. No, the job is not done. And where we have been victorious in achieving greater equality in areas like marriage and family planning for many women, we need to work towards achieving the full spectrum of rights for all women. This means that the campaign for equal marriage and family rights for gay people are our concerns too. Similarly, we need to make sure that groups who are disadvantaged such as women of the Irish Traveller community, who still suffer from disproportionately high levels of domestic violence and depression, do not get left behind. Feminism is useless if it is exclusive. Moods towards feminism and social perceptions of the tag of ‘feminist’ are changing rapidly. And yet the apathetic and bleary-eyed are still among us, who have yet to wake up to the realities of feminism’s triumph, and it’s continuing necessity. So we need to tell them. Wake up, feel it. Talk, write, shout, sign, read, tweet. Do something: ride this wave, take advantage of the softening social perspective, the movement towards online discussion, and the feeling of community emerging. The time is definitely now.
Are you leading me on? Ailbhe Durkin takes a look at the movement towards new active feminist groups in Ireland and how the Internet has a key role in our generation’s interaction with activism - but can it foster unity?
reland is undergoing a new wave of feminism. It comes in stark contrast to the past long years of inactivity, since Mary Robinson came to hold the presidential office in 1990 and divorce became legal in 1995. Did Irish women believe that the feminist battle had been won? Whatever the reason, over two decades of complacency and silence ensued. However, recent developments indicate that this stagnation is over - the word ‘feminism’ is shaking off its braburning image and, as a political movement, gender equality is becoming one of relevance to men and women alike.
The Irish feminist movement has been reinvigorated by the revival of interest in such groups as the Irish Feminist Network and the National Women’s Council, along with the establishment of new organisations including the 50:50 Group, Cork Feminista, Turn off the Red Light and Women for Election. The young feminists spearheading this new wave of activism evidently have an overwhelming amount of energy, ambition and idealism and some are, as indicated by the warm reaction to the recent presentation of the parliamentary bill for the introduction of gender quotas, achieving groundbreaking results. This is an auspicious beginning for the ‘fourth wave’ of Irish activism, but the questions of where the movement should go next and of what its central focus should be remain to be addressed. The Irish feminist movement of the 1900s, pioneered by Hanna SheehySkeffington, focused on political franchise for women, culminating with success in 1918. Ireland’s feminism soared to great heights in the 1970s, headed by such iconic figureheads as Nell McCafferty and Nuala O’Faolain and rallied around the unifying causes of the right of access to contraception and forced resignation
from the civil service upon marriage. What then is our agenda, our rallying cause, to be? No dominant causes nor leading names spring immediately to mind, but rather a growing recognition of feminism as a legitimate and worthy cause and an everincreasing general rise in interest. Essentially, an upsurge in grassroots support is enough. So what will we try to achieve? Although the current burst of Irish feminism is to be welcomed, it appears that there is an overwhelming danger of repackaging the longexisting, generalised demands for equality, albeit tinted by modern rhetoric. From a historical perspective, Irish feminism has achieved great things. Statistically, however, glaring inequalities remain between the sexes. Irish women are paid on average 17% less per hour than their male counterparts, despite women consistently being the better-educated of the sexes. We are amongst the poorest performers in Europe as regards parliamentary gender disparity, and research conducted by the National Women’s Council of Ireland shows that the percentage of women appointed to State boards has seldom reached 40%, despite this being an official Government guideline since 1991. The National Women’s Council of Ireland was attacked in last December’s budget, with the government cutting funding by 35%. (Susan McKay, the Chief Executive at the time, resigned in protest.) Women have yet to exert full legal control over their reproductive rights and make up just 30% of all legislators, senior officials and managers, while the current unequal legislation regarding parental leave will only further serve to prevent this figure from notably increasing in the coming years. So then, in these facts and figures, it is evident to everyone that gender inequality continues to prevail over much of Irish society. These are the issues around which these new activists can rally. The internet - for groups such as
Illustration: Mice Hell
Cork Feminista, the IFN, and many independent feminist bloggers - has proven to be an indispensible tool that no preceding generation of feminists has had the privilege to use. The internet can be credited with making this current resurgence of interest in feminism both possible and more accessible. However, as great a tool as online discourse is, there could be a problem. The fact that the presence of this contemporary fledgling feminist movement is predominantly online begs the question of whether this type of action is any substitution for Sheehy-Skeffington’s dramatic, and effective, publicity stunts or the rousing demonstrations and marches of the 1970s. While the internet has enabled this current wave of activism to get off the ground at a breakneck speed (and indeed permitted a new forum for debate, facilitating the speedy exchange of ideas and organisation of one-off conferences and events) we must question whether it is sufficient, or is more than online activism required for a long-term impact upon the Irish social, cultural and political scene? This online publicity of events, groups, newspaper articles, statistics, facts, figures, opinion, and comment must also foster real-life activism. Clicking a button and reblogging content just might not be enough. The reality is that this modern-day online feminist revival is somewhat disparate and unconnected. Forums have created a conducive environment in which conversation and debate can take place and in reading the numerous blogs and discussion
boards online, Irish women seem to want it all, and now. However, it is important to recognise that a resurgence of interest in gender equality and achievements in the field aren’t necessarily correlated and there exists the danger that this upsurge in interest and energy will not be correctly harnessed to achieving tangible results that advance gender equality. The movement recognises that what is really required are fundamental shifts in our culture across a range of fields, including the content of laws, business practices and attitudinal biases. This is not a simple process, but one that needs a strong base of support and organised direction. The strong support base is discernible, and more accessible than ever, due to technological advances. Feminism in Ireland has successfully moved beyond being a political movement inciting ridicule and derision, and beyond the ivory towers of intellectualism and academia. It has adopted a contemporary sheen, making it an attractive, and arguably fashionable, cause with such a strength of support behind it that undoubtedly has the capacity to achieve lasting results. What appears to be missing is a clear agenda and decisive leadership. Rather than this being a criticism of the recent movement, it should be read as a challenge; this renaissance has abundant resources at its disposal and many issues to tackle. It would be a shame not to fulfill its maximum potential due to spreading itself too thin and overlooking the importance of clear direction and unifying aims.
of the Dáil seats are currently held by women.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin investigates the most pressing gender-related issues in current Irish politics, from the hotly-debated voting quotas proposals to the apathy of the Irish government in legislating for women’s protection
omen are grossly disadvantaged in Irish politics, both in the Houses of Government and on the ballot papers. Fact. Finally, with the Labour-backed quotas legislation, this issue is getting some attention in the Oireachtas. However, the proposal for a gender quota of 30% has been critically-received by both men and women. Some are, to put it bluntly, disgusting sexists. However, many are on the side of the angels; they agree with the end but have doubts about the means. They believe that introducing a quota demeans the achievement of women who succeed to political office. Furthermore, they hold the reasonable view that representation shouldn’t be dependent on sameness. Women shouldn’t only represent women, men shouldn’t only represent men, gays shouldn’t only represent gays, black people shouldn’t only represent black people. The list goes on. This method of representation, by someone like yourself, is known as “descriptive representation”. Is it a good thing? All other things being equal, probably not. In a world blind to gender, race, sexuality, age, and class, we would vote purely based on policy and be represented by those who held our views and whose abil-
ity we would trust to understand our experience. Of course we’re all opposed to quotas on a universal level, in that we wish they were redundant. However, equality has not been achieved, and we should not let our discussion of representation be derailed by an unrealistic vision of a gender-blind world. Women do not have the same opportunities as men in Irish politics. They are less likely to get nominated, they are less likely to get elected, they are less likely to rise to high ministries once they are elected. Those are demeaning and offensive truths, but they are truths nonetheless. While it wounds my pride as a woman to acknowledge them, my pride is less important than meaningful change in our political system. In a 2007 TED talk, the author Isabel Allende rightly insisted that “Women are 51 percent of humankind. Empowering them will change everything - more than technology and design and entertainment. I can promise you that women working together - linked, informed and educated - can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.” Voting for women and introducing quotas are not just symbolic gestures. Greater female representation will transform the very nature of our political system. The overwhelming masculine bias facilitates groupthink, it perpetuates old-boy politics, it undermines progress on issues
which primarily affect women and it harms the body politic overall. Twenty years after the X-Case, we are still waiting for legislation on the court’s ruling that a threat of suicide is justification for abortion. This is an
vast moral and social importance deserves discussion. Yet we still see this overwhelming legislative apathy, this reliance on Irish solutions to Irish problems. It has also been twenty years since legislation was introduced on human
Voting for women and introducing quotas are not just symbolic gestures. Greater female representation will transform the nature of our political system. affront to the woman we know only as X, now in her thirties, who was attacked by the Irish State in 1992, and continues to be betrayed by the same State. It is an affront to all of us. Whatever our stances on abortion, we must agree that an issue of such
trafficking and prostitution. The current legislation is intended to protect the plain people of Ireland from the evils of iniquity, so it prohibits the solicitation or sale of sex outdoors. Of course, in 1992 there was no popular use of the Internet. In the past twenty
Spotlight on Trinity
years, we have seen a vast growth in the sex industry. Women are trafficked, coerced into prostitution and horrifically abused. They are kept in apartments while their bodies are sold online. In the unlikely event of a Garda raid, the women are arrested while the buyers are sent quietly on their way. New legislation is vital. Why has it not been introduced? Once again, apathy, ignorance and the absence of strong female voices. Despite the horrifying proportion of women affected by sexual assault, we have yet to introduce meaningful and effective processes to reduce its occurrence: providing better sexual education to young men, reducing the stigma surrounding rape so that victims can come forward and, crucially, facilitating greater prosecution and conviction rates in the courts. In the DPP’s annual report this year, it was found that in the vast majority of rape allegations brought forward, a decision was made not to prosecute. This systemic failing essentially grants impunity to rapists, and negates the ability of the law to deter sexual assault. Instead, women pay a tax to try to avoid rape. We shouldn’t wear short skirts, we shouldn’t drink too much, we shouldn’t walk alone at night. These restrictions of freedom are acts of oppression against the female population, and it’s time that legislators recognised them as such. Descriptive representation is important because these are lived experiences. Nominal equality has, more or less, been achieved in the West. The inequality that persists is insidious, it’s invisible unless you look closely, and you can only fully know it when you live with it day in day out, and are worn down by it over time. It is impossible for someone who isn’t a victim of discrimination to empathise to the extent that they know the constant ache of that discrimination. Voting for women puts people in the Dáil who know the experience of pregnancy, who know the fear that comes with walking alone at night, who have experienced the petty exclusions – not being invited for pints or a golf game and the severe exclusions – not having their family lives facilitated by their employers and not being paid as much as their male counterparts. If you’ve experienced these things it’s very difficult to shut them out of your consciousness, or to allow discussion of those issues to be shut out of the political system. A critical mass of female voices will change our political culture. However, we’re currently faced with the infuriating dilemma of voting for women or policy (that is, in constituen-
cies where any women make it on to the ballot). In the recent by-election in Dublin West there were two female candidates, Ruth Coppinger (Socialist) and Eithne Loftus (FG). I definitely want more women in office but I definitely don’t want more Fine Gaelers or Socialists (at least at present when they’re simply baying for the blood of bankers). Yet I have to decide between candidates who don’t represent my ideals, and candidates who don’t fully understand my experience, or certainly haven’t behaved in a manner that suggests that they do. In the U.S., a liberal woman can’t reasonably be expected to vote for the virulent intolerance of a Bachmann or Palin just because they’re women. Ultimately, policy must decide our votes, identity politics can’t overwhelm general representation. I can’t bring myself to give first preference to a right-wing, homophobic, non-secular woman. Quotas will give women the option of voting for both the party they want and for a woman, which is impossible in a climate where we’re lucky to even get one woman on each constituency’s ballot paper. There is a collective responsibility for change through quotas, but also an individual responsibility to support female candidates as legitimate, whatever their political beliefs. To resist our cruel inclination to undermine female candidates not through reasonable debate, but through attacks on their hair, clothes, and voices. Dana and Mary Davis weren’t less intelligent than any of the other presidential candidates, they were just treated like they were. When women and men continually slur and undervalue female candidates, when we allow female candidates to consistently hover around the bottom of polls, we give parties an incentive to maintain their patriarchal nomination practices. The voting method I try to uphold is that when their policies are of equal value, I prioritise female candidates over male. Essentially, a Labour woman comes ahead of a Labour man, a Fine Gael woman comes ahead of a Fianna Fail man, Dana comes ahead of Gay Mitchell. One voter giving a slightly higher preference won’t change the course of a national election. But each additional vote, each additional transfer is a statement of belief in female candidates. When we back the woman rather than the winner it strikes at the mockery, the insults and the dismissal with which female candidates are so often met. And maybe that will change something.
With voting quotas in the papers, Hannah McCarthy has researched the corresponding gender disparity at the top of Trinity’s own societies.
hile many of us scoff at the Trinity Power List, the Naked Calendar and other such ego trips, it remains undeniable that the culture of student societies in Trinity has long acted as a breeding ground for many of the leaders of tomorrow. Edmund Burke, Bram Stoker, Conor Cruise O’Brien, David O’Sullivan (Auditor General of the EU), Mary Harney, David Norris, Brian Lenihan, and current government Ministers Leo Varadkar and Lucinda Creighton, have all lead or held top positions in some of Trinity’s largest societies. This is not an attempt at a conclusive study of any sort, but rather a conversation-starter on the relationship between gender and positions of power in Trinity. Each society in Trinity has its own distinct position, its own constitution and its own peculiar structures, but by narrowing an analysis of the gender of these societies to the overall committee breakdown – then, specifically, to that that of three positions of Chair, Treasurer and Secretary – this brief summation will allow an objective, albeit limited, comparison. This year, the five largest societies were the Vincent de Paul, The Hist, The Phil, Players and the Horse Racing Society. Of these societies, only one currently has a female as its Chair (the Hist), only one has a female Treasurer (VDP) – and no society has a female Secretary (although Players had one before their February AGM). While the Hist has a woman at its helm, the overall percentage of women on their committee is a low 36%. While the Phil has no woman in their top three positions, 9 out of 20 (a decent 45%) of its committee positions are held by women. The current Players committee similarly has no women in the top three but is the only committee in the top 5 to have a 50:50 male to female ratio. Women make up 43% of the VDP committee and 33% of the Horse Racing Society. The lack of female leadership in societies is of particular concern when you further widen the field of the top 5 societies to include the CSC, the SU, DUBES, Law Soc, Trinity Orchestra and Biological Soc. The Hist remains the sole society with a woman at the
top, a disappointing figure for a college with more female students than male. Overall just 30% of chair positions are held by women. A trend exists within most of the major societies of women occupying the “softer” positions such as Ents/Social Secretary or positions dealing with first years, whereas male students dominate the perceived “tougher” positions that deal with society finances and technical support. This year, the only females on the Students’ Union are the Welfare Officer, a position common seen as “female-friendly”, and the Education Officer – while Presidency and Communications continue with their tradition of being held by men. In society elections, the most capable and experienced candidates are often those seen to be most competent with the financial and administrative affairs of the society. As such, the distinct lack of women in positions such as Treasurer and Secretary would seem to have a direct impact on their upward progression to the position of Chair. A glance at the editors and deputyeditors of Trinity’s publications also provide some uncomfortable food for thought. Of the University Times, Trinity News, TN2 and The Bull, only Trinity News can boast a female editor. In the case of smaller publications such as Miscellany, Icarus, the Piranha and Trinity Film Review, two had female editors (namely, Miscellany and Trinity Film Review). While Trinity News, The Piranha and TFR all have “Boy-Girl” teams at the top, The University Times and TN2 each have a male editorial duo. Miscellany and The Bull have all female and all male editorial trios, respectively, at the top. While the pool of students who have both the talent and the time to fulfil these roles is accepted as limited and variable from year to year, the overall disparity between women at the top, or even near the top, in Trinity’s major societies and publications is still worrying. These societies have come to operate at an impressively professional level and provide a massive learning experience in leadership and management. The lack of females availing of the opportunities and learning that comes from leading a society is regrettable and the reasons and motives behind this phenomenon – as well as practical solutions to the problem – deserve a serious conversation. It’s up to us to finish that conversation.
‘Portraits made on February 13th, International Purple Hijab Day, at the Islamic Cultural Centre Ireland in Clonskeagh. Purple Hijab Day is an event initiated by Muslim women across the world in a stand against domestic violence.’ Photographer: Cáit Fahey
A Vision in Purple 12
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL By Darragh McCabe Illustrations: Mice Hell
overnments are starting to emerge from the revolutions, but the Arab Spring is far from over. Syria’s bloody stalemate worsens daily and protesters are once again taking to the streets in Egypt. The Spring has entered its second year, but the seasons are only now beginning to change. Meanwhile, concern is growing about the new, distinctly Islamist governments of Egypt and Tunisia and the substantial support political Islam is receiving in both Yemen and Libya. In the early days of the Spring we watched women and men join together in protest against the repressive regimes under which they lived, and it was easy to imagine a social, feminist revolution taking place alongside the political one. However, the Islamists are exhibiting
depressingly archaic attitudes towards gender rights and equality. Many in the Middle East continue to hold out for a new kind of political Islam to emerge, one that reconciles the values of Islam and democracy and is more suited to the modern world, especially after years of oppression by Western-funded autocrats such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. These leaders opposed the idea of an Islamic state, and there are signs that the political and social rights of women in particular will erode further under the new administrations. With this in mind, the future for women in Arab society is unclear. The rhetoric of the new governments, particularly the one led by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, emphasises a return to the fundamental values of Islam. Will an ‘Islamist Winter’ follow the Arab Spring? We’re all familiar with the discriminatory policies of the Saudi Arabian and Iranian governments, two regimes based upon Islamic Sharia law, and these newer regimes could certainly follow their example. Were the
revolutions like that of Iran’s in 1979, removing the Arab states still further from the ideals of a modern, secular and equal society, or will democracies in which there is a clear separation of church and state emerge? And even then – is Islam what’s stopping Arab societies from granting equal rights to both genders? As the new democracies stabilise, it’s important to pay attention to the broader social forces that may stand in the way of true equality. Before the Spring, Arab nations varied widely in their attitudes towards women’s rights. Tunisia’s 1956 Code of Personal Status made the state the most progressive in several respects, notably creating a judicial procedure
In spite of this, the country may yet prove to be the incubator of an Arab feminist revolution. Yemeni journalist Tawakul Karman, winner of part of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her “nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work,” in the words of the Swedish Academy, has been one of the country’s premier human rights activists for over five years. She helped set up the international organisation Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005, and has been a key instigator of the non-violent protests for general democratic reform that have comprised her country’s uprisings. This mood may be catching; the Saudi Arabian government’s response to its
for divorce and introducing the requirement of mutual consent in order for a marriage to be legal. The country remains exemplary in terms of education; more women than men attend university, for example. As regards politics, women represented 23% of the deputies of the House elected in 2004, a remarkable figure in the absence of equity laws. In Egypt, the status of women has been steeply declining
neighbours’ political unrest was to implement electoral rights for women in municipal elections, an unprecedented decision in a country with an undeniably shocking record regarding both gender equality and human rights. With all of this in mind, it’s perhaps easy to imagine that a feminist revolution, or, even, a general social revolution of which feminism is one part, is an inevitable corollary of the political one.
I emailed Nour enquiring if she could answer one or two questions; she flatly told me she’d answer three, because “Arabs can’t bargain.” since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s drive to modernise the country ended with his death in 1970. Women are particularly underrepresented in the workforce and sexual abuse is widespread and rarely punished. There had, however, been some development in recent years: in 2009 Hosni Mubarak enacted gender quotas in the assembly, resulting in 68 of its 508 seats being occupied by women. The need for change is most urgent in Yemen, the next country due to hold elections– it is common in rural areas for pre-pubescent girls to be forced into marriage, genital mutilation still affects over a quarter of the female population and there has only been one woman in parliament in the last decade.
There are some reasons to be hopeful: Tunisian elections have drawn praise from international observers in part because, by law, 50% of candidates were women, resulting in 25% of Tunisia’s constituent assembly seats being held by women. Tunisia may be the exception once again, however – although two of Libya’s twenty-odd new ministers are women, its’ interim government declared polygamy legal in late 2011, and the country’s draft constitution is based on strict interpretations of Sharia law. In Egypt, the egalitarian spirit of Tahrir Square is fading. Whilst women had crucial roles in the revolutionary forces, they have yet to gain political ground in the new Egypt. The
Muslim Brotherhood has abolished Mubarak’s gender quotas, reducing the number of women in the assembly to 5 out of 500. In recent weeks, bands of extreme Islamists distantly associated with the popular Al-Nour Party have been patrolling rural Egypt, vandalising beauty salons for encouraging ‘un-Islamic’ activity. The military council has been particularly harsh in its treatment of women, subjecting female dissidents to ‘virginity tests’ to intimidate them. In December, videos and images of army members beating and ripping the clothes off of female demonstrators were shared all over the internet. One particularly horrifying image of a woman assaulted and stripped to her bra has become iconic, the anonymous woman in question now a symbol of the thwarted dreams of Arab feminists. Nour Ali Youssef lives in Cairo and contributes a regular column, ‘The Peculiar Arab Chronicles,’ to the online edition of Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s magazine. The column is funny and irreverent in the magazine’s house style, but Nour is unusually candid about life in an Arab society. She makes a particular effort to show that the younger generations of the Arab nations can be as jaded as those of the West towards their politicians, their parents’ generation, and, indeed, religion; she describes the Muslim feast Eid as a festival of consumption occasionally equal in crassness to the worst of Christmas excesses, and suggests Shaggy’s vaguely sexist “It Wasn’t Me” as an anthem for the military-led transitional government. Her tone vacillates between mock Arab self-hatred and ironic self-awareness. I emailed her asking if she could answer one or two questions; she told me she’d answer three, because “Arabs can’t bargain.” It’s tempting to quote at length from our correspondence, as opinions like hers aren’t frequently aired in the West. She isn’t certain what will happen to the status of women once things finally settle down, but is absolutely clear on one point: “The issue with women in the Middle East isn’t just men,” she stresses, “it’s themselves... I often say that the reason Arab men are so bad is because Arab
women are even worse.” She insists that the anachronistic values of Arab culture have made a feminist attitude culturally unpalatable. “There are two things Arabs value most: tradition and religion, and they both stand strongly against the development of women.” Religion helps romanticise sexism, Nour insists, for reasons that are primarily pragmatic: Women represent the relation of the state to its heritage (they are seen as Egypt’s “delicate flowers,” she snorts), religion is inextricable from this heritage, and it’s religion that helps to keep the tribal-based systems of much of Arab society together. The Muslim Brotherhood’s election program called for equality insofar as women’s “duties” towards the family unit and the state aren’t affected. Female members of the Brotherhood, ‘sisters,’ denounced the 3,000-woman strong protest in response to the ‘blue bra’ incident, pronouncing it “disrespectful for a woman’s dignity to be on the front line.” Nour’s tone is doleful, and with good reason; it’s not just Islam that stands between the Arab world and gender equality. There is a more fundamental discrepancy of power between the sexes, bound up in certain aspects of Arab culture. In 1950s Tunisia, a high degree of gender equality was achieved, and maintained, due to political pressure - Habib Bourguiba wanted the West’s financial support. The strong nationalism behind the Arab Spring uprisings, along with the baggage of cultural reform, have seen the Muslim Brotherhood describe as their goal a return to the ideals of Islam and the Arab heritage. The place of women in society is almost like an enabling metaphor for both of these endeavours, with the ideologies of modernisation and Islam respectively used as justification for political activity. Nour’s point of view may be tempered once life in Cairo settles down. The Arab Spring might not have been enough to significantly alter the place of women in society, but these revolutions may prove to be the first of many. The resurgence of Islamism is not the main issue, however, as Arab society needs to change in a fundamental way before real equality can come about.
We Made It
T by Megan Nolan Illustrations: Isadora Epstein
he beginning of courtship is a web of minor lies resting on a foundation of one great lie: the pretence of friendship. Here we see two recently bathed people touring coffee shops and parks, a foot of space carefully guarded between them. They are suddenly aware of the numerous ways in which their manner of leg-crossing and drink-sipping can be stupid. They want to laugh charmingly at even the flattest joke, but how wide a grin is too wide? Does it make her cheeks look fat? His nostrils flare?
my hair even though J-17 had warned me this was a “tell”. I maintained eye contact in what I can only assume was a frankly bizarre manner, because I imagined that maintaining eye contact for long periods of time was what sexy adult women did. Officially, we were friends, but with my real friends I ate pizza in bed and watched Embarrassing Bodies. My friendships do not generally include a horror of being seen consuming anything less restrained and ladylike than a glass of water. That was another fun characteristic of these little outings, an inability to eat anything ― or, if I could bring myself to order something adorably feminine like a cupcake, to eat it in annoyingly tiny, bird-like increments. “How daintily she eats her small portion!” I imagined them thinking, “I MUST have her.”
I used to notice with disgust how my speech pattern and intonation would change when I was talking to boys I liked. I instantly went up a pitch and began to raise the end of sentences into Valley Girl-ish questions. I fondled
Every inane, painfully casual move contained some coded portent. I remember lending my then-boyfriend a book (strictly Observer Review section approved, obviously), and before giving it to him writing my name on its
inside cover in what I hoped to be “attractive handwriting.” ATTRACTIVE HANDWRITING. This excruciating, exhilarating time ― which lasts until you breach arm rest territory during a film you pretended to want to see, or get drunk together ― bears little relation to actual friendship. This period will be of surprisingly little help to you when it comes to being friends with the person after you break up with them. When I was broken up with, I wrote sassy little notes to myself in my diary: “If he thinks he can just be FRIENDS with me now, he’s wrong!” etcetera. All these sad, damp scribbles hope-
lessly trying to claw back some control. It was the first time I had really been broken up with since I was fifteen. I never felt any real danger in pursuing people, though I occasionally feigned insecurity for the sake of propriety ― bowing my head like a saint, waiting for the inevitable reassurances. I had always done the hurting, which worried and pained me in its own way, but was nothing compared to the hot shame of outright rejection. Never before had someone I loved sat me down and told me they no longer loved me. I wasn’t prepared for the blow to my pride. I
was supposed to be the one who got antsy and ran away. That was my thing. The arrogance makes me cringe now, but I kept thinking “How dare he?” over and over. I wanted nothing more than to make him twist and burn like I did. I also wanted him to think I was immediately, breezily over it. In an ideal world I wanted him showing up at my window crying while I had thin sex with a handsome stranger. I was vindictive, but in a quieter part of my brain I knew that he was too special and singular a person to let go of. I knew I would want him to be my friend. If Present Megan could give Past Megan some advice, I
with which I was handling the situation? That blend of worldly nonchalance and wry humour with which I was uniquely blessed? Carefully, I concealed the livid patches on my face which betrayed all the nights spent forcing myself not to think of him, thinking only of wine and more wine. We met, and for a while performed a grotesque facsimile of the formal courtship chat. It was almost funny, except it wasn’t funny at all; at some point I abandoned trying to appear carefree, felt tears spring in my eyes, muttered “I can’t do this” and that was that. He looked at me gravely, with a profound pity which still makes me flinch to remember. We agreed we wouldn’t try it again for some time. We left each other with an awkward hug, all the parts not touching announcing themselves louder than the parts that were. I crossed the road, and looking back saw him duck into an alley and hold his head in his hands briefly. And then he steadied himself and walked
ing of him as a friend. To my continued surprise and delight, he became one of my dearest. My friendship with him is distinctive amongst my others. I find there is an element of all our cards being on the table which makes a big difference. The ugly fear which niggled away beneath all my petty jealousies ― the fear that someone would look me in the eye and tell me they didn’t want me ― had been realised, and I had survived. I can tell him anything, because I’m no longer concerned about what he is going to think about me. It’s incredibly liberating. Aside from that, there is also the inescapable fact that he knows pretty much everything about me. Here is someone who has adored me, and seen me at my worst, who has borne witness to all my grubby little insecurities and flaws, seen every inch of my fallible body, and still wants to know me. Our friendship is a smooth spot, a moment
In an ideal world I wanted him showing up at my window crying while I had thin sex with a handsome stranger.
would say: “That is a good idea. Wait a while though. Get up in the mornings and try to go to work most of the time. Enjoy those West Wing box sets. In a few months you should give him a call.” But Past Megan was impetuous and unhinged. I wanted it all to happen immediately. I wanted to be able to text him all day again. Essentially I wanted to go out with him again, which I renamed “wanting to be friends”. The first time we met after breaking up, I spent hours deciding what to wear; how best to convey the winning insouciance
away. Eventually, though, whether you want to or not, you tend to start living your life again. I sort of relished the idea of wallowing forever and never forgiving him, but after a while I just didn’t have the stomach for it. There was only so much ill will I could muster towards somebody I hadn’t spoken to in three months. I had started going out with someone else, and so had he. Instead of acidic sadness, I had begun to merely feel curious when I thought about him. We cautiously began to meet again. We were still a little stilted, but all the barely concealed passive aggression was thankfully gone. Gradually I stopped thinking of him as the Bad Man Who Hurt Me, and started think-
of calm amid the constant messes I make elsewhere. It’s calm and low-key we don’t see each other all the time and it’s no big deal if one of us cancels. I never worry that I’m contacting him too much, or not enough. In the immediate aftermath of our break up, I wrote: “Life seems to be a constant process of forgetting. You get something good and then are forced to forget it, because living with the knowledge of losing something perfect would be too painful.” I feel incredibly lucky to be friends with him; to love him in this new way which is so easy and safe - to have not had to forget him.
Histoire Photography by Dargan Crowley-Long
Constance Markievicz was an Irish politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist. In 1918, she was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, though she declined to take her seat. There is statue in her honour on Dublinâ€™s Tara St, where she appears alongside her beloved dog Poppet.
The Modern Working Woman - In 1998 women made up 38.6% of the Irish workforce, which rose to 41.8% in 2005. In 2012, the Irish Times published a study revealing that 87% of Irish women express satisfaction with their working conditions. The gender pay gap in Ireland is slightly below the EU average of 17.4%.
The 1970s feminists: A small group composed of women journalists and political activists began to hold meetings in cafés and flats in Dublin during 1970 and a new movement took the Irish media and the Irish public by storm. The Irish Women’s Liberation Movement was born while Dr Thekla Beere’s Commission on the Status of Women was still in session and still preparing its report.
Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was one of Ireland’s foremost suffragettes. She founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908 with the aim of obtaining women’s voting rights.
Edna O’Brien and Maeve Brennan were important Irish female literary figures. Edna O’Brien (left) Ireland due to moral outrage at her work’s frank depiction of sex. Maeve Brennan (right) told the stories of the mid-20th century Irish diaspora to America.
70’s Women in Media
Model: Katherine Reidy Outfit: Dress, Shotsy vintage €33 Jacket, Lucy’s Lounge €30 Gloves, models own Hat, Lucy’s Lounge €25 Japanese Pearls, Om Diva €35 Make-up artist- Joyce Silva
Model: Emma Sutton Outfit: Hat, The Harlequin €49 Skirt, The Harlequin €39 Jacket, top and faux fur all stylists own Make-up artist- Anca Condrache Thanks to Gussie the dog and his wonderful owner Lizzie Kwee.
Edna O’Brien Model: Deirdre Kilbride Outfit: Dress, Lucy’s Lounge €30 Plastic 60s Chain, Om Diva €38 Japanese Pearls, Om Diva €35 Shoes, stylist’s own Maeve Brennan Model: Audrey Whyte Outfit: Dress, The Harlequin €98 Earrings and shoes, stylist’s own Make-up artist (for both looks)Gilly Hopper
Model: Jill Woodnutt Outfit: Jumpsuit, Chica €142.99 Necklace, Chica €45 Make-up artist- Joyce Silva Model: Laura Cunningham Outfit: High Waisted Trousers, Om Diva €55 Blouse, Om Diva €20 Make-up artist- Anca Condrache
Modern Working Woman Model: Ali Fynes Outfit: Blazer, pants, shoes, t-shirtmodel’s own Collar- made by stylist Make-up- Amanda O’Dwyer
siren Review Goodbye Feminazi, Hello Feminista
By Fleur Moriarity
Country Alyson Henry reviews Red Kettle Theatre’s production of The Country Girls.
utumn of 2011 saw the first ever stage adaptation of Edna O’Brien’s 1960 novel The Country Girls in the Gaiety theatre in Dublin, with a run also in the Garter Lane theatre in Waterford. When first published, the sexual escapades of O’Brien’s protagonists Kate and Baba were deemed so offensive by the Catholic Church that copies of the book were burned. The novel contemplates sexuality and the lack of freedom faced by Kate and Baba, two young women grappling to establish a sense of identity in a stifled setting. O’Brien has said that in writing The Country Girls she strove to locate the dark “underbelly” of Ireland’s rural, religious society. The question is - fifty two years on from a story in which young women discover their sexuality in nylons and red lipstick - whether or not her characters’ issues and struggles resonate today. Mostly, the play does justice to the
novel. Under Mikel Murfi’s careful direction the cast capture the energy and wit of the book, cycling and dancing and careening across the stage. Holly Browne and Caoimhe O’ Malley were well chosen as the two girls, sweet-natured romantic Kate and fiery, brazen Baba. Designed by Ben Hennessy, the set is minimal, with a faded backdrop of greens, beiges and creams suggesting countryside landscape. At the front of the stage is a large statue of the Virgin Mary. O’Brien’s story takes place trapped between the landscape and the looming figure of the Virgin, neatly symbolising the religious and rural barriers Kate and Baba face. One weak spot of the play is its attempt to touch on too much of the novel’s expansive plot, making it at times feel slightly rushed. This is evident in the scene in which Mr Gentleman and Kate undress in front of each other, in anticipation of Mr Gentleman taking Kate’s virginity. Unfortunately, the intimacy and sexual tension in the novel (created by the text’s rich back story) is absent from the scene, making for potentially awkward viewing - particularly for those audience members who aren’t familiar with the original, as it could be construed as a gratuitous nude scene
instead of a device to highlight Kate’s naivety and sexual innocence.
The Country Girls represents a rejection of the oftentimes at best confused, and at worst repressive, attitudes towards sexuality in Ireland. It is the damaging notion of the “loose woman” that lies at the heart of the connection between The Country Girls of 1960 and gender inequality today. Ireland is still confused; a lot of women grapple to locate themselves within the limitations of Irish sexual norms. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same - especially in good old Ireland. How far have Irish women really moved on from Edna O’Brien’s novel? I don’t see Baba and Kate’s struggles as irrelevant to Ireland of today. The Country Girls might not provoke any riots nowadays but its examination of repressed Irish sexuality, and women trapped by it, is regrettably not a thing of the past. Well worth a trip to the theatre.
The Country Girls, produced by Red Kettle Theatre Company (www.redkettle.com), returns to the Gaiety on the 28th May and then moves on to a national tour.
s writing a review of a vastly successful book a futile exercise? Most of us have seen Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman perched atop the bookshop’s Bestsellers shelf for months now, a Book of the Year sticker proudly slapped on the front. If you have heard about this book, then you know it is a terrific read. So I thought, instead of giving you a proper critique of this book, I’ll just give you ten reasons why, if you haven’t read it already, you have to read it now (in no particular order):
1. It’s HILARIOUS. 2. It is wise and down-toearth. It’s not exclusive, it’s not scholarly and it strips away some of the daunting elements of modern theoretical feminism.
3. It is about gender equality, not gender supremacy.
4. It is so accessible that a
13-year-old could read, enjoy and learn from it although, that said, I’m not sure mothers would want their 13-yearold child near it, which brings us neatly to my next point...
5. It’s FILTHY.
It is the only feminist book I’ve ever personally come across that the men in my life have also enjoyed.
7. It awakens the hidden
feminist. I didn’t realise I was a feminist before I read this. Every woman who reads this book will be what Caitlin describes as a “rampant” feminist forever! And EVER!
8. It clears up a lot of misconceptions about abusing labels and misusing the term “feminism”.
It takes the fear out of being a feminist. The more people who read this book the less fear there will be for girls like me to unashamedly describe themselves as feminists.
10. This book gives you
one more reason to get out of bed in the morning and do something great with your life: to show that women can be brilliant, intelligent and successful and can, if they wish, have metaphorical balls bigger than any man. If you read this book you will surely come across many other reasons to read “How to be a Woman” but I fear I will spoil it for you if I go any further. Just pick it up and read it! It might just be the best thing you ever did -for yourself and for womankind. You can thank me later.
siren Review The play’s examination of homosexuality is also notable as, although the subject is obviously ever present, it never comes to dominate the play’s discussion of the nature of love and relationships. be due to the fact that even within the context of the play the central construct is not what the audience is actually receiving, something which is underlined by its use of specifically theatrical conceits, such as the switch in the actors’ positions which usually signals a scene change. These are very minor quibbles with
what is indeed a very impressive production. I Heart Alice Heart I is on the whole an unsentimental yet highly emotive work, which manages to deftly examine a singular relationship and its changing contexts, while at no point sublimating the two recognisably human individuals at its centre to these concerns.
Photo: Emma Burke-Kennedy
Wonderland Michael Barry reviews I Heart Alice Heart I by Amy Conroy which recently appeared in the Peacock Theatre.
fter a well-received run at the Project Arts Centre, Amy Conroy’s I Heart Alice Heart I has just completed a brief stint on the Abbey Theatre’s Peacock Stage. The play ostensibly tells the story of an elderly lesbian couple, both of whom are called Alice. Both Alices have been caught surreptitiously kissing in the aisle of a supermarket by a playwright, who subsequently engages them to go on stage to tell their story to a wider audience. The play is set up as the result of this encounter, with Alice Slattery (Clare Barrett) and Alice Kinsella (Alice Conroy herself) taking turns to relay the tale of their decades-long courtship. I Heart Alice Heart I is chiefly remarkable for the abilities of the two women charged with driving the performance. The play’s format as a series of duelling monologues means that it lives or dies on the strength of its two central actors, and both Barrett and Conroy excel as the ageing lovers. Both performers manage to communicate genuine feeling for one another, even though both are positioned at opposite sides of the stage for a substantial part of the play. Both performances result in the creation of fleshed out, parochially neurotic characters, without being too selfaware of this process. They are helped in this respect by Conroy’s own superlative script, which allows for nice human touches like the occasionally overlapping dialogue. The play’s examination of homo-
sexuality is also notable as, although the subject is obviously ever present, it never comes to dominate the play’s discussion of the nature of love and relationships. The chronologically varying contexts and discourses on homosexuality are at times alluded to, but mainly in relation to how they impact on the central relationship. The play’s most explicit treatment of the theme in isolation comes during Conroy’s out-of-character admission at the end that, although everything that the audience had been told up until that point has been fictitious, she wrote this play as people like both Alices do exist. The play’s refusal to deal with the general at the expense of the personal also means that it successfully carries off quirks like closing on “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, which in any other production would cast doubts over whether the writers had any greater experience of homosexuality other than having watched an earnestly soundtracked BBC4 documentary on the subject. The production does have some small problems. Despite the overall quality of the performances both Conroy and Barrett do occasionally come across as overly mannered. This is most jarringly obvious during the sections of the play in which both are supposed to act nervous. Here the subtlety and finesse of the dialogue is let down by both actors engaging in over-vigorous leg jiggling or ever-so-slightly hammy goldfish mouth movements. The play’s overall framing device and how it relates to the final reveal feels a bit pointless too, possibly due to its overall irrelevancy to what makes the play so powerful. This may also
Deirdre Kilbride reviews Miss Representation which was recently screened by the Irish Feminist Network.
well as insightful observations from an array of academics such as M Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita t’s all about the Effect. body, not about the brain.” Ari- Have we heard all this before? True, ella, a remarkably articulate young there are few new or shocking revelations in the film’s compact one and high school student interviewed in half hours. Instead, its meditation on Miss Representation, thus sums the insidious sexism of the media inup the depiction of women in con- dustry is likely to have many viewers temporary American media. This nodding grimly in recognition of the is the crux of Jennifer Siebel’s 2011 status quo. The real target audience documentary: the distorted de- is impressionable teenage girls who piction of femininity presented to have been hothoused in this culture Ariella and her peers, and its warp- and need to be jolted into recognition ing of their perception of them- of the pernicious bias that underlies selves and their role in public life. much of the media they consume. Their worldview is filtered through Miss Representation is not without a media lens which divvies up feflaws. The audience is pelted with male politicians into “bitches” and reams of statistics and quick-fire visu“ditzes” - and Hollywood stereo- als, which compete with sound bites types of supposedly empowered from talking heads rarely allowed women who are often, in reality, to more than a few seconds of screen quote one academic interviewed, time. The ultimate effect of this audi“fighting fuck toys” for men’s titil- ovisual bricolage is to over-stimulate lation. Self-objectification is now a the senses to the point of numbness. national pandemic. Another issue Occasionally, Miss Representation deftly highlighted in the documen- trips over its own earnestness and tary is the resulting negative effect stumbles into irony, as in the case of its interview with director Catherine on young women’s political self Hardwicke. Hailed in the documenefficacy. At age seven, boys and tary as a role model, a voice for augirls in equal numbers aspire to thentic women’s stories in a profesbecoming president of the United sion dominated by men, Hardwicke States. Fast-forward to age 15 and happens to also be the director of the a vast discrepancy has taken hold. first Twilight film – hardly a paragon The film features contributions of subversion in terms of exploding from some of the most powerful negative gender norms. Petty qualms and successful women in politics, aside, Miss Representation is an imbroadcasting and the entertain- portant chronicle of an unacceptable ment industry, including Condo- trend in contemporary culture. Required viewing for all teenagers - male leezza Rice and Nancy Pelosi, as and female.
Put ‘Em Under Pressure
By Cathal Wogan
s Saturday morning breaks across Ireland, children stir and rise at school-going hour. They have things to do. Not even a generation ago, these children would be divided along the lines of their sexuality. Girls would be brought by their mothers to what is amusingly referred to as “Irish” dancing, while their male siblings would prepare to dive around a muddy field physically hurting their peers under the proud eyes of their fathers, all in the name of sport. Maybe the girls didn’t do Irish dancing; maybe it was a speech and drama class or ballet. For a brief period in the midnineties it could have been line dancing, as ridiculous as that was. Some girls did gymnastics, and some went to play hockey. Things are a little different now. Certain sports have traditionally been seen as almost exclusively male: soccer, rugby, gaelic football, hurling, and a significant handful of others. The wise barstooler will be able to tell you that any sport that is watched more than its played is a pillar of patriarchal grandeur. There will be a hot December before we see 80,000 people in Croke Park for the All-Ireland ladies football final - but the fact is, young girls are now taking up historically male-dominated sports in their droves.
the age of 15 still active in team sports at 20-years-old according to ESRI/Irish Sports Council statistics. Frances Stephenson, herself the first female chairperson of a GAA club in Wicklow, says that the drive to recruit girls at a young age is partially a practical measure to combat the teen drop off. “The research shows that by the time girls are getting to a certain age, a large percentage of their teammates will leave team sports. Those who want to keep playing can no longer play with the boys so they end up with no team to play for, which is a waste,” she says. “Everyone is making a real effort to get as many girls active as possible, so that more can play at adult level. The GAA itself are promoting it, and it’s a topic that’s in the news. And it helps that parents aren’t so precious about their little girls getting hurt by flailing hurleys anymore.” Of course, it would be remiss to suggest that sporting institutions are the sole catalysts in the surge of female association with team sport, just as it would be nonsensical to subscribe to the idea that third-level institutions are responsible for greater female participation in higher education. These monumental social shifts over recent generations are not merely the results of “leg-up” programs; they are due to the social, economic and political mobilisation of women. The GAA and Trinity College have not advanced opportunities for women so much as the quest for gender parity has necessitated and enforced that change over a period of time.
On any given Saturday morning in 2012, despite driving gales or biting rains, young girls across the country are swinging hurleys against each other’s shins or kicking lumps out of each other for possession of a football. Social history is not being completely written off – sales of pink hurling helmets are thriving – but there is a certain air of conscious gender redress to be seen in certain sporting organisations.
The classic gesture wheeled out by apathetic instruments of government and hollow sporting initiatives in past decades was that girls needed exercise too. How infinitely weak this was and, indeed, still is when it is peddled. Not only did it carry the classic implication that the female was secondary, it also suggested that their involvement in sporting activity could only really be for their well-being and not a pursuit of excellence. Try telling Katie Taylor that.
The GAA has been a shining example. There have always been camogie and ladies’ football teams, but now clubs in every corner of Ireland are accommodating much greater numbers of young female members from nursery programs up through the age groups. In most cases girls and boys play together when they are young, often as long as sexual dimorphism allows.
Katie Taylor (pictured) is undoubtedly Ireland’s greatest boxer. She has won every international amateur competition there is to win in her 60kg weight class. She is undoubtedly the favourite to win gold in her class in the upcoming Olympics, the first Olympic Games to feature women’s boxing. And she’s a full international in soccer, her second love. She is not in sport for exercise.
At that splitting point, between the ages of 14 and 16, there is a significant drop in participation levels in team sports for both sexes. That withdrawal is particularly significant for females, with less than a third of those competing at
Taylor could have turned professional at any point over the last three or four years. She could have made a lot of money boxing in the US and, whether she takes gold in London or not this summer, one would expect that she will
be chased by big promoters to turn professional again. But the Olympics are the biggest stage of human sporting achievement and that is what she has been waiting for. When she does win that gold – which she will – she will still only be in her mid-twenties. Even within our own walled academic paradise, women are excelling across many athletic fields. If we take the example of the Dublin University Harriers (DUHAC), we can see women not just participating, but excelling. “We’ve got in excess of 250 members, over half of which are women,” says Garrett Dunne, DUHAC’s Club Captain. “There are those that compete internationally, some really amazing athletes, right down to those who are in it just to keep healthy. “Ciara McCallion (track), Bryony Treston (cross country), Becky Woods (cross country) and Natalya Coyle (modern pentathalon, pictured) are some of our female members competing at a seriously high level. They show really well against some very tough international competition. You couldn’t tell them that women are second class competitors. “But the non-competitive membership is just as important. The Club gets a lot of interest from people who just want running partners. If anybody wants to get out and active, if they want to work up a sweat and be healthy, more power to them. We’re really proud of our female members, just as most Trinity sports clubs are.” There has been a monumental shift
but the barstooler is still correct, to a certain degree at least. I know myself, from covering national soccer in a professional capacity, that male and female sports draw completely different crowds. On a Friday evening I might be in the Tallaght Stadium to cover a Shamrock Rovers League of Ireland game with 4,000 screaming fans. Yet on a Sunday afternoon their Women’s National League (WNL) team might only draw 200. Teams at the top of the WNL, Peamount United and Raheny, wouldn’t get any more than that. Peamount United briefly grabbed public attention and that of national media organisations last autumn with an unexpectedly good run in the Women’s Champions League, Europe’s premier club competition. That attention indicates that hackneyed arguments about quality of women’s sports are not without their counterpoints; top-level competition gets people going. That will be best demonstrated in pubs up and down the country this August, full of people screaming, “go on Katie, punch her face in, do it for Ireland!” The spectacle of success that Katie Taylor’s excellence could bring may only be brief. It may only be an exception to the barstooler’s observation. The fact remains though, that true quality and achievement will always break down some of the remaining gender barriers in the sporting sphere - but Katie is not only an exception, she is exceptional. And it has always been the exceptional that pave the way for progress.
S By Rónán Burtenshaw Illustration: Sadhbh Byrne
imone de Beauvoir once remarked that, “it is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.” As feminism enters 2012 the political conditions see a new wave of critique challenging the prevailing order. A year of global revolt against plutocracy and economic injustice may not have produced much systemic change – or always been expressly feminist – but it did have a tangible effect on the political climate. 2011 percolated streams of alternative thought through the hegemony. It swept away some of the established boundaries to acceptable discourse. This generation of young people grew up in one of the most limited political landscapes in history. It was the era of post-politics and we were the children of Fukuyama. Being born at the ‘end of history’ meant that the questions of how to organise society had been definitively answered. All that remained was to tinker with the system that had prevailed in the natural selection of politics past. As Frederic Jameson said – it was easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the market economy. We came of age when the market – unhindered by criticism or opposition – had grown in influence. There had been a time, in the period after the Bretton Woods agreement, when efforts were made to tame the mar-
ket’s more exploitative qualities. There was a recognition that a system based on the drive for profit, and the incentive for exploitation in each economic unit, was inherently unstable and disposed towards injustice. Regulation and oversight were put in place to price in externalities and try to prevent catastrophic failures. Social services and security were ring-fenced by a welfare state to provide protection against hardship. Rights were afforded to workers and international bodies were established to co-ordinate relations between states – moving them away from pure competition and towards forms of co-operation. Then came the crisis of the 1970s. The doctrine of neoliberalism emerged - theorising that restrictions on markets and excessive power of labour in relation to capital had brought the system to a grinding halt. To solve these problems an aggressive application of market principles was advocated, accelerating under the governments of Reagan and Thatcher. These policies continued with economic globalisation and the rise of corporations. Today free-market ideology is ascendant – imposing marketbased solutions to a market-initiated crisis as the state retreats. So, what has the hegemony of the markets got to do with feminism? Feminism – in attempting to address the structures and processes of the patriarchy - has always been a movement of blasphemy against power. But it has also interacted with and been
shaped by the prevailing political currents. The First Wave, with the struggle for suffrage and equal rights, came in the battle for self-determination and civil rights of the early 20th century. The Second Wave, its sexuality and liberatory rhetoric tied in with the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. At the start of the 1990s the women’s movement adapted to the reduced sphere of political conversation – producing in post-politics its own postfeminism. The market’s position of supremacy was beyond question – in politics, economics and popular culture – and so feminism developed to be wedded to its doctrine. Women were to seek progression within the system and an emphasis was placed on a return to the de jure issues of the early 20th century. Gender quotas, parity of representation and civic equality were the path to full equality. Post-feminism tried to work within the system without challenging the centre of its power. And, after twenty years, it’s worth examining the results. Women are still enormously under-represented at the political level. In the economy the gender pay gap is still more of a chasm: 2010’s Europe-wide report produced by the Belgian Presidency showed a 24% annual differential between men and women in comparable positions. Women are still sexualised by the patriarchy and subordinated by a misogynistic, masculine culture: he’s still a stud, she’s still a slut. And we’re not sure if she has a right to control her own body. On top of all this, violence against women and sexual violence are as big a threat to women’s safety today as at any time in recent memory. The patriarchy endures. Social organisation that produces such unequal results, so clearly favouring men over women, is still the enemy for feminists. The market economy is the most important centre of power in our patriarchal societies and a new generation of rebels and radicals have emerged to challenge its dominance. Isn’t it time the women’s movement joined them in stepping beyond the restrictive confines of postpolitics? Post-feminism was the marriage of the women’s movement and the market. It hasn’t worked out. And, if feminism is to renew its confrontation with the patriarchy, it’s time for a divorce. De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex may have gone out of style in the postpolitical era, as did many important works dealing with archaic ideas like ‘equality’, but it retains importance in the discussion of women’s interaction with markets. “The flow of capital shapes our culture, politics and economy,” it says. And, when this flow is controlled by men, the disposition of the society will be towards men’s interests. Free-market ideology doubles down on this patriarchal relationship – it doesn’t just enable men to own most of the wealth and control the flow of capital, but creates a moral argument to justify it. The market is a free and fair game, we are told, and those in positions of superiority have earned it. Attempts at equalising its disparities are theft, interference by the democratic institutions of the state are illegitimate. It’s important we understand how and why market processes enable the patriarchy. Market economies are structured by supply and demand. Demand is the desire for a product backed up by the ability to pay for it. (It has little relationship to need. One millionaire’s desire for lunch creates more demand than the six million children who die each year from starvation without the means to pay for food.) Within any given set of conditions supply is the amount of a product producers can and will sell at a said price. The interaction between these is our mechanism for assessing economic value and, more importantly, shapes the society we live in through the investments and purchases that are made. Why does this matter to women? Well, at both ends of the dynamic, it’s men who are in the positions of power. Of the 100 wealthiest people in the world in 2011, according to Forbes, only eight were women. And every woman on the list had inherited a company or a fortune from a father or a husband. 2011’s Fortune 500 featured only twelve companies with women CEOs – and just three (Angela Braly at WellPoint, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo and Irene Rosenfeld at Kraft) were in the top 50. In an increasingly corporate-dominated economy that’s who’s doing the supplying. Patriarchy means male rule, male privilege and female subordination – and in the economic aristocracy of the 1% that’s exactly what we’ve got. Men’s money shapes the society women live in. It bankrolls many misogynist processes – from sexualisation to male-structured workplaces, and from the
early imposition of gender roles to prostitution and human trafficking. The trade in women, as Ruhama CEO Sarah Benson reminded us on RTÉ’s recent documentary Profiting from Prostitution, is a “market-led trade”. How can feminism – a movement predicated on women’s ability to define themselves – remain in wedlock with a society shaped by men’s money? To illustrate just how this marriage is subordinating women to men’s interests it’s worth asking who is in control of society’s concept of sexuality. There is an important, and often overlooked, difference between self-expression of sexuality and being sexualised. Sexualisation is having someone else dictate to you the definition of your sexuality. Where the market economy is concerned it’s about using women’s exploitable capital to make profit for men. In a society where important judgments are made based on people’s capabilities and achievements it’s meant to make people forget about the ideas in women’s heads and look at their bodies instead. Self-expression of sexuality is strongly associated with the ability to be selfdetermined. In this system money and power shape the choices and opportunities we encounter in our lives. Those in closest proximity to capital – be it economic, social or cultural – are the rulers. Those furthest away are the ruled. Social privilege dictates that the p o w e r is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of wealthy, white,
How can feminism remain in wedlock with a society shaped by men’s money?
straight, able-bodied men. If you are of the subaltern race, nationality, sexual orientation, physical capacity, class or gender your ability to define yourself is gravely diminished. Capitalism enables the powerful and disciplines the powerless. For women this means a tendency towards being sexualised instead of expressing your own sexuality. It means the woman pressured into dressing scantily to meet cultural norms rather than expressing her sexuality because it makes her confident – in her own time, with her own rules. A patriarchal culture will always seek to perpetuate the notion that woman is made for man. Feminists must believe that men attained their grossly disproportionate share of capital because of systemic injustice. Otherwise how could you believe that women are men’s equal? And they must know that as long as men retain this position, and use it to shape society, we’ll always live in a patriarchy. In the mid to late-twentieth century the debate between moderate and radical feminists centred on whether to seek equality within this system or work towards a newer, more equal one. “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?” asked Gloria Steinem. “The master’s house will never be dismantled by the master’s tools,” replied Audre Lorde. Feminism may decide to seek equality within the system or be part of building an alternative. But both of these paths now run through the market. We have arrived at one of those periods that shape history – an opportunity to recast society amid the turmoil. If women want to create a world without patriarchal objectification, sexualisation, exploitation and male privilege they have to pursue power to its lair. They have to grapple with the gross gender inequalities of the market. Neither the capitalist system nor the men who possess its capital are going to give up their positions of superiority easily. Genuine feminism has always been a struggle, though. Already divorced from the interests of women the market today is the husband’s paycheck – the malevolent financier of the patriarchy. It’s time that the women’s movement served it the papers.
The Boo Hag is Siren’s resident agony aunt. She is a regional version of the globally pervasive Hag Myth, originating in the Gullah culture of South Carolina. Boo Hag sheds her skin at night and sneaks into houses through tiny cracks, positioning herself above helpless sleeping victims in order to suck their breath from them. Older than time, she is infinitely wise, and there is no situation beyond her expertise. Find out more about Boo Hag at http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Boo_Hag.
Dear Boo Hag, I have been going out with my boyfriend for 8 months. We are very much in love, but even though he always tells me I am beautiful, I still feel that I am too fat and not good enough for him. We always fight about this but I can’t help it, please help. BB
Dear BB, Every woman faces self-image issues at some stage in her life. It’s impossible not to. Media and advertising bombards us with an unrealistic image of what a woman is supposed to look like, but in truth, everyone’s body is different. The advertisers prey on our weaknesses in order to sell us products that will make us “better”. It’s a cynical ploy. It is not up to you to conform to anyone else’s standard of beauty and besides, it sounds like you’ve found a man who loves you for who you are. The next time you fall asleep in his arms, transfix him with magic and suck his vitality from him through his mouth. Boo Hag
Dear Boo Hag, I am 20 and for a year I was seeing a 22 year old who goes to college in England. We broke up last November after I found out he’d been cheating on me with girls he met on nights out 30
in Uni. The problem is, I still love him. He says he loves me too, but I don’t know if I can believe him after what happened. Is there any chance for us? FL
Dear FL, Relationships are built on trust and it seems like the trust in your relationship has been broken. It’s not impossible to rebuild it and, though it will be difficult, if you truly love him, you could consider giving the relationship another go. Maybe he’ll have realised exactly what he’s missing and grown up in the time you spent apart. But you should also be on guard. Maybe he was never as into you as you were into him. Follow him from a distance on his next college night out and if he brings a girl home, capture them both in your deathly stare and suck their very life’s breath from them. This will energise you and make you strong as you move on in your life to men who truly deserve you. Boo Hag
Dear Boo Hag, I think I am falling for an older man. I am 19 and he is 33, but I think he really has feelings for me and I can’t imagine liking a guy my own age any more. They all seem like boys compared to him. He’s handsome, confident and wealthy, and I feel really important when I am
with him. My friends hate him and think he is using me for sex. They think I should break things off, but I really don’t want to. He says he is serious about me and I believe him. What should I do? JC
enough to provide you with the energy to zip through the sky at night as you return to your skin before the sun rises. Boo Hag
My boyfriend’s breath stinks and I have no idea how to tell him. Help! AC
An age gap, especially one as big as this, can create a lot of problems in a relationship. How do you think your parents will react if you bring him home to visit? And more importantly, if he is as serious about you as you think he is, have you considered whether or not his priorities are different to yours? You are 19 and while you may be wooed by his self-assurance and money, he might have medium-term plans that are very different to yours. Do you know what you want to do with your life? You might want to travel or further your education or get started in a career in the next few years, or maybe all three. He might want to settle and have children, and he might have expectations of you in that regard. I recommend having a serious talk with him about how you’re feeling before you proceed any further. Also, the older the man, the less energy it is possible to suck from him as he sleeps by drawing his breath from him. It won’t be a problem for a while but think about how it might be when he is 40 and you are 26 – his breath might not even be
Dear Boo Hag,
Dear AC, This is a dealbreaker. Break up with him. Boo Hag
The Boo Hag inhabited the body of Karl McDonald in the sharing of this advice. Illustrations: Mice Hell
Dates for your
International Women’s Week 2012 in Trinity College Dublin
March 5th 1pm Front Square:
Fly a Kite for Women’s Rights – International Women’s Week Launch organised by DU Amnesty and The Equality Office. Kites will be provided to celebrate the launch of IWW 2012 with Vice-Provost Linda Hogan. Kite flying in Afghanistan was banned under the Taliban rule; yet while women and girls can make kites, they still do not have the freedom to fly them. The kite symbolises the discrimination that still confronts those women.
6pm Room 21, Museum Building: Women’s Studies Today organised by the GSU. Current postgraduate researchers read two twenty minute papers exploring themes of femininity, sexuality and gender while highlighting the continued relevance of gender and women’s studies to society and the academic community. Followed by Q & A. For more info email Vicepresident@GSU. TCD.ie
7.30pm The Atrium: Siren Launch Party supported by the TCD Equality Office. To celebrate IWW 2012, Siren Magazine, a new student magazine focusing on gender-equality issues, is being published. All are welcome.
12pm Resource Room, GMB: Building Bridges: A Celebration of Traveller Culture with the VDP Traveller Women’s Group. Join the VDP Traveller Women’s Group for tea/coffee and really tasty sandwiches in a celebration of Traveller Culture.
6pm MacNeill Theatre, Hamilton: ‘For one more hour with you’ (Un’ora sola ti vorrei) film screening organised by the Italian Society. Touching on themes of mother-daughter relationships, female solidarity and the
March 6th & 8th 1-4pm Ancillary Hall A, Sports Centre:
Free Self-Defence class with Judo Club and DUGES to help women learn some basic pointers to defend themselves against physical and sexual assault, two classes are being held during the week.
7-9pm Robert Emmett Theatre, Arts: Shadows and Lights: Women in Irish Visual Culture – Panel Discussion organised by the TCD Equality Office and Art History Department. Chaired by Dr Angela Griffith, Art History TCD; Performance Artist Amanda Coogan, Art Historian Isabella Evangelista, Professor of Visual Computing Carol O’Sullivan and Architect Ruth O’Herlihy aim to create new levels of awareness of women’s contributions to Irish visual culture.
March 8th All Day:
Trinity FM ‘Women on Air’ an all-day campaign seeking greater representation of women’s voices on radio.
12pm Front Square:
significance of gender in Italian society, director Alina Marazzi attempts to reconstruct the
Cancer Soc Pink Ribbon. Cancer Soc will be attempting to form a giant pink
early life of her mother. Preceded by an introductory talk by Emer Delaney (Department
ribbon to raise breast cancer awareness with the help of volunteers in pink
of Italian and Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies).
t-shirts; all proceeds go directly to Irish Cancer Society.
7-9pm Edmund Burke Theatre, Arts:
2pm Front Arch:
Feminism in literature talk organised by DUGES. Talk on representations of gender and feminism in popular literature. Speakers include Anna Carey, a journalist and contributor to The Irish Times and the Anti-Room blog, and Nora Pelizzari, a Ph.D student in English Literature.Q and A session and reception to follow.
Step into Her Shoes with DU Amnesty. The men of Trinity will walk around campus in women’s shoes to raise awareness against sexual violence and for women’s rights. All funds raised will be given to Amnesty International.
6-8pm Hist Conversation Room, GMB: Forum on Sexual Assault organised by the TCDSU Welfare Office and The Hist. Ivana Bacik cis hairing a discussion with Jacqueline Healy of the National Women’s Council and Clíona Saidléar of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.
8pm J.M. Synge Theatre, Arts: A Mother’s Role in World Peace - talk by Cindy Sheehan, Peace Mom, about her role, and the role of the mothers of the Cuban Five in world peace, and the Irish campaign to free the Cuban Five. Organised by DU Amnesty.