It’s one of the defining moments in Irish history. A tight-lipped, proud in defeat Padraic Pearse stands stiffly in front of an almost farcically relaxed General Lowe. It was Easter Monday 1916 and the leader of a disastrous uprising had surrendered unconditionally after just four days. It’s a good photograph but there is one thing very, very odd about it. There are three people but eight feet. Elizabeth O’Farrell was actively involved in the 1916 uprising and stood proudly by Padraic Pearse’s side as he delivered his surrender. However, the conservative media of the time didn’t think it was appropriate for a woman to be seen outside the home and erased her from the photograph, but left out – or left in – a tiny pair of details. Nurse O’Farrell’s disembodied feet remain in one of our best known historical photographs as a reminder of all our forgotten heroines.
This is the centenary of the year that gave us our trade unions. Led by James “Big Jim” Larkin, the workers organised and went on general strike for better pay and conditions. The employers then united and locked-out all of their unionised workers. The dispute went on for four months and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) is usually the only group to be credited for the events of 1913. But if behind every great man there is an even greater woman, it follows that behind every army, or union, of great men, there must be an army of greater women.
The Irish Women Worker’s Union (IWWU) was set up in 1911 with the aim of not only winning better working rights for Irish women but also of fighting for the right to vote and to improve women’s status. Within weeks of setting up, the IWWU was involved in a dispute over pay in Jacob’s Factory, one of Dublin’s largest employers. A key figure in the dispute was Rosie Hackett, at the time just 18 years old, who organised and galvanised 3,000 workers to come out in strike. The workers won the dispute but two years later Jacobs tried to force three young women to forsake membership of the IWWU and remove their badges. Their refusal cost them their jobs but arguably initiated the strike of 1913, as by the end of the day over 1,000 workers had come out in sympathy. Dockworkers then refused to handle any of Jacob’s “tainted” goods. It was this event that catalysed the general strike in 1913, showing that the workers would unite and stick together. And during the lock-out, a city of starving workers were kept fed and alive by women who manned soup kitchens in Liberty Hall – in fact, the general health of the average Dubliner improved during the strike despite the terrible hardship, on account of the soup kitchens.
One hundred years on from 1913, it’s time to remember our forgotten heroines, and give them the credit and the thanks we owe them. There is a campaign to name the new bridge over the Liffey after Rosie Hackett (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rosie-Hackett-Bridge-Campaign/109664749219687?fref=ts
) and an IWWU commemoration committee has been set up (www.womenworkersunion.ie
I wrote my play “Scabs” to remind people of how brave the striking workers of 1913 had to be, and of how much they suffered in the hope of winning better rights for their children. The play’s female character, Nora Casey, is both very much of her time and very much ahead of it. She is feisty and passionate, a leader with the IWWU. But although she is a strong and respected leader of women, she could never, due to her gender, lead men. At one point she asks a male trade unionist “So you don’t mind the women organising – as long as we’re organising a [soup] kitchen for the men?” Despite being brave and very intelligent, she works as a factory girl. Due to her gender and lack of class status, she had no other choice, apart from prostitution. She is a suffragette and prepared to take a stand for rights for her and her daughter, but her own family, even her female relatives, don’t support her. Nora fights for rights for her daughter, but her own mother wishes more than anything that Nora would stop “makin a show of herself on the streets.” Her husband, also a trade unionist, is utterly devoted to her but will never understand the desperation that drives her, simply because he can not comprehend how Nora’s gender has held her back and hurt her. She loves him, but she refused to take his name when they married, and is not afraid to talk back. Despite her love for her daughter, it’s hard to tell if she would have chosen to have children or not, had she been alive later when that choice was possible.
Nora Casey is not real. I made her up. But I made her up in the likeness of women like Rosie Hackett and Delia Larkin, women who weren’t afraid to stand up and speak out at a time when women were told to be silent. She is my tribute to the brave women whose faces and names have been forgotten, but to whom we owe so, so much.Naomi Elster Scabs runs from 4th-6th July in the Pearse Centre, Pearse Street, at 8.30 pm. Tickets are €10/8 and are available from the 10 Days in Dublin box office Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/292368224232739/ Follow Scabs_play on Twitter
At least 80,000 people killed. Children detained and tortured. Civilian populations targeted. Bread queues bombed. Rape as a weapon of war…
Each of these snippets is enough to make the blood boil. Unless we’ve heard them before… unless we’re warned that accompanying reports may be ‘unverified’… unless we’re too concerned with our own insular issues… unless these atrocities happen in one of those places where women wear hijabs and deaths are approximate numbers, devoid of names or faces.
What does it say about us, ‘in this modern day and age when we have instant access to information that we as, citizens of the world, can look away as millions of people suffer’? This was the question posed by leading Syrian activist and campaigner for women’s rights Rafif Jouejati (1), speaking on RTE Radio 1’s ‘Drivetime’ on 22 May 2013.
Later that evening, she addressed a public meeting at the National Women’s Council of Ireland, chaired by Ellen O’ Malley Dunlop, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (2). At this event, Rafif focused on the situation facing the women of her country. She spoke frankly about the prevalence of rape as a particularly chilling aspect of the Syrian war, telling the audience ‘if we don’t talk about the ugliness we become complicit’. The details were horrific: gang-rapes, often in front of family members, the insertion of metal implements or rodents into victims’ bodies. The sexualised torture not only of women of all ages, but also of children – both girls and boys – and of men held in detention. The frequent killing of victims, the incineration of corpses to eliminate evidence. The impact on survivors, within a society in which the stigma associated with rape often leaves victims afraid to talk about their ordeals.
Rafif also discussed other threats faced by Syrian women whose lives are at daily risk due to the fighting. She admitted that all sides had committed offences. However, she described how, from the outset of the initially peaceful uprising in 2011, the regime of president Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for the worst atrocities and human rights abuses. How, for instance, regime forces have used Scud missiles to attack residential neighbourhoods. Rafif stressed how the inaction of the international community has allowed such oppression to continue. In addition, she highlighted the plight of women and children who have fled Syria – the thousands living in refugee camps, often without adequate sanitation and nutrition.
Listening to Rafif was a personal challenge. Her words took me back to my days as a student activist while the war was raging in Bosnia in the 1990s. During this time, I met my husband – a Bosnian who had been seriously injured in Sarajevo and who was evacuated to Ireland for medical treatment. The current situation in Syria evokes many parallels with the Bosnian conflict, not least in the use of mass rape as form of terror. As the mother of three young Bosnian-Irish daughters, these resonances are all the more disturbing.
But how, as women in Ireland, can we respond to this assault on our sisters in Syria? Or should national issues be our main concern? Are feminists too Western-oriented to care? Do Syrian women not count? Can we, female ‘citizens of the world’, ignore their fate? These questions have plagued me since... ‘How to be a woman’ (as the popular book proclaims) and knowingly let this happen? What shade of feminism is deep enough to speak against war-time rape… in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or any other half-forgotten conflict? What can we DO? I can just share a few links to organisations which may be able to offer more concrete support, in particular, the Irish Syrian Solidarity Campaign. Some useful broadcasts and websites are also listed below. Perhaps, through raising awareness and taking action, we can make our own small responses to this crisis. Otherwise, Rafif’s assessment rings terribly true: ‘never again’ has become ‘oops it happened again’. Links:
Irish Syrian Solidarity Campaign Facebook Page,
Esperanza Audio report on the visit of Rafif Jouejati, RTE Radio 1 Drivetime radio show - Wednesday 22 May: Syria – ‘Rape as a Weapon of War,NWCI - Rafif Jouejati Visits Ireland,Dublin Rape Crisis Centre - Rape as a Weapon of War, Human Appeal fundraising cycle in aid of orphaned Syrian children - 6 July 2013,
Women Under Siege Project,International Rescue Committee - Syria Refuge Crisis. (1)Rafif Jouejati is the Director of the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria (FREE-Syria - an NGO dedicated to women’s empowerment ), an official representative of the Local Coordination Committee in Syria, an executive committee member of The Day After project: Supporting a Democratic Transition in Syria and a member of the emerging Syrian Women’s Network (see NWCI link) (2)Thank you to the NWCI for hosting this meeting and also to DRCC for showing their concern in relation to Syria and for all they have done to support victims of rape in the Balkans.
By Bronagh Ćatibušić
Bronagh Ćatibušić holds a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics and is a lecturer, a developer of language learning resources and an academic writer.
One of our supporters has written a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent:
"To the Editor of the Irish Independent,
While using your website for my daily news update a sub-heading on the menu took my attention.
Clicking on it, it brought me to a page titled ‘independentwoman.ie
As a 19-year-old Irish female I feel the need to question this website and its placement on the Independent website. The website includes celebrity news, fashion, beauty, diet and ‘Love&Sex’. I am sure there are many women who would love these topics but they are not for me. In relation to women I’m interested in women’s rights, women in business and in sport. None of this is featured on the website in front of me. If I had wanted to read the topics provided I would have clicked on Lifestyle.
I decided to investigate further and went to the Irish Times website. They have no such ‘Woman’ sub-heading . Any topics similar to what are on the Independent’s Woman website are placed under ‘Lifestyle’ – where I expected to find them.
I do not intend to completely write this website off as a sexist creation with no place in our society. I am merely questioning its place on the website and its intentions. I do like some elements of the website such as the articles written on relationships and feminism in celebrity culture but it is missing a more open view on women. Are women not interested in business and sport? If a man wishes to read about fashion, beauty, diet or even sex he must go on to ‘Women’s’ website or surf through the badly laid out ‘Lifestyle’ section. Where is the ‘Man’ website with all the masculine things men are only meant to read about like cars and sports?
I hope this letter makes you think of how the website is laid out or you even begin to rethink about how women are portrayed in your newspaper. We are not all hooked on Fashion and Celebs. Women are more complex than the sub-topics on your website.
Leaving Cert Student."
On Friday, Broadsheet.ie featured an opinion piece about abortion that was published in the Wexford People newspaper last week. While the article has received national attention and astute criticism from the Broadsheet readership, discussions of a woman’s right to choose in forums such as this are a case of preaching to the converted.
The Wexford People should be made aware that opinion pieces such as Walsh’s are not simply inflammatory and biased, but derogatory and potentially damaging to women.
Walsh believes that the availability of abortion ‘on demand’ could create a situation where “women could be free to have an abortion in all circumstances if they unexpectedly became pregnant. For example, a woman might be due to go on an exclusive foreign holiday but an unexpected pregnancy could interfere with her plan and how she might look on the beach. Or there could be an unexpected pregnancy in the run up to a family wedding, ruining the chances of fitting into a very expensive dress.”
Walsh’s representation of women in this paragraph illustrates what low regard he holds them in. He discusses abortion as if it is a cosmetic procedure akin to liposuction, painting women as vain and self-absorbed creatures who live in a world of ‘exclusive’ holidays and ‘very expensive’ wardrobes. While it may be unfashionable to talk about ‘misogyny’ and ‘patriarchy’ in contemporary Ireland, Walsh’s views are patently those of a conservative misogynist.
While it may not be possible to change Walsh’s stance on abortion, it is essential that he is made aware of the inappropriateness of his comments. Regardless of personal opinions, religious convictions or moral positions on the abortion debate, the women of Ireland deserve to be treated with at least a modicum of respect that is conspicuously absent from Walsh’s article.
I have emailed the editor of the Wexford People expressing my concern about this article; perhaps you could encourage others to do the same. Read the original Broadsheet article here
And you can get the editor of the Wexford People by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
and by telephone on 053 9140100
Síona Finlayson is a recent graduate with a BA in Sociology and a strong interest in gender issues.
On Friday, the Criminal Justice (Sexual Services) (Amendment) Bill was introduced to the Dáil. This bill, if it is passed, will criminalise the purchase of sex from prostitutes. Thomas Pringle TD certainly has strong feelings about it, attesting that “gender equality is not achievable while women are for sale,” and that “when people make a conscious decision to purchase the body of another human being to do with it what they see fit, that is unacceptable human behaviour, which should not be tolerated or accepted as the norm”.
Discussing how to deal with prostitution is difficult. The debate very quickly gets hijacked by people who either miss the point or intentionally bury their heads in the sand and start grandstanding on the morality of the sale of sex as a commodity. This is a philosophical point. It does not matter. What matters is that people are being trafficked here and live out their lives in conditions too horrendous for most of us with a voice to debate to even imagine. It’s time to wake up and face the fact that most prostitution is sexual slavery. Sex with a prostitute is most likely rape. I have never heard the “it’s their choice” line from anyone who works with sex workers on the ground – in their experience the woman who 'genuinely wants to exchange sex for money' does not exist. There's always some level of coercion, addiction, desperation. And even if there are some women who do genuinely work of their own free will, helping them to find another source of income in order to protect the many women who are working against their will is what any decent society would do.
I used to be very much in favour of decriminalising and regulating prostitution. I thought it was the way forward into a society where women would be more empowered and that having everything open and legal would ultimately halt trafficking and afford sex workers more protection. That isn’t the case.
Prostitution isn’t about morals, or liberation, or particularly about sex. It’s about money. Sexual slavery and human trafficking will continue for as long as they are profitable, and the clearest way to mitigate them, and the best way to protect more women and girls from horrendous lives, is to decrease profitability. The only way to do that is to decrease demand by making sure there are consequences that will make people think twice before stepping into the red light district. On a purely moral level, we all know that to have sex with someone who lacks the capacity to say no is utterly wrong. There’s no way to be sure that a prostitute is acting of her own free will, which means there’s no way someone who uses prostitutes can say he is not guilty of rape. Being forced into sex, howsoever it is done, is humiliating and degrading, and in the truest terrible meaning of the word, utterly violating. Having sex with a woman, very likely underage, who has more than likely been forced into having sex with you – even if you are not directly doing the forcing – is rape. And paying for both the privilege of abusing her and the privilege of not having to admit that that is what you are doing is a crime worthy of far more than a four-week jail term, the strictest punishment meted out by this bill.
In 1999 Sweden, admirably progressive, criminalised the purchase of sex. In five years, trafficking fell 41%, and the price of sex fell – a sign that demand was dropping and profitability of exploitation was plummeting. How does Amsterdam, poster child of the leagalisation and regulation movement, compare? Very badly. Brothels were legalised in Amsterdam in 2000. Ten years later underage girls are still being pimped out, trafficking increased following legalisation, and despite a decade of free, regular healthchecks, STI’s including HIV have not decreased in brothels.
If we legalise the purchase of sex we will normalise it, and that will increase demand and profitability. The argument that this bill “will drive the industry further underground” is rubbish. It’s already underground. Sex traffickers already find their way around laws and regulations across international borders. It is hard to see an extra layer of regulation stopping them from redoubling their efforts if prostitution is normalised and the market suddenly increases. They will only stop when the profitability falls so low that it’s no longer worth the risk.
Even if regulation works, there will always be things that legitimate organisations won’t be able to provide, such as sex without a condom on punters positive for STI’s and HIV, and underage girls. Traffickers will specialise to these areas, making an already horrendous situation even worse. In fact, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins noted that at a seminar organised by the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign
, former prostitutes “often misrepresented their age to clients because the younger they pretended to be, the busier they became. The demand led nature of prostitution in Ireland creates a sinister market of men who desire underage prostitutes.”
I welcome this bill, but I am concerned it doesn’t go far enough. Much prostitution comes down to organised rape, and for punters to get at most a spot fine or four weeks in jail is grossly disproportionate to the wrong they do. Ireland has a history of making great laws which are never enforced, and of diluting down said laws with dubious loopholes. For example, since 2008, it has been illegal to buy sex from someone who has been trafficked – but with a handy loophole whereby the purchaser can claim that he didn’t know the person had been trafficked, it’s difficult to see this new regulation having any impact whatsoever.
And it won’t be enough to simply decrease profitability. We need to make sure we have the resources and the will to get women out of prostitution if they want out. Independent TD Mick Wallace said that for many prostitutes “sex work is their only source of income and their means of providing for their families. Criminalising their clients will put these sex workers at increased risk of poverty, and lead to further stigmatisation and marginalisation.” This is a completely unacceptable cop-out. Mr Wallace must surely know that if his government was functioning, no woman would be placed in such desperation in the first place.
His statement is an admission of failure.by Naomi Elster-------------
Naomi Elster is a scientist and a writer. She is currently researching more effective ways to treat breast cancer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, supported by the Irish Cancer Society. She is deputy editor of HeadSpace, a non-profit mental health magazine distributed for free to service users of psychiatric wards and mental health support centres. Her play "Scabs" will run as part of this year's 10 days in Dublin festival on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July in the Pearse Centre, Pearse Street. She blogs at http://nothingmentionednothinggained.wordpress.com
Opinion: Despite her status, Thatcher did nothing to help improve the lives of women
References to Margaret Thatcher
habitually prompt familiar questions regarding her status as a trailblazer for women, or, indeed, as a feminist icon who dispelled myths of female fragility and victimhood.
However, despite her remarkable political career and unscrupulous imposition of unpopular policies, t he Iron Lady was no feminist.
Thatcher acknowledged as much, once asking, “the feminists hate me, don’t they?” only to provide her own response: “And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”
The record on Thatcher and feminism, therefore, could not be clearer . Despite her pioneering leadership in the male-dominated world of politics, she did nothing to improve the lives of women . In fact she espoused the very ideology and values that entrenched disadvantage for women and a host of other historically marginalised people.
In her 11-year reign as prime minister she appointed only one woman to cabinet, and while announcing that the battle for women’s rights had been “largely won”, she refused to invest in affordable childcare or to increase child benefit. As working mothers were demonised for raising a “crèche generation”, Thatcher gave the impression of ditching cabinet meetings to rush home and get the dinner on the table for her (millionaire) husband.
In doing so, she made sure not to trample on the obviously contradictory but impeccably maintained construct of womanhood she had created: the ruthlessly individualistic career woman with an old-fashioned love of Victorian values.
It is this vision of womanhood and her legacy of “I’m all right Jill” attitudes and behaviour that have denied Thatcher a place in the pantheon of feminism, for feminism is fundamentally a social justice movement that works toward the empowerment of women.
By espousing certain values, such as solidarity, justice and equality, this movement seeks an end to the exploitative system of patriarchy, which benefits only the elite. Thatcher had no intention of improving women’s lot, nor did she adopt feminist values. Madeline Albright
once said that there is a special place reserved in hell for women who don’t help other women. The statement’s admonition of precisely the kind of self-serving anti-feminism Thatcher displayed is laudable, and serves as a useful reminder of the obligations we have toward each other in creating more equitable societies where women and men can thrive alongside each other.
On the other hand, there has been much talk of Thatcher’s death in a tone that is mistakenly triumphant and mocking. Some of this has been distinctly gendered, with graphics and slogans such as “ding-dong the witch is dead ” making the rounds on social media.
While it is understandable that people suffering poverty and stigma as a direct consequence of Thatcher’s flawed policies should feel relieved at her departure from this world, it is unclear why her death should present a triumph.
Triumph can only be claimed when one has actually done something to claim victory, yet Thatcher died of natural causes, and not at the hands of some heroic defender of the people she subjugated.
And yet, it is this casting of her in the role of Bond villain that feeds into the present triumphalism, as her death is viewed as the ultimate victory of good over evil, of the oppressed over the oppressor.
Thatcher was, of course, superb in her role, snatching milk from children, closing shady arms deals, eradicating entire industries, crushing unions, further enriching the rich, labelling anti-colonialist and anti-apartheid movements “terrorist ”, waging an unnecessary but politically expedient war, and allying herself with some of the worst dictators known to humankind.
However, by reducing her to a pantomime villain, we remain closed off from what philosopher Hannah Arendt
called “the banality of evil” – that is, evil that is systemic, carried out not necessarily by fanatical individuals but by followers of a certain ideology in a routine manner.
Given that much of what Thatcher presided over remains familiar today – high unemployment, increased inequality, ever-growing riches for an elite, austerity – we would do well to counter evil in all its guises, and to work toward more equitable societies, thereby achieving genuine triumphs and espousing a true feminism. Clara Fischer
is a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network
. As part of the Equality Budgeting Campaign, the network is holding a seminar on equality in economic policymaking on April 20th .This article first appeared in the Irish Times, 12th April 2013https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/iron-lady-was-a-self-serving-anti-feminist-1.1357706
If you can have your friend sit in your kitchen
with troubles piled, not knowing what to do
and ease her cares and help her just by listening
and know that she would do the same for you
If you can lend your voice to joy and laughter
and sing and dance to some old blissful song
but keep your wits when facing a disaster
and know when something's right and something's wrong.
If you can keep your head above the water
when everywhere the tides against you rise
If you can weep whenever tears are called for
but know that thought and action there applies
If you can put aside your own ambitions
and find the means, long after he is gone,
to feed and clothe and house your child or children
when you don't have the will to carry on.
If you can trust yourself and your decisions
but of your own mistakes you are aware
If you can walk with pride amidst derision
which seeks to put you down and keep you there
If you have taken blows and cuts and kickings
and struggled to maintain your self esteem
and rose to get out with your meagre pickings
and dared to be so bold as still to dream
If you can do six things in sixty seconds
and fix and build and organise and run
If you can light the torch when justice beckons
and fight until the fight is o'er and won
If you can summon all that you must summon
to pass a day in quiet dignity
Then, the chances are that you're a woman
and more that this no earthly form can be.
by Jean Cross
Careful now, as the residents of Craggy Island might say: the Irish State is sponsoring threesomes for teenagers. Was it for this? cried whistle-blowing politicians. Was it for this? cried afternoon radio callers. Was it for this? cried the bones of Éamon de Valera as they creaked and shuffled into an entirely new position.
The alarm was rung by Michelle Mulherin, the Fine Gael TD whose previous claims to fame include the perceptive observation that “fornication” is “probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies”. Mulherin stumbled – who knows how – upon an article on the website SpunOut.ie which explained what a threesome involved, listed some possible pros and cons, and suggested precautions. (“You’ll need to change condoms if you are switching partners during the threesome”; “only do it if you want to do it”).
But SpunOut.ie is no common internet den of fornication. Instead, it is a partially State-funded service offering a broad range of information and advice to young people. Themes covered include not only sexuality but mental health, bullying, employment, and drugs.
Armed with the necessary outrage, Mulherin brought SpunOut’s orgiastic fantasies to the attention of Health Minister James Reilly. In dour terms, the latter agreed that the piece in question was “not the appropriate sort of information that the State should be putting out there”, and pledged a review of the service.
So far, so Father Ted. However, Mulherin’s most recent foray into the murk of Irish sexual mores may have been useful, albeit not in quite the way that she envisaged. Inadvertently, she has raised an important point: just what sort of sex education is the State actively providing?
Precious little. A global survey released last October indicated Ireland’s atrocious statistical record: almost 30% of people report leaving school with little or no formal sex education. For the remaining 70%, there tends to be a quasi-exclusive focus on heterosexual vaginal intercourse as the gateway to pregnancy and STIs (with an honourable mention for oral sex as an alternate gateway to the latter). Anecdotal evidence suggests that, often, even these limited lessons still come laced with a cocktail of “Catholic guilt” and euphemistic dodgery.
So what sources of knowledge are left? Friends, books, magazines and television all rank as influential, but the internet is the real goldmine. For teenagers – pace Mulherin – do not live in a curriculum-sanctioned vacuum. Questions such as “How does a guy give another guy good head?”, “Can girls enjoy anal sex?” and – yes – “What do you do in a threesome?” are typed into search engines every day. Sometimes they are typed in by those who have an admirable dedication to research but have yet to locate one willing kissing companion, yet alone two simultaneously willing coital ones. Sometimes they are typed in by people who are urgently, pragmatically interested in the answers.
What search results are likely to appear, aside from the bould SpunOut.ie? Swathes of porn sites, obviously, and online versions of “lads’ mags” and “women’s interest” glossies.
It goes without saying the most of the porn in question is not exactly sex-positive, body-positive, consent-celebrating stuff. The online magazines, much like their print counterparts, are as sharply gendered as an average underwear department; their sex advice is as flimsy as the laciest contents of same. One memorable study showed that readers found it next to impossible to distinguish quotations on sex drawn from lads’ mags (sample: “Go and smash her on a park bench”) from those voiced by convicted rapists. As for the girlie glossies, Cosmo’s most recent effort presented both sides of a debate on whether women should sometimes have sex just to keep a partner happy. “Sometimes we’ll agree that I’ll ‘take one for the team’ and he’ll be quick”, wrote the proponent of this method. For a teenage female reader, that’s a far and anxious cry from SpunOut’s emphasis on awareness and consent.
For sex is neither good nor bad, but consent – or lack thereof – makes it so. Through all its permutations, the one thing that sex ‘should’ have is the informed, enthusiastic consent of everyone involved.
The recent Steubenville rape case in the US is an awful illustration of what can happen when adolescents, not to mention the adults around them, fail to understand this principle. Here in Ireland, the Relationships and Sexuality resource package currently available for Senior Cycle teachers contains one section dealing with rape and sexual assault, but offers no guidelines as to how consent might be ascertained in specific situations. If the State is to worry about its sex education – and it is high time that it worried – then this is the kernel that it most needs to address.
What Mulherin does not recognise is this: by not funding more sex education programmes and resources, the State is effectively promoting porn sites, magazines and hearsay as the privileged sources of guidance. Its inaction does not keep young people from the wackier outreaches of the sexual world; it lets them ramble into those outreaches without the compass of a healthy consent framework.
We can and should provide practical, encompassing, inclusive information on sexuality in all its messiness and diversity. We can and must underpin that information with frank discussions of what consent means and how to make damn sure that everybody’s giving it. Threesomes or none, SpunOut.ie is heading in a positive direction in this regard, and forms a useful homegrown complement to excellent websites like Scarleteen.com. It’s not nearly enough, though. More of this sort of thing.
- Emer Delaney
Emer is currently studying for a PhD in Italian & Gender Studies.
On Wednesday, March 20th, UCD Women’s Studies hosts renowned sociologist, Prof. Hill Collins for a public lecture
entitled ‘Where do we go from here? Intersectionality and Social Justice’. Prof. Hill Collins specialises in critical race theory and feminist theory, and is perhaps best known for her work on intersectionality, that is, the notion that people are often subject to multiple and mutually reinforcing disadvantages based on gender, race, or class, for instance. Below, Prof. Hill Collins discusses some of the key themes of her work.CF: You have spent many years as an educator, scholar and activist exploring issues of social justice and inequality. How would you describe the relationship between grass-roots activism outside of the academy and change-making within academia?
PHC: I just published a book titled On Intellectual Activism where I take up these themes in depth. In a nutshell, the ties linking grassroots activism and the academy were much closer during periods of social movement activism than they are now. Universities are increasingly run like businesses, and do not see themselves in the business of addressing social justice themes, unless those themes can be recast in light of a particular university’s business model. This creates new challenges for social justice activists both inside and outside universities. I address these themes in my book On Intellectual Activism, especially in the Introduction where I make a distinction between speaking the truth to power and speaking the truth to people. Both forms of truth telling can occur both inside and outside the academy.CF: Many will know you from your work on Black feminist thought and intersectionality. What has been the impetus behind much of this work, and could you explain what you mean by Black feminism and intersectionality?
PHC: The impetus behind this work was being able to read books that I should have been able to read. I also have a strong belief in social theory done by people on the bottom. In an era of decolonization and desegregation, the best ideas about social justice come from these locations, not necessarily from people who are positioned at the top. Why would people who experience social inequalities of race, gender, class, nation, ability, sexuality, ethnicity and religion expect people who benefit from these systems of power to have any vested interest in developing social theories that would undercut their privilege? I believe in our power to think for ourselves.
The areas of scholarship that have taken most of my time in this task of “theorizing from the bottom” are Black feminism and intersectionality.
Black feminism is a social justice project advanced by African American women and their allies in defense of the interests of African American women. Black women as individuals need not claim an identity as an "oppressed" person, yet each Black woman grapples with varying aspects of domestic and global social structures that routinely place Black women as a collectivity at the bottom of the social hierarchy. In this context, African American women have characteristic experiences that catalyze recurring political responses to their oppression in the U.S. context that may resemble and differ from that of Afro-British women, or African women in Nigeria, or women of African descent in Venezuela. Although Black women's political responses carry different names, in the U.S., Black feminism constitutes one generally accepted term that emerged in the late-twentieth-century to describe these oppositional political and intellectual responses. This grounding of U.S. Black feminism in African American women's quest for freedom positions Black feminism as a social justice project within a broader array of similar intellectual and political projects. Quite simply, if African American women were “free,” there would be no need for Black feminism.
As a working definition, intersectionality constitutes an analytical lens on the social world that examines how social inequalities are organized, endure and change. Some key ideas that reappear across intersectionality as a field of inquiry are (1) intersectional frameworks investigate how race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, and citizenship as systems of power interconnect to shape individual and group identities, social institutions, ideas and politics; (2) within the academy, intersectionality as a field of inquiry has fostered a paradigm shift within and across different fields of study concerning a range of topics; (3) outside the academy, activists, service providers, grassroots organizers and ordinary people from many walks of life use intersectionality to understand and challenge the social inequalities that they see in their everyday lives; and (4) as a broad field of inquiry that reaches across many fields, encompasses many practices and takes varying forms, intersectionality typically has an implicit and often explicit commitment to social justice. CF: Intersectionality is now a widely used concept in sociology, women’s studies, philosophy, and in many other disciplines. How do you situate your work in the wider context of the scholarly development of intersectionality?
PHC: This is a very expansive question, however, the quick answer is: my work is tied to social justice traditions that come out of social movements, especially U.S. Black feminism. I do not approach intersectionality as a social theory of truth whose questions and concerns emanate primarily from within prevailing scholarly norms. I have to be attentive to those norms, but again, the academy is not a drum major for social justice. CF: Your own career as a scholar has been extraordinary (including your appointment, as the first African American woman, to the position of president of the American Sociological Association). What advice would you give to aspiring scholars, activists, indeed anybody trying to realise their aspirations, who might find themselves marginalised by virtue of their race, class or gender?
PHC: I don’t give advice of this sort precisely because my career has been so atypical and because I reject theories of role modelling where we are convinced that we need to “follow” the paths trod by others. Instead, I believe that we each have the ability to think for ourselves and imagine new possibilities and then gain the political skills to make it happen. Focusing on the marginalization is disheartening, so I try not to do it. Instead, I focus on the principles of social justice and try to figure out how to breathe life into them. CF: Finally, do you have any words in advance of your lecture for those uninitiated in social theory?
PHC: I think it is important to claim and redefine the word “theory”. People are scared of theory because they think that they cannot understand it. In fact, sometimes that is the very definition of how some thinkers approach their work – from a pedestal. Many people think that if they don’t understand a theoretical work, then it must be good. Nah. That’s just bad writing to me. The term theory is a power term that is often invoked to put “non-theorists” in their place. Smart people do theory and the rest of us simply apply it in our everyday lives, or, worse yet, we see ourselves as data for someone else’s theory. This term is vested with all sorts of anxieties.
That’s not what I do. In my work, I focus on some core questions that help me analyse everyday life – what makes sense, what arguments are convincing to me, what evidence do I believe and why? And if I can’t figure out an author’s work, my sense is that they either didn’t have me in mind when they wrote it, or they did have me in mind and wanted me to remain outside their work. So I try to be inclusive, to bring people into conversations about important ideas, not exclude by hitting them over the head with a “theory” club.
We can all theorize. We just do it from different social locations and with different agendas in mind. I say, take back the term and make it democratic! Prof. Hill Collins is Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park and Charles Phelps Taft Emeritus Professor of Sociology within the Department of African American Studies at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Clara Fischer is UCD Women’s Studies Research Affiliate and a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network. Prof. Hill Collins will deliver her talk on Wednesday, 20th March, at 6pm in Theatre L, the Arts Block, UCD, Belfield.This article was originally published on Politico, 19th March,http://www.politico.ie/irish-politics/8865-patricia-hill-collins-in-conversation.html
Due to the recent issue that took place on the IFN facebook page this week (where an article about the sexism in the Oscars was posted, resulting in people making many women feel very unsafe through the sort of comments they made) we are welcoming constructive feedback on the way moderation, policy, etc. are handled in general within the IFN. It might be 'only' the internet, but it's extremely important women feel they can contribute in an inclusive and comfortable online space just as much as offline.
if there's anything you wish to express, feel free to leave comments in this blogpost.
Here is the IFN comments policy:
"Feminist Ethos: We wish to undertake all our work from an explicitly feminist perspective. While mindful of the complexity and multiplicity of feminisms, we purposefully embrace the term ‘feminism’ and invite others to follow us in doing so.
Equality: We wish to advance equality in all spheres of Irish society. As different types of inequality overlap and reinforce each other, we recognise the importance of working toward the elimination of inequalities that are not just based on gender, but also on class, racial or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and other markers of difference.
Inclusiveness: We wish to protect and promote the interests of all of our members, and we respect the diversity of women and men who join us in opposing gender inequality.
Solidarity: We wish to work toward increased gender equality in Ireland by forging alliances with other social justice groups, community groups, NGOs and movements with whom we share similar values and priorities. Such alliance-building will also extend across national boundaries and will encompass the whole island of Ireland.
Progressiveness: We wish to form a focal point for feminist women and men who seek the introduction of positive and progressive measures for the achievement of gender equality both in Ireland and abroad.
Core Principle: Respect for people's lived experiences of oppression. As a feminist organisation, we are particularly concerned that people respect women's lived experience of gendered oppression, although we welcome comments from everybody on the page, as long as they are respectful.
Commenters are asked to acknowledge the above values and core principle, and to leave comments in accordance with them. The IFN reserves the right to determine whether or not comments are in accordance with our values and core principle."