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
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, 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
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 19th May 2012, the Irish Feminist Network held its first ever conference. The rationale behind the conference consisted of the need to document the current resurgence in feminist activism in Ireland, while also situating this resurgence within the wider context of the history and potential future of Irish feminist movements. The conference was themed “Feminist Activism in Ireland: Past, Present and Future.” In order to do this broad topic justice, we structured the conference in terms of successive feminist ‘waves’ in Ireland, and were fortunate to have an amazing line-up of speakers
. There were panels on the first, second and third waves of feminist activism, and keynote addresses by prominent politician, Mary Lou McDonald, and women’s migrant rights activist, Salome Mbugua from AkiDwA.
A lot of thought went into organising the logistics of the conference. With a non-existent budget for an event of this size (140 attendants), the IFN nonetheless sought to make the day as pleasant (from a logistical point of view) an experience as possible. The co-ordinators were aware of the need for childcare to allow single parents to attend, and wanted to be maximally inclusive. We further wished to avoid huge corporate entities that quite often exploit women’s labour, hence our choice of the Sean O’Casey Community Centre
as the ideal venue for the conference. The centre has a crèche, and they were happy to open it for us on the day. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough up-take for this facility in the end.
In order to promote the conference, the IFN undertook its most intensive media campaign to date. Articles were written
, endless invitations sent out via email and Facebook, press releases formulated, radio interviews recorded
, and supportive journalists broached to include us in their work
. All of these efforts paid off, as tickets sold out
the night before the big day. At 15Euro a head (including lunch, coffee in the morning, and childcare), we wanted the cost of a ticket to be affordable. Even at that, though, the IFN followed the suggestion of a wise supporter and introduced a sponsorship scheme to allow those who could not afford a ticket to still attend owing to the generosity of anonymous sponsors.
The conference was opened with a poetry reading by acclaimed poet, Catherine Phil MacCarthy,
who really set the tone and atmosphere for the rest of the day. We then heard inspiring stories and first-hand experiences of feminist activists of the first, second and third waves. The final session on the future of feminist activism in Ireland allowed for smaller group discussion, with thematic groups on topics such as feminism and gendered economic inequality, feminism and reproductive rights, and feminism and the university. Each of these thematic groups was asked to discuss ‘what lessons can be learnt from previous feminist activism?’, ‘how do these impact the current situation?’, and ‘what practical measures can we adopt/pursue for the future?’. The concrete proposals for action emerging from these groups can be read in full below, and include actions such as increased education around abortion (feminism and reproductive rights group), gender auditing of university staff (feminism and the university group), protesting on the streets against economic inequality (feminism and gendered economic inequality group), creating space for dialogue between different voices (feminism and migrant women’s rights), and the challenging of heteronormativity and gender roles in schools (feminism and young people).
While registering, conference attendants were given coloured cards on which to write what a feminist future meant to them. We then put these cards up on a pin board for people to read during the lunch break. The answers have been really creative and inspiring, and for the following two months we uploaded an image
of one card per day for people to view on Facebook or Twitter. This has been a great way to promote supporters’ views on their feminist futures, and to continue the dialogue on what kind of feminist futures we hope to achieve.
All in all, we had a fantastic experience putting together this conference, and have thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that have developed therefrom. We know that there is always room for improvement, and taking your feed-back under consideration, we hope to bring you an even bigger and better conference in the future. For those of you who missed it, we will be uploading videos of the day on this site, so stay tuned! For those of you who were there, many thanks for making it a really fun and intellectually stimulating day! ClaraIFN Co-ordinator
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