by Emma Regan
In classrooms around the world, American presidential politics is being discussed with relish. Students love controversy, and teachers enthusiasm. In Ireland, the new Leaving Certificate subject Politics and Society, being trialled this year in a small number of schools, provides especially fertile soil for such discussions. I found myself watching one unfold last week.
The students asked a wide range of questions while the teacher held forth with his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of current affairs and American history. The class comprised nine boys and just three girls, and the boys dominated the conversation. Occasionally, a girl would interject with a question of her own. One such question piqued my interest but was left unanswered in the heat of the discussion. In light of Donald Trump’s election success, I suspect that many girls and young women are pondering this same question,
“Given that Bill Clinton was impeached for having an affair, how come Trump can be the president when he’s sexually assaulted so many women?”
I’d like to try to answer.
Let’s begin with the facts. President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 on 2 charges, perjury and obstructing justice. He had been accused of sexual harassment by Paula Jones, a woman employed by the state of Arkansas while Clinton was the governor there. During the investigation, another colleague, Monica Lewinsky, was subpoenaed and it was revealed that he had had an affair with her. He initially denied this under oath. Ultimately, Clinton was tried and acquitted by the Senate. He continued to serve as president until his term ended in 2001. It’s worth noting that in addition to Jones’ allegations, Clinton has been accused of rape by Juanita Broaddrick and sexual assault by Kathleen Wiley. However, none of these 3 cases were among the charges for which he was impeached.
What about President-elect Donald Trump? In October, a video from an “Access Hollywood” shoot in 2005 appeared. In it, Trump chats to Billy Bush, saying that he can get away with anything due to his fame, stating, “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Thereafter, 12 women came forward accusing Trump of sexual assault: Temple Taggart McDowell, Jill Harth, Jessica Leeds, Rachel Crooks, Natasha Stoynoff, Mindy McGillivray, Cassandra Searles, Kristin Anderson, Summer Zervos, Cathy Heller, Karena Virginia and Ninni Laaksonen. He has also been accused of sexual harassment by a 13th woman, Vendela Kirsebom. In addition to these accusations, Trump was until recently being sued by an anonymous woman for raping her when she was 13-years-old in 1994. This lawsuit was dropped on the 4th of November. In 1990, he was accused of raping his first wife, Ivana Trump. Despite all of these allegations, Trump won the American presidential election on the 8th of November and will become the next president of the United States. Why won’t he be impeached like Bill Clinton?
Well, there are some practical reasons. Firstly, while Trump hasn’t been convicted of anything and still denies all the allegations against him, Clinton eventually admitted to having had the affair with Lewinsky. A confession is a powerful piece of evidence in support of impeachment. Secondly, when Clinton was impeached, he was a Democratic president serving alongside a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans. With his political rivals controlling the House, it was more likely that a majority would vote to impeach the president. In contrast, when Trump begins his term in January, the House will be controlled by Republicans, his own party. Thus, it is far less likely that the majority of the House would vote to impeach him.
Aside from practicalities, the other key factor is people’s judgement of the behaviour in question. Of course, both Donald Trump and Bill Clinton have been accused of sexual assault and rape. These are morally reprehensible crimes, and these allegations must all be taken seriously. However, what I want to explore here is the moral outrage felt by Democrats at Trump's election victory compared with the moral outrage felt by Republicans when they saw fit to impeach Clinton. Trump won despite the many allegations against him, showing that many Americans’ disapproval of his behaviour wasn’t sufficient to prevent them from voting for him. Conversely, Clinton was impeached not due to the allegations of sexual assault against him, but because he had an affair and lied about it. It may seem strange that many Republican politicians and voters could excuse Trump’s sexual misconduct when they denounced Clinton for less. But there may be a simple reason for the seeming hypocrisy. Republicans and Democrats (and more broadly conservatives and liberals) have different kinds of morality and views about sex.
The psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that liberals’ morality is based on two concerns, fairness and harm/care. Personally, I conceive of my liberal morality in terms of human rights. Rights protect individuals from harm or persecution and allow them equal opportunities. With regard to conservatives, Haidt says that their morality is based on five concerns: fairness and harm/care, but also group loyalty, respect for authority and purity/degradation. This means that unlike liberals, conservatives care about preserving social norms and institutions, maintaining social stability and not violating natural laws. A word about sex – "WRONG"? To dramatically over-simplify, most liberals subscribe to “free love” and believe that as long as you’re not harming anyone else, anything goes. For most conservatives, sex is only acceptable for procreation within marriage, and adultery is a big deal. Shake, stir, and apply to Clinton and Trump.
For a liberal like me, the fact that Trump has been accused of non-consensual sexual activity by at least 15 women means that I would never, never support him. As sexual violence violates a person’s fundamental right to bodily integrity, I think it’s the worst. Also, while I’m aware that Trump is legally innocent until proven guilty, he has been accused by a LOT of women. Is the word of 1 man more reliable than that of 15 women? I think not because I believe in complete gender equality; I disregard the traditional perception of women as liars. Now, how would I have regarded Clinton had I been a member of the House of Representatives in 1998? Pretty much the same as I do Trump given that there were similar allegations against him. However, let's focus on the reason why Republicans voted to impeach him: he had engaged in an extra-marital affair involving consensual sexual activities and lied about it afterwards. An affair involves breaking a promise to your spouse, but not violating anyone’s basic human rights. Hence, I don’t see that as too big of a deal. I wouldn’t do it myself, and I wouldn’t like it done to me, but morally speaking, I wouldn’t consider it reprehensible. Lying isn’t good either, but I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker. He also had sex, which I deem morally neutral. Overall, I would judge Clinton at least as favourably as Trump.
Let’s contrast this with the conservative moral analysis. By engaging in an extra-marital affair, Clinton had threatened the social institution of marriage, one of the pillars of society. By lying about it under oath to the American people, he had shown disloyalty and betrayed America. Finally, by having sex in the Oval office, Clinton had tarnished and degraded the highest office in the land. These behaviours offend the conservative regard for purity, upholding social institutions and showing group loyalty. As a result, Republican politicians impeached Clinton. On the other hand, Trump’s sexual misconduct was deemed less offensive. He hasn’t been convicted of anything, and given the traditionally lower value placed on women’s testimony and the presumption of innocence in the legal system, many conservatives can see their way to discounting all the allegations against him. Furthermore, for conservatives, even if they think Trump may have done those things, he hasn’t violated one of their two core moral principles (as he has for liberals). Yes, he has caused harm and that’s bad, but he hasn’t shown disloyalty, threatened social institutions or had sex. As a result, Republicans may judge Trump more favourably than Clinton.
Over the past week, I’ve seen so much horror expressed by those in my social circles, both online and offline, at Trump’s election victory. I've been disturbed by the normalization of racism and sexism, including sexual assault and racial attacks, that we've witnessed since. It's vital that we condemn these trends. However, we must also reflect on how we came to be blindsided by the election result. We hold such strong moral convictions that we completely disregard those who disagree. Liberals dismissed Trumpism because they didn’t understand it; the same was true for British liberals with Brexit. In Ireland, it’s all too easy to feel a false sense of security because we don’t have our own far-right political movement, yet. Nevertheless, it’s never been more important to get to know how the other side thinks.
Meanwhile, in Irish classrooms, students will soon forget about the American election. They’ll stay glued to social media and laugh over Trump's latest gaffe, but show a lack of interest in Irish politics. We must encourage them to continue to ask questions, learn about others’ viewpoints and develop their own. We must teach them that sexual assault is wrong and inexcusable, even if Trump's victory suggests otherwise. Perhaps in addition to the new subject, Politics and Society, we need a mandatory SPHE curriculum that covers consent. Young people will play a crucial role in shaping Irish society for the future, so we must hope they'll grow up to be righteous, open-minded and politically engaged.
This Mother’s Day, as you were probably celebrating the wonderful female identified person(s) who raised you and/or brought you into the world, the Iona Institute saw fit to post this. What a lovely blast from the recent, pre-May 22nd past! Right at the top of the article is one of those delightful posters the Iona people put up during their campaign against human rights in the run up the marriage referendum. There’s the Virgin Mary and child, minus the biblical get-up, and the self-aware pink-for-a-girl, blue-for-a-boy text. Hmm, I wonder what David Quinn is trying to say? Could it be that men and women are different species, ergo children need exactly one mother and exactly one father. Well look who’s still hopelessly out-of-date! Yes, Catholic Church, I’m looking at you. But no, don’t take my word for it, or the word of 62% of Irish people(1), let me take you through it step-by-step.
Men and women aren’t different species. But boys have penises and girls have vaginas, you say. That I’ll grant you, but there’s a little bit more to people than their sexual organs, isn’t there? Yes, there are other observable differences between men and women, including behavioural differences which seem to define men and women into two distinct and (stereo)typical categories. But haven’t you noticed that we’ve paired back a lot of that nonsense in the past hundred years? In Ireland today, women have vastly more opportunities than their grandmothers did. Many more women are educated to higher levels and many work outside the home in every sort of area. Of course, we haven’t reached full equality between the sexes yet, but the trend is generally going in that direction, don’t you think? Thus I put it to you that those differences you observe aren’t set in stone as we once thought (and you still think), but are the product of social conditioning and controls that are slowly being driven out. Therefore, men and women are not nearly as different as you might think. Crucially, both sexes are human beings and have equal capacities for love.
Children don’t need exactly one mother and exactly one father. If women and men aren’t so different, why would they? Well for Mr Quinn, everything is black and white. Mothers are either unique and essential to child-rearing or indistinguishable from fathers. However, many things which are neither identical nor crucial influence children like whether they take up a musical instrument or join a sports team. Either or both could be good but you wouldn’t say that a child who didn’t do one of them was deprived. So here’s the grey bit, parenting isn’t necessarily gender-neutral. Yes childhood is a precious and influential time and children’s rights as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are important. Children have a right to love and care but not to a weekly cello lesson. And that’s the point about parental gender. It might be a little bit different if your parent(s) or guardian(s) are men, women or both but lots of things about your caregivers also make slight differences to your experience like their age, income, cultural background etc. Insofar as your relationship with a parental figure is a bond between human beings of course their identify, including their gender identity could influence that. However, if we accept that men and women aren’t so different and that both have the essential capacity for love and caring, then it’s obvious that all a child needs is a loving parent or parents of either gender.
Why celebrate Mother’s Day? I never thought I’d say this, but I can agree with David Quinn in one respect, Mother’s day is out-dated. It’s a relic from a past time when mother and housekeeper were the only acceptable roles for women. Emily Allen in the Telegraph writes (2):
“The day has long been associated with mothers, and family... it was custom for people to return home to their ‘mother’ church on Laetare Sunday – the middle of Lent... The day often turned into a family reunion and a chance for children working away from home...spend time with their mothers.”
Of course, if you had been raised almost exclusively by one parent, spending day-in, day-out in their care, learning from them and bonding almost exclusively with them, you would have a closer relationship with that parent. And since the vast majority of people had this closer relationship with mothers rather than fathers, of course we as a culture have mythologized motherhood and given it the “special value” that Quinn argues we are now denying. In fact, what has this “special value” is parenthood. The gender-neutral “loving parent” whom Quinn derides is the person with the power to care for and nurture a person through the most influential phase of their development, childhood. And yeh, that’s pretty amazing. It deserves to be celebrated. Should we scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favour of one joint day? We could, but there’s no compelling reason to do that. It’s just another traditional holiday that we might set up a bit differently if we were doing it today but does no harm in its present state. Never mind the strong pull of tradition! So let’s ignore Mr Quinn and continue to celebrate our treasured, hypocritical day in peace.
by Emma Regan
Planning to get married? Have some reservations about the traditional Irish Catholic wedding? I’d be
surprised if you didn’t. Here are my top five feminist fixes from my own wedding last year...
1. You don’t have to change your name
According to a Google Customer Survey(1), around 20% of women who got married in recent years
kept their names. The lowness of this figure surprises me. As someone wise once said, ‘Words have
meaning and names have power.’ It seems to me that your name is tied to your identity and sense of
self. Never mind the hassle of rebranding yourself on social media and at work! Why then, would
someone give up their name? Perhaps to reflect a change of identity or to become part of a new
family with a common surname. I can relate to this, and my partner and I wrestled with the idea of
(both) double-barrelling, with the inevitably tongue-twisting result Atkinson-Regan, or combining
our names to form a new supername, Regson, although I told my family we were considering
Ratkinson to freak them out! All the while in our heart of hearts, neither of us wanted to change our
names. So in the end we didn’t. This is also the easiest option because you don’t actually have to do
anything. Niggling worries about hypothetical future children? Rock, paper, scissors to the rescue!
2. You don’t have to wear white
If you identify as female, you’re going to be under massive pressure to conform to the bridal stereotype. People will ask you what you’re going to wear or more frequently, “Have you got your dress yet?” At times, the focus on your appearance may make you uncomfortable, but take solace from the fact that people will tell you that you look beautiful no matter what you wear...so why not just wear what you want? Some people dream of a big, fluffy, cream-cake gown and more power to them! Others, like me, might be turned off by the colour white as a symbol of purity. Ever since I read The Purity Myth(2), I knew I’d never have that white wedding. I felt as though I’d be advertising my non-existent virginity! Furthermore, white’s just not my colour. Instead, I planned to wear red, symbolising love and passion! I ended up with a black and pink dress. A dress is somewhat conformist, but I’ve always liked dresses because I associate them with dressing up as a child. Others don’t like dresses and so don’t wear them, an excellent choice too. Oh and if you feel like turning the tables with a sadistic but socially acceptable blow to your guests, you can dictate a dress code for them!
3. You don’t have to be given away
After all, you’re surely your own person rather than a piece of property, the deed to which is
about to be passed from your father to your future spouse. It doesn’t take much feminist theory to
identify the sexism at work in this troubling tradition, and there are literally loads of alternatives.
You could skip the grand entrance, include both parents and partners regardless of gender or the
couple could just walk in together. We did the last one hand-in-hand, to symbolise us entering into
marriage as equal partners. Of course, as a tradition that fathers may expect to be included in, its
absence could hurt feelings. I think it’s important to communicate your wishes early and explain why
the arrangement you’ve chosen is right for you and your partner. There are also other ways of
including parents or guardians in your wedding whether by having them speak or take part in a ritual
like lighting candles. At my wedding, my dad made a speech at the afters in which he reflected on his
initial disappointment at not getting to walk me down the aisle. Then he said, “I had a lump in my
throat watching her walk down the aisle with Jay. I didn’t have to give her away...it was so clear that
Emma’s all grown up and is her own woman...Now that’s what every Dad wants to see!” He got it.
4. You can speak at your own wedding
What’s more, other women can speak too until you have chorus of diverse voices celebrating your marriage. Okay, this probably isn’t something you’ve thought about...but do think about it. Traditionally, the people who speak at weddings are: the priest, the father of the bride, the groom’s father, the groom and the best man. Meanwhile, women are spoken for, silent and passive. Why not break that silence and make a speech at your own wedding? Now, I know there’s the fear of public speaking. You certainly don’t have to speak if you’re terrified of doing so! However, think about who does get invited to speak during the day and diversify. Personally, my wedding was dominated by women’s voices between myself, my mother, my sisters, my mother-in-law, my two best friends and our female celebrant. I like to speechify and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass, but of course I was nervous. Consider still speaking even if you’re nervous – it’s your chance to express yourself and pay tribute to the important people in your life.
5. You don’t have to have a religious ceremony
If you and/or your partner are religious, and your religion approves of your union, it may make
sense for you to do so. Alternatively, you may be denied the opportunity to marry at a religious
ceremony if you’re not heterosexual. Another possibility is that you aren’t religious but your parents
are and they’re expecting a religious ceremony. I imagine that this is the case for a lot of Irish
couples getting married given that the percentage of Catholics among the Irish population steadily
increases with age; 79% of 20-40 year olds are Catholic, compared to 91% of those over 65.3 If you’re
not pushed about it, you may want to go along with a religious wedding to please your family but do
fully inform yourself about what’s involved before you choose to do this. If you can’t have and/or
don’t want a religious ceremony (for lots of weighty feminist reasons which I won’t enumerate
here), there really are viable alternatives. You can get married at a civil ceremony by a registrar4 or at
a humanist ceremony by a humanist celebrant.5 My partner and I chose the humanist option
because it allows you to design a ceremony that suits you. Of course, there are also templates you
can use if you’re not interested in reinventing the wedding wheel. For my partner and me, choosing
words and music that we found meaningful was essential, as was writing our own embarrassingly
tear-jerking vows. Just to note, baring your naked soul to your partner in front of a live audience is in
fact a pretty strange thing to do, but then again you are getting married so why not just go for it?
Happy feminist wedding planning!
By Emma Regan
I write as straight woman, engaged to be married in one month’s time. I am in the privileged position of being allowed by the Irish State to marry the person I love. My partner and I get the wonderful, exciting and meaningful opportunity to declare our love publically, in front of friends and family and to join our lives together.
I couldn’t be happier, but as I write I’m also aware of my privilege. Marriage shouldn’t be a privilege, but a human right. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16, guarantees the right to marry, while Article 7 states that, ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law’. This clearly suggests that every person should have the right to access civil marriage and enjoy the protection and security that comes along with it. To deny access to one group of people on the basis of their sexual orientation is ‘discrimination.’
One of the No side’s arguments against the Marriage Referendum is to compare marriage to civil partnership and declare that they’re basically the same and so this change is not necessary. However, despite sharing similarities, I would argue that marriage and civil partnerships are different on a fundamental level. In addition to the statutory differences, which you can read about here, marriage has a unique and important social meaning. I didn’t ask my boyfriend to civil partner me, I asked him to marry me. We are planning a wedding ceremony, and my vows will include the iconic words, ‘I, Emma Regan, take you, James Atkinson, to be my lawfully wedded husband...’ We all recognise these traditional, time honoured terms: marry, wedding, husband, wife, and associate them with a couple committing to spend the rest of their lives together in a State-recognised union. Civil partnership doesn’t have the same special meaning; it’s different, and we all know that even if it was legally equivalent (which it’s not), different but equal or separate but equal, is an extremely dodgy philosophy.
What’s more, the love between two people of the same sex is no different to the love my partner and I share. It’s the Same Love. It’s the rush of affection when you wake up next to them, the feeling of just holding hands and supporting one another or the joy of being with someone truly loves you for who you are. That’s what love is and it doesn’t have a gender or a sexual orientation; it transcends our meagre attempts at categorisation. That’s what we’re voting on, on Friday, 22nd of May. We’re being asked to share the right to get married with couples who have been denied it and to recognise their love as equal to our own.
Another argument put forward by the No side, which has shockingly gained acceptance by 82% of No voters according to an Irish Times poll published today, is ‘that it would diminish the importance of marriage’. I simply fail to see how allowing LGBTQ people to access the institution of marriage will have any effect on existing married people (unless one of them is transgender in which case it could allow that person the right to have their gender legally recognised without the need for forced divorce). Marriage is a personal union between two people. It shouldn’t involve looking over your shoulder, jealously guarding access to the registry office. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says, ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.’ And now, I’m no expert on this since I’m not married yet, but I would hazard a guess that every marriage is different, just as every relationship is different. Someone else’s marriage cannot diminish your own because the substance of your marriage is your daily life together, the love you share and the strength of your relationship. These are entirely your own responsibility to protect and nurture. Some people say that the referendum will ‘redefine marriage,’ but this isn’t true. If we define marriage as a legally-recognised union of two people who love one another, then allowing same-sex couples to get married too doesn’t change anything. Remember it’s the same love.
The happiest day of my life is drawing near, and in one month’s time I will be walking down the aisle, hand-in-hand with my partner, ready to commit to each other in our marriage ceremony. A Yes vote in the Marriage Referendum will grant all Irish couples in love their right do the same. It may not make any difference to you but it would make a world of difference to them. Please vote Yes on Friday, 22nd of May!
By Grainne Blair
In terms of my rehabilitation after brain injury, 2015 was to be about moving forward and returning to some activities that I had previously enjoyed. I really enjoyed the meeting of the Irish Feminist book club held in Buswell’s. Met some wonderful bright, articulate young feminists and we had plenty to discuss. The book of the month was Eimear McBride’s A girl is a half formed thing not the easiest return to reading for me. Once a voracious consumer of all print forms I now struggle to finish and comprehend and retain full sentences some days never mind read a few paragraphs without having to sleep as my brain closes down due to the permanent injury. Good days mean if I have slept well and not tried the phone or computer I may now be able to read a few pages without having to return to the beginning regularly. It was not the easiest of books to recommence reading rehabilitation for someone who is surrounded by them, many which are old friends. It was like jumping into a fast moving body of water as it hurtled towards massive falls. Whitewater rafting came to mind. Clear echoes of Ulysses hit me from the first lines and the words tumbled fast and furious almost the way a toddler or very excited young child runs all the language together in their impatience to tell you it all right now because once they opened their mouth to tell, the truth pours out in a torrent. I loved her use of language and the osmosis of thought, voice and action. Some found it too dark and depressing leaving its unrelenting day in day out darkness wrapping itself like tight tendrils pulling you away from any light at the end of the tunnel reality. This is in fact a dark deep almost ’incestuous’ love affair between a sister and her dying brother. He is the angel, innocent and clean, scarred and vulnerable but en route to a better afterlife. She is the devil, jezebel, siren calling, dirty messy girl whose life is interrupted by her beloved brother’s illness. She tries to protect him by alternating between ignoring and drawing attention to herself. In the long run she proves to be the most vulnerable of all, the innocent clean young girl abused by her Uncle because he could and then there is the enduring loop between them as her mother’s time is consumed with the illness of the adored son. Her only outlet after the abuse and her invisibility ensures she tries to alleviate some of her brother’s pain by her own suffering by offering herself up to the local boys throughout her life. This reaction and her seemingly incapacity for finding any joy or brightness in her life even as her education progresses and her life moves on and away from her beloved/hated/absorbing sibling is not odd at all. Her whole life was consumed with his illness so for those of us who have lived through huge trauma, days when continuous pain hardly lets you draw breath and it is like drowning. Her behaviour and reactions are true to life. When you never get shown a chink in the darkness especially by the influencers in your life then this pervading deep dark and yes at times depressive motif is absolutely recreated in minutia. When you are in the vortex of depression, surrounded by the anticipation of death, mixed in with the religiocantation of familiar rhythms that no longer comfort but act as a prelude to heart breaking pain what choice do you have but to follow.
Editors' note: Join us for the next book club meeting on Monday 9th March, when we'll be discussing bell hooks' Ain't I A Woman.
By Emma Regan
The IFN book club has been running for 5 years, and in that time we’ve read a lot of books! We come together once a month to read feminist theory, novels that explore gender and some inspirational biographies by feminist writers. Many of these books act as jumping off points for us to discuss our feminism and experiences, while others have educated us to think and talk about the intersections of discrimination faced by others.
Take a look at the list of books we’ve read in the past. Is your favourite feminist book among them? If not, please let us know in the comments. We’re always looking for that next book. Speaking of which, our book for next month is Ain’t I a woman? by bell hooks. We’ll be meeting to discuss it on the 9th of March in Buswell’s Hotel on Parliament street at 7pm. New members are always welcome and we look forward to meeting you for feminist fun and chat!
Books we’ve read:
2014 & 2015
· A Girl is a Half-formed thing by Eimear McBride
· Yes Please by Amy Poeler
· Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
· Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny
· Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill*
2012 & 2013
· Bossypants by Tina Fey
· Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
· Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
· Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
· Hedda Gabler (& A Doll's House) by Henrik Ibsen
· Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution by Rachel Moran
· The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
· The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
· The Feminist Mystique by Betty Freidan
· Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
· Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
· The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins*
· Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
· Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
· The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
· Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman
· Kicking and Screaming by Ivana Bacik
· Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy
· The Lolita Effect by M G Durham
· Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
· Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim
· Saints & Sinners by Edna O’Brien
· Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
2010 & 2011
· Sisters by June Levine
· Backlash by Susan Faludi
· The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
· How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
· The Woman’s Room by Marilyn French
· I Don’t: A Contrarian History of Marriage by Susan Squires
· Tete-A-Tete: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley
· The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
· Reclaiming the F word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune
· Wide Sargasso Sea: A Novel by Jean Rhys
· Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter
Suitable for teenage readers*
Ireland is undergoing the next stage of a quiet revolution this winter. Since 2007 we, as a state, have remained in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights making Ireland the last country in the E.U. not to provide gender recognition legislation (GRL), and therefore equal rights, for its transgender (trans*) citizens. Now as the joint Oireachtas committee on Education and Social Protection mulls over the Draft Heads of the State’s GRL bill, and Amnesty begins compiling data for its special report on the human rights situation for trans* people in Ireland there is no sign of outcry or media storms; instead there is a slow steady inevitability about the proceedings. The task now for human rights activists, such as TENI, is to ensure this long overdue legislation, which currently includes clauses such as forced divorce, does not compel individuals, who have waited so long, to choose recognition at the cost of their dignity and families. The situation is clearly shameful but what does all of it mean in the context of development?
Development as a sector pursues the mainstreaming of gender into all best practice reforms and projects. The discourse surrounding gender responsive service delivery, gender budgeting and combatting gender based violence refers mainly to women’s rights and the consideration of women with regards to social hierarchy and the layers of oppression embedded within. The definition of women, however, remains limited while our visualisation of gender equality is restricted to the binary categories of men and women. As states begin to redefine gender and shape legislation to project gender equality in the broadest sense of complex identity, must this not be mainstreamed into overseas development projects and funding streams?
In 2012, as part of my research for my MA at Kimmage Development Studies Centre, I visited a group of activists working in Bangalore for gender and sexuality rights. They highlighted the challenges of funding restrictions and socio-cultural stigma which came, not only from local society, but from larger funders in Europe and North America. The intersectional nature of their work was not presented as an idealised harmony of grassroots organisations but a necessary bolstering of vulnerable groups. Dalit collectives, slum dweller groups, women’s rights organisations and LGBTQ activists recognised the oppression of the other as equal to their own. Activist culture in Bangalore was able to create a network of radicals across lines of caste, gender identity and, at times, across barriers of personal animosity or worse. Within this network a medical service was not deemed to be gender responsive which created access only for women, born with female bodies, living in socially and culturally sanctioned homes. The goal was much more revolutionary than that. Recognition and safety for sex workers, gender non-conforming individuals or families along with sexual health and pleasure rights for all individuals were considered to be the core of project planning and management.
The Irish state is currently being asked, yet again, to re-examine and redefine its conceptualisation of gender and gender equality. Clauses in the new legislation which break apart family units and require mental health evaluations before granting access to full human rights provided for under European law only serve to highlight the cultural and institutional violence enacted towards those whose identity cannot be contained by pre-approved notions of sex and gender in this country. Transgender people face numerous forms of discrimination and marginalisation across the globe and legal recognition is vital to those who are endlessly endangered and discredited in job interviews, airports, social welfare offices, hospitals or schools because their gender representation does not match their official documents. The Bangalore example illustrated to me how much deeper Irish development organisations must delve into the gender policing which occurs within our own society and legal structures, in order to better understand the roots of gender inequality in a global context.
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Ten years ago, I was crammed in the back of a small car with my sister and her friend, driving to Punchestown race course to see our favourite rapper live in concert. During the drive down, we blasted the Marshall Mathers LP with the windows open, rapping along to all that vitriol. In my defence, he was super-talented. A further excuse is that I was 15. Eminem was rebellious because he used curse words and his CDs had parental advisory stickers. I won’t lie – his music was a vehicle for my teen angst. We knew that his lyrics were a bit off. Like he wasn’t serious about murdering those women right? He...he...that stuff was unreal. We didn’t read into it.
This piece was originally published on the author’s own blog, Nothing Mentioned Nothing Gained.
My imaginary boyfriend and I have been going out on and off for as long as I can remember. In some ways it’s a perfect relationship. He’s always there when I need him, but he makes no demands of me. There’s no insecurity, given that he’s entirely made up. Unfortunately, the sex isn’t the best, although imaginary sex is generally not the worst either. Imaginary boyfriend exists in the background regardless of whether I have a boyfriend in the real world at the time or not, and all I really know about him is that he is invariably bigger, stronger and meaner than the person I’m describing him to. He is jealous, has anger management issues, and a possible violent streak. You’d think that if you had an imaginary boyfriend he should at least make you happy. But my imaginary boyfriend was born out of sheer necessity, and he’s the kind of man I would never go near in real life.
Recently a Russian lawmaker asked his Parliament to consider allowing women two days paid leave every month when they menstruate. The said Russian is quoted as saying “during their period of menstruation most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort.” He then went on to say that in some cases women are so discommoded they require an ambulance. This rather over egged the pudding and took from his argument somewhat, I thought.
Needless to say, any comments I saw in response to the Russian lawmaker were entirely dismissive of his suggestion, which was regarded as sexist and silly. I mean to say, women are not in any way put out by the arrival of the monthly bleed. Periods are a breeze. Ever since the invention of tampons, we can even go swimming and horse-riding while bleeding. And sure with a reasonable supply of Solpadeine or Nurofen, you don’t feel a thing. Right? I mean, admitting that periods often make you feel really crappy is letting the sisterhood down, right? That would be a sign of weakness, a sign that we are.... well less macho than the guys. Right?
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