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Monthly Archives: July 2017

Dear Mary

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The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous

Daily newspaper problem pages and agony aunt columns are usually the stuff of tea-breaks – a few subbed-down lines is all the reader gets to explain the situation that needs sorting. This week, though, the Irish Independent’s “Dear Mary” feature printed an extraordinary letter from a man who claimed to hate his wife but who said he would continue in the relationship if she had sex with him once a week. It caught my attention, not because of the misogyny – though that is astounding in its intensity – but because the writer admits to forcing his wife to have sex….and Mary welcomes this “other perspective”.

It prompted me to imagine what the writer’s wife might say to Mary, if she’d read her husband’s letter and recognised him. Perhaps other women might like to imagine too?

“Dear Mary,

It’s been 14 – no 16 – years. Of hell. If you must know.

Fourteen years with his ring on my finger.

God he begged and begged me to marry him when I was at university. We met at a gig in the students’ union. He caught me unawares after a few drinks. It wasn’t until sometime later that he admitted he wasn’t a student too.

He was a salesman.

Who liked hanging around the university in the evenings.

And it wasn’t until sometime after that again that he admitted he still lived with his mother, not in a house on the edge of the city with two friends from college.

These untruths annoyed me and we split up several times. So why did I marry the liar?

Well, I met his mother on the final get-back-together weekend.

“Ah sure you’re great together.

“Ah he worships the ground you walk on.

“And when I think about it, he’s very good to me really.”

As I listened to her gush in her sparkling kitchen, I thought this was strange because he was always complaining about her. But I let it slide and accepted the ring.

And it was grand for a while. We honeymooned hornily in Benidorm for a week and our first child was born 40 weeks later.

When I found out I was pregnant he was delighted.

His own personal taxi service to and from the pub.

When the child arrived, he celebrated over the whole weekend with his friends. I saw him at the delivery and then 36 hours later, dishevelled and so drink-sodden I thought the nurses would turf me out of the bed and put him in it.

I’d just started a good job before I got married. The child put paid to that. They didn’t have to keep the post open and so I scraped by on the notes he put on the kitchen counter each week.

He was always promising more – there’s a big deal coming off, he’d say, loads of commission. But it never happened. It was on one of those Friday nights that I fell pregnant again. A couple of cans of cider in my three-month-post-baby-body and that was it. In spite of his assurances that he’d seen on television that a woman who’d had a baby couldn’t get caught again for a year.

Yes. I was that in love, that gullible.

So three years into the marriage and two youngsters under two. His money stayed the same so I had to do something. But who would look after two kids that age for nothing?

Well actually,his mother did – for a few mornings each week – and I started cleaning other people’s houses. Cash in hand. No sick pay. No holiday pay.

So, Mary.

I could buy bits and bobs at Christmas….new shoes for the kids…the usual.

And it was hard Mary, do you know that?

Getting him off to work with a clean, pressed shirt each day. Getting the kids organised for their gran’s, getting to work – I’d no car – and back. Then housework, the dinner, the kids.

I was shattered.

He came home from work, threw off his shoes and ate his dinner with the six-pack he’d brought home. Or phoned me to say his workmates were having a few drinks and he’d see me later.

Either way, I couldn’t win. Either way, when I had put the kids to bed, he’d start pawing from the sofa, or arrive home with just one thing on his mind.

And I was shattered Mary.

A lot of the time I got away with it. I’d say one of the kids wasn’t well and sleep in their room. Or say I had my period. For a man who was supposedly so well up on female reproduction he had no idea most periods don’t last two weeks.

But sometimes there was nothing I could do.

Now don’t get me wrong. At that stage I did kind of still love him. If he’d lifted the toys or said he would iron his own shirts, I’d have been all over him like a mare in heat.

But he never did.

And he was no stallion Mary. He was a little mongrel dog. One, two, three. Done.

A good lover?

I climaxed three times in our marriage – twice on honeymoon. As the Americans would say, go figure.

Anyway, after a few years he stayed out more and more.

It sounds like a 1950s record, but when I washed his shirts I knew he was with other women. They can’t help themselves with the perfume – even their deodorant smells different. And it was all over his shirts.

Then one night he came home earlier than usual. The children were watching television and I was making their school lunches in the kitchen. In he comes through the back door, swaying, demanding.

I suggested later. He wanted it there and then. I protested the kids were in the next room, could walk in any minute. He tipped the back of a chair against the door handle and raped me over the kitchen sink.

Do you know what that’s like Mary? To be violated in your own home, your children in earshot so you can’t scream?

One, two, three. Done.

Be thankful for small mercies.

He said nothing the next day and neither did I.

I thought about leaving him then. But this was before the internet was big and I’d no mobile phone anyway. It wasn’t until weeks later that I saw a poster for Women’s Aid in the library – but when and where would I get the time to ring them? What would they be like? Would they give off that I had stayed there that night – and since? I did not know these things. Besides which, on the night it happened I’d four euro fifty in my purse and no idea of where to go.

Now, it’s different.

Now I’m still cleaning because the kids are still at school but I’ve saved a bit for what I call my sunshine day.

Now I know the Women’s Aid number. I’ve got someone to speak to.

He’s forced me since. And I’ve told her. She’s written it down.He’s never hit me, but she says that doesn’t matter – rape in marriage is still rape. I always thought the hitting mattered most, the black eyes and the bruises . That that was domestic abuse. I think lots of people – men and women – do. Maybe you do too. Maybe you should talk to Women’s Aid too. Ask them about rape in marriages and partnerships.

I didn’t know that controlling the money in the house was abuse. Both our names are on the mortgage, but he keeps telling me that I’ve let him down and it really should be his because I don’t have the job that my university education lead him to believe I’d get.

I’d didn’t realise that his never-ending put-downs were abuse too. After the second child and thinking I was stuck with him forever, I didn’t care about anything. I ate when I wanted – crisps and toast. No, actually, I ate what we could afford and when I wasn’t cleaning, or looking after the kids or him. So my jeans and T-shirts got bigger, but I’m always clean and fresh, even if my hair is constantly tied back in a ponytail and I cut my own fringe.

And I make my children smile. And the people I work for and anyone I talk to. Though I haven’t been able to keep up with my uni friends – or make many news ones. Well, you can’t when you’re never out, Mary, can you?

He has lots of “friends”.

But the Women’s Aid woman is a friend now. She persuaded me to tell her how my life is lived. And she helped me see that it is no life at all. She knows because it used to be her life too.She understands that a time will come. And she says they’ll be waiting.

I have a phone now but he doesn’t know about it. I hide it under those shirts he never irons in the basket. So, when that time comes and I’m ready, I can call them and tell them I’m coming.

He still comes home expecting his dinner and all the rest – and sometimes, like before, I can’t escape, but I will….soon.

When he’s sitting, furious at the lack of sex, on the sofa, he texts a lot. I know it’s other women but I ignore the pings. He smiles sometimes and puts on his coat and leaves me in the kitchen. I know he’s meeting them for sex – he keeps condoms in his jacket pocket. He doesn’t know I’m studying the books I’ve hidden behind the cereal boxes.

So yes, Mary.

Tell him to leave.

Tell him to get out of this house and move away, far, far away. He never cared about the kids up until now – ask him the dates of their birthdays and see what he says. He won’t miss them.

We won’t miss him either.”

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When the Women’s Podcast Was All About Men

The Irish Times Women’s Podcast today aired a show entitled #coponcomrades: Men and Feminism. For some reason none of the initiators or signiatories of the #coponcomrades letter were invited to speak. Instead three male writers for the Irish Times were on the panel, Frankie Gaffney, Mark Paul and Patrick Freye, only one of whom describes themselves as a feminist.

As someone who signed the #coponcomrades letter I listened with interest to the podcast. In some respects it was very illuminating. Like I was unaware when I signed #coponcomrades that I should’ve indicated my economic status when signing, which by the way is working class. (I can provide all the poverty porn details for anyone who needs it if required).

Listening to the podcast I discovered that I had apparently been duped by some bourgeois academic women who lured stupid old working class wimminz like me into signing the letter. Apparently my voice and those of the many, many other working class women who signed was purely “tokenistic”. Thank god I listened or I never would’ve known that no matter what I do or say or put my name to — my opinions can easily be dismissed as tokenism, by virtue of my working class status. But then, how could I have know this before, without an academic woman to tell me what to do or a Not-Feminist (but in no way mansplaining) man to explain it to me?

So, please bare with stupid working class me while I talk you through the podcast.

It started on a dodgy note, with host Kathy Sheridan saying that the podcast was to be about “The challenges for men that want to stand with women and the views that men hold that they don’t think they can express without being shouted down.”

I wonder what kind of views men might have that they might feel afraid to express without being “shouted down”? And who are these shouty women that are silencing the voices of men who HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT FEMINISM?

So, let’s delve in (this is HEAVILY abridged),

Gaffney: “The Irony is that the people who use “mansplain” are the most patronising people I’ve ever encountered.”

I have to put my hand up here folks, as I’m one of those patronising women who uses the term “mansplain” when I’m trying to express my dislike of men who assume I’m an idiot. Luckily I have men like Gaffney to tell me that my use of the word is wrong.

Gaffney continues: “This is not America. There is something perverse in the narrative… Girls from Dalkey lecturing me about my privilege…This is not normal. This is not right…We can’t just import American ideas wholesale into Ireland and expect them to work.”

I assume it was intersectionality that Gaffney was taking issue with here, a systematic way of looking at the intersecting oppressions that any individual may have. (The expression was coined by American Kimberle Crenshaw and aims to make feminism more inclusive). These are the kind of ideas I personally would like to see more of in Ireland. (Here’s hoping those hated women from Dalkey were intersectional feminists!)

Gaffney: Speaking about #coponcomrades, “The most striking thing in the reaction since, when I talk about using straight white male using that as an insult, middle class Irish girls, fellas as well, talking about white cisgendered male, why are you excluding…if you’re talking about misogyny why are you bringing race in and throwing these things in together when class is one of the biggest predictors of life outcome in this country?…It was like apartheid going in in the demographics in Trinity….(conversation moves on)… the gender balance was 60–70% female.”

*EDITED to add that I have been told (by Gaffney) since I initially posted this that the apartheid comment was in relation to class, not gender  (Gaffney said,”the class ratio in Trinity TSM maybe 2%”)*

Apartheid – yeah… I’m just gonna leave that one for all you smarter and middle class people to dissect.

But Gaffney wasn’t the only enlightening male voice on the panel, Mark Paul had a lot to say about feminism too,

Paul: “You can get too wrapped up in putting people in boxes. I’m more interested in what people do than what they are…. Trudeau bought in a cabinet was completely gender balanced and that is obviously a very laudible thing to do… has it performed any better than any of the governments that went before, I dunno….”

Kathy Sheridan tried to interject here but Paul spoke over her,

“…Tredeau’s pretty clever embrace of feminism”

Freyne: “Varakar doesn’t care about class or gender. He is entirely economic focused.”

Paul: “The Taoiseach isn’t a superman.”

Apparently only a superman cares about class and gender. I didn’t know that it requires super powers to care about class or gender, but I guess that makes sense, him being a man and me being, well just a silly and gullible woman. 

Gaffney:“People have attributed views to men that I don’t hold. Like I believe in gender quotas”

Paul :“I’m against anything that puts a restriction on someone’s vote.”

Gaffney :“Parliament should reflect demographically.”

Paul (speaking over Gaffney): “But mostly it should reflect the votes of the people.”

Gaffney: “I’ve been getting smeared, coponcomrades connected me with alt right language, and I didn’t…. on the one hand you have a prohibition on offensive speech… on the other hand an opening up and normalisation of anti male, anti white, anti straight rhetoric. Identity politics is very bad when it stigmatises and attacks based on a demographic.”

Sheridan: “About the #coponcomrades, the response to the letter felt like a silencing to us — these people represent a lot of threads in society, have you any reservations at all about that piece now?”

Gaffney: “None.”

Paul: “I defy you to look at the reaction to Frankie’s piece and say that the reaction he received was not a personal attack on him.”

Gaffney: “I don’t mention any person’s name in my piece…People object to any objection going in the opposite direction…The article wasn’t about feminism it was about a certain style of identity politics and some terminology used by feminism.”

Freyne: “…I think you’re punching down in this instance…”

Gaffney: “ Listen, academics using their departmental accounts to tweet about me, I’m not punching down, upper middle class women having a go at me giving out about me and using departmental accounts.”

Sheridan: “ The people who signed this letter aren’t all middle class Frankie.”

Gaffney: “The people who drafted the letter and the people that organised the campaign are. 500 people didn’t write the letter. It was initiated by one small group and they tokenistically they got working class women on board… I have empathy for everybody that’s the difference between me and those that single out and generalise.”

Freyne (to Gaffney): “No body is stopping you talking.”

Paul (speaking about #coponcomrades signators): “There is a complete and utter intellectual insecurity in people who can’t tolerate another person’s opinions. Feminism to me that exemplifies the worst of it is like a big tent right, and everybody is inside the tent and in order to get into the tent you have to bend your knees to the rules of the tent but they’re absolutely useless at talking to anybody outside the tent. Why such a backlash against Frankie’s article? Why such a ferocious response to his article?”

Say wha? But if everybody is inside the tent Paul who is left to try and get in the tent? (Also, I hope I’m in the #FeminismTent)

Sheridan reads from the #coponcomrades letter, then says: “You’re putting all these people into one little basket, like your accusing them of doing to you.”

Gaffney: “What I meant by that was it was initiated by a group of middle class people.”

This is how I found out that some of my friends have been lying to me about their working class backgrounds! (But then I am just a silly working class woman.)

Sheridan again reads from the letter: “They feel betrayed by what you wrote Frankie.”

Gaffney: “That’s not my problem. That’s their own projection.”

Freyne (speaking about Gaffney’s article): “There’s a much better way to engage with these things…”

Gaffeny: “You’re tone policing.”

Freyne (laughing): “I don’t have a problem with tone policing.”

Gaffney: “I’m glad you say that. I have a problem with the hypocrisy involved of the people who would decry tone policing when it goes one direction or who would decry gender generalisation… I see these words abused more than they’re used toxic masculinity , fragile masculinity, mansplaining, all of this kind of stuff…”

Men bonding over not having a problem with tone policing…#sweet

Paul (on toxic masculinity): “When you portray it as the only form of masculinity that is out there….”

Freyne: “Nobody is portraying it as the only form of masculinity, I’ve never seen anyone describe it as the only form of masculinity, maybe you have but it’s not common. People are taking descriptions of structures as a personal attack and it’s not-”

Gaffney: “People are taking descriptions of language as a personal attack.”

Freyne: “It’s one thing for you to come out and point out that there are levels of lack of privilege in your life that aren’t being addressed by these people…”

Paul: “Feminism is no longer the underdog when it comes to public debate. We are here in the Irish Times Womens’s podcast, there are more feminists in the….Feminism is not the underdog. For anyone to say that feminism is the oppressed viewpoint.. there are more feminists per square foot in this building than in any other building in Dublin… It’s not an oppressed viewpoint. ..Any movement with power is deserving of criticism. of scorn, analysis. Why when anyone criticises or analyses it are they piled on?”

Gaffney: “What I was talking about in the article was when feminism talks about me, I’m entitled, when someone talks about my demographic, I’m gonna talk about it. It’s a movement that objects to gender generalising and gender stereotyping and invents new forms of it and pushing the boundaries of discourse by making terms like straight white male a part of it…”

Paul: “Straight white male is very often deployed as an insult.”

Sheridan: “I don’t think it’s used as an insult, it’s used as a label for someone who already has intrinsic power.”

Paul: “Ah, come on.”

Gaffney: “It’s a derogatory phrase.”

Freyne: “They are genuine signifiers of power in western society, with class.”

Gaffney: “I don’t believe for a second that single white men are the most oppressed in society…(discussion moves on to the alt right, Trump and how feminism has been accused of playing a part in his rise to power)…The rise of the alt right have been fuelled by that kind of style of identity politics rather than trying to liberate their own group.”

Paul: “Feminism as a movement should try talking to men.”

So THAT’s what we’ve been doing wrong! We weren’t talking to the right people about the structural and societal inequalities women have been facing for thousands of years! Silly us! We should’ve been talking to MEN! Duh! Like, why didn’t we think of that? I mean I said, “Please don’t rape me” To the guy who raped me but I guess I must’ve been saying it wrong, cause it obviously wasn’t the way he was culturally conditioned to feel entitled to use my body. I said “Please stop abusing me” to the man I was in a relationship with who abused me but now I know it wasn’t becuase he grew up in a society that doesn’t even bother to collect statistics on domestic abuse victims, such is the disregard for women’s lives. It was just me, silly feminist, always talking to the wrong people. Thank God we have Mark Paul to tell us that all we need to do to achieve gender equality is TALK TO MEN. #HighFiveMark

(Still Mark espousing about feminism): “Feminism in not very good at talking to people who don’t bend the knee to it’s ideas. Feminism doesn’t engage with the world very well, it’s not a great communicator, it’s intellectually incestuous I think… I don’t identify as a feminist.”

*insert a bajillion laughing emoticons*

Freyne: “I think it’s threatening to people the idea that they don’t own all their success. People take these analyses as personal attack.”

Gaffney: “I don’t do that though. I don’t expect Richard Boyd Barrett or Paul Murphy to bend down to me and apologise for being born middle class… I hate this check your privilege stuff. People should identify oppression and fight oppression… Making young men, young people, think about their skin colour rather than their economic position in society is a dangerous game to play — that has contributed to the…(Gaffney was talked over at this point).

Sheridan: Reads from the #coponcomrades letter. “Have you had any rape threats Frankie since your piece?”

Gaffney: “I’ve had threats of violence. But not rape threats no…I believe in solidarity and shared humanity.”

Sheridan: “And they’re accusing you of the exact opposite…I’m talking about gender based violence, where women can’t walk home alone at night.”

Sheridan: “My little brother is much more at risk of violence.”

Freyne: “You have to acknowledge that there are different problems, related to identity.”

Gaffney: “I know women have needed and still need to organise away from men for their rights. Equality, is the word I believe in, I want to fight together.”

Freyne: “We have to look at all the different problems in society. Working class women have very different issues to working class men.”

Paul: “The backlash against Frankie wasn’t because he wasn’t listening to anybody else it was because people were trying to silence what he was saying.”

Gaffney (speaking about the response to his article): “…This constant demand that I should listen to the women. The amount of left wing people and the amount of feminists that agreed with me, I could’ve got 500 people to sign something no problem…(conversation moves on)…If I’d been a woman saying these things I wouldn’t have got half the attacks I did. .. I don’t put out tweets like typical bourgeois wankers. The working class women I know see me as representing the working class just as well as they could. They don’t see me as representing a working class man.”

I only speak for myself but I see Gaffney as representing working class men, he does not speak for me. There were over 100 women from all walks of life and classes who worked on the many, many drafts that created the #coponcomrades letter and hundreds more who felt so strongly about the contents that they signed it. Many of these women were frightened about signing it and I’m aware of a couple of women who agreed with the message but felt afraid to sign. I don’t doubt that some working class women see Gaffney as speaking for them, but he does not speak for all of us. 

Sheridan: “Should men be listening to women more?”

Gaffney: “Men talk a lot more than women and certainly women should be heard.”

Wouldn’t that be great?

#coponcomrades

Feminist Ire Podcast – A Conversation on Consent: It’s ok to say no.

Feminist Ire Podcast – A Conversation on Consent: It’s ok to say no.

For the first Feminist Ire podcast, myself, Sinéad Redmond, Sue Jordan, Yaz O’Connor, Lisa Keogh Finnegan, Helen Guinane sat down and talked about the issues of consent issues in sex, tea, alcohol and everyday life in general – and how it’s ok to say no.

Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin performs her spoken word piece “Ruth.” (This starts at 90:00 if you want to skip straight to that). 

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues regarding consent or rape or sexual assault you can contact Dublin Rape Crisis Phone Line on: 1800 77 8888

If you need information on accessing information on abortion services you can contact the Abortion Support Network.

Massive, massive thanks to Oireachtas Retort for editing assistance. We are grateful!

If you would like to share any views with us on this, please email feministire@gmail.com or get in touch with us on twitter @feministire

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