In a country which voted overwhelmingly only a few months ago to return ownership of our bodies to us, it was dispiriting, though not surprising, to watch the mob turn on a young homeless Traveller mother, Margaret Cash, for the crimes of being young, a mother, a Traveller, a woman and homeless. The mob has spoken, and it has decreed that she has too many children (though it has failed to specify which exactly of her children should not have been born), that she is in some way to blame for her circumstances (though the housing and rental crisis is in no way of her making), that she should have taken the housing options she was offered (though she could not afford them, had no way of getting to them, and indeed in one case they could not take all of her children with her). The mob would presumably let them all rot on the benches of Tallaght garda station indefinitely. The mob also does not give a toss that Margaret Cash’s children are listening while it bays that they should not exist.
Why is it that we can talk about “the housing crisis” or “the homelessness crisis” in the media as one under which people are suffering, yet when a mother in pure desperation shares a photo of the straits her children and her family are in, she is torn apart for it? Are people that desperate to believe it couldn’t happen to them that they will peer through every tiny chink into a family’s life through Facebook posts and deem them unworthy and undeserving on this tiny, one-sided, skewed angle of perception? That is surely a part of it, but there is a darker truth here too. The habit of misogyny and of blaming women and mothers for their societally created and enforced suffering is one that has long been pervasive in Ireland. However much you may like to believe that your Together for Yes twibbon frees you of the need to interrogate any of your beliefs about women – especially mothers – if you believe that you have the right to a say in anyone else’s reproductive decisions, particularly in the wake of their being already made, you are a part of Ireland’s misogyny problem.
Let me be perfectly clear; if you are one of those people who last week thought or said or posted or tweeted or commented that Margaret Cash had surely some part to play in sleeping in a garda station along with her children, you are one of those people who would have said the same about the mothers and the children in the Magdalen laundries and the Mother and Baby homes. If you believe that it is in any way acceptable for you to suggest going through Margaret Cash’s Facebook posts in response to a family being so utterly failed by the society they live in that they are forced to resort to trusting to a policing force that automatically sees their ethnic grouping, including their children, as criminals, to house them, you are one of those that would have looked straight at those women walking together with shorn heads in ragged uniforms down the main streets of Ireland’s towns and never seen anything amiss.
To want a home in which to have and raise children, and to be supported by society in so doing, is a perfectly feminist ideal and to suggest otherwise is pure misogyny. The work of having and raising children is work of value on which society depends; indeed without the work of mothers in growing, birthing and raising our children society as we know it would end within a generation. This is not a new feminist ideal; it has been widespread since the Wages for Housework international campaign of the 1970s. Most of the demands of the Wages for Housework campaign (paid maternity and parental leave, women’s right to work outside the home, equal pay, and social welfare supports) have passed into the accepted needs of society as a whole and are taken entirely for granted as part and parcel of our fought-for and hard-won rights in feminist circles. There is however one area that hasn’t yet been assimilated into society; the concept that the work within one’s own home, of raising one’s own children, of contributing to society the thing it needs most to keep going, should be paid work. That a mother’s work is valuable because it has a price; not worthless because it is of no monetary value.
The reason this vital part of the Wages for Housework campaign did not succeed as its other demands did? Simple; ‘business’ (by which I mean of course capitalism) does not directly benefit from it in the same way that the opening up of a new supply of workers (mothers) to the workforce does. Capitalism requires that this work not be seen as ‘real’ work; that it be done silently and alone without pay, that one employee who wants to have a family must have another person in the home doing the unpaid labour of caring for that employee and the family. Without that person and their unpaid labour the edifice of capitalism begins to shudder, to be seen as the imprisoning behemoth it is, beneath the weight of which all of us are being slowly crushed.
Margaret Cash and her children are today’s sacrifice to Ireland’s continued worship of the combined gods of capitalism and misogyny. We cannot continue like this; leaving the children of ‘undeserving’ mothers to be trodden underfoot by the rest of society, nor can we continue to declare the system is not broken beyond repair in the face of the growing thousands without homes and safe places to stay while the massive landlords that are banks and the vulture funds are given tax break and bailout hand over fist. In much the same way that we reclaimed ownership of our bodies, so too is a movement where we seize back our basic, fully achievable right to homes and safe shelter the only way from here. The ongoing refusal of the State to provide for our obvious needs while women and families suffer and die is an all too familiar echo of the decades gone past. We know they would not have listened to us then had we not risen up and made them. It’s time to make them listen again