RSS Feed

Category Archives: feminism

Rape, Reconciliation and Peak Patriarchy

TED talks are supposed to offer blueprints and ideas for a more ideal world. Their tagline is ‘ideas worth spreading’. Last month a TED talk aired by a rapist and his victim, both sharing a stage. Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger’s TED talk, “Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation” already had me nervous, as we live in a world that victim blames, silences and dismisses women’s testimony about their abuse and assault and as a rape victim myself I was somewhat alarmed by the idea of Rape and Reconciliation being sold as an ‘idea worth spreading’. Not that I have a problem with reconciliation, or healing after rape and I am glad to hear that Elva has found healing in her process but her path is one that is unavailable, unwanted and potentially dangerous for many rape victims to pursue.

The scene is set by Stranger, an affable physically attractive Australian man. We hear about his life as a teenager just moved to a country (Iceland) where he doesn’t speak the language, and we hear about how vulnerable and homesick he is. Stranger cracks a joke and the audience laugh along. The set up focuses on his background, his origins, his humanity. He is established as sympathetic character within the first 2 minutes. Then Elva speaks and describes their early relationship she is a 16 year old dating Stranger who is 18. Elva goes on to recount the night Stranger raped her. When Stranger speaks again he skips over the actual rape. He tells us how he re-contextualised it and then went back to Australia shortly thereafter.

The piece is primarily about Stranger. We get a humanising origin story about him. His story is placed in the context of his wider life. We hear of his love for sport and his career as a youth worker but the primary narrative of Elva is is her role as a broken woman in the context of the rape, first of all as his girlfriend, then in the context of what he did to her and then in the context of her struggle to deal with that. We are told she has a husband and son and attends conferences on sexual violence but have no other insights into her interests or humanity. This illustrates the difference between how the two parties are presented,the aftermath of the rape is primarily framed through the eyes of the man who raped her, a man who is set up as sympathetic figure who has the audience in the palm of his hand within moments of speaking.

Stranger never speaks in specifics about the rape, we never hear his story of that night, but he talks in grand platitudes. This is one of the great parlour tricks of this talk, the rapist is granted permission to remain detached from the specific details of his crime. He doesn’t mention or acknowledge the fact that Elva had to do all the emotional labour that lead to their reconciliation, or that it should have been him seeking Elva out to apologise and make reparations to her and not her seeking him out to hold him accountable.

Elva frames her journey as a need to forgive in order to heal. That is fine if that is what works for her but this is not the case for many of us who are survivors of sexual assault. Forgiveness and healing are not the same thing. There are many women I know, including myself who have healed from their experiences but do not forgive the person who raped them. I do not forgive because the rapist never admitted they did the wrong thing, were never bought to justice of any kind and I have had no apology nor any attempt to repair or any reparations made. This is unfortunately the case for many rape victims. I do not need reconciliation or to forgive in order to heal. I do not need anything from the man who raped me in order to heal. In fact the thought of contacting the man who raped me makes me feel sick to my stomach. While I appreciate that Elva has a different journey and experience to me I am alarmed by the context of their talk — as a TED talk — ‘ideas worth spreading.’

I feel it is irresponsible of Stranger, Elva and TED to purport their very unique story of forgiveness after rape as an ‘idea worth spreading’. Especially as the talk is called “Rape and Reconciliation” and their book is titled “South of Forgiveness”.  Both are framed around the idea of needing to forgive in order to heal. This slyly introduces the idea of a “good rapist” and a “good, forgiving victim” which is dangerous in the extreme in a world that already does not believe women. Rapist are regularly forgiven by society and rarely bought to justice. The forgiving of a rapist is not news, it happens every day all around the world by families and communities that do not call the abusive person to justice or accountability. There are so little consequences for abusive men that worldwide 1 in 3 women will be physically or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The platforming of a victim forgiving her rapist as an ‘idea worth spreading’ is in my view very dangerous. I am not suggesting that Elva not have a space to share her story, I’m concerned that TED was the chosen platform. It is not hard to imagine people judging rape victims in the future for ‘not forgiving their rapist like that woman on TED did’. While Elva does admit during the talk that her process is not something she is advocating for everyone, it is not hammered home that  most victims may never get, nor indeed want this outcome or situation. As my friend Victoria Patterson said: “It is reminiscent for me of the myriad ways in which women are expected to overcome insurmountable emotional challenges, swallow our feelings and appear to be reasonable at all costs.”

How many victims of sexual violence struggle to get the police to take them seriously or listen to them, yet so much public attention is being given to two wealthy white people who were able to travel to South Africa to spend a week discussing the rape and aftermath and who have since had years of coaching. If this IS an idea worth spreading then you will need to begin this process with a certain amount of privilege. You will need the privilege to have enough money and time to get help and therapy, the privilege to have enough money and time and perhaps help with your family to fly halfway around the world or to where ever your rapist/victim is, the privilege of not having been so destroyed by what happened to you that you cannot even support yourself, the privilege of having enough mental health/well being to be able to deal with meeting your rapist. These levels of privilege are not acknowledged by Stranger and Elva and is disingenuous of them to say they know what they did isn’t for everyone, while setting the whole thing up as aspirational and telling their story on a platform designed specifically for creating aspirational visions for the future.

That two privileged white people have received so much press coverage and were given a TED talk platform displays the selective bias of the media regarding what rape stories get told. An alternative headline for this talk could be “Man agrees (years after the fact) that he raped a woman. World Applauds”. When the talk has been framed through this man’s journey and “Gasp” accountability and ownership of “Gasp” his own actions, the media wets itself with excitement over this brave man. And there is a joy to be taken from a man owning his actions. If he truly does.

But does Stranger truly own it? Yes he does admit to having raped Elva. That is a fact. Should he be applauded for that? I can see why some people think his admission is great. As a society we have set the bar so low for men, especially for white men. They are mostly unaccountable for their actions no matter how harmful to others. This message is constantly re-enforced. Think of Woody Allen or Casey Affleck being lauded and awarded despite the allegations women have made against them. Does he deserve applause just for taking responsibility for his actions and telling the truth? Does the rapist in the courtroom who pleads guilty also deserve applause? No, it’s just the right thing to do.

During the TED talk Stranger speaks of how the family and culture he grew up with had lots of good role models of people being respectful to women. And perhaps his family were all role modelling respect to women, however I find it VERY hard to believe he was not untouched by the wider sexism that exists in Australian culture. Having grown up there I can tell you that it is a deeply misogynistic society, where men are bred on entitlement. But don’t just take my word for it. As of 2015 two women a week die at the hands of a partner or a former partner. Shocking statistics for a country with such a small population and indicative of the disposable view many men have regarding women.

But Stranger does not talk about rigid and systemic gender stereotypes, toxic masculinity or any of the other factors that no doubt contributed to his younger self thinking that he had ownership over Elva’s body. This is the great missed opportunity of the talk. We are offered a floundering ‘I didn’t even realise I had raped her’ vague pronouncement and lack of accountability with no willingness on Stranger’s part to look at or acknowledge the cultural conditioning that lead to his despicable actions.

We do not hear about Stranger’s journey of soul searching after Elva’s initial letter. We do not know if he quietly consulted lawyers to find out what his options were before contacting Elva again. He very well may not have, but I have to wonder if he considered the legal ramifications of admitting in writing to committing a rape. Did he ever consider taking himself to the Police station to confess to the crime he committed? Did his willingness to own his actions extend to actually living with the legal consequences of that?

The world has gathered round to applaud a man who, many years after the fact, due to the emotional courage and tenacity of his own victim has now admitted to raping her. And as far as we know has incurred no legal consequences for his criminal act. We expect so little from men who abuse women that we have granted this man one of the most influential stages in the world, and a book deal. It is hard to know how many more platforms will be offered to Stranger now that he has become a poster boy for a reformed rapist. This my friends is peak patriarchy. Where a self-confessed rapist actually gets rewarded, applauded and financially profits from admitting he raped a woman. Slow clap for the man at the front for admitting he’s a rapist. There is something sick and dark about so many people lapping this up as a step in the right direction.

It is of interest that Stranger does not explore his life before or after he raped Elva. We know that rape is caused by male entitlement and a feeling of ownership over women’s bodies. We know that rape is about power and control and not sex. It is an act of violence towards a woman. The mindset that creates this sense of entitlement is not something that you can turn on and off at will. While I think it is brilliant that Stranger has so clearly decided to explore this part of himself, and that he is doing it so publicly, I am interested to know what else he may have done in his life before he realised he was a rapist. What were his other encounters with women and girls like? Can he honestly say that he never crossed a line with any other woman? I would find it hard to believe as Stranger himself says he didn’t recognise what he had done as rape for many many years. Perhaps he had zero interactions with women and his sexism didn’t emerge during those years after he raped Elva. I feel there was another missed opportunity for Stranger here, for him to fully own up to any and all harm he may have caused women. As the piece stands the rape is made to sound like a one off event, an anomaly in the otherwise happy life Stranger lived. Again, I feel the idea of a nice guy who “Ooops, one day raped his girlfriend and didn’t even know he had” is a dangerous message to be sending out into the world on such a large platform. That is simply not the way sexual assault and the toxic belief system that leads to men feeling entitled to assault women works. It is NOT a one off event.

I feel there was a golden opportunity here for Stranger to fully step into the causes of male entitlement, to own up to his part in it, to talk to other men about where he now knows he went wrong and why they all need to do some serious soul searching as well. It had the potential to be one of the most amazing conversation changing pieces — a man laying bare and dissecting toxic masculinity through the lens of his own story. Owning every uncomfortable bit of it and explaining how and what brought about his change, creating a pathway and vision for future men and boys to follow.

Now THAT would be an idea worth spreading.

How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101

CrossKnit

I wrote this for a specific group, but I’ve been asked to share it. A lot of folks are just waking up to activism and are heading into intersectional feminist spaces with some trepidation. Hopefully this can help keep you on track. I’ve already been reminded that I missed code-switching, appropriation (which is a whole post, frankly, but TL;dr if a living group exists that can be mocked for the thing you think is cool and that you want to do, don’t), and a few other things. I’ll try to pick those up at a later date, but in the meantime this primer will help you get your feet wet without making a damn fool of yourself. Much. It’s all lessons I learned the hard way, so do better than me and remember we’re all works in progress.)

Hey, crew. If this isn’t your first exposure to intersectional feminism you…

View original post 3,145 more words

Star Wars: (She’s A) Rogue One: Believing Women and Creating Hope

*****CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!******

Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.

jyn-erso

Read the rest of this entry

On learning in intersectional feminism as a privileged woman

This post is adapted from a post I wrote for a specific feminist facebook group. 

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s coming out of my own experience of having grown up as a very privileged woman, who bought into a very media-pushed, capitalist, patriarchy-lite version of feminism that was essentially the feminism of the second-wavers, and over the last 8 or so years doing a massive amount of learning around how flawed and damaging and still oppressive a view of the world that is; if you are making your way to the top of the pile but stepping on other women to do it, women’s oppression isn’t ended even though your job title might be CEO of all the world.

The word learning doesn’t necessarily sound immediately difficult to lots of us I’d imagine; it certainly didn’t always carry those connotations to me. I learned in school very easily and quickly; I performed well, I garnered plaudits and praise. The kind of learning that I’m talking about now though isn’t that kind of easily, painlessly (for me) absorbed knowledge transfer; this kind of learning is difficult, often painful, and frequently inducing of defensive behaviour (for me). It’s learning that involves facing your own privilege and acknowledging when and where there are others with more lived experience of other oppressions than you and who have considerably more of a right to speak on some topics and lead feminist thought on some issues than you; as someone who was very used to the feminism I was familiar with being White Feminism™ the concept of not being capable of speaking with authority on matters affecting women as a class, as a broader group, was a difficult and yes, painful, one to process and absorb. I frequently embarrassed myself in feminist discussions around this. My toes are curling up with cringe thinking of some of the defensive, hypercritical and unhelpful ways I responded (mostly, thankfully, online and anonymously, back in the days of discussion forums) to others who were sharing their opinions and theories backed up and borne out of their own lived experiences of their own oppressions.

It’s learning that has been of, and I mean this literally, priceless worth to me though. Those discussions in which those women and people used up their valuable time and labour in explaining to me and others the way in which the world operates on more than one oppressive axis, and why my white, middle-class view of the world is not a comprehensive or indeed accurate one, taught me more than anything I ever learned in college. I genuinely value this learning more than I value my degrees; it was harder come by for me, which is again my privilege talking – but I’m putting this out there because I know there will be those of you now who are where I was then on my journey.

I’d like to share some of my thoughts and the things I have learned though on what in my experiences from both sides of the fence, how the least painful for all involved, way to explore someone else’s reality and opinions born of their lived experience, without trivialising, dismissing, or walking over their real and valid emotions and hurt. This is really not meant to be preachy. I’m sorry if it comes across to anyone like that. It’s meant to offer help.

  1. When someone expresses an opinion that contradicts my view of the world in a way that challenges my acceptance of the status quo (by which I mean the capitalist and patriarchal hegemony we all live under), particularly if it elicits a very defensive response in me, I do my utmost to take the time to sit with that feeling for a while until its immediacy passes. This might take a few minutes; it might take a few days. It might take longer.
  2. If the person talking is oppressed in a way that I am not, I take the time to think on what they’ve said and process it inside my head until I have absorbed it as truth; their truth. If there are aspects of their opinions I can look for further reading on via Google I do that. I only read feminist-slanted reading on it.
  3. If I would still like to be enlightened on some of how they have come to the stance they have, and if I think that it would not hurt them to be asked, and if they have not expressly said they haven’t got the spoons to do the emotional labour of teaching me, I try to ask in as minimally demanding a way as possible if they could possibly explain a small bit of where they’re coming from on this.
  4. I do my utmost to accept however they respond in good faith and with good manners. A vital part of this is to accept what they respond with as fundamental truth and assume that all of their interactions with me are meant as well as that person can possibly mean it at that moment.
  5. I thank the person for their time and energy.

There are certainly times I am sure people reading this will have seen me NOT behaving in this way online in conflicts; those times are when I’ve been hurt myself by people insensitively treading on me in ways I’ve been oppressed and damaged. Those times though have really helped me to find empathy for others I see responding with anger and hurt when questioned or queried.

Most of all I do my best to approach women/trans people with, at a minimum, respect. If I can manage it, I approach them with loving kindness.

I am posting this in the hopes that it may help someone who is where I was a few years ago; not to set myself up as some kind of expert in conflict resolution in feminist circles, because that I most certainly am not. I am posting to try to share what I have been given from others.

On ‘whataboutery’, echo chambers, freedom of speech and playing the devil’s advocate – or: Why can’t we all just get along?

Originally posted on Linnea Dunne’s blog – reposted with permission

As someone who is regularly accused of hiding in an echo chamber of angry feminists patting each other on the back, I thought I’d write to those of you who accuse me of that, who think that I’m not doing feminism right. If you’ve ever thought that I’ve been too angry, that I’ve been wrong to disengage myself from a discussion, that I’ve overreacted to a seemingly innocent statement, that I haven’t tried hard enough to convince the other side – this is for you. Please read it.

First of all, I want to highlight that all of the below has been written about beautifully and powerfully and poignantly many times before; but that’s the thing with the echo chamber, isn’t it, that those important articles may well have hit a wall somewhere along the line and never made their way to you. But the beauty of the echo chamber is this: it helps pick people up, it is safe when the outside world feels too scary, and it helps us make sense of those difficult debates we want to deal with but can’t while being shouted at by a nonsensical Twitter troll. What I’m writing here is nothing new – yet it so badly needs to be written again and again and again. So here’s my first point: it’s only an echo chamber if you allow it to be. If this is somehow new to you, chances are it will be to your echo chamber friends too – so share it.

Point two, which is related: you need to take responsibility for your own learning. Inside your echo chamber or elsewhere, there will be people who get something that you don’t get, and if getting it requires you to check your privilege it’s likely that explaining it to you would be really draining and exhausting and maybe even triggering for those who do get it. They get it because they’ve experienced it – ‘it’ being rape or emotional abuse or racism or transphobia or cultural appropriation or a life of being monitored and kicked at by patriarchy – and you can be sure that they are forced to justify their feelings and reactions and sheer existence to mainstream liberal discourse day in and day out without you adding to their workload. And here’s the thing: that’s not their job. You might think that you’re being nice by asking – ‘Tell me again why I shouldn’t use that word you claim is so offensive?’ – but don’t you think it might be nicer for them if you say that you hear them, that you trust them, and then go off and figure out whatever it is you don’t get using your search engine of choice? Be that enlightened liberal you window dress your Facebook feed with and go read the voices of oppressed and minority groups. Then share them widely.

Point three – again, related: stop playing devil’s advocate. Just stop it. People who spend day in and day out talking about and reading about and writing about and experiencing oppression in some shape or form don’t need your assumption that you, a person who doesn’t talk about it quite that much and who’s never really experienced it, have just thought about this one aspect they’ve failed to cover, which will blow their entire argument to pieces. You know, it might happen. You just might be that guy. If that’s the case, you definitely will get your fifteen minutes of fame at some point and that argument will fall; but most likely – just trust me on this one – they’ll have heard your unique insight a thousand times already and somehow managed to still feel how they feel, despite them constantly and persistently wishing that feeling away. So when that devil inside you raises his voice, turn the other cheek and play devil’s advocate with yourself instead: why is it that it would be so incredibly difficult and uncomfortable for you if their experience was really real and their argument truly held up? Is it maybe possibly plausible that seeing and acknowledging and committing to scrutinising your own privilege is just really, really hard?

Next – let’s talk about that anger. I snap sometimes. Someone writes something on Facebook or makes a joke somewhere or shares a funny YouTube clip that – shocker – I don’t find funny. And it seems so innocent to you, yet I turn into that feminist killjoy and snap. Why can’t feminists just chill? The truth is that many of them can, and I admire that in them, but remember this: we’re in this all the time – day and night, wherever we go, since the moment we were born. It’s not like an annoying person at work or a bus route that is consistently unreliable; it’s not even like that unspoken, ever-growing mountain of irritating, hurtful words and comments and insinuations in a toxic relationship that keeps nagging at you until you want to scream at the sheer thought of it and can’t even begin to try to explain it without bursting into tears – worse: it’s relentless in the most literal and vicious sense of the word. So when people don’t bother reading up on stuff and you are patient enough to take all those conversations, when they keep playing devil’s advocate and refusing to check their privilege, and then they go and share that seemingly innocent yet so fundamentally damaging video clip – you snap. Because you’re exhausted, and you’re sick of not being heard, and yes, you’re angry because you are constantly made to feel small and insignificant and untrustworthy and meaningless, day in and day out, by a constant stream of supposedly innocent clips and jokes and comments and devil’s advocates. Perhaps ask yourself this: why is it that your discomfort with the anger and tone and shrillness of it all must blind you to the very reasons behind them?

Next – also on tone policing – logic. I’ve been in conversations where I’ve been trying to understand something and I’ve brought my very Scandinavian consensus-seeking reasoning to the table, and somehow it’s gotten me nowhere. (I quote Björk: “I thought I could organise freedom; how Scandinavian of me.) I’ve been trying to reason out the different sides of the argument using logic, plain and simple logic, because one and one is two and no one can argue with that, so why can’t we understand each other if we put all the cards and facts on the table? Ideological hegemony is why. What was logical to me – a privileged, white, middle-class Swede – was very much logical to me because of the norms of the society I grew up in, the worldview I inherited, the experiences I’d had, and the rules of the world we live in. Really, truly checking your privilege involves shedding layers of truths and logic the way they’ve been handed down to you – yes, even via some of those red-brick university reading lists – and daring to listen to voices you’ve never previously understood. Sometimes they’ll sound shrill, other times their logic will seem flawed. But if you want to understand them, you have to try to read their logic and trust that they’re speaking the truth, their truth. Solidarity is about more than passive tolerance. Real change doesn’t happen in comfort zones.

Now a word on ‘whataboutery’ – because it’d be nice to get it out of the way so that I don’t have to go through this every time someone what-abouts me and I refuse to engage and they think I’m being a hypocrite. I find it acutely frustrating that my feminism is taking up as much of my time and energy as it is. If I could un-see the oppression I see and stop taking the arguments and worrying about the consequences and struggling to enjoy mainstream films, I would – I would hand it all back for just a bit of peace and quiet and a laugh and a chance to engage with some other kind of activism for a while. Because when I see my male peers share stuff about this issue and the next, seemingly informed about everything from immigration policy to global warming and macroeconomics, I feel jealous. I care about that stuff too, but everywhere I look I see the effects of patriarchy and that fire in me comes to life again and I can’t see beyond it. So when I talk about women’s rights and you ask what I’ve done for starving children, I don’t hear sympathy for how I’m feeling – I don’t hear you say ‘hey, I bet you wish you could campaign about this stuff too’. I hear a refusal to talk about women’s rights. I don’t expect of you to read every article I read about reproductive rights, and I don’t expect of you to feel as passionately as I do about body positivity and the domestic division of labour – but I think that’s all the more reason for you to listen to me when I talk about it. What about the men? the internet echoes every time a woman mentions the patriarchy. But why is it that we hear so little from these same voices about toxic masculinity and extended paternity leave until we start talking about women’s rights? And why is it that we’re asked to carry that issue too? Do we not seem burdened enough? Truth be told, I don’t think the whataboutery is all that much about men’s rights. I don’t hear these people stroll up to Greenpeace demonstrators asking ‘What about the men?’. I don’t see them below articles calling for an end to direct provision, commenting to point out that men have rights too. Let’s not play the RTÉ game – let’s not talk masculinity purely for the sake of balance. We all deserve better than that.

Last point before I wrap up: free speech. You have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to voice it. You do not, however, have a right to any given platform, nor to the shoving of your opinions down anyone’s throat – especially not if said opinions border on hate speech. So when someone talks about not getting Katie Hopkins on The Late Late Show and someone else cries freedom of speech, they’ve got some catching up to do. It takes a lot to silence a privileged public person with column inches in one of the biggest UK tabloid papers and a huge social media following; refraining from inviting her onto an Irish public service prime time chat show will have little or no impact on how loud her voice is and how far her messages reach. If we’re really interested in the right to be heard, we would do well to ask ourselves why feminist friends of mine have been dropping off the internet like never before, slowly but surely, one after the other, since Donald Trump was elected. These people whose only platform is social media, who are suddenly faced with twice the misogynists and trolls and devil’s advocates and just can’t put up with it anymore – I don’t hear anyone crying freedom of speech when they stop talking.

Finally (and if you’ve made it this far, thank you!), a disclaimer. You might think I’m placing myself on a pedestal, all self-righteous in what a brilliant co-feminist I am. Trust me, I’m not. For the sake of argument, join me for a moment as I recall the year of 2001: I had dreadlocks and a turban (yes, both – simultaneously!) and was singing backing vocals with a reggae band, the singer in which put on a fake Patois accent, and if you had told me about cultural appropriation I would have laughed. There – you’re welcome. I’m highly flawed, but I’m learning. Can’t we all just admit we’re flawed, check our privilege and learn?

We are not better than Morocco, we just think we are.

I was walking over Kevin Street one night a few years ago and there were three kids, who couldn’t have been anymore than about ten, throwing stones at a black man and shouting racist abuse at him. I did what any right thinking individual would have done and roared at them “HERE, quit that yis little bastards.” One of them in turn picked up a stone and fired it at me where it pelted me full force inside of my leg and left a massive bruise roughly shaped like Belgium. Normally I wouldn’t care, but the problem for me was that I had planned to attend a wedding two days later and didn’t have time to get a longer dress that would cover the bruise. So I began a Google search to find the concealer that would cover it.

There were literally thousands of results on how to cover bruising. Recommendations from forums about what types of concealer; how to do it with lipstick; the best brushes to use; the way to apply without causing any further stressed to bruised skin. There seems to be an awful lot of women with an awful lot of bruises to cover. Facelifts are popular but they couldn’t be *that* popular. Even the Daily Mail once had advice from make-up artists who outlined in detail how to cover up bruising after a woman wrote in having fallen down in the street. I know a woman who falls down in the street regularly, but it’s usually after her boyfriend has seen her chatting to another man or after he’s been drinking.

There was mass outrage this week when a Moroccan public broadcaster aired a daytime show including a segment on how to cover up bruising after a beating from your husband. It’s makes for pretty grim watching as the make-up artist chit chats while she’s masking the bruising. Much of the uproar on twitter after it was due to the fact that Morocco is a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. The logic to the outrage was “Look at these barbarians in this Islamic nation! See how they beat their wives! See how normal it is for them.”

We got one of those smart tellys a while back at home and sometimes I watch YouTube make-up tutorials on it in the evenings. I rarely actually use any of their tips because I’m lazy and refuse to buy more foundation until the one I’m using runs out, but there’s something weirdly soothing about watching someone layer on the primers and highlighters and  use eyeshadow to make what is essentially art on their faces. Sharon Farrell is a make-up artist from the West of Ireland who lives in Australia now and is definitely my all time favourite, mainly because she’ll tell you which eyeshadow palette from Catrice is the closest dupe to a Mac set, but also because I am convinced she is more of a wizard than a make-up artist.

Anyway, I watched one of her videos one day and she had a bit of bruising because she’d had her lips done, so this tutorial was about how to cover it up. Just after three minutes into the tutorial my beloved Sharon turns to the camera and says, “If you need to cover up bruises because someone is hitting you, that’s not cool, and it’s not ok, and there are people that you can talk to and there’s help available to you and I’ll put the numbers below the video……and if someone is beating you that’s not cool and you shouldn’t have to accept that in your life.” This was a great thing to do because make-up artists like her are going to reach a wide audience.

Obviously, and rightly, there was no public outrage over this. I spoke to my sister (also a Sharon fan) and concluded that what she had done was a good idea; a simple acknowledgment that some women seek help in covering bruises because men beat them. The video has had almost 179,000 views to date. That’s 176,000 more than this Women’s Aid awareness video.  

The Moroccan tv segment is jarring because, if the translation is correct, there is an aspect of normalisation to this. The women speak of bruises from their husbands as being a very standard thing that you just have to get on with. But this is on a spectrum; Farrell’s video to an extent is acknowledging the normalisation of domestic violence too. That is not a defence of how the Moroccan broadcasters handled the issue or a criticism of Farrell, but to point out that so many women are experiencing domestic violence, that for them this is the norm. As a make-up artist, Sharon Farrell would be well aware of the thousands of forums that I came across on my google searches researching the best foundation that will give enough coverage to make a black eye and bruised jaw disappear. Farrell and the hundreds of other make-up artists with similar videos aren’t condemned for this subtle acknowledgment because they’re white and western. Would we be less appalled by the Moroccan tv segment if they’d included a phone number for a domestic violence hotline? Would that have made the men criticising it less concerned about Islam in Morocco and more concerned for women’s well-being?

The sad thing about the Moroccan tv outrage is that it was mainly directed at the women who participated in this – rather than the men who beat their wives so regularly to the extent that it appears to these women to be a perfectly reasonable to have a daytime feature on hiding the fact you’ve taken a beating from a person who is meant to love you.  Do we think we are better in Ireland because Irish men mostly beat women where the bruises don’t show? Because we aren’t.

Domestic violence is an enormous problem. Just because a make-up artist here adds the phone number for women’s aid at the bottom of her video does not make us better than Morocco. You’re not likely to see a segment on The Afternoon Show about how to cover your black eye, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t Irish women who would look for similar information online. 6,000 women and children were turned away from refuges in Ireland during 2015 because there wasn’t the space to take them in. A lot of the 16 women turned away every day will inevitably return to their partners, weighing up the risk of a beating against the risk of living on the streets. Domestic violence is exacerbated by the State and the community when it will not give a woman an exit route.

Organisations like Women’s Aid do fantastic work in Ireland, but the men on twitter saying domestic violence is a result of Islam are insulting. Wasn’t Clodagh Hawe’s husband at mass the Sunday before he murdered her and her children and then shot himself in an act of cowardice?

A third of women in Ireland have experienced extreme psychological violence from men. A quarter of women have experienced violence by partners in Ireland.  

We are not better than Morocco, we just think we are.

stats.JPG

The Women’s Aid Helpline is 1800 341 900.

Follow me on twitter @stephie08

 

All your wombs belong to us – The State, Ms. B and Forced C Sections

The High Court decision in HSE v B has been made public today (I’ll edit to add a link once it’s available). A month ago, a woman who wished to undergo a vaginal birth after three c-sections found herself in the High Court as the HSE attempted to have her compelled to undergo a fourth c-section against her consent. The HSE case was based on the notion that the Eighth Amendment rendered them more appropriate to decide what was best for her pregnancy than she was. This is a landmark decision, because for once, it’s a maternity rights case where the resulting decision hasn’t been completely terrible.

The judgment is long and make no mistake, there is no judicial feminism in here; the Court is at pains to point out throughout the judgment that they have no idea why this woman would possibly want a vaginal birth. But ultimately it goes on to state (at Paragraph 21):

“The court concludes that it is a step too far to order the forced caesarean section of a woman against her will even though not making that order increases the risk of injury and death to both Ms. B and her unborn child.”

Essentially this means that the Court recognises the right of the HSE to pursue a case against a heavily pregnant woman on the basis of the Eighth Amendment, but the idea of legally compelling a woman to undergo a caesarean including the sedation, anaesthetic, the surgery, the pain, the recovery….and all that goes with it, was a little bit too much even by an Irish High Court’s standards.

Maternity rights activists in AIMS have been pointing out for years that the Eighth Amendment is not just a tool of coercion for women who want to access abortion services, but that it is used just as regularly against women who are continuing their pregnancies. They report that women are regularly told the guards will come to get them if they don’t turn up for their scheduled inductions. Being threatened with the guards coming to your door when you’re in the full of your health and not in a vulnerable pregnant state is one thing, but threatening a woman on the brink of her due date is quite another – it is beyond bullying, it is obstetric violence. And as AIMS have pointed out, it usually ensures that women will go along with whatever is being forced upon them by the HSE. The prospect of being brought to court, like Ms. B was, is too much for most.

The ruling is not completely terrible in that it finds that the risk to the “unborn” is not so great that it warrants overriding Ms. B’s rights to have a c-section forcibly performed on her, however as is the practice with Irish judgments there is no sense of what might constitute a *risk* to the unborn that is sufficient that a woman may have some other form of medical intervention performed on her against her will. We are not out of the woods yet. As long as the Eighth Amendment remains in the Constitution, this will not be the last Court case on the matter.

While this was a case concerning a woman who fully intended to carry her pregnancy to term, it has important implications for the tiny number of women who may find themselves before panels of doctors in an attempt to access abortions under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. In the Ms. Y case a young asylum seeker, pregnant as a result of rape was deemed by a number of doctors to be suicidal. However, the HSE also felt that the way in which to avert the risk of suicide would be to perform a cesarean section on her at 24 weeks gestation instead of the abortion she requested as soon as she found out she was pregnant at 8 weeks. When Ms. Y went on hunger and thirst strike, the HSE sought and received a court order to forcibly hydrate her. The threats of court were uttered in relation to the c-section, and Ms. Y gave birth against her wishes by c-section as a result. We now wonder whether the Ms. B judgment had been delivered earlier and Ms. Y’s counsel fought the HSE at the outset of a c-section being mentioned, would the outcome have been different? Ms. B is yet another judgment to add to the mounting stacks of obstetric violence entering the courts that don’t really give us clarity one way or the other.

What is clear though is how the Eighth Amendment does not just impact those seeking abortions, but on the broader spectrum of reproductive justice. The Eighth Amendment along with a warped mentality of maternity care that infantilises women leads medical practitioners to coerce women into interventions out of a fear that they will be found to have not protected the “right to life of the unborn.” Criminalising those accessing abortions, threatening women who want natural births with garda interventions or dragging women like Ms. Y and Ms. B into the courts is obstetric violence. It demonstrates that regardless of the circumstance or your wishes in pregnancy, the State via the HSE will treat you as a vessel with no competence to make your own choice. There is no autonomy within maternity “care” and doulas are viewed with at best suspicion and at worst, contempt. There is a separate system of medical consent for pregnant women that mean effectively forced c-sections happen every day. They don’t enter the courts, but when the decision to agree to a c-section you don’t really want is made because you can’t take the bullying from medical practitioners or because you believe they will take you to court, is it really not forced?

Any kind of surgery against your will would be unpleasant to say the least. I can’t imagine getting a tooth out without having given full consent. But a forced c-section is a whole other level of violence. It is misogynist and it is degrading, and it is the State sponsored infliction of terror on pregnant women. There is no way you can undergo surgery you have been coerced into and not feel a profound blow to your sense of bodily autonomy and integrity, and those conditions are ripe for birth trauma and postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder. Women are gaslit and told their ideas about what should happen during birth are simply “baby brain” and the parallels with domestic violence are striking; indeed many women first experience violence in a relationship when they become pregnant. This is gender based violence, and if anyone objects to that analysis, then please, show me the judgment where the HSE attempted to compel a non-pregnant person undergo major invasive surgery, then colluded with the courts to make sure it happened.

What exactly will it take to ensure women are afforded autonomy over their pregnancies? Obstetric violence and coercion of pregnant women is abuse, and it is a major public healthcare problem in Ireland. Having an unwanted vaginal exam performed on you without consent is a form of violence against women that is no less real than violence against women in the home. We need to start addressing it as such so that the structural and systemic aspect of it can be picked apart and broken and so that no more Ms. Y’s or Ms. B’s find themselves before the Courts. We need to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

@stephie08