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The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

 

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Here’s some common rape – prevention tips  “Don’t drink too much”, “Don’t wear anything too revealing”, “Text a friend  to let them know your plans”, “Hold your keys in between your fingers” and of course “Never, ever walk down a darkened alleyway”.  These are the things young women are being told by parents, teachers and society. I understand that the reason people are saying these things to women and girls is because they don’t want anything bad to happen to them. But do they actually prevent women from being sexually assaulted?

In the majority of cases I don’t believe they do.

All these rape-prevention tips are attempts to keep away the monstrous stranger. But as statistics collected by R.A.I.N.N show 3 out of 4 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

So, with this in mind what are we teaching girls about that? Are we telling them to watch out for the man who lives next door/the older cousin/the guy you’ve been dating for 6 months/his best friend? Are we teaching them that 1 in 4 relationships are abusive and that you need to know the signs of abuse before embarking on one? Are we teaching them how to spot the signs of an entitled person? How to spot status seekers?  How to rid their lives of anyone who treats them with disrespect? Are these things fundamental to every parenting book/school class room?

I wonder also why most campaigns focus on women, putting the onus on them not to get raped or be assaulted. Violence against women seems to be the one area where the focus is on potential victims to take responsibility for decreasing their chances of being attacked. I’ve never seen a poster giving tips to stop me being potentially run over by a motorist , or a poster  warning me on the dangers of being in the presence of someone smoking. So why in this one area of violence against women, are poster and ad campaigns directed at potential victims? Another issue with these campaigns  is that most of the campaigns I’m aware of seem to promote the idea that sexual assault occurs between strangers. I’m yet to see a campaign that aims to impart the knowledge that 75% of assaults happen between people who know each other. Why are most campaigns ignoring the statistics on this? And where are all the campaigns reaching out to the perpetrators of these crimes?

According  to the UN It is estimated that “35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime”. So, if you’re a woman or a girl you’ve got a 35 – 70% chance of being sexually or physically abused by a man. And these statistics are not taking into account other forms of abuse – verbal, emotional/psychological, financial abuse and cyber abuse (unsolicited dick pic anyone?)

I don’t know ONE WOMAN who has not been subjected to something on this list of awful. Not one. That’s 100% of the women I know who have been abused in some form by a man. I can hear the ‘not all men’ brigade jumping in at this point, and I want to say – Sure, not ALL men, just  enough that 35 – 70% of ALL women will experience abuse or assault.  Plus these statistics are based on reported incidents of crimes against women. And many women do not report.  If I had of reported every assault against me I would have spent most of my 20’s and 30’s in copshops and courtrooms.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have been harassed online or physically/sexually/verbally/emotionally or financially abused by men. At a rough guess I’d say maybe 200 men have combined to abuse, denigrate, assault or intimidate me over the course of my life. 200 DIFFERENT men that is.

I did a rough survey of women’s experiences on a few women-only groups that I’m part of on Facebook, to find out if my experience was unusual. Women shared having experienced varying degrees of abuse and assault with a couple of women saying they also felt it would be up to 200 men who had been abusive to them in their lifetimes. Other women said they had had one bad experience only. It was by no means a scientific study but it gave me a slightly broader view on what was happening outside of my circle.

I can’t help but wonder what the statistics would be if there was an official system in place for reporting crimes against women – one where women could share their experience regardless of if they want to pursue anything legally (if they are fortunate enough to live in a country where the crimes against them are considered to BE crimes that is). Or even something like the Everyday Sexism site, which collects and collates women’s experiences from around the globe.

Every time I read official statistics on rape and sexual assault I feel angry that none of my experiences are counted in those statistics. And it is too late for me to report them now, the first time I was raped was 20 years ago and in another country. Plus being a witness at a rape trial when I was 17 significantly deterred me from reporting any of the crimes committed against me.  I know I am not alone in that most women do not report this kind of crime, especially when they know the person who has committed it, which as we know is in 75% of cases.

The dark, lurking horror for me as a parent of two girls is that I know there is little chance they will escape this. I know in my woman’s heart what most likely waits for them.  It is frighteningly likely that at some point a man is going to try and hurt my daughters.

Given all I know about abuse and assault I feel that it is my job to prepare my daughter’s for the likely possibility of being assaulted or abused. Of course I never tell them that I think they might be assaulted, instead I teach them about consent and boundaries, so they know what is and isn’t ok. I teach them about respecting their own and other’s bodies. I want the lines to be SO clear for my beautiful girls. I want no doubt in their minds when someone crosses a line. I want them to KNOW it is wrong.

I teach them what I was never taught, to be fierce. To be so fierce that they feel comfortable yelling and shouting at anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or wrong. I want them to know how to scream and what to scream.

I practice scenarios with my teenage daughter, “A guy does this to you, what do you do?”  I say, “You need to scream as loud as you can for help.” I teach them that no matter how well they know the person that they should act like he is a stranger because people are more likely to help a woman who is being accosted by a stranger than get involved with a ‘domestic’.

I teach them emotional intelligence, so they can articulate what happens to them. I teach them resilience so, if they need it, they can heal. So if it happens my girls will be strong within, are less likely to fall to pieces, or to lose weight, friends and jobs because of what has happened to them.  Alongside of all of this I’m trying to teach my daughters that there are also lovely men out there, that they can trust, men who are allies, men who are respectful and that hopefully these will be the majority of the men they encounter. And while I’m doing this a little voice inside me is saying  “it just takes one.” One man to hurt my child.

And while I’m teaching my girls all the things no one ever taught me and I wish they did, I’m thinking “Fuck this awful world, that is making me teach my daughters to prepare for what feels like their inevitable assault. Fuck this.” And I’m getting angry about it, so fucking angry.

Because I know that this could all change in one generation. If we were all teaching our sons to be respectful to women (and each other) this would change. If there were actual consequences for being disrespectful towards women – this would change. If men were speaking out to other men, calling them on their sexist bullshit – this would change. If society actually gave a shit about women – this would change.

Because who wants to live in a world where parents have to prepare their daughters for abuse by men?

Not me.

 

Taryn Gleeson  red web

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educatorhttps://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Rid the World of Arseholes (in Two Simple Steps)

I will consider my parenting to be a success if when my children grow up they are:

  1. Not arseholes.
  2. Happy.

In that order.

I can cope with an unhappy non-arsehole, because I know how to support people to find their joy.  Being an arsehole though is not an easily un-doable state of being.

The thing is that arseholes don’t just spring fully formed once a person turns 18. An arsehole needs to be trained up to become one. Usually this is through a process of drip feeding entitlement to them.

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I know a kid who is manipulative, disrespectful to pretty much all the people in his life, will never get up in the morning for his parents, throws tantrums even though he is 9 and who gets away with everything I’ve just mentioned – all with no consequences. When I look at this kid I see the lovely little boy I remember him being as a small child and I see the emerging adult arsehole. Having known this child for a long time I feel desperately sad that he is being conditioned by his parents to grow up to become an entitled teen.

Entitled teens can go on to become what in the adult world we call abusers – men (and sometimes women) who emotionally, sexually, financially or physically abuse their partners.

Some of you might be thinking ‘Steady on, he’s only 9!’ And yes he is, but 9 year olds absorb the messages of the family and culture around them. Most kids are sponges that will soak up whatever they see role modelled.  That is why a child who grows up in an abusive household is statistically far more likely to grow up to be an abuser (and to a lesser degree a victim of abuse).

“The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Studies from various countries support the findings that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused.”

Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children (UNICEF Report)

But the sad thing is that children can grow up to become abusers or rapists even if they haven’t grown up in an abusive household. All they need is to grow up being fed the perfect recipe of entitlement and inequality and like magic an abuser will (in the majority of cases) emerge.

An abusive mindset is the result of two factors:

  1. A core belief in inequality
  2. A sense of entitlement – in this case we mean entitlement to be “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”.

That means that the person with the abusive mindset has to have a belief that they are a better, more worthy person than others. Usually they will believe that men are better than women, with themselves and other men they consider to be high status at the top and everyone else below.

The sense of entitlement can manifest in many ways. My abusive ex kept me (and everyone else in his life) waiting on him all the time. He was not apologetic about his consistent lateness as he felt entitled to arrive whenever it suited him (or sometimes to not arrive at all). The sense of entitlement could manifest as an expectation that things will always be done the way he wants them to be done and that he knows best at all times. There are innumerable ways in which a sense of entitlement can manifest and none of them are pleasant to be on the receiving end of.

The 9 year old I know gets away with being physically rough to his younger siblings. I once saw him hold his 5 year old sister in a painful grip as she cried and yelled at him to stop. He wouldn’t stop, even after I asked him to. I then got his parent and asked them to ask him to stop. He held onto her little body until he was ready to let go. It was a show of power over everyone present. Showing us all who was the boss. I had seen this behaviour before, in my abusive ex. Power and control are the two tools abusers use to control their victims.

The boy’s dad said ‘Don’t do that to your sister’ and that was that. He was not made to apologise, not made to repair the damage he had done, not talked to about respecting other people’s bodily autonomy and not given any consequences for his actions.

The parents of this child are teaching him that other people’s consent does not matter and that what he wants to do to other people is more important than what they want him to do (or not do).

What is that going to look like when he is 16? When he is 30? How do you think that boy is going to treat women when he gets older, bigger and stronger?

The parents of this boy are teaching him that force is acceptable to use on other people.

What will this boy do when he’s angry or annoyed with another student at school? What will he do when he is older and a girl says ‘stop’ or ‘I don’t want to do that’?

The parents of this boy are teaching him that he is entitled to live in a consequence-free world.

What will happen to this boy when he is an adult who can’t get his own way? What coping mechanisms will he have to fall back on having never had to feel the consequences of his actions?

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I hope you’re still with me here, and you can see the progression from child with no consequences to adult abuser. I don’t know about you but I sure as shit don’t want that for my kids.

So what can be done to make sure your kid doesn’t grow up to be an arsehole?

 

It’s simple, but not easy. There are two steps.

  1. Boundaries and Standards.

Kids actually flipping love this stuff. Boundary setting makes them feel safe. They like to know the rules, and to know someone has shit sorted and they don’t have to worry about it. Create boundaries and standards for your kids according to the values of your household.  For example in my house I have standards around language. I especially hate the term ‘Shut up.’ I find it offensive and de-humanising. So it is on the list with ‘Stupid’ and ‘Liar’ as the worst words that can be said in my house. It is part of the standards I expect from my kids that they will use respectful language with each other. The boundary setting I do is mostly around how I want to be treated and how I want them to treat others. The other golden rule of my household is when someone says ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ or shows in non-verbal ways  that they are uncomfortable – then that MUST be respected.  I’ve found a helpful exercise was to have all my kids write out a list of the 10 most important values they have around what kind of person they want to be. Then when they act inappropriately  I say, ‘Was your behaviour in line with the kind of person you want to be?’ (sometimes showing them their list). Then I ask them what the person on the list would do next to fix the situation.

  1. Enforcing them, aka Consequences.

This is the hard bit. You have to find the thing your kid loves more than anything and take it away from them (*insert evil laugh*) but seriously, this bit won’t work if it isn’t something they really love. For my teenage daughter it’s her phone, for my 10 year old it’s the internet, for my 7 year old it’s having friends over, for my 5 year old it’s Lego. Each kid has a soft spot – you need to find it and exploit it. That is the consequence hanging over their head if they embark on douchery. Now, only use this level of serious consequence when the behaviour warrants it. If that had of been my son in the story above this is how it would’ve gone down.

My friend comes to get me to ask me to intervene. I say to my child to immediately stop. If my child doesn’t stop I say, “If you do not stop right now you will be on an internet ban for 2 days”.  Then once he has let her go  I would say to my son that what he did was one of the worst things you can do to another person, that he has damaged the trust between himself and his little sister and that her needs to make it up to her. I would have him apologise to his sister, to my friend who he also disrespected by not listening to her and I would ask him what his plan is to repair the situation with his sister. Sometimes kids can need a bit of help in this area so I might say, “Her room is a bit messy, maybe you could offer to tidy it for her?” or you could suggest some other things that you know your daughter might like or enjoy. If he did something like that again I’d follow all the same steps and enact the internet ban.  The really, really hard bit though is – enforcing the consequences. If you are anything like me this is where you slip up. My main problem was that I have so many kids I have trouble remembering who is on what ban, so to combat my lack of follow through I wrote the ban start and end times on the calendar on the wall as well as putting reminders in my phone. Whatever works for you, but follow through on the consequence is vital to the creation of a non-arsehole.

I started writing this because I watched my 6 year old son playing with some other children and one of them belted my child across the head from behind. The mother of the violent kid did nothing. I went over and told her that her child had hit my son and she turned to her kid and said ‘Don’t hit people!’ and that was that. There was no apology to my child, no attempt to repair and no consequences.  And I thought, ‘Man, this sucks. That kid is learning some pretty toxic stuff from his parents.’ Now maybe she was having a tough day or whatever, I get it no one is a perfect parent and if there was such thing they wouldn’t be a perfect parent 100% of them time. But this is the kind of parenting I see everywhere. And it depresses the hell out of me.

1 in 3 women in this world will be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault in her lifetime. To put it another way – that’s roughly speaking 1 in 3 men who are abusing women. I have 3 sons who will grow up to be 3 men. I don’t want one (or any of them) to be one of the men who abuse.  I personally have been on the receiving end of extensive abuse (sexual, emotional, financial and physical). In every case my attacker or abuser was a man. A man who was once a boy.

 

Taryn Gleeson  red web

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf and works as a conscious relationship coach and a parenting advisor for lovewitheaseplease.com

https://www.facebook.com/lovewitheaseplease/?fref=ts

 

#Budget2016: Thatcher would be proud

Use this Feminist Ire Budget Calculator to assess how #Budget2016 affects you!

Are you a multinational company paying little to no corporation tax, or one of the richest people in Ireland? You are? Excellent, then you’ll have even more money.

Are you an ordinary person earning an average wage or a person surviving on social welfare payments? You are? If you’re waged, you may come out with a fiver extra a week but the Government will want it back from you in property tax and water charges, and the increase to minimum wage probably won’t mean much because Labour (the party of work) haven’t done anything about zero hour contracts.

Are you living in your car with your child because you’re scared to go into a homeless hostel? You will get €5 extra in your children’s allowance. NAMA will fund private developers to build houses now but tough shit you’ll never be able to afford it.

Budget 2016 is an exercise in appalling political cynicism. People voted for Labour and Fine Gael because they wanted something different. What they got was years of austerity. Howlin and Noonan were at pains to tell us that this was a pro-family non-austerity budget but it’s just more of the same. The great big giveaway budget we’ve heard so much about means people entitled to fuel allowance will get an extra €2.50 in each payment. Congratulations, that will get you an extra briquette each week, burn it wisely!

The extra €5 a week in child benefit will do nothing to meaningfully address the quality of life that children living in poverty currently have. It is not an investment in children, it’s an investment in electioneering soundbites that members of Labour and Fine Gael will use when they’re dressing up their brutal neoliberal politics as warm and fuzzy family friendly economics.The income disregard of those on JobSeekers Transition Allowance has been increased, but it won’t make much difference to one parent families who are really struggling. You can’t tell people you want to improve families’ lives when you don’t invest in childcare and afterschool care. Two weeks paternity leave is welcome but it is not going to make it easier for women to work.

What tiny increases that have been given are barely fit to call crumbs from the table of the corporate bodies and their private developer mates and landlords who have inflicted utter misery on people in Ireland for decades.  The Government have given a tiny amount to everyone in an effort to buy the election, but not everyone needs a tiny amount. The 1,500 children living in direct provision who receive €9.60 a week- a payment that hasn’t been increased in sixteen years – they need more. The 1,496 children living in emergency accommodation need more. The Traveller families living in dangerous conditions, forgotten and dismissed as if their lives are considered disposable by this Government; they need more.

They are telling us they’re giving  €900m extra for the health service when in real terms it’s about €100m which isn’t even enough to provide the same level of service in 2016. People will still die on trolleys.  They’re allocating the minimum number of extra teachers to cope with increasing numbers of children that are going to school and have the nerve to dress this up as a great policy move. As if providing their bare minimum of teaching staff was a gift to the population of children under twelve, thousands of whom will still attend school in a prefab.

Labour and Fine Gael gave commitments to not raise student contribution fees before the last election. They have raised them to €3,000 and actively pushed students out of education, not to mention how they made it more difficult for students to get grants in the first place a few years ago. They give with one hand and take with the other. There is a vague commitment to invest €3m in the Student Assistance Fund to provide support to struggling students however the exact figure won’t be confirmed until Spring 2016. The number of recipients of SAF monies has gone from 7,681 students in 2009 to 15,166 in 2014 which has resulted in an actual reduction in monies allocated to each student in real terms. The government persist in dressing up paltry sums and tell us that they’re doing vulnerable people a favour.

There’s no increase in the basic rates of social welfare payment or to dole payments to under 26s. I still can’t figure out how those under 26 need to eat less than the rest of us, but I’m all ears if someone in Labour wants to fill me in.

For every euro that the Government has given away in capital gains and corporation tax, it is money taken away from the people that actually need it. It is a shameful insult to the people to tell them that this budget is a good thing when the biggest beneficiaries from it will be the likes of Facebook and Google and other multinationals who’ll be handed even more tax avoidance mechanisms.

The gloating speeches from government benches were stomach churning. That might sound a bit hyperbolic, but there is something genuinely very nauseating about watching Ministers bleat on week in week out about how we could combat bullying in schools, and then they sit and sneer from the government benches. Richard Boyd Barrett only has to stand up for the snide comments to start. If some of Labour suddenly started pelting him with lumps of chewing gum one of these days, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me.

To make it worse, Ministers and their TD colleagues now expect cookies and a pat on the back for allocating €17million to homeless services when they allocated €50million to commemorations. It will take you 57 years to be reached on the housing list? Diddums, wrap yourself in this copy of the Proclamation to keep warm. Your autistic child doesn’t have an SNA? Well that’s too bad, but here have a tricolour instead. There’s always a lot of squabbling among Irish politicos about what the leaders of the Rising would have wanted but you really don’t need to be a genius to know that James Connolly would probably say that ending homelessness would be a more fitting commemoration of the ideals of the Proclamation than this. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher would find it quite fitting.

@stephie08

Ireland: we need to drop the pretence of being a country that loves children

This post discusses intensely distressing topics, among them violence against women, violence against children, child abuse, and infant and child death.

Ireland, we all need to have a good talk. You know the way we all buy into this idea that there’s a massive overarching image of ourselves presented to the world and that somehow it matches up to the reality? That we’re the friendliest country to visit in the world, and other common or garden varieties of horseshit along these lines. We’re so invested in this portrayal that to question it is nearly tantamount to treason, and other tourism destinations found to ALSO be friendly in media polls is almost cause for the mass donning of sackcloth and ashes. Well, there’s one aspect of it in particular we really need to stop hawking and face up to it just Not Being True.

We need to stop pretending to ourselves and the rest of the world that we’re a country that loves children.

It’s a longstanding lie, and one we’ve told ourselves repeatedly throughout the years. It was even the primary basis for pushing through the horrendous 8th amendment, and all the toxic fallout of that that has been inflicted on women and children, of whom Miss X, aged 14, was one, in the 32 years since 1983. It should go without saying that if we loved children, we would allow those of them who needed and wanted to access abortions to do so, rather than force those children, some of whom have been abused and raped, as Miss X was, through the rigours, hardships, and dangers of unwanted pregnancy and unwanted birth.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t let the most vulnerable of them suffer as we do and as we have done consistently throughout the history of our nation. Look at the Mother and Baby homes and the Magdalen Laundries, the incarcerations and starvation and deaths and beatings and shame and forced adoptions and forced family breakups that went on in those institutions for decades, with the full support of the Irish state as well as the church.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t still refuse to investigate properly what went on in those homes, with local historian Catherine Corless having to bang the drum alone for the nearly 800 babies and children and 5 women the Sisters of Bon Secour, funded and supported by the Irish state, left lying in unmarked graves in Tuam as though they had never mattered at all. And of course to the church and to the Irish republic, they didn’t. After first attempting to paint Catherine Corless as an incompetent amateur attempting a gross exaggeration for some malevolent entertainment of her own, the government finally, grudgingly established a body to look into this. This body, The Commission of Investigation, is a year on still dragging its heels, not even bothering to reply to Catherine Corless when she provided them with her most recent research which indicates that there are 5 mothers buried on the grounds of the Tuam Mother and Baby home along with the hundreds of tiny children’s bodies also lying in the ground there. There have been no indicators of any progress being made in a paid and funded group of over a year’s work, despite having had another person’s extensive unpaid, unfunded research handed to them on a plate. No answers, no recognition of those children’s tiny lives and appalling deaths. No acknowledgement that those babies, those children, weren’t loved by us at all.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t ignore the truths of the stories that the Magdalen survivors tell us, many of whom were children when they were first incarcerated in those institutions, and many of whom had children stolen from them and sold with no regard to their best interests or their need for their mothers; how we patted ourselves smugly on the backs when the McAleese report came out, trumpeting that now justice had been done, they had been heard, never bothering to ask the women themselves how they felt about it. How they felt about it for very many was abandoned, betrayed, shamed and lied about all over again by the Irish state. The report spoke over, ignored and attempted to make liars out of the survivors of the laundries, the women whose needs it should have most urgently sought to meet and whose voices it should have been required to amplify. The women whose forgiveness the Irish state should be begging on bended knees every day for as long as they live. Justice for Magdalenes – co-founded by Claire McGettrick, who tweeted on this this week – published detailed research on the serious issues with the report. A key phrase from that research is “Most concerning was the Report’s contention that a very small level of physical abuse took place in the laundries” , a contention that is in direct contradiction of the evidence of the survivors of the laundries. It’s a key pointer to how little value and worth the authors of the report put on the testimony and accounts of survivors that their words weren’t considered ‘evidence’. The Irish state cares so little about these women, their stolen children, and their feelings and needs, and yet so much about its precious reputation abroad that it will even seek to prevent the media of other countries from broadcasting the truth of the McAleese Report.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t stand idly and quietly by as the Minister for Social Protection – what a heinous joke of a title – inflicted savage financial cuts on children living in lone parent families who are dependent on social welfare for their income, children who are already amongst the most marginalised and at risk of poverty in the country. Joan Burton had promised to only implement these cuts to the financial supports of children over 7 if a “Scandinavian style system of childcare” was implemented – which was also in her remit to do – thus proving she was more than well aware that depriving children of 7 and older of the care of their parents by rendering it financially impossible for their mother (87% of lone parent families are headed by women) to either stay at home with them or afford to access childcare is barbaric. Yet she implemented them anyway, with no support net for these children and no apparent interest in what happens to them. If we loved children, as a country, we would never allow this to happen. It is an outrage. It is beyond a disgrace.

If we truly loved children, as we love to claim, we would see instantly that Frances Fitzgerald telling the media that Ireland’s doing ‘more than its fair share’ in taking the absolutely paltry amount of refugees in that we are, and then forcing them into the horrors of direct provision indefinitely is nothing short of repugnant. Hundreds, thousands of people are drowning in the Mediterranean in an attempt to escape from suffering and misery while Labour and Fine Gael are intent on shoring up the walls of Fortress Europe. If we cared about children at all, we would be welcoming them and their families with open arms, cheering them on in their escape, not penning and corralling those who manage to survive against the odds like animals on the border points of Europe. Not forcing them to live for years with their family in one room of a run-down, miserable ‘hotel’ with no ability to cook their own food, or enough money to even buy it, or access public transport to go anywhere – if indeed public transport is accessible from the direct provision centre we’ve incarcerated them in.

There is no such thing as a ‘fair share’ of the work to be done when the drowned bodies of babies and toddlers continue to wash up on European beaches. The fact that anyone could speak of it so is something we should all find beyond comprehension.

If we truly loved children we would collectively remember when once it was the people living in Ireland who had to put their children on coffin ships in their hundreds of thousands, on water that was safer than the land on which they were starving, and cast themselves upon the cold mercy of an uncaring world. We would seek, urgently and desperately, to do everything within our power to prevent those horrors being inflicted on these other suffering and starving and drowning children of today. We would support this direct action group travelling with an aid convoy from Cork to the refugee camps in Calais, to alleviate the suffering and misery of those children and families and people who did survive but who are now trapped, without hope, in a Europe they hoped would be their promised land. We would campaign, furiously and energetically, arm in arm with the refugees living here to end direct provision in our own country and stop shutting our ears and eyes and mouths to the reality that incarceration of innocent suffering children is not a thing of yesteryear in today’s Ireland.

Until then, we have no right whatsoever to the claim.

Parental (and paternity) leave is a feminist issue

The Irish Times this week, followed en masse by other papers and mainstream media outlets, breathlessly rushed to report that 2 Irish MEPs were the MEPs with the worst record of attendance at voting sessions of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. What they didn’t manage to initially include in the story, and which transpired over the course of the day that the story broke, was that one of the MEPs (Brian Crowley) has been unable to attend at all as he’s ill, and that the other, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, has needed to be at home with his wife, newborn baby, and other children. His wife has also been ill, in addition to having all the intensive, non-stop demands of a newborn to contend with. As at the time of writing, the Irish Times has run four separate follow-up pieces by Suzanne Lynch, all focusing on Ming’s ‘dismal voting record’, how he should suffer financially for it, and should Irish MEPs (and by obvious inference Ming) have even bothered to run at all if they were going to let down the electorate like that by non-attendance through having the nerve to have babies and families that need caring for? In one piece, Lynch attempted a mealy-mouthed pretence at recognising the fact that Ming was at home, caring for his unwell wife and their newborn baby as well as their other children, calling this ‘mitigating circumstances’, claiming that “[n]o one is suggesting [his need to take paternity leave] should elicit anything less than complete empathy” while immediately following this up by suggesting that his low attendance “while drawing full salaries raises the question as to whether Ireland’s MEP system is fit for purpose.

No, actually, that’s exactly how parental and paternity leave systems SHOULD work. Nobody should be financially penalised for having a baby. (This is not a conversation about whether people who are supposed to be representing the public should be paid as much more than the majority of that public than they are, though that’s a conversation worth having too.) Nobody should be forced to attend their workplace immediately after the birth of a child for fear of losing their job – or indeed, as in the Irish system and in this instance, depending on the time of the birth, DURING the birth of a child. (In Ireland, because there is no entitlement whatsoever to paternal leave, new fathers are reliant on their holiday leave and employer’s vagaries to be able to be present at the birth of their children should that birth be during working hours, as well as to be home with their partner and newborn in the time after the birth.) Nobody should have their absence from their job as the result of the birth of a child and needing to be at home to care for that child, their unwell partner, and their other children reported in the national media and the subject of this kind of intense and judgemental scrutiny. No man should be expected to abandon his sick partner for her to provide alone the kind of intensively demanding all-around-the-clock care that a newborn provides, in order to show up at a place of work. And certainly no sick woman should be left alone to care for a newborn without the support she has a right to expect from her partner in creating that newborn, as well as support in caring for herself and her other children. What kind of barbaric social system would demand that?

Only, of course, the one we live under; a horrible combination of capitalism and patriarchy, which holds ‘work’ (meaning, of course, paid work, done outside the home, not something as petty and gendered as simply bringing a child into the world, caring for its every need, raising it as a moral being and seeing to its needs around the clock) as supreme; as an unquestionable overlord to be served without regard to personal needs and circumstances. “Doing your job”, in this paradigm, is paramount, and excuses everything from the actual killing of another human being to being expected to abandon one’s partner, the person one is assumed to love and honour above all others, to the 24/7 backbreaking work of caring for a house full of children (one a newborn) alone. And sure if you’re paid enough can you not just pay someone else to do that caring nonsense for you?

At no point in any of this coverage has the fact been mentioned that no Irish political representative – whether at local government level, at national level, or European level – has ANY right to any parental leave, whether that be paternity or maternity leave. It took Nessa Childers on Twitter to do that first. Nor did any of the coverage point out that while it’s “only one session a month” (as many on Twitter appeared to enjoy very much repeating), that “one session a month” extends to four consecutive days, and there are no direct flights between Dublin and Strasbourg, meaning this “one session” could very well in fact have demanded a full week every month away from Ming’s wife, newborn baby and other children. Even if his wife weren’t unwell, this would be an utterly unreasonable burden of care to lay on a woman who has just become a mother all over again. The blanket and unquestioning expectation apparent in not only the mainstream media coverage, but also the majority of the Twitter commentary on this, that if she weren’t sick (and in some cases that even though she is; and in yet some more, even more deplorable ones, that somehow they have the right to know HOW sick she is, and why, and since when, and why didn’t they know earlier), that he should have abandoned her, their newborn, and their other children, to the almighty power that is Work, is frankly sickening. A father should have the right to be with his newborn, just as a mother should have the right to not be the enforced sole, isolated carer of her newborn simply because its father needs to worship at the altar of Work. One of the most telling things of the coverage of this whole (non) issue is that there hasn’t been a single piece which can point to any of the votes he missed and name it as a topical one, as one that’s relevant to Ireland’s interests, or indeed one of those missed votes of his as having had any possible impact on the outcome if he had attended. Why isn’t that what’s being questioned as being a broken political representation system, rather than his having needed to take time to be with his family?

It is not possible to expect to see, and argue for, women’s participation in politics and public life rising from its current dismally low level, while also creating a society which excoriates men for taking up their part of the caring responsibilities that having a family entails. Perpetuating the idea and the necessity that only women can have space to do that not only condemns women to unpaid work in the home but also does not allow for space to honour that work; which has the potential to be beautiful, rewarding, and thoroughly worth doing. The work of caring for and raising a child is every bit as important to society, if not more so, than paid attendance at a workplace.

Sometimes people with babies need to be with those babies. Sometimes people with sick partners need to be with those sick partners because that’s what a partnership looks like. (It’s definitely what my partnership with my husband looked like when I was having an absolutely hideous time after our daughter was born, suffering from intense and unexpected postnatal depression, and would absolutely fall apart when he needed to be out of the house for even an hour, let alone travelling to another country for a full week.) No society that is worth living in should seek to punish or castigate its members for so doing.

No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland

magdalene

When I was in first year in secondary school in 1997, a girl in the year above me was pregnant. She was 14. The only people who I ever heard say anything negative about her were a group of older girls who wore their tiny feet “pro-life” pins on their uniforms with pride. They slagged her behind her back, and said she would be a bad mother. They positioned themselves as the morally superior ones who cared for the baby, but not the unmarried mother. They are the remnants of an Ireland, a quasi-clerical fascist state, that we’d like to believe is in the past, but still lingers on.

The news broke last week of a septic tank filled with the remains of 796 children and babies in Galway. The remains were accumulated from the years 1925 to 1961 and a common cause of death was malnutrition and preventable disease. The Bon Secours “Home” had housed thousands of unmarried mothers and their children down through the years. These women had violated the honour of their communities, by bringing shame on their families through “illegitimate” pregnancy and therefore had to be hidden at all costs, and punished for their transgressions. The children died as they lived, discarded like the refuse of society that the Church considered them and the mothers that gave birth to them to be. Most of the children who survived were put to work in industrial schools under the supervision of perverts and sadists.

Thousands of the healthy ones were sold abroad – mostly to the US –  for “adoption.” For the ones who remained, the outlook was poor. Mortality rates of 50% or 60% were common in these homes.  In the case of  the ones that died, either the Church did not feel they were valuable enough to feed and care for, or they actively worked towards their death. The risk they posed to the social order by virtue of the circumstances of their conception and birth was too great to let go unchecked. These children certainly did not die for lack of money or resources on the Church’s part (they had an income from the children they sold), and the fewer children of this kind there were, the less threat there was to the church’s control over society.

If the Church had allowed them to grow up to be functioning adults in Irish society it would have ran the risk of demonstrating that the institution of marriage was not absolutely integral to the moral well-being of a person. Women were not allowed keep their babies because the shame that their existence brought upon the community would be far too great. They were imprisoned within Magdalene Laundries to atone for their sins of honour, and their babies were removed from them as part of their punishment – women who dishonoured the community were deemed to unfit to parent.

Contemporary Ireland feigned shock when stories of the Laundries and residential institutions emerged. Perhaps the shock of those who were too young to be threatened with being put in one for “acting up” was genuine, because the institutions started to close as the years went on. But people in their fifties and sixties now, will remember how the “Home Babies” sometimes came to schools, and were isolated by other (legitimate) children, and then sometimes never came back. While those school-children may not have comprehended fully the extent of what happened, their parents and teachers, and the community of adults surrounding them knew.

Ireland as a whole was complicit in the deaths of these children, and in the honour crimes against the women. They were the “illegitimate babies” born to the “fallen women” who literally disappeared from villages and towns across Ireland in to Magdalene Laundries. Everybody knew, but nobody said, “Honour must be restored. We must keep the family’s good name.”

The women themselves served a dual purpose in the Laundries. They were a warning to others what happened when you violated the rule of the Church, and they were financial assets engaged in hard labour on behalf of the Church. They were not waged workers; they did not receive payment. They could not leave of their own free will, and their families, for the most part, did not come for them; the shame on the family would be too great. Ireland had a structure it used to imprison women for being sexual beings, for being rape victims, for not being the pure idolised incubator for patriarchy, for not having enough feminine integrity, or for being simply too pretty for the local priest’s liking. Ireland has a long tradition of pathologising difference.

People did know what went on in those institutions. Their threat loomed large over the women of Ireland for decades. On rare occasions when people attempted to speak out, they were silenced, because the restoration of honour requires the complicity of the community. Fear of what other people will think of the family is embedded in Irish culture.

The concept of honour means different things in different cultures but a common thread is that it can be broken but restored through punishing those who break it. We are familiar with the hegemonic concepts of “honour killing” and “honour crimes” as a named form of violence against women in cultures other than ours. The papers tell us it is not something that people do in the West. Honour killings, and honour crimes are perpetually drawn along racialised lines and Irish and UK media happily present them within the context of a myth of moral superiority.

Honour crimes are acts of domestic violence, acts of punishment, by other individuals – sometimes family, sometimes authorities – for either real or perceived transgressions against the community code of honour. However, it is only when there is a woman wearing a hijaab or a the woman is a person of colour, or ethnicised, that “honour” is actually named as a motivation for the act of violence.  It is a term that has been exoticised, but it is not the act itself or the location it occurs, but the motivation behind it that is important in defining it.

Women of colour, and Muslim women, are constructed as the “other;” we are told these women are given in marriage at a young age by controlling fathers who pass on the responsibility for controlling them to husbands. “Protection” of women is maintained through a rigid sytem of controlling their sexuality in a framework of honour and shame. When these women transgress the boundaries of acceptable femininity they are abused and shunned by their community. Punishments range from lashing to death, but include physical beatings, kidnappings and imprisonment.

Imprisoning women in the Magdalene Laundries deserves to be named as an honour crime because of a cultural obsession that believed the family’s good name rested upon a woman’s (perceived) sexual activity that either her father or husband or oldest brother was the caretaker of. Her sentence to the Laundry was to restore the family honour.

Recently a friend of mine tweeted when the verdict was returned in the murder trial of Robert Corbet. Corbet was convicted of murdering Aoife Phelan, a woman from Laois he had been seeing, who told him she was pregnant. He hit her, then strangled her, then fearing that she was not actually dead, he put a black bag over her head and fixed it with two cable ties and buried her in a barrel on the family homestead. The next day he got on a plane to New York to meet his ex-girlfriend to attempt to repair their relationship. My friend had outlined the case and on twitter referred to Robert Corbet attempting to have a “dirty weekend away” in New York.

Following this, my friend received unsolicited mail to her facebook account, from a person claiming to be the cousin of Robert Corbet’s ex-girlfriend saying: “….how dare you say a dirty weekend in new york and speak about my cousin who is his ex girlfriend like that . you don’t know what happened when he went over or why he went over you don’t know my cousin so how dare you say that it was a dirty weekend away.”

The point of mentioning this is certainly not to make anything of Corbet’s ex’s character or actions, but his intentions after he killed a woman, as well as the the mentality of the person who sent this mail. That message is a symptom of rural Ireland’s chronic obsession with shame and the keeping of a person’s “good name” at all costs; a stranger made a post on the internet about a man’s probable intentions after murdering a woman, and someone else’s immediate reaction is not to read what she said concerning the murder of a woman, but to attest to the moral purity of her cousin. There is something very wrong with that.

There was something wrong in Listowel when a parish priest gave a character reference for Danny Foley, a man convicted of sexual assault, whose victim was refused service afterwards in bars and shops. When the verdict was returned, fifty people (mostly middle-aged men) formed a queue in the courthouse to shake the hand of Danny Foley. Journalists happily took quotes from locals saying what a shame it was, as this wasn’t his character; he was a good man, from a good family. The victim did not matter. The priest said of her, “Well she has a child you know, and that doesn’t look good.” John B. Keane wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

We have not come so far from the Magdalene Laundries. Robert Corbet initially lied to the guards about where he had buried Aoife Phelan because he “wanted to protect the family home place.” The need to keep the family name intact is embedded in Ireland so much, that there are even other women happy to be complicit with, and benefit from patriarchy. They are the girls in my school who wore their “pro-life” feet pins (one of them is now a doctor I am told). They are the women who shook Danny Foley’s hand. They are the women who condemn other women for doing things that would have landed them in a Magdalene Laundry a few decades earlier. Let nobody question their honour.

Irish culture has had a traditional focus on eradicating troublesome women and their offspring. For years unmarried pregnant women were punished and hidden away in homes. Women who need abortions travel in silence to have them in secret in England, or they have secret home abortions here. Government ministers actively engage in policies that make it more difficult to be a single mother, and to speak out against it is deemed immoral and not of value to the community. A person sending unsolicited emails to a person concerning a third party’s moral purity, and then publicly tweeting in relation to it demonstrates her own value to the community by positioning the importance of women’s role in public morality above that of the murder of an individual woman – a woman who was buried in a barrel to protect the family home.

We are told to be silent and not talk about things. Difference, and naming difference in Ireland is pathologised. Even those who are meant to be the good guys are not exempt from the cultural effect of this. Women when they are abused in activism or online are told not to retaliate. We are called “toxic and hostile” for having the audacity to name misogynist abuse where we see it.  We get death threats for speaking out about abortion. But we are told to “be kind” at all costs. When people abuse victims of domestic violence online, we are told to leave their abusers alone. Women must never appear to be angry. We must be nice to those who abuse us. We must be always nice no matter the cost to us; we must not bring shame upon the community.

This is not so far away from the mentality that locked women up in homes and threw children in septic tanks to be forgotten. It absolutely depended on complicity of wider society. It could not have existed without the collaboration of the whole community; the teachers; the priests; the nuns; the people that ran the undertakers; the local councillors; the people who brought the laundry to the nuns; perhaps your grandmother who cuddled you to sleep at night.

We are told it was a different time, and things are different now.

Youth Defence still sell their pins online. Joan Burton continues her crusade to paint single mothers as lazy and worthless. National newspapers will freely print opinion pieces denigrating them. 796 dead children will get a memorial but no one will be held to account for their deaths. Those who ask for it will be told to be kind. The religious orders who put them in a septic tank will continue unquestioned. Those who put the women in Magdalene Laundries will continue to work for “fallen women”. Women will be denied control over their own bodies. They will die for the want of medical care.

It must be so. To do otherwise, would bring shame on the family. But when we look the other way, and allow the lie that we live in a modern progressive democracy to breathe, we allow our authoritarian Catholic past to continue to cast its shadow.

The Moral Outrage of the Damned: Public reaction to the plight of Sabrina McMahon

Sabrina McMahon is 36 years old. She has three children, ages 5, 3, and 1. She and her three children currently live in her car. Sabrina has lived in her car for the past week after her “temporary” arrangements, which lasted a year, broke down. She formerly worked as a dental nurse and as a carer. She keeps her buggy, nappies and possessions in the boot of her car and her groceries in the front. She avails of the kindness of friends so she can wash and clean her clothes. Her children sleep in the back. When the baby wakes for a bottle she switches on the engine to keep her warm. A Sinn Féin Councillor Maire Devine, has been making representations to South Dublin County Council on her behalf for the past year while she went from relative to relative over the months since her relationship broke down. When SDCC were contacted by the Irish Times for comment, they said they were “aware” of the case but didn’t wish to say anything further which was unsurprising.

Unless they were going to say, “We are deeply ashamed that we have failed to show basic human decency to this woman and her family and find her a home” they were probably better off to say nothing. No landlord will accept rent allowance from her. She presented at the Dublin Central Placement Service and was told to go back to Kildare, where she had previously lived, but she wants to live near her family.

If was I was living in a car with three small children I would want to live near my family too.

Her story was on the front page of the Irish Times and it covered on all the major radio stations. On Newstalk this morning, texts flooded in saying that Sabrina was a bad mother; that she should have her children taken from her; that she shouldn’t have even had her children in the first place; that she was irresponsible and only “using” the media to get a free ride on the back of taxpayers. Social media users had a field day in condemning the parenting skills of a woman who is literally living on the margins of society. Very little was said about her former partner. However, the level of misogyny and hatred directed at her in those texts and comments was a slightly more ignorant representation of the structural misogyny directed at her from the state. The state shows its disdain for women like Sabrina by failing to provide for her needs. The tweets condemning her are this simply this same attitude refined to 140 characters.

There are 98,000 families waiting for social housing in this state and the comments levelled at Sabrina McMahon are not unusual. In fact, Sabrina’s situation is not unusual. People are fooling themselves if they think that Sabrina McMahon is the only person in Ireland living in her car right now. And the comments about her are the same type of comments made about poor and homeless women who become pregnant and have families because they generally pathologised as people who made bad decisions, lack male authority, and exist without morals or values. They are believed to be selfish and parasitic and rearing children in their own rough image. It is the stock depiction of the very poorest working class women.

While Sabrina has some bread rolls in the front seat of her car, her problem is that she isn’t a consumer. She just wants somewhere to live that’s safe. It’s one of the most basic things a person can ask for. She isn’t economically productive, and therefore doesn’t warrant the concern of the state. She is a mother and a carer so not considered to be engaging in “real work.”

Women do the lion‘s share of unpaid household and care work. But it isn’t considered “work” because there are no wages, it’s just what women do. It is a bizarre attitude from a state that has a Constitution that specifically assigns a woman’s role to the home. But the very structure of capitalism, depends on women doing the majority of this form of work without payment.  Neoliberal capitalism neglects to acknowledge that women working within the home (or from their car in the absence of having a home) are economically productive as it allows the State to not provide public childcare infrastructure or other supports for childrearing. It is just something that women are expected to do, but it isn’t good enough for the terms of capitalist patriarchy.

Unfortunately Sabrina lives in a place where the government department responsible for welfare, the Department of Social Protection, aim to restructure the lives of poor women like Sabrina, in both a physical and a moral sense. It was not by mistake that it was the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald was out commenting on this story today, to address the concerned masses’ cries of “won’t somebody please think of the children?” rather than the Minister for Social Protection or the Minister for Environment, who ultimately have the responsibility for Sabrina’s situation.

It is unlikely that those who had the luxury of sending a message from their smartphone to a radio station to condemn and blame Sabrina for her situation, stopped to contemplate the precarity of their own situations; how many of them are only two, three or four pay packets away from homelessness themselves.

Not only was Sabrina demonised as a bad parent – but through their commentary, the very value of her existence was questioned. Caring for three small children in the back of a car isn’t valued because it is unpaid labour, although it is probably fair to say that if those who condemned Sabrina were forced to do it, they would think it was pretty hard work indeed.

SPARK ran a campaign last year against a programme forcing lone mams to work when their children turned 7, which had been introduced by Minister Joan Burton. You couldn’t have people remaining economically unproductive now could you? The rationale is that the state cannot allow people to exist in a way that does not overtly benefit capitalism. The point of that programme was to redeem the women who do not have male authority in their lives by forcing them into a situation where they would live within a patriarchal system that would give them male authority in the form of employment. The likelihood is, if they even managed to get a job, their boss would be a man. It is the state’s antidote to these dreadful welfare recipients of getting something for nothing. This particular form of workfare is branded an “activation measure” but it is punitive. It punishes women for not conforming to a life that involves a man who is a breadwinner.

Women don’t become poor in a vacuum. Women like Sabrina don’t live in cars for the fun of it and as austerity continues to destroy Irish society, we will continue to see more Sabrinas living in more cars and cardboard boxes, and sadly, more people willing to condemn them for it.

Why childbirth should be on the feminist agenda in Ireland

Guest post by Sylda Dwyer

The day before Mother’s Day in an emergency Saturday sitting, a High Court judge was asked to compel a pregnant woman to undergo a Caesarean section. According to an affidavit presented in court, Waterford Regional Hospital believed that because the woman was 13 days overdue by their calculations, had a scar on her uterus from a previous C-section and the position of the baby’s head was high, a Caesarean was required. As the woman was refusing to consent to the procedure, the hospital sought an order to enforce the C-section immediately.

The judge heard evidence from the locum consultant obstetrician attending the woman and one other consultant obstetrician from the same hospital who gave his evidence over the phone. No independent or third party opinions were heard. The woman was represented in court by a solicitor paid for by the hospital. Her voice – undisputedly the most important in this potentially precedent-setting case – was absent. We do not know her reasoning for refusing the section except that it was not on religious grounds as the judge sought clarification on this.

We do know the following:

– she believed the hospital had miscalculated her due date and was in fact due on 18 March

– her husband was overseas and therefore unable to support her

– she has a son who was born in 2010 by Caesarean section

– she wanted to deliver this baby naturally

– she was prepared to undergo a C-section if an emergency arose or if the surgery took place on the Sunday or Monday when her husband would be back in the country.

Just minutes before the judge was due to make his ruling, word arrived from the hospital that the woman had consented and that a spinal anaesthetic had been administered. It is unlikely that we will ever know how the judge would have ruled. Either decision would have been a significant landmark in human rights in childbirth in Ireland.

A ruling in favour of the enforced C-section could have potentially opened up the floodgates to medical professionals turning to the courts when coming up against resistance from women who disagreed with hospital policies such as induction and active labour management. Such a ruling would essentially take the decision making power of a pregnant woman out of her hands and in the process remove her right to body autonomy in contravention of her human rights, a situation not unfamiliar to Irish women.

A ruling in favour of the mother would have been a boost to the recognition of a woman’s right to bodily integrity and to make informed decisions about her healthcare during pregnancy, something that is sorely needed in Ireland at the moment.

Either way, this emergency sitting had huge implications for maternity care and women’s human rights in this country.

It is also worth noting that the absence of a ruling meant that no woman in this country has yet been subjected to a court-enforced Caesarean birth against her will and this is cause for celebration. Although it is a dark day for pregnant women’s rights that the situation arose at all, we should be thankful that the horrors that might unfold in a forced C-section have not been realised. One can only imagination the long term negative implications such a birth would have on the baby and its traumatised mother.

So what happened next?

Outside of a couple of articles from the Irish Times, who initially broke the story on Saturday, an excellent opinion piece from Victoria White in the Examiner and some cursory pieces in a smattering of online and print outlets, the media has been deafeningly silent on this case. Apart from reporting the facts that presented themselves in court, no analysis or questioning of the case has been published. No one has asked why an independent expert opinion wasn’t sought, no one has asked why the woman was insistent on refusing consent, no one has queried the fact that one of the consultants claimed that Caesarean sections are “almost risk free”. It would appear that we’re all relieved that this messy business has been neatly swept under the carpet.

There has been no public outcry or a rallying of the troops to support this woman who played such a strong hand to defend her bodily integrity and human rights when most would have conceded to the pressures. In fact, rather than the sound of supporting voices, the loudest noise has been the feverish tapping on keyboards and smartphones as boards, forums and social media have lit up with other women condemning this new mother for daring to question her medical advice, calling her a reckless, selfish, stupid, dangerous, incense-burning hippy who deserves to have her child taken from her.

Rather than an outpouring of sympathy for a woman who felt she knew her own body and her baby best, many believe that the medical opinion was sacrosanct and beyond reproach and therefore the court should have ruled that she be subject to a forced Caesarean. By all accounts, the majority of the female online community have judged that the pregnant woman was fully entitled to bodily integrity and to make decisions about her body and her baby, just as long as they were the “correct’ decisions as deemed by her doctor.

Is seems that as a nation we are happy to accept that there is only one truth to birth and that is the medical system’s truth. Rather than question the policy practices of the Irish maternity system, which prioritises managing as many women through the system as it can, as fast as it can, over the health and wellbeing of mothers and their babies, we are happy to accept routine interventions which often directly lead to complications and traumatic birth experiences with long term health consequences, both physical and psychological.

We have a birth culture in Ireland where women accept that their birth process can be decided on by a medical practitioner. Hospitals dictate when a woman’s labour starts, how is starts, and whether its going fast enough according to a one-size-fits-all policy. Inductions convenient to hospital diaries, but not to a woman whose body simply isn’t quite ready to give birth yet, often fail leading to Caesarean sections that could have been completely avoided if the woman had been given a few extra days for her body to be ready to give birth.

Women already in labour who are deemed not to be progressing sufficiently fast enough to hospital policy, although their body is going at a pace that is working for both mother and baby, have their labour speeded up which can lead to both maternal and foetal distress. Episiotomies, surgically planned incisions of the perineum, are often performed without seeking a woman’s consent and in some cases in spite of her refusal. There is a time and a place for all of these interventions where they are positive and useful tools in successful birth outcomes. The issue is that they have become standard practice without medical indication.

In recent years a whole industry has developed around dealing with the fall out of women’s – and babies – negative birth experiences. Traumatic birth counsellors with expertise in post natal depression and post traumatic stress disorder, cranio-sacral osteopaths, women’s health physiotherapists and perineal specialists are part of mainstream healthcare. These practitioners provide a necessary and important service but surely there are questions to be asked about why so many women and their babies will require these services in the first instance?

Why is it that when the vast majority of pregnancies in Ireland are considered low risk, do we have such a high incidence of intervention and medicalised birth? Why do we accept that giving birth is something horrific that has to be endured as long as we end up with a healthy mother and baby? Who decides what the definition of healthy is? It would appear that we set that standard as simply still being alive, and to hell with the immediate and long term consequences of trauma caused by a medical interventionalist model. It is a low bar.

We unquestionably go along with hospital policies that are put in place to manage the number of women passing through maternity hospital doors and to protect medical professionals against litigation rather than for the best interest of mothers and babies. Rather than allowing labours to begin spontaneously and to progress at a natural pace for the comfort and safety of both mother and baby, hospitals hold full control over the birth process. This model of maternity care is the only example in the healthcare sector of maintaining such control. In any other medical situation, the patient has full control in the decision making process and can walk away without consequence if they don’t consent to medical recommendations. In this same context, it’s worth noting that pregnancy is not an illness, rather a natural physiological process, until medical complications arise.

Given that there are so many births in Ireland every year and child bearing is experienced by so many women, why is childbirth completely ignored by the feminist movement? . We rally to defend the rights of women in early pregnancy to choose how they want their pregnancy to proceed, as we should. Yet there is something about the birth process itself that we have marginalised and dismissed.

When uninterrupted, pregnancy and birth can be a life-affirming, empowering, peaceful and private experience that can result in positive outcomes for both mother and child, including in the post-partum bonding and healing process. So why do we allow it to be taken from us and controlled? The current system of maternity care, while populated with many excellent medical professionals, has administration, logistics and litigation management as its focus rather than mother-led care. Until freedom of choice in childbirth is put front and centre as a priority of the feminist movement in Ireland, alongside pro-choice and equality policies, cases like this High Court sitting will become de rigour and women’s rights in childbirth will continue to be eroded.

Related articles:

Woman agrees to Caesarean after hospital goes to court – Irish Times

Sadly, Ireland doesn’t know best in Ireland’s rigid childbirth regime – Victoria White, Irish Examiner

Caesarean Section Refusal in Ireland – Human Rights in Ireland

No country for pregnant women – AIMS Ireland

Giving birth is a feminist issue – Mind the Baby

Irish hospital prepared to forcibly perform C-section on non consenting woman – Allergic to Patriarchy

NHS NICE Caesarean Guidelines

Sylda Dwyer blogs at http://www.mindthebaby.ie

Children’s rights must not mean women’s wrongs

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Last month the Irish Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, announced that the long-promised referendum on the rights of children would finally be held this year.

The background to this lies in the following provisions of the Irish Constitution:

Article 41
1. 1° The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.
2° The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

3. 1° The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

Article 42
1. The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.

5. In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

The proposed referendum, as agreed by an all-party parliamentary committee, would leave Article 41 intact but remove those two subsections of Article 42. The replacement text is rather lengthy so I’ll just provide a link rather than post it all here.

The impetus for this change comes from a series of judicial and policy decisions, which have been seen as making it so difficult to interfere with the sacred institution of The Family (and more particularly the marital family) as to effectively tie the State’s hands when it comes to child protection and welfare. A few examples:

  • The 2001 case Northwestern Health Board v HW, where the Supreme Court upheld the right of parents to refuse to allow their child undergo the PKU test, a totally safe procedure to detect a disorder that leads to brain damage if untreated.
  • An unspeakably horrible case of familial abuse in County Roscommon, revealed a little over a year ago. You can Google it yourself, I don’t have the stomach for it. The mother had obtained an injunction preventing the children being removed from the family home; her affidavit cited the rights that she and her husband, as a married couple, had over their children. Social workers on the case confirmed that Article 42 had a sort of chilling effect on their efforts to protect the children, as it led them to believe they would need to prove a nearly impossible threshold of neglect.
  • The 2006 “Baby Ann” case (N v Health Service Executive), in which a two-year-old girl was ordered returned to her birth parents. They had consented to her adoption, but changed their minds and subsequently married – at which point, according to Justice McGuinness, the rights of the family took over from the best interests of the child as the “central issue”. (Actually, on the peculiar facts of this case the birth parents would have had a decent argument even without the constitutional imperative, but there are obvious reasons to be concerned about the court’s emphasis on the primacy of the marital family.)

So you can see why there’s widespread support for amending the Constitution to specifically enshrine the rights of children. What little opposition there is is mainly coming from two of the most repellent groups in Irish society: the xenophobes, who fear the amendment being used to prevent deportation of Africans with minor children; and the uber-Catholics for whom any interference with the marital family is anathema. (It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the list of amendment opponents reads like a Who’s Who of the Irish anti-abortion movement – whose concern for the rights of children clearly ends at birth.) Ironically, although the latter group is far more organised and politically powerful than the former, it is the deportation issue that is actually holding the referendum up. I was present at a private meeting a couple years ago where a then-Cabinet Minister, a current Cabinet Minister and a backbench member of the other current government party all agreed that the wording would have to be changed to assuage those fears.

Irish feminism, on the other hand, seems to be pretty much entirely behdind the amendment, and that’s fairly understandable. After all, the primacy of the marital (read: patriarchal nuclear) family hasn’t exactly done us many favours; and while the amendment won’t remove Article 41.1, it clearly will narrow its scope. But while I wouldn’t argue that we should vote “no”, I do think some important issues have been overlooked in the debate. Consider the following:

  • In 2006, the High Court ordered that a Jehovah’s Witness be given a blood transfusion (subscription required) contrary to her express wishes, the first time this was done to a competent adult. Counsel argued and the Judge accepted that her child’s need for a parent overrode her right to refuse medical treatment.
  • In the US, women have lost custody of their children for working outside the home, being lesbians and even reporting domestic abuse.
  • According to a representative of the fabulous Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services Ireland who I was speaking to recently, some Irish women have been threatened with prosecution – yes, prosecution – if they insisted on giving birth at home rather than under the full control of the professional (and strongly male-dominated, and extremely paternalistic) medical industry.

What these cases all have in common is that they’re examples of the “best interests of the child” being used to further a patriarchal agenda, in which motherhood automatically strips women of their autonomy. Make no mistake about it, this isn’t just the standard assumption of self-sacrifice that having children always entails; it’s the quite deliberate channeling of women with children – whose primary identity is now “mother” – into tightly prescribed roles, with the legal system there to act as enforcer.

I’m being a bit deliberately melodramatic here and I’m not suggesting that passage of this amendment will actually turn us all into Stepford wives. But I don’t think we should be complacent about the risk of “children’s rights” becoming another tool of state misogyny. Let’s not forget that this is a state where woman’s primary role as housewife and mother is actually enshrined in the Constitution (Article 41.2, for readers abroad). Do you trust all of our judges to read the new amendment in a way that protects children’s rights without trampling on women’s? I don’t.

I’m also uneasy about the way this amendment could be read in juxtaposition with Article 40.3.3, on the right to life of the “unborn”. Judging by some of the cases coming out of the US at the moment, it seems that pregnant women in some states might be only a few years away from being forcibly institutionalised to prevent them doing anything that might possibly lead to the birth of a less-than-perfectly-healthy baby, such as having the odd glass of wine or eating too much junk food. It’s a strange sort of logic that allows women to be penalised for “neglecting” foetuses that they have every right (at least on paper) to abort, which I suspect is why those laws aren’t more widespread throughout the US than they are. Here, of course, the constitutional position on abortion is no impediment to such laws – and with a mandate to protect both the rights of (actual) children and the rights of the “unborn”, there is, I think, a worrying possibility that this American trend could catch on here.

Again, and just to be perfectly clear, I’m not saying that feminists should oppose the amendment. In all likelihood I will vote for it myself, on a simple cost-benefit analysis (as in, I think overall it will probably do more good than harm). And I don’t have any suggestions as to how it could be worded to avoid these nightmare outcomes, especially while the odious Articles 40.3.3 and 41.1-2 remain. But we shouldn’t be leaving it to the racists and religious fanatics to highlight its possible unintended consequences. We should be putting the State on notice that although we want to see better protection for Irish children, we are not going to tolerate it becoming yet another tool to oppress Irish women.