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Our bodies, our babies, our births

Our bodies, our babies, our births

Before I write the rest of this piece I feel the need to lay out my mothering and birth ‘credentials’. I am a mother to two daughters; I’ve given birth twice, both times vaginally, neither time without intervention. I found one birth traumatic and one deeply and intensely healing. One pregnancy was life-threatening and high risk, the other was not. (The traumatic birth was not the one which resulted from the life-threatening pregnancy.) I’ve breastfed both daughters, both exclusively for 6 months, and for an extended period beyond that. 5 years in total with some crossover in babas being fed at the same time (only once literally at the same time thankfully, I HATED that). I’ve spent the entirety of my life as a mother in the struggle for bodily autonomy in pregnancy (whether ended or continued) and birth. Here in Ireland, with the 8th amendment limiting our rights in both, it was always clear to me that pregnancy and birth are a continuum and the restriction of our rights in one aspect of it will be used to restrict our rights in others. The fundamental right to ownership of one’s own body has always been to me one issue.

I do not care how anyone births as long as it’s the way that’s right for them; one they have chosen as freely as possible, one they feel safe and supported in, and in a pregnancy they’ve chosen to continue. Likewise I do not care how anyone feeds their baby as long as it’s the way that’s right for them; one they have chosen as freely as possible and one they have, if problems have been encountered, received appropriate, accurately informed, and timely support for. Unfortunately when women run into problems with breastfeeding this is all too often not the case. I don’t just mean the kind of ‘support’ that involves telling brand new mothers with bleeding nipples to ‘just’ pump instead (the casual disregard for the work and time of women inherent in this is enraging), though. I also mean the kind of support which ignores the realities of that woman’s life, particularly when she already has other very small children around to care for, on top of feeding herself, and no other adult in the home for most or all of the day. The kind of support which pretends the problems of capitalism and patriarchy, where women’s work of feeding and raising babies, doesn’t exist, being instead part of a magical and wonderful nurturing process that is bestowed on us by some earth mother fairy godmother type at birth, and that all will magically come right if you just ‘feed feed feed’. Peer support and advice can only compensate for so much; without an additional set of hands there in the home, many mothers will simply be unable to complete all the separate tasks they must do in a day to ensure each of their children, as well as themselves, are safe, clean and fed. For this to happen, that set of hands would need to be a paid worker, provided by the state, because the state recognises that mothering work, and the work of bringing babies into the world and feeding those babies once they’re there is work of value. I do not believe that we will see this happen while we continue to individualise the ‘problems’ and place the ‘responsibility’ for breastfeeding or not on each mother. As I once said to a friend in the aftermath of her own journey to breastfeed ending earlier than she wanted, with a baby who just wouldn’t latch, I am an advocate for women, not for breastfeeding. I want to support people, not a process.

This piece has been brewing in my mind for some time now, with much of it brought to the fore by some of the response to a US study that found in a cohort of 6,000+ women, induction did not raise the risk of c-section, and that a woman who chose not to have an induction at 39 weeks was more likely to have a c-section. I certainly think there are questions to be asked around this study – I would love to know the outcomes of the 16,000 women who declined to participate. The interrogation of the concept that there may be an element of self-selection in the participants is a welcome one too, and I would like to know to what degree that matters. I also think societies which consider free maternal healthcare to be a basic right for all may not be directly comparable to a society in which those who cannot afford maternal healthcare must go without it.  I would question too if it is reasonable to compare c section rates in a country in which some hospitals and indeed states will compel women to have c sections against their will to those which do not. I would also find far more interesting a trial which, for once, took into consideration the feelings of a large cohort of women about their births. There is a strong distinction to be drawn between the sometimes unavoidable damage to our health and bodies that pregnancy and birth can inflict and the always avoidable suffering and trauma that the denial of our autonomy wreaks upon us. As someone who has experienced both in different pregnancies, I found the former far easier to recover from.

In much the same way as I view breastfeeding, I do not believe in nor agree with the privileging of ‘natural’ pregnancy and birth above all else in the birth advocacy world. Not least because the insistence on ‘natural’ pregnancy as a process seems to me to be at odds with the struggle for our rights to choose to end or continue our pregnancies as we see fit. Please do not misunderstand me here; the fight for ownership of our own bodies in continued pregnancy and birth is frequently one that takes the path of having to defend our rights to say no to external intervention in pregnancy and in birth, rights which are all too often trampled on. But I simply do not agree that the one overarching goal of the entirety of the maternity and birth rights movement should be the prioritisation of ‘natural’ birth. I worry that the focus of this movement has shifted from our right to have the time and space and care to have the best birth for us, to the idea that there is only one best type of birth. It would be easy to understand how this might have happened, in societies in which all too often a medicalised pregnancy and birth is presented as the only option and in which it can frequently seem as though the intervention-free birth is only possible in one’s own home. But I am concerned that this focus on ‘natural’ birth, as distinct from the right birth for each birthing person simply creates a parallel between natural birth advocates and the paternalised medical system which so many of us have negative experiences of.  Again, I want to be an advocate for women and each individual woman or person’s right to own their own unique experience, not an advocate for a certain kind of pregnancy and birth. I don’t always believe that what’s ‘natural’ is best for each and every woman, but I do believe in every pregnant and birthing person’s right to fully informed choice. And I believe with that right, and with supportive, informed, qualified, involved carers, from whom the person giving birth has had continuity of care throughout pregnancy, everyone giving birth would have the perfect (though perhaps not natural) birth for them.

As a final note, I haven’t mentioned anything about babies, their rights, and their best outcomes in this piece. This is a deliberate choice on my part, in part because I believe that information (as pertaining to breastfeeding in particular) is pointless without the resources to implement it, and in part because I don’t believe that the outcomes for babies should weigh on anyone who is not their mother making decisions about their mother’s body. Nor do I believe it is my role as a mother who breastfed to advertise breastfeeding to other women. Each individual woman is the only person who is or ever will be in her shoes and is the only one possibly qualified to make the right call for her and her baby in their best interests.

 

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No more than she deserves

No more than she deserves

In a country which voted overwhelmingly only a few months ago to return ownership of our bodies to us, it was dispiriting, though not surprising, to watch the mob turn on a young homeless Traveller mother, Margaret Cash, for the crimes of being young, a mother, a Traveller, a woman and homeless. The mob has spoken, and it has decreed that she has too many children (though it has failed to specify which exactly of her children should not have been born), that she is in some way to blame for her circumstances (though the housing and rental crisis is in no way of her making), that she should have taken the housing options she was offered (though she could not afford them, had no way of getting to them, and indeed in one case they could not take all of her children with her).  The mob would presumably let them all rot on the benches of Tallaght garda station indefinitely. The mob also does not give a toss that Margaret Cash’s children are listening while it bays that they should not exist.

Why is it that we can talk about “the housing crisis” or “the homelessness crisis” in the media as one under which people are suffering, yet when a mother in pure desperation shares a photo of the straits her children and her family are in, she is torn apart for it? Are people that desperate to believe it couldn’t happen to them that they will peer through every tiny chink into a family’s life through Facebook posts and deem them unworthy and undeserving on this tiny, one-sided, skewed angle of perception? That is surely a part of it, but there is a darker truth here too. The habit of misogyny and of blaming women and mothers for their societally created and enforced suffering is one that has long been pervasive in Ireland. However much you may like to believe that your Together for Yes twibbon frees you of the need to interrogate any of your beliefs about women – especially mothers –  if you believe that you have the right to a say in anyone else’s reproductive decisions, particularly in the wake of their being already made, you are a part of Ireland’s misogyny problem.

Let me be perfectly clear; if you are one of those people who last week thought or said or posted or tweeted or commented that Margaret Cash had surely some part to play in sleeping in a garda station along with her children, you are one of those people who would have said the same about the mothers and the children in the Magdalen laundries and the Mother and Baby homes. If you believe that it is in any way acceptable for you to suggest going through Margaret Cash’s Facebook posts in response to a family being so utterly failed by the society they live in that they are forced to resort to trusting to a policing force that automatically sees their ethnic grouping, including their children, as criminals, to house them, you are one of those that would have looked straight at those women walking together with shorn heads in ragged uniforms down the main streets of Ireland’s towns and never seen anything amiss.

To want a home in which to have and raise children, and to be supported by society in so doing, is a perfectly feminist ideal and to suggest otherwise is pure misogyny. The work of having and raising children is work of value on which society depends; indeed without the work of mothers in growing, birthing and raising our children society as we know it would end within a generation. This is not a new feminist ideal; it has been widespread since the Wages for Housework international campaign of the 1970s. Most of the demands of the Wages for Housework campaign (paid maternity and parental leave, women’s right to work outside the home, equal pay, and social welfare supports) have passed into the accepted needs of society as a whole and are taken entirely for granted as part and parcel of our fought-for and hard-won rights in feminist circles. There is however one area that hasn’t yet been assimilated into society; the concept that the work within one’s own home, of raising one’s own children, of contributing to society the thing it needs most to keep going, should be paid work. That a mother’s work is valuable because it has a price; not worthless because it is of no monetary value.

The reason this vital part of the Wages for Housework campaign did not succeed as its other demands did? Simple; ‘business’ (by which I mean of course capitalism) does not directly benefit from it in the same way that the opening up of a new supply of workers (mothers) to the workforce does. Capitalism requires that this work not be seen as ‘real’ work; that it be done silently and alone without pay, that one employee who wants to have a family must have another person in the home doing the unpaid labour of caring for that employee and the family. Without that person and their unpaid labour the edifice of capitalism begins to shudder, to be seen as the imprisoning behemoth it is, beneath the weight of which all of us are being slowly crushed.

Margaret Cash and her children are today’s sacrifice to Ireland’s continued worship of the combined gods of capitalism and misogyny. We cannot continue like this; leaving the children of ‘undeserving’ mothers to be trodden underfoot by the rest of society, nor can we continue to declare the system is not broken beyond repair in the face of the growing thousands without homes and safe places to stay while the massive landlords that are banks and the vulture funds are given tax break and bailout hand over fist. In much the same way that we reclaimed ownership of our bodies, so too is a movement where we seize back our basic, fully achievable right to homes and safe shelter the only way from here. The ongoing refusal of the State to provide for our obvious needs while women and families suffer and die is an all too familiar echo of the decades gone past. We know they would not have listened to us then had we not risen up and made them. It’s time to make them listen again

 

 

 

 

It’s been two months now

It’s been two months now

If I have to tell you what it’s been two months from there’s probably not much point in you reading this.

We won and I didn’t feel like I thought I would feel. I thought I would feel joy. I thought I would feel vindicated. I thought I would feel loved and supported. I thought the 26th would be a celebration. Instead it felt more like a wake. I found myself stopping many times, just where I was, to cry. On the footpath while taking down a Together for Yes sign for my wall. At home in the morning. In the car on the way to the count centre. While tallying. Every time I saw the unofficial Limerick Together for Yes results. Seeing women I love and work with sharing the victory together without me, in places far from me. When I saw the ratio for the tiny village I cast my vote in come in at 67% yes. When I had to accept that I was so exhausted I needed to ask my friend to bring me home at 5 o’clock that evening instead of being able to dance and sing as I thought I would.

I thought I would feel energised. I thought I would feel empowered. Instead I am more shattered than I would ever have believed possible. 6 long years of the intensity I pursued this with has left me in pieces; burnt to the socket and beyond. I had some intensely ugly feelings during the last 13 weeks of the campaign, from when the referendum date was announced. I found myself carrying a frightening dark resentment for people who were able for far more than I was; whose energy reserves hadn’t been as completely sapped as mine. I felt judged for not being able to do more than I was; for not being able to give more than the everything I already had done and was still giving. I felt an indescribable level of bitterness for the lauding of male political and medical figures as leaders of the campaign, particularly those men who’d opposed us every step of the way back in 2012 and 2013. I found depthless fathoms of rage inside me for the shaping of a campaign I’d once had the opportunity to be a key part of without me; without any voices in the struggle near me. I discovered I was and still am fighting not to be consumed by rage at personal betrayals by people I’d thought were my allies and my sisters. I find my fingers shaking when I try to respond to people who describe the last 13 weeks of that fight, without thinking, as “the campaign” in its entirety. (No, not all of these feelings were fair. Not all of them are without hypocrisy. I am sure many people in this fight far longer than me have felt the same things about me, including my beloved sisters-in-struggle at Feminist Ire. Fairness is not the point about dark, ugly feelings, it turns out. If you’re reading this and worrying it’s about you, it’s not; it’s about me.)

I am grieving the loss of untainted first years with my children and with my partner as parents to this struggle. It is difficult to put into words the intensity of the driving force to fight for abortion rights and bodily autonomy I found awaking inside me in 2012. It grew with the pregnancy I was carrying inside my body, that of my first child, the first of my two daughters. It exploded into engulfing fury in November of that year, when those of us outside Galway first heard of the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar. I found the pro-choice movement growing with my daughter; my drive to keep going through Parents for Choice intensified with my 2015 pregnancy with my second daughter. I spoke at the 2015 March for Choice when 8 months pregnant with her about my near-death pregnancy-induced event early on in that pregnancy; it brought home intensely to me the experience of being 8 months pregnant in 2012 on the Never Again march for Savita.

I remember thinking victory would bring freedom; that it would bring peace. I never once imagined it would bring grief, exhaustion and anger beyond I ever think I remember feeling in the depth of the struggle. I feel selfish even for writing this, this first piece I’ve been able to write in months. I thought I would be invigorated by the need to capture all of our own voices and our own stories; to talk to the incredible women I have been inspired by for years, who I am privileged to know, to count as friends. Instead I have had weeks I cannot even leave my own house, never mind get to Dublin for events I desperately long to be able to attend. I thought I would be able to turn to the rest of the many injustices on which I long to work, in conjunction with those who suffer from them, on putting to rights. I am simultaneously deeply jealous of the women I see doing this work and filled with self-loathing for my own incapacity.

When I stop and think about it I know that surely this will pass; that I will heal from this as I have healed from all the other wounds inflicted on my body and my self by the 8th before. But still at my core I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to trust that I will ever be truly made whole from the scars and the suffering from this, the last indignity, the last sufferings it has ever caused me. I am in pieces and I do not see how this shattering will ever be truly pieced together again.

 

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Feminist Solidarity: cis and trans people will not be divided! (Re-blog)

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Solidarity with British feminists fighting back against the scourge of transphobia in the UK women’s movement.

Feminist Solidarity: cis and trans people will not be divided!

We are a group of feminists, many of whom identify as lesbian or whose politics were influenced by lesbian culture. We are cisgender, we are non-binary and we are trans. All of us are active in the arts, community organising, the media and education. We have all benefited from the deep analysis, radical lifestyle and astonishing bravery of the lesbian feminists who came before us – actions that we understood to be about dismantling the patriarchy, liberating all women from gendered oppression and re-imagining the future.

Therefore, we were dismayed to see Pride in London being hijacked by a fringe group determined to divide the LGBTQIA+ community along the issue of trans rights, particularly rights for trans women, and arguing that the struggle for such rights erases cisgender lesbians.

This cannot stand.

We re-state our support for trans people everywhere. Transitioning in a transphobic society is a brave – sometimes…

View original post 1,091 more words

Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex

Guest Post by Emma C, Belfast Feminist Network

If this was a fluffy opinion piece for a Sunday supplement, I might make some sideways jokes about 5 minutes of pleasure, or someone’s turn to go ‘downstairs’ as a way of making light about this intimate, messy, universal experience. It’s everywhere, in ads, all of our films, television, books, plays, music. We let our culture mull it over but with little nuance. Yet we never really seem to be able to actually talk about it. For real.

We are in the midst of a wave of reignited feminism and its predicted backlash. We see every day in articles from across the world, the endless tales of rape, violence, maternal deaths, lack of access to safe abortions, persecution of sex workers and LGBTQ+ people. I’m utterly convinced that our inability to properly address sex; what it is, what it’s for, how it feels, when it works, when it doesn’t, what its value is, has kept us behind this hurdle of inequality.

Locally, we have been dealing with our very own Northern Ireland flavoured version of this worldwide phenomenon. A recent rape trial, abuse scandals, the lack of respect for LGBT people sex workers and women, all becomes fomented in policy and has maintained barriers to healthcare, equality and respect.

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Real-talking about sex has to begin. Real sex, not biology-book sex, not biblical sex, not porn sex, but real actual sex that happens between real actual humans. Most of us have an innate drive to seek sexual pleasure and some of us are more successful in that search than others. Sex is one the issues at the crux of gender and sexuality.

Imagine you are a 12-year-old girl walking home from school in your uniform, you have just begun to develop breasts. Your hormones are beginning to go haywire, meaning your emotions are everywhere and the world seems bigger and more confusing, even though adults are beginning to make more sense. Now imagine that as you are walking home, car horns beep at you regularly, when you turn to look to see who they are honking at and realise that it’s you, you see men the same age as your father and you blush a deep red as you’re not quite sure how to react. Then imagine that with every passing few months there are more comments in the street, from young men hanging around in groups, from waiters, from family friends, even from school teachers, about your slowly changing appearance.

This is the beginning of the onslaught. This unwelcome and unwarranted attention is never spoken about to the young people that experience it. This is when men, and the women, trans people and gay men that they objectify begin to learn about consent. We are being taught from a young age that it is okay to be publicly sexualised, by men; older men, younger men, men in positions of power, strangers and there is really nothing we can do about it.

Many of us will have seen the declarations from various pious lampposts around this wee country that, “ THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH”, yet we know from our national stance on abortion, access to contraception, and sex work that actually if the so-called sin is a sexual one between a ‘straight’ man and another person, it’s the other person who has to bear the brunt of that particular exchange.

Consensual sex is categorically not a sin. Well, except if you are a woman (and trans person and gay man and sex worker). Then of course it is a sin. You are a slut, unlike the man, who will probably be a legend (to himself), we all know this, we understand this paradox and yet we all maintain it, despite the harm it causes. Street harassment is the thin end of the wedge of our rape culture. RAPE CULTURE, a description that so many baulk at, yet we live in a society where somehow a woman should automatically be embarrassed about having a threesome and a man can be glorified amongst his mates. According to solicitors, the shame of a threesome could lead a young woman to take a lengthy and unnecessary court case against someone to save face… whereas leaving someone crying hysterically and bleeding internally after a sexual encounter is perfectly acceptable. A top tip for any man planning a threesome: if someone starts bleeding, best to call it a day, at the very least you aren’t doing it right and at the worst you might be raping someone.
We know that what a person wears, drinks, eats, how they get home, and what previous sexual history they have should have absolutely zero to do with whether or not they get raped, yet on and on we see victim blaming from legal experts, from prurient press, from anyone quick to judge with access to a social media account.

Expecting everyone who is not a straight cis man to pay for the sin of sex is why abortion is such a controversial topic as well. It’s got little to do with little cute babies and everything to do with women and pregnant people facing the consequences. “She should have kept her legs shut” “She should have to take responsibility for her mistake” “She should have thought about that before whoring around” – all things that are frequently said in some shape or form – it’s abortion’s own form of blaming, with a human to look after for the rest of your life as punishment. This is despite the overwhelming majority of single parents being women, it’s despite the overwhelming majority of contraception and birth control being aimed at women and it’s despite the fact that sexual assault and rape are so common that they are endemic, and yet we don’t even get off the hook for that one, as apparently our bodies don’t even deserve freedom from someone else’s crime (if they are a man).

Whenever the onslaught of sexualisation begins, it teaches us – women, queer and trans folk, that our boundaries are unimportant. It undermines our trust as to everyone’s intentions, and most importantly it undermines our ability to trust our own instinct. Setting boundaries is an important life skill, yet attempts to develop this skill are thwarted from the start if we can’t even tell strangers on the street not to comment on the shape of our ‘tits’ when we are still children.

Forgotten in all of this is that sex is supposed to be pleasurable, people shouldn’t get internal lacerations from consensual sex, unless it’s something they have specifically requested. Our concept of virginity is outdated as well, why is the only important thing when a penis enters a vagina? There are so many more ways of having sex, and not just for queer people. Sex is better when it is about reciprocal pleasure, you need to be able to say to the person that you’re having sex with, ‘yes that’s working or no that’s not working, can you do it more like this?’ However we are having sex in a society that doesn’t allow space for conversations about that.

We can be on the BBC talking about murderers, about complicated political ideas, about tragedies faced by families dealing with a variety of crises, but we are unable to talk about sex openly. We can’t address it, we are too scundered, even though that embarrassment creates a void that leads to our young people being educated by the internet; by the most popular types of porn which debase women, people of colour and trans people.

Popular porn is what we are offering to our culture instead of real conversations about pleasure. Young people are divided by gender for sex education, which is largely provided for by religious organisations. It’s no coincidence that the same organisations that are against contraception and abortions, are against LGBT people and sex before marriage.

If we let these people misinform our children, our offspring will look somewhere else instead, for something that more closely reflects the real lives they live than the prim fantasies that abstinence-only, anti LGBT sex education provides.

Not only have we no adequate ways to punish and re-educate young men with monstrous ideas about what women are (less than human receptacles for sperm and babies) but we are enabling them from children to become this way.

If we want our future to be safer and happier for the next generations, then we have to make actual changes to our sex education. We have to stigmatise talking about women and others as less than human and not stigmatise women having sex. We have to teach people that there is no pleasure without consent and that consent is the lowest bar. We have to be prepared to call out ‘banter’ if it demeans anyone because of the type of sex they have. We have to stand up to the tiny minority of bigoted bullies that get their voices amplified too often.

Everyone knows someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, everyone knows someone who has had an abortion or crisis pregnancy, we just need to learn to put on our grown-up pants and talk about these things properly and with respect before any more generations are harmed by our wilful negligence.

– Emma C

Belfast Feminist Network

 

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How can we ask women to report rape after Belfast?

How can we ask women to report rape after Belfast?

Rape is not an ordinary crime. Few people will contemplate whether or not to report being mugged because the police might not believe them. No one sees their car window smashed and thinks “I’m not sure if reporting this is wise. I was drinking last night so the police might think I said it was ok and I consented to them smashing it..”

 

The worst outcome for a rape complainant is that she is not believed. During the Belfast trial, a narrative was created that a the victim had participated in a drunken threesome and then cried rape afterwards because she was worried that “it would be talked about on social media.” The idea that any woman would subject themselves to what is entailed in making a rape complaint, simply because she regretted how she had sex or who it was with, would be laughable if it weren’t so disturbing.

 

When a woman makes a complaint to police she will usually spend hours or a day (or more than a day) literally recounting her story over and over again; following this she may be brought to a sexual assault treatment unit where trained healthcare professionals will collect forensic evidence and do a head to toe exam collecting samples from under her nails and her hair and her mouth. They will examine her genitals and take photographs. She will likely have to tell her story again to the healthcare practitioners so they know which photos to take. She will not be allowed tea or coffee in case it interferes with evidence in her mouth. Depending on where she lives, she might have to travel for 3-4 hours to get to this unit because her local hospital won’t have one. If there’s a risk of head injuries, she’ll be sent to the Beaumont first, but that has implications for evidence collection of course. If the police believe her, they may send her story to the DPP. They also might not believe her. They also might prosecute her for false reporting. They might laugh at her and snigger it was her own fault.

 

Rape myths are very common, and police and gardai are as susceptible to them as any other person you meet in the street. Of course, they are not meant to be, but we know they are. They make rape jokes too. It isn’t that long since the gardai were making rape jokes on tape in relation to Shell to Sea protestors. That wasn’t solely about animosity towards protesters, it was because they found rape funny and unless they’ve retired since 2011, they’re still employed by An Garda Siochana. The transcript of that exchange could be a twitter exchange.  

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^ Garda Rape Tape Exchange

Of course false report convictions are rare much the same way that false reports of rape are rare, but the fear of not being believed and the consequences that follow are a shadow over every victim’s decision on whether or not to report. They are rare, because women do not put themselves through the trauma of reporting because of what it entails, and the glaringly obvious fact that largely, she will not be believed.

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In the best case scenario, if the victim is believed by the Gardaí she must tell her story over and over and over and over again; then if she is believed by the DPP and then after having repeated her story over and over again, a case will be taken. Following this she will listen while her credibility is systematically picked apart by the defence counsel. She will see her knickers passed around the court. Her own credibility will be on trial. They will discuss what she likes and what sex acts she would engage in. The papers will discuss the colour of her labia in print. People on the internet will speculate on where she was in her menstrual cycle and whether the vaginal lacerations she has were from rape or not. Her text messages to friends about being raped will become a matter of public record. A newspaper will write a story in which they wonder whether the blood was from internal bleeding from vaginal injuries or from her period as the defence counsel suggested. In some cases fear of retaliation from the perpetrators will be a worry, whether that retaliation manifests as a physical threat or a threat to make life difficult, or the retaliation might manifest as the forces of privilege in society standing together to paint you as a liar. Anonymous or not, she will be stigmatised and the minutiae of every move she makes will be under scrutiny. Some of the jury will believe that if a woman was drinking, she was asking for it, and other myths, like the style of clothes being an invitation to have grope. Men who barely know the alphabet, let alone the intricacies of criminal law will call for her to be put on trial. They will call for her to be named and shamed. They say this because a lot of society thinks that if you cannot secure a conviction in a rape trial, the victim complainant has been proven to be a liar. Rape trials always mean the victim is on trial as much as the defendants. In the Belfast case, people know who the complainant is, there is no need to name her. Men will share that information. The Belfast verdict in many quarters has been seen as a victory for men. Women will simply return to secret Facebook groups and chats and informal conversations in which the words, “be careful of him” are uttered.

 

The scale of rape and sexual assault is a global health issue. If one in four people were getting mugged, we would likely examine the root cause and the members of the Oireachtas and other parliaments would probably convene a joint special committee. The media has a key role in this. They, whether they like it or not, shape the public discourse on rape and sexual assault issues. When they produce salacious gossipy reports on the case or the colour of a rape victim’s genitalia in their paper, it matters. It matters because those words are taken and repeated on twitter, with a multitude of shitty opinions attached.

 

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Most rape victims do not report to the police. Convictions do not simply require 12 members of a jury to believe you. They require the police who are questioning your demeanor, level of intoxication and consistency of details, to believe you. Your credibility must be sturdy. Impeccable in fact. It helps if you are not a poor or marginalised woman. During the Belfast trial Stuart Olding’s barrister commented, “Why did she not say no? Why did she open her mouth? Why didn’t she scream? A lot of middle class girls were downstairs, they were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that. Why didn’t she scream the house down.” The implication being that us working class women would hear it and just go back to adjusting the hun buns and acrylic nails and drinking cans I suppose. The clear message to rape victims in this, and every other trial is “Do not report, it isn’t worth it.”

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Reporting to the police means you must be able to withstand victim blaming and questioning and trolling statements and people attempting to hunt your family down on twitter. You must be able to handle that, if you defy traditional gender roles or consume alcohol prior to your attack you are more likely to be attributed a higher rate of blame for your own rape than others. You must be able to overcome whatever obstacles are put in place by privately educated rugby playing people and people who are members of professional associations who have connections and know journalists and other important people.

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When you make a report you must be able to deal with the fact that if you were passed out on the ground unconscious and the gardai happen upon you with a strange man kissing your neck and touching you, they may initially think that it isn’t that serious until they find CCTV footage. If you were a teenager working in a low paid carer job providing care for an elderly client, their adult son might sexually assault you. If your rapist was actually convicted, he might initially walk out of the court with a suspended sentence after drugging and raping you in your sleep. If you are 6 years old and your Uncle convinces you to go to your house for biscuits and he subsequently rapes you, he might also get a suspended sentence. If you are a group of five women abused by the same person, he might get a suspended sentence too. Your rapist might even get a partially suspended sentence for sexually assaulting two women having previously finished three jail terms for rape offences. Your uncle who abused you when he was still a priest might get a suspended sentence too. If your rapist dies, the Council might try and pass a motion of condolence for him.

If the text messages from your attackers reference your crying, and imply the group nature of your attack, as if they had great craic during a drinking game, you will still not be believed. This is what society needs us to know.

 

Screenshot 2018-03-28 22.31.26When your attackers are on trial, it will be you who is made to feel like a criminal. These “talented, promising sportsmen” who all had a different version of events, who deleted text messages and met up when they usually didn’t (but *not* to get their stories straight, remember?) were always going to be found ‘not guilty.’ It didn’t matter that there was a witness testimony confirming the witness’s description. It didn’t matter the taxi driver was concerned and said she was crying. What mattered was that they were privileged men, whose victim was always going to be torn asunder on the stand. Privilege begets privilege. Don’t you always bawl your eyes out and bleed through your jeans in a taxi home after a fun night?

The question that many feminists are asking now is why would any woman who witnessed this trial report a rape? If a friend discloses rape, how do you say to her in good conscience “would you consider reporting?”

 

They don’t want us to. The system is not designed for the victim. It serves an entirely different process. The victim was painted by the barristers involved as a wanton slut who was up for anything. Paddy Jackson, one of the defendants was painted as a poor little boy whose favourite hobbies included “drawing super heroes,” whose only mistake was wanting to have fun.  

The complainant in this case did everything that victims are supposed to do, she kept her clothes, she went and made a statement. Experts confirmed vaginal injuries. She told her friends what had happened. The defence still made out that she simply regretted a consensual experience and was afraid she would be labeled a slut. They labeled her a slut anyway not to mention, does any woman in 2018 under the age of 40 really give a fuck about someone having a threesome?

I know an awful lot of victims of rape. So do you. But I have never known anyone that has seen their rapist prosecuted. There are people who are friends of friends but it is truly remarkable that given the scale of it, convictions are rare.

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We all know, as women, we are routinely not believed, but for whatever it’s worth, I believe her.

 

@stephie08

 

#ibelieveher

An open letter to the organisers of the “We Need to Talk Tour” from a group of feminists in Ireland

We write as cisgender feminists in Ireland to the organisers of the ‘We Need To Talk’ speaking tour who plan to hold an event in Ireland in February.

 

The main purpose of the ‘We Need To Talk’ tour is to promote opposition to the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act in the UK. The reformed act would allow people to self-declare their gender  (currently in the UK people are forced to go through the indignity of medical diagnosis in order to have their gender recognised). This proposed legal reform is a necessary and urgent step toward undoing the stigma, discrimination and violence that trans people in the UK currently endure. The organisers of ‘We Need to Talk’ are making a stop here in Ireland, under the guise of talking about abortion. However, their motives remain clear to us, and we write this letter to show that their exclusionary, discriminatory attitudes to trans people – in particular trans women – are not welcome here in Ireland. We will not sit in silence while the organisers of this meeting peddle ideas and opinions that are actively harmful to the well-being and safety of our comrades.

 

Trans women and men in Ireland have the legal right to self-declare their gender. Trans people and particularly trans women are an inextricable part of our feminist community. The needs of trans people are part of our campaigns. There is no difference between ‘feminists’ spreading transphobic and transmisogynist ideas or spreading racism or homophobia. We want no part of it, and we don’t want it here. So yes, we do need to talk.

We can see from your social media posts about your tour and its contents, that your opposition to the GRA is based on the idea that feminist organising and women’s rights will somehow be harmed through trans inclusivity and organising with our trans sisters. We know this is not true. We, the signatories of this letter, organise hand in hand with our trans sisters. Together, cis and trans, we are Irish feminism. Trans women are our sisters; their struggles are ours, our struggles theirs. They were our sisters before any state-issued certification said so and will always be no matter what any legislation says, either now or in the future.

 

In the south of Ireland*, trans women have been able to declare themselves women and have the state change their documentation to reflect that declaration since 2015. The sky has not fallen. Cis women have not lost anything whatsoever from this. If anything, all of Irish feminism has gained: our struggle for bodily autonomy gains in strength and momentum through this victory for our trans sisters. There are few things as feminists in Ireland we can say we have been pleased to see passed by the state. This, although flawed in its lack of recognition of trans children and non-binary people, is one.

So tell us: what is it that you know of Irish feminism that you feel entitled and authorised to come here and lecture us on? Dublin has not been part of the UK since 1921, yet you originally described ‘We Need To Talk’ as a UK tour while still including Dublin on your list of venues. This gives us some idea of how little you know about Irish realities, north or south.

 

We do not need you here. We have not had your support in our fight for #repealthe8th, our fight against the historical and ongoing impact of the Magdalene Laundries, our fight for taking back control of our hospitals from religious orders, our fight for justice for women and babies tortured and entombed in Mother and Baby homes.

 

Do you know, for example, that in the north of Ireland, legally part of the UK, women still cannot access safe and legal abortion? Have you campaigned on this in any way? If you have, why don’t we know about it? Did you strike in solidarity with us on March 8th last year? Did you even know we were striking and for what? Do you have any kind of concept of what a feminism in a country shaped by struggle against Empire looks like? Did you take even a second to consider that, in assuming you have the right to come here in any kind of position of feminist authority, you’re behaving with the arrogance of just that imperialism? We have had enough of colonialism in Ireland without needing more of it from you

 

We neither want nor need your lecture tour. You’re not welcome here.

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