*****CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!******
Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.
Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.
There are over 4,500 submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly. I am worried my story, my voice will be lost in the mass. I want to be heard; I want to be valued. I want to #repealthe8th
I am writing to tell you my story as an Irish woman living in Ireland who needed an abortion. I would like to attach my name to this as I am not ashamed; however I am now a mother to 2 small daughters and I cannot afford the risk to my family of the potential jail sentence for having needed an abortion in Ireland using the abortion pill.
It was 2010. I was 26 and studying for my Masters. I’d gone back to college when the recession hit to reskill. I was in a quite new relationship with a man I’d known for some time and had been seeing off and on for a while, and finally both of us were living in the same place and we began going out seriously. He was working in a call centre. Those jobs have no security and don’t pay well. He worked with a man who was fired for being less than 5 minutes late 3 times in 2 months – at the start of those 2 months he’d just become a father.
2 months into that new relationship I realised I was pregnant. My period was late, I was feeling sick. I took a test. It was positive. I knew immediately I wasn’t ready to remain pregnant and eventually have a baby. A large part of why I knew I wasn’t ready was that I knew we were not in a position to be able to afford to have a family. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree and get employment.. His salary wasn’t enough to support us all. Rents were already starting to rise; we weren’t living together, we were renting rooms separately in shared houses and couldn’t have afforded our own place. I didn’t want my life, my partner’s life and the lives of the children I did eventually want to have with him to be trapped in the grinding poverty that they would have been if we had continued that pregnancy. I checked out what we would have been entitled to in state support and social welfare. It wasn’t enough to get by on. Looking at the friends I know now who are trapped in situations of relying on those payments I know that if anything I overestimated how much we would have been entitled to. I find it very emotionally difficult to think about the financially stressful and for me, misery-stricken life we would now have; it brings me to the point of tears. I think it is very likely we would now be among the huge amounts of homeless families in Ireland today.
I told my partner about the pregnancy and that I knew that wanted an abortion. He said he would support me in whatever I chose. He also said that he had personal struggles with abortion and that while he would never feel he had the right to force someone to go through with a pregnancy against their will he would find this very difficult and asked me to think about it for a few weeks. I of course agreed. I knew about the existence of Women on Web and said that I would contact them anyway so we would have that option there. I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford all the costs of travel for it. I researched the cost of childcare, wanting to be able to continue in college – I knew there was a creche on-campus that took children of students at a reduced rate. I looked up the fee for students. It was still €680 a month. That was considerably more than the rent I was paying at that point. There was absolutely no way either of us, or even both of us together could afford that. We looked at it all the ways we could. There was no way we could afford to remain pregnant. I know now that childcare costs in Ireland are the second highest in the world.
I filled out the consultation form for Women on Web. I used the address of a friend of a friend in the North to get them sent to. Customs here will seize them and then send you letters threatening to prosecute you. There was a bit of a panic there as his housemate signed for the package on delivery and then forgot to tell him about it, and the pills are time-sensitive for use – you can only use them if you’re under 9 weeks, and I was 7 weeks at this point. You’re counted as being 4 weeks pregnant from the time you miss your period so it’s really not very much time at all. We eventually got that sorted and got the pills to us.
I took them when I was 8 weeks pregnant. The embryo I was pregnant with was the size of a kidney bean. I took them in my bedroom of the rented house I was living in at the time with my partner there to look after me. I wasn’t ready for how painful it was. With what I know now, I would genuinely compare the pain of it to fullblown labour. Without any access to any medical reassurance, any support from midwives, any medicine to ease it or anyone who knew what was going on and could tell me and my very worried partner that I would be okay and that this was within the bounds of normal. We were fully aware that what we were doing would be punishable by a potential life sentence if we were caught. (This was 2010, before the PDLPA which now means that I’m ‘only’ liable to 14 years.) There was no way I would feel safe presenting to a hospital or calling a doctor if something went wrong. I knew the pills were very safe and I knew I would almost definitely be fine but I also knew that if I weren’t I would either have to risk my health on my own or risk pretty much the entire rest of my life with medical support.
I am sure there are some of you who are reading this who think that I deserved everything I went through for daring to want to end a pregnancy rather than continue it regardless of the personal cost to me and my partner. That I deserved to be frightened and alone with my partner during that abortion, that I deserve to be locked up for choosing not to continue to grow the pregnancy, for wanting an abortion at all. That because my pregnancy was the result of consensual sex rather than rape I should have been forced to continue it against my will; that because my pregnancy hadn’t been diagnosed with a fatal abnormality I should have had to go through the entirety of pregnancy, birth and motherhood regardless of the fact that my country, who would have forced me into it, would not support me through it and would see me and the resultant child trapped in a lifetime of poverty because of it.
I do not think I did. I do not think that I do. I do not think that the many women like me who need to self-administer in Ireland every day deserve it either. I am quite open about my experience on social media and as a result am frequently contacted by women who need to find out how they can access the abortion pill. There is not enough room in Irish jails to hold us all, believe me.
Since completing my Masters and finding secure employment, my partner and I have had 2 daughters. We are now married and in a considerably more privileged position than we were during that first pregnancy and yet it has been the most difficult time of both of our lives. Parenthood in this country is isolating, impoverishing, and unsupported. I have had postnatal depression after both of my children which is only starting to resolve now. I also nearly died when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my second daughter from a pregnancy complication, pulmonary embolisms, which I would be at high risk of again in any subsequent pregnancy. I chose to continue that pregnancy regardless of the risk to my own health because we as a family were in a position to have that child. I would support any other woman in her decision not to. I do not think that should I become pregnant again and the risk to my life and health become even greater, if say it does not respond to medication this time, that I should be forced to continue that pregnancy at the risk of leaving my existing 2 daughters without their mother and my husband without his wife.
I think it is beyond barbaric that Ireland forces people, particularly those women who are least able to access abortion, poor women, migrant women, disabled women, into motherhood and then leaves them high and dry without any meaningful social support or attempt to integrate society around families. The cuts to lone parents allowance and the ongoing attempt to financially coerce lone parents (who are 86.5% mothers) into leaving their children who are 7 or older at home alone by cutting off their lone parents’ allowance and pushing them onto jobseekers is not only horrendously cruel to those mothers but dangerous and discriminatory to their children. 60% of all lone parent families live in deprivation. Why is it, if Ireland cares so much about babies and children that it must force us to remain pregnant at any cost to ourselves, that it cannot even adequately fund a decent standard of living and of care for those babies and children once they are born?
Even if you are of the opinion (as I hope you are) that Ireland should do that, it is completely beyond the scope of the Citizens’ Assembly to enforce or even recommend that. I really hope that you want to stop criminalising those like me, stop us being forced to listen to ‘debates’ on this that paint abortions like mine for ‘social reasons’ as selfish and flippant and something we would indulge in because we have a holiday booked (I cannot count the amount of times I have heard this on the radio and it gives me a knot of stress and rage in my stomach every time), stop women with no resources being forced into continuing pregnancies motherhood they can’t afford and which will trap them in poverty for the rest of their lives. I hope that you do not believe that a woman pregnant with an 8 week pregnancy like I was should be forced to continue gestating that regardless of her opinions on the matter, and regardless of the knock on effects on her life; that the potential baby that might result from that 8 week pregnancy (1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage anyway) is far more important than anything else.
Most of all I hope you do not believe that you know better than me or than any other woman, any other person making that decision what is best for us. I hope you can understand that I am an adult human being capable and competent of making my own decisions for my own wellbeing and that it should not be up to you or anyone else who doesn’t even know me and has never walked in my shoes to override them. I hope that you do not think that my small daughters, should they ever as adults find themselves pregnant with a pregnancy they cannot continue, should have to endure what I did and be criminalised for it as I am.
I want to end this by pointing out that a recommendation to repeal the 8th doesn’t mean that you personally would choose an abortion in every circumstance that a woman who has chosen abortion would. It just means you don’t think you have the right to stop us.
This post is adapted from a post I wrote for a specific feminist facebook group.
So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s coming out of my own experience of having grown up as a very privileged woman, who bought into a very media-pushed, capitalist, patriarchy-lite version of feminism that was essentially the feminism of the second-wavers, and over the last 8 or so years doing a massive amount of learning around how flawed and damaging and still oppressive a view of the world that is; if you are making your way to the top of the pile but stepping on other women to do it, women’s oppression isn’t ended even though your job title might be CEO of all the world.
The word learning doesn’t necessarily sound immediately difficult to lots of us I’d imagine; it certainly didn’t always carry those connotations to me. I learned in school very easily and quickly; I performed well, I garnered plaudits and praise. The kind of learning that I’m talking about now though isn’t that kind of easily, painlessly (for me) absorbed knowledge transfer; this kind of learning is difficult, often painful, and frequently inducing of defensive behaviour (for me). It’s learning that involves facing your own privilege and acknowledging when and where there are others with more lived experience of other oppressions than you and who have considerably more of a right to speak on some topics and lead feminist thought on some issues than you; as someone who was very used to the feminism I was familiar with being White Feminism™ the concept of not being capable of speaking with authority on matters affecting women as a class, as a broader group, was a difficult and yes, painful, one to process and absorb. I frequently embarrassed myself in feminist discussions around this. My toes are curling up with cringe thinking of some of the defensive, hypercritical and unhelpful ways I responded (mostly, thankfully, online and anonymously, back in the days of discussion forums) to others who were sharing their opinions and theories backed up and borne out of their own lived experiences of their own oppressions.
It’s learning that has been of, and I mean this literally, priceless worth to me though. Those discussions in which those women and people used up their valuable time and labour in explaining to me and others the way in which the world operates on more than one oppressive axis, and why my white, middle-class view of the world is not a comprehensive or indeed accurate one, taught me more than anything I ever learned in college. I genuinely value this learning more than I value my degrees; it was harder come by for me, which is again my privilege talking – but I’m putting this out there because I know there will be those of you now who are where I was then on my journey.
I’d like to share some of my thoughts and the things I have learned though on what in my experiences from both sides of the fence, how the least painful for all involved, way to explore someone else’s reality and opinions born of their lived experience, without trivialising, dismissing, or walking over their real and valid emotions and hurt. This is really not meant to be preachy. I’m sorry if it comes across to anyone like that. It’s meant to offer help.
There are certainly times I am sure people reading this will have seen me NOT behaving in this way online in conflicts; those times are when I’ve been hurt myself by people insensitively treading on me in ways I’ve been oppressed and damaged. Those times though have really helped me to find empathy for others I see responding with anger and hurt when questioned or queried.
Most of all I do my best to approach women/trans people with, at a minimum, respect. If I can manage it, I approach them with loving kindness.
I am posting this in the hopes that it may help someone who is where I was a few years ago; not to set myself up as some kind of expert in conflict resolution in feminist circles, because that I most certainly am not. I am posting to try to share what I have been given from others.
Originally posted on Linnea Dunne’s blog – reposted with permission
As someone who is regularly accused of hiding in an echo chamber of angry feminists patting each other on the back, I thought I’d write to those of you who accuse me of that, who think that I’m not doing feminism right. If you’ve ever thought that I’ve been too angry, that I’ve been wrong to disengage myself from a discussion, that I’ve overreacted to a seemingly innocent statement, that I haven’t tried hard enough to convince the other side – this is for you. Please read it.
First of all, I want to highlight that all of the below has been written about beautifully and powerfully and poignantly many times before; but that’s the thing with the echo chamber, isn’t it, that those important articles may well have hit a wall somewhere along the line and never made their way to you. But the beauty of the echo chamber is this: it helps pick people up, it is safe when the outside world feels too scary, and it helps us make sense of those difficult debates we want to deal with but can’t while being shouted at by a nonsensical Twitter troll. What I’m writing here is nothing new – yet it so badly needs to be written again and again and again. So here’s my first point: it’s only an echo chamber if you allow it to be. If this is somehow new to you, chances are it will be to your echo chamber friends too – so share it.
Point two, which is related: you need to take responsibility for your own learning. Inside your echo chamber or elsewhere, there will be people who get something that you don’t get, and if getting it requires you to check your privilege it’s likely that explaining it to you would be really draining and exhausting and maybe even triggering for those who do get it. They get it because they’ve experienced it – ‘it’ being rape or emotional abuse or racism or transphobia or cultural appropriation or a life of being monitored and kicked at by patriarchy – and you can be sure that they are forced to justify their feelings and reactions and sheer existence to mainstream liberal discourse day in and day out without you adding to their workload. And here’s the thing: that’s not their job. You might think that you’re being nice by asking – ‘Tell me again why I shouldn’t use that word you claim is so offensive?’ – but don’t you think it might be nicer for them if you say that you hear them, that you trust them, and then go off and figure out whatever it is you don’t get using your search engine of choice? Be that enlightened liberal you window dress your Facebook feed with and go read the voices of oppressed and minority groups. Then share them widely.
Point three – again, related: stop playing devil’s advocate. Just stop it. People who spend day in and day out talking about and reading about and writing about and experiencing oppression in some shape or form don’t need your assumption that you, a person who doesn’t talk about it quite that much and who’s never really experienced it, have just thought about this one aspect they’ve failed to cover, which will blow their entire argument to pieces. You know, it might happen. You just might be that guy. If that’s the case, you definitely will get your fifteen minutes of fame at some point and that argument will fall; but most likely – just trust me on this one – they’ll have heard your unique insight a thousand times already and somehow managed to still feel how they feel, despite them constantly and persistently wishing that feeling away. So when that devil inside you raises his voice, turn the other cheek and play devil’s advocate with yourself instead: why is it that it would be so incredibly difficult and uncomfortable for you if their experience was really real and their argument truly held up? Is it maybe possibly plausible that seeing and acknowledging and committing to scrutinising your own privilege is just really, really hard?
Next – let’s talk about that anger. I snap sometimes. Someone writes something on Facebook or makes a joke somewhere or shares a funny YouTube clip that – shocker – I don’t find funny. And it seems so innocent to you, yet I turn into that feminist killjoy and snap. Why can’t feminists just chill? The truth is that many of them can, and I admire that in them, but remember this: we’re in this all the time – day and night, wherever we go, since the moment we were born. It’s not like an annoying person at work or a bus route that is consistently unreliable; it’s not even like that unspoken, ever-growing mountain of irritating, hurtful words and comments and insinuations in a toxic relationship that keeps nagging at you until you want to scream at the sheer thought of it and can’t even begin to try to explain it without bursting into tears – worse: it’s relentless in the most literal and vicious sense of the word. So when people don’t bother reading up on stuff and you are patient enough to take all those conversations, when they keep playing devil’s advocate and refusing to check their privilege, and then they go and share that seemingly innocent yet so fundamentally damaging video clip – you snap. Because you’re exhausted, and you’re sick of not being heard, and yes, you’re angry because you are constantly made to feel small and insignificant and untrustworthy and meaningless, day in and day out, by a constant stream of supposedly innocent clips and jokes and comments and devil’s advocates. Perhaps ask yourself this: why is it that your discomfort with the anger and tone and shrillness of it all must blind you to the very reasons behind them?
Next – also on tone policing – logic. I’ve been in conversations where I’ve been trying to understand something and I’ve brought my very Scandinavian consensus-seeking reasoning to the table, and somehow it’s gotten me nowhere. (I quote Björk: “I thought I could organise freedom; how Scandinavian of me.) I’ve been trying to reason out the different sides of the argument using logic, plain and simple logic, because one and one is two and no one can argue with that, so why can’t we understand each other if we put all the cards and facts on the table? Ideological hegemony is why. What was logical to me – a privileged, white, middle-class Swede – was very much logical to me because of the norms of the society I grew up in, the worldview I inherited, the experiences I’d had, and the rules of the world we live in. Really, truly checking your privilege involves shedding layers of truths and logic the way they’ve been handed down to you – yes, even via some of those red-brick university reading lists – and daring to listen to voices you’ve never previously understood. Sometimes they’ll sound shrill, other times their logic will seem flawed. But if you want to understand them, you have to try to read their logic and trust that they’re speaking the truth, their truth. Solidarity is about more than passive tolerance. Real change doesn’t happen in comfort zones.
Now a word on ‘whataboutery’ – because it’d be nice to get it out of the way so that I don’t have to go through this every time someone what-abouts me and I refuse to engage and they think I’m being a hypocrite. I find it acutely frustrating that my feminism is taking up as much of my time and energy as it is. If I could un-see the oppression I see and stop taking the arguments and worrying about the consequences and struggling to enjoy mainstream films, I would – I would hand it all back for just a bit of peace and quiet and a laugh and a chance to engage with some other kind of activism for a while. Because when I see my male peers share stuff about this issue and the next, seemingly informed about everything from immigration policy to global warming and macroeconomics, I feel jealous. I care about that stuff too, but everywhere I look I see the effects of patriarchy and that fire in me comes to life again and I can’t see beyond it. So when I talk about women’s rights and you ask what I’ve done for starving children, I don’t hear sympathy for how I’m feeling – I don’t hear you say ‘hey, I bet you wish you could campaign about this stuff too’. I hear a refusal to talk about women’s rights. I don’t expect of you to read every article I read about reproductive rights, and I don’t expect of you to feel as passionately as I do about body positivity and the domestic division of labour – but I think that’s all the more reason for you to listen to me when I talk about it. What about the men? the internet echoes every time a woman mentions the patriarchy. But why is it that we hear so little from these same voices about toxic masculinity and extended paternity leave until we start talking about women’s rights? And why is it that we’re asked to carry that issue too? Do we not seem burdened enough? Truth be told, I don’t think the whataboutery is all that much about men’s rights. I don’t hear these people stroll up to Greenpeace demonstrators asking ‘What about the men?’. I don’t see them below articles calling for an end to direct provision, commenting to point out that men have rights too. Let’s not play the RTÉ game – let’s not talk masculinity purely for the sake of balance. We all deserve better than that.
Last point before I wrap up: free speech. You have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to voice it. You do not, however, have a right to any given platform, nor to the shoving of your opinions down anyone’s throat – especially not if said opinions border on hate speech. So when someone talks about not getting Katie Hopkins on The Late Late Show and someone else cries freedom of speech, they’ve got some catching up to do. It takes a lot to silence a privileged public person with column inches in one of the biggest UK tabloid papers and a huge social media following; refraining from inviting her onto an Irish public service prime time chat show will have little or no impact on how loud her voice is and how far her messages reach. If we’re really interested in the right to be heard, we would do well to ask ourselves why feminist friends of mine have been dropping off the internet like never before, slowly but surely, one after the other, since Donald Trump was elected. These people whose only platform is social media, who are suddenly faced with twice the misogynists and trolls and devil’s advocates and just can’t put up with it anymore – I don’t hear anyone crying freedom of speech when they stop talking.
Finally (and if you’ve made it this far, thank you!), a disclaimer. You might think I’m placing myself on a pedestal, all self-righteous in what a brilliant co-feminist I am. Trust me, I’m not. For the sake of argument, join me for a moment as I recall the year of 2001: I had dreadlocks and a turban (yes, both – simultaneously!) and was singing backing vocals with a reggae band, the singer in which put on a fake Patois accent, and if you had told me about cultural appropriation I would have laughed. There – you’re welcome. I’m highly flawed, but I’m learning. Can’t we all just admit we’re flawed, check our privilege and learn?
I was walking over Kevin Street one night a few years ago and there were three kids, who couldn’t have been anymore than about ten, throwing stones at a black man and shouting racist abuse at him. I did what any right thinking individual would have done and roared at them “HERE, quit that yis little bastards.” One of them in turn picked up a stone and fired it at me where it pelted me full force inside of my leg and left a massive bruise roughly shaped like Belgium. Normally I wouldn’t care, but the problem for me was that I had planned to attend a wedding two days later and didn’t have time to get a longer dress that would cover the bruise. So I began a Google search to find the concealer that would cover it.
There were literally thousands of results on how to cover bruising. Recommendations from forums about what types of concealer; how to do it with lipstick; the best brushes to use; the way to apply without causing any further stressed to bruised skin. There seems to be an awful lot of women with an awful lot of bruises to cover. Facelifts are popular but they couldn’t be *that* popular. Even the Daily Mail once had advice from make-up artists who outlined in detail how to cover up bruising after a woman wrote in having fallen down in the street. I know a woman who falls down in the street regularly, but it’s usually after her boyfriend has seen her chatting to another man or after he’s been drinking.
There was mass outrage this week when a Moroccan public broadcaster aired a daytime show including a segment on how to cover up bruising after a beating from your husband. It’s makes for pretty grim watching as the make-up artist chit chats while she’s masking the bruising. Much of the uproar on twitter after it was due to the fact that Morocco is a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population. The logic to the outrage was “Look at these barbarians in this Islamic nation! See how they beat their wives! See how normal it is for them.”
We got one of those smart tellys a while back at home and sometimes I watch YouTube make-up tutorials on it in the evenings. I rarely actually use any of their tips because I’m lazy and refuse to buy more foundation until the one I’m using runs out, but there’s something weirdly soothing about watching someone layer on the primers and highlighters and use eyeshadow to make what is essentially art on their faces. Sharon Farrell is a make-up artist from the West of Ireland who lives in Australia now and is definitely my all time favourite, mainly because she’ll tell you which eyeshadow palette from Catrice is the closest dupe to a Mac set, but also because I am convinced she is more of a wizard than a make-up artist.
Anyway, I watched one of her videos one day and she had a bit of bruising because she’d had her lips done, so this tutorial was about how to cover it up. Just after three minutes into the tutorial my beloved Sharon turns to the camera and says, “If you need to cover up bruises because someone is hitting you, that’s not cool, and it’s not ok, and there are people that you can talk to and there’s help available to you and I’ll put the numbers below the video……and if someone is beating you that’s not cool and you shouldn’t have to accept that in your life.” This was a great thing to do because make-up artists like her are going to reach a wide audience.
Obviously, and rightly, there was no public outrage over this. I spoke to my sister (also a Sharon fan) and concluded that what she had done was a good idea; a simple acknowledgment that some women seek help in covering bruises because men beat them. The video has had almost 179,000 views to date. That’s 176,000 more than this Women’s Aid awareness video.
The Moroccan tv segment is jarring because, if the translation is correct, there is an aspect of normalisation to this. The women speak of bruises from their husbands as being a very standard thing that you just have to get on with. But this is on a spectrum; Farrell’s video to an extent is acknowledging the normalisation of domestic violence too. That is not a defence of how the Moroccan broadcasters handled the issue or a criticism of Farrell, but to point out that so many women are experiencing domestic violence, that for them this is the norm. As a make-up artist, Sharon Farrell would be well aware of the thousands of forums that I came across on my google searches researching the best foundation that will give enough coverage to make a black eye and bruised jaw disappear. Farrell and the hundreds of other make-up artists with similar videos aren’t condemned for this subtle acknowledgment because they’re white and western. Would we be less appalled by the Moroccan tv segment if they’d included a phone number for a domestic violence hotline? Would that have made the men criticising it less concerned about Islam in Morocco and more concerned for women’s well-being?
The sad thing about the Moroccan tv outrage is that it was mainly directed at the women who participated in this – rather than the men who beat their wives so regularly to the extent that it appears to these women to be a perfectly reasonable to have a daytime feature on hiding the fact you’ve taken a beating from a person who is meant to love you. Do we think we are better in Ireland because Irish men mostly beat women where the bruises don’t show? Because we aren’t.
Domestic violence is an enormous problem. Just because a make-up artist here adds the phone number for women’s aid at the bottom of her video does not make us better than Morocco. You’re not likely to see a segment on The Afternoon Show about how to cover your black eye, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t Irish women who would look for similar information online. 6,000 women and children were turned away from refuges in Ireland during 2015 because there wasn’t the space to take them in. A lot of the 16 women turned away every day will inevitably return to their partners, weighing up the risk of a beating against the risk of living on the streets. Domestic violence is exacerbated by the State and the community when it will not give a woman an exit route.
Organisations like Women’s Aid do fantastic work in Ireland, but the men on twitter saying domestic violence is a result of Islam are insulting. Wasn’t Clodagh Hawe’s husband at mass the Sunday before he murdered her and her children and then shot himself in an act of cowardice?
A third of women in Ireland have experienced extreme psychological violence from men. A quarter of women have experienced violence by partners in Ireland.
We are not better than Morocco, we just think we are.
The Women’s Aid Helpline is 1800 341 900.
Follow me on twitter @stephie08
I’ve been working with victims of domestic abuse for 6 years now. And during the course of this work I began to see a direct link between children who bully and adults who abuse. Many of the families I have worked with have had at least one child who has begun abusing the mother after she leaves an abusive relationship. These children have had abuse role modelled for them, and disrespect for their mother’s role modelled for them and it takes a lot of work to undo the dangerous ideas they hold. The link between child bullies and adult abusers is a contentious subject, but an important one for us to consider as it affects so many of us and should be shaping the bullying policies of our schools and universities.
Children who grow up in abusive households are significantly more likely to grow up to become abusers themselves or to be abused. 1 in 3 women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence, most commonly from a partner, so we are talking about a huge portion of the population that is affected by these issues. And yet for women seeking help and support from domestic abuse services there is little help once they have left the relationship and even less support in supporting them to parent children who have been exposed to abuse. Thus the cycle of abuse starts up again, as many survivors of abuse don’t have the skills, energy, time or knowledge to undo the damage done to their children. These children are often abusive to their mother and sometimes to other kids in school. When I first started looking into this 6 years ago I couldn’t find any information, online or otherwise on child to parent abuse. Now though child to parent abuse awareness is spreading and it has in the last few years become an issue that is finally being talked about. Because bullying isn’t just something that happens at school. Lots of children who have grown up in abusive households bully their non abusive parent. Bullying needs to be looked at within a wider context. And it needs to be looked at alongside abuse.
People with abusive mindsets share two things. A core belief in inequality and a sense of entitlement. Bullies also share these two beliefs. In my head bullies and abusers are interchangeable terms. They both mean the same thing, bully being a kid-friendly term for a child abuser, adult abusers getting called out for what they are.
The fortunate thing is that children are much easier to work with and less fixed in their ideas than adults. It is depressing that the world’s leading rehabilitation program for domestic abuse perpetrators has less than a 40% success rate, but this is probably because the main issue is that an abusive mindset is not a psychological problem within the abuser’s brain, but a cultural and societal problem. It is the result of the toxic masculinity created from being raised in a patriarchal society with rigid gender expectations and unhealthy beliefs about the value of women. And it is constantly reinforced by the media, by the options on supermarket shelves, by the fashion industry, by governments and more. It is everywhere we look. All aimed at controlling women and portraying them as inferior to men.
Studies have shown that the behaviour of abusive people is mostly deliberate. They actively choose to behave in a way that exerts domination and control over their partner, in order to get their needs and wants met. In other words, they KNOW what they are doing. Their actions are intentional.
I do not know anything about rehabilitating abusive adults. I do however know about helping children who have been taught by their abusive parent to be bullies. I know how to help their mothers to parent them in such a way that will guide them towards being respectful people. And much of the work I do with mothers and their children works equally well in a school setting.
I was on the committee that developed our primary school’s anti – bullying policy where we defined bullying as ‘an act with intent to harm’. Most school’s approach bullying as being repeated actions. I disagree with this. Bullying is the softer, kid-friendly word we use for abuse. One act of abuse is enough to call it abuse. One act of bullying is enough to call it bullying. Why do we diminish the experience of the victim by insisting that they be repeatedly abused before we will give the matter the level of importance that is requires? I see this as a gross negligence of the hurt child, and further evidence of how as a society we protect abusers, at all costs. It seems preposterous that a child must be hurt repeatedly before we will take the incident/s seriously and call it for what it is. In what other area of life would this be the rule? “Oh you were only broken into once Mrs Smith, come back when you’ve been broken into again and then we’ll deem it a burglary.” “Someone put their penis in you without your consent? Well when it happens again that will be rape!”
Who does this ‘repeated actions’ definition of bullying help and support? Only the child doing the abusing (except not in the long run, as being indulged in your abuse of others is incredibly dangerous to all of us, no matter what our age). In my view the important and crucial part of defining bullying is ‘intent to harm’. This is where bullying links in with the adult abusive mindset. Both abusers and bullies are driven by a desire to cause intentional harm to others in order to have some need or want of theirs met.
The great thing is what with kids we can (most of the time) undo the toxic programming they have received from their abusive parent. Of course there will be children who will bully who have not grown up with an abusive parent as well, and children will bully for a variety of reasons but bullying can be handled the same way regardless of why the child is bullying. The important thing is that they are not able to get away with it, that it is recognised for what it is and action is taken to stop it and support the victim. That cannot happen until we re-define what we consider bullying to be. We should be putting the victim’s needs at the centre and calling any act with intent to harm what it is – Bullying.
Last week someone told me that he believed the reaction to Trump’s victory was an “overreaction.” Subsequently, another man I know called my terming of Trump and the galvanising of the US right as fascism to be “hysterical.” Media commentators state that anti-Trump activist are whipping up fear unnecessarily but I defy any right thinking individual to watch this video and not be horrified by it.
It is an open white power rally complete with Nazi salutes and declarations that maybe their opponents “aren’t people at all.” This in combination with the regular demonisation of all Muslims is shocking. To compare this to 1930s Europe is not a disproportionate exaggeration.
Years ago I travelled in the former Yugoslavia shortly after the war. A war that was synonymous with ethnic cleansing and where extreme promotion of nationalistic patriotism assisted the xenophobia that led to the genocide in Srebenica where 8,373 Bosniak civilians were murdered. A lot of Belgrade was still rubble and there were signs around Sarajevo saying not to walk on the grass because there were still landmines. I remember talking to someone who had also been there who said to me that a local Serb woman had told her to “never think that this couldn’t happen where you live.”
White power rallies are happening right now in the US – a place where black people are routinely shot by cops and an unapologetic racist and misogynist has been elected president. Marine Le Pen is trying to make the fascist National Front more palatable in France. The far right Alternative for Germany are gaining support. Geert Wilders anti-EU and anti-Islam “Party for Freedom” is gaining support in advance of the Dutch elections next year. Neo-Nazis Golden Dawn won 18 seats in the Greek parliamentary elections in September. Anti-immigration party Jobbik are the third largest party in Hungary and won 20% of the vote on a platform of wanting to stop “Zionist Israel’s efforts to dominate Hungary and the world,” and criminalising gay people advocating prison terms of up to 8 years for what they term “sexual deviancy.” The Sweden Democrats won 49 out of 349 seats in the Swedish parliament promoting an extreme anti-migrant agenda and a policy of returning refugees to their home countries. The anti-immigrant Austrian Freedom Party have huge support and almost won the most recent presidential election. Founded by a former SS officer, they have 20% of the seats in the Austrian parliament and links to a range of fascist and far-right organisations throughout Europe. The anti-Roma People’s Party our Slovakia hold 14 out of 150 seats in parliament and whose leader has said “Even one immigrant is one to many” and spoken openly in favour of politicians during WWII who sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps. While the BNP, the EDL and National Front are on the fringes of the right in the UK, UKIP hold little support on a national level but have 163 council seats. The Tories could easily sail further to the right as the US Republicans have in the wake of Brexit. Rallies are being held in Spain where people hold up photos of Franco and give Nazi salutes.
Aside from some Loyalist organisations in the Six Counties, the fascist right in Ireland are largely confined to the boxrooms of their mother’s houses. Former Youth Defence activist and gormless fascist, Justin Barrett attempted to hold a press conference for his National Party in Dublin last week but he event didn’t go ahead after the hotel it was to be held in cancelled due to public outcry. While Justin Barrett and fellow cretin Peter O’Loughlin of Identity Ireland/Pegida Ireland might have the charisma of a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition, their threat should not be underestimated.
In 2004 I was a student in UCD and was in the room when AFA prevented Barrett from speaking. They were right to do so. Later I recall someone saying that if the far right remained in the hands of anti-immigrant xenophobe Aine Ni Chonaill and the Immigration Control Platform then we would be ok. There was an element of truth to this, the public being largely hostile to the ICP views but this was the same year that an anti-deportation activist I knew had her home address published online by fascist sympathisers in Ireland and received letters telling her they knew what bus she took to college in the mornings.
We live in an environment where the likes of Katie Hopkins is given a platform on RTE, who once suggested that migrants should be let drown and that feminist journalist Laurie Penny should be gangraped by ISIS members, because the national broadcaster views ratings and manufactured controversy as being more important than not allowing a bigot espouse racist views on television. Ultra-Catholic fanatics have columns in national media outlets and take legal action against anyone where there’s the slightest whiff of opposition to their chauvinist anti-woman or anti-LGBT views, despite the fact that their level of actual public support is minuscule. The minority government in this state is a party of the right that has its roots in an organisation of fascists, many of whom went to fight for Franco during the Spanish Civil War. And despite having marginally softened their line on gay rights in recent years, they are still cheerleaders of austerity policy whose leaders routinely present cuts to funding public services as something that just has to be done, and keeps those who arrive in Ireland seeking asylum in camps and institutions where they share dormitories and are prevented from working. Racist incidents and anti-Muslim discrimination are on the rise. Travellers face disgraceful levels of discrimination that involve children being prevented from entering schools because of their ethnicity, Traveller babies are placed on the Garda PULSE system, a facility normally only used for monitoring criminals, and the councils and public are mostly happy for Traveller communities to live in death traps such as the site where the Carrickmines fire claimed ten lives. This is the environment where right wing ideology festers.
The idea that you should put right wing activists on the radio and media in order to allow them to show themselves up for the clueless dolts they are is nonsense. People of colour in Ireland should not have to listen to racists being allowed free rein to spout their bigotry. Allowing this normalises their opinions when journalists refuse to interrogate them in the name of “balance.” There is an onus on the left in Ireland to meet this challenge head on; to organise and to support; to show solidarity; and to prevent the fascist right from organising. Where Trump’s victory has galvanised the right, it should also galvanise the left, both in America and Ireland. Defeating Trump and rising fascistic tendencies across America and Europe, and within Ireland, may seem like a daunting task, but as Bookchin has said, “If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”