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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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Statements, sentences, and the stories that hold up in court

The author of this piece wrote this as a reflection on her own experience of the court system as a victim of violence several years ago. As is frequently the case, the perpetrator entered a guilty plea, which meant the only court appearance for the victim was a sentencing hearing at the Circuit Court for the offence of assault causing harm.

The judge sentenced her abuser to 2 1/2 years but suspended the entire sentence, in part because of his “character”. She wishes to remain anonymous.

I’ve felt sick about the Tom Humphries case all day.

Character references in court are common, and they’re bizarre, but the totality of courtroom storytelling is even weirder, and I can’t stop thinking about it. And I can’t imagine what it’s like for the victim to see the rush to humanize him so much you’d think he’d just won a prize.

You really start to grasp the narrative injustice of a sentencing hearing when you look at the character reference in relation to its counterpart: the Victim Impact Statement. The Victim Impact Statement is still a relatively new introduction and is the only time the victim has a voice in a sentencing process.

The convicted person gets a whole production team to write his character. They write him a hero’s journey, from childhood, with the help of experts who even cast supporting characters to help narrate his story along the way. In contrast, the Victim Impact Statement can only reference the individual event the conviction is for, and can cite the effect of only this particular incident on life afterward, and nothing more.

I got a call to turn up at the garda station at midnight on a Saturday a few days before the sentencing. I got no brief, I just dictated some shit to a couple of prompts, and the garda wrote it all down. She asked me to read it over for accuracy, but she’d paraphrased badly, and it read like a school essay. I told her that in court, when I read this out, it wouldn’t sound anything like me.

You just read it from the page, she said, it’s just about the facts.

I said, there’s no way this is a believable version of me. I don’t even give facts this way.

But I didn’t get to have character, I just got to be one.

I learned when I arrived at court that anything outside of a single night of my life was inadmissible. I had added too much detail because how can you reduce a long and consistently injurious experience to one decontextualized moment? They took my statement and edited again, until it was essentially reduced to: it was bad and now I’m sad all the time. And they weren’t even my words.

So then you sit and listen to the twisted and carefully written hagiography of the convicted person: the good family he comes from that loves him very much and are here in the courtroom with him (as opposed to mine, whose absence didn’t go unnoticed), that that he was ‘student of the year’ in 1998, that he is a loving friend to all around him, and a talented designer (but honestly, even in 2012 he still thought Flash had a future, and what fucking good designer still thought that).

You just read lines that even you don’t believe are yours.

While the accused gets eulogized, you’re reduced only to your statement, which presents you, by design, as a thinly written cipher, who existed, briefly, as a device in someone else’s redemption narrative. This is his life, and this is your life.

Not only that, because the perpetrator’s side has done their opposition research, and the prosecution is mainly focused on making the case for the State, they barely mention you, lest they provoke a right of reply. Even if they care about justice enough to include you in their concerns, mentioning you again would just give the main character a chance to offer a reason you deserved it.

In the end, the judge makes a decision based on his or her interpretation of the sentencing guidelines. Which means that the severity of the punishment is determined by who has told the best story.

So then you walk out with the inverted trauma narrative running in your head, the one that is your worst fear: what if it was me? what if I just made it all up? what if I exaggerated everything because I can’t accept what a loser I am? It is, in fact, the story you’ve just heard: He’s a good person (so you must be the bad guy), you’re without worth (because your character got written out) and your merit is worse than irrelevant (because how dare you overestimate your importance to the story).

He’s a protagonist, you’re the background player who got killed off too early to need a backstory. Everyone knows who you’re supposed to root for.

I imagine that sentencing procedures were even worse before the Victim Impact Statement was introduced. In theory, it’s a great idea. In practice, instead of giving the victim a voice, at best, it provides texture for the main character, but mostly it amounts to replacing a deleted scene.

That’s its own form of narrative injustice.

Letter to my (often feminist) friends who are concerned about those in “prostitution” and think that criminalizing those who pay for sex really can’t be such a bad idea.

Guest post by Susann Huschke

I write this with you in mind, those friends of mine who are generally open-minded, critical, progressive leftists. We agree on a lot of things – like, that capitalism is a problem, that Theresa May needs to go, and of course Trump, too, and that gender equality continues to be worth fighting for.

But when it comes to “prostitution” – that is, the selling and buying of sexual services – you are not so sure about my views. You have heard me argue that criminalizing those who pay for sex is a bad idea, but perhaps I have not done a good enough job explaining why that is. I believe it would be fair to sum up your position as follows: “We want to live in a society where women do not sell sex to men. And to get there, we think that it would help if we made it a crime to buy sex.”

I believe that you have good intentions, thinking this way, and that you are not driven by hatred of women as sexual beings, like for example, those fundamentalist Christians who lobby for the criminalization of sex work around the world.

Before I go into details, let’s check we’re on the same page. If you answer NO to any of these questions, we’re not starting from the same set of assumptions, and in that case, this article is not written for you.

1. Do you generally feel that the people who are affected by a given change in policy should have a say in the policy process?
2. Do you feel that women, or indeed all (adult) people, have the right to determine what to do with their bodies, for example when it comes to reproductive rights and LGBT+ rights?
3. Do you believe that sound empirical social research is a worthwhile endeavor and should be feeding into political decisions and public discourse? And by sound empirical research I mean research that is a) designed and conducted by people who have been trained to do research; b) reflects critically and transparently on research questions, research methodologies, funding sources and researcher bias; and c) does not do any harm to the communities that are targeted in the research?

If you answered those three questions with a YES, you cannot possibly agree with the “Swedish model” of criminalizing the buyer of sexual services. And here is why.

1. Sex worker movements do not support the criminalization of buyers, not in Sweden, not in Ireland, not anywhere (http://prostitutescollective.net/2014/03/today-sex-workers-oppose-criminalisation-of-clients/; http://www.pivotlegal.org/sex_workers_rights; https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/17/northern-ireland-sex-workers-oppose-new-law; http://www.sweat.org.za/sexworkiswork/). Yes, individual former sex workers (or survivors of prostitution as they prefer to be called) are often very prominent supporters, for whatever their reasons may be. But if you actually look at groups, movements and organizations that represent the diverse people who work in the sex industry – they don’t want criminalization. Why not? For example, because they feel that the more their way of making a living is criminalized, the less safe it is for them. And because they feel that criminalization adds to the stigma that is one of the worst parts of their job. And because they feel that those who propose these laws have not actually bothered to meet them; listen to them; engage with them in any meaningful way.

Interesting fact on the side: the Swedish model is often hyped up as punishing the punter (by criminalizing the purchase) and helping the sex worker (by decriminalizing the sale of sex). Now, in Ireland, both North and South, we only got the first part of the bargain. Sex workers continue to be criminalized, for example when they work together in pairs for safety – that is deemed “brothel-keeping” with the two sex workers “pimping” each other, and they continue to get arrested for that. Now, you might say that policy-makers just forgot to decriminalize sex workers because they were busy with the really important social issues. Or you might say they actually don’t give a rat’s ass about the well-being and safety of “fallen women” – they just want to sound like they do.

2. Among the most prominent supporters of the Swedish model are right-wing Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Surely, that should make you suspicious about their motives, and perhaps about the policies they propose. If you are ever in doubt about this, just take a brief look at the kind of worldview the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is spreading, and ask yourself if they are really your political allies?

3. There are many things that are unsound about the kind of “research” or statistics that get cited to support the claim that the Swedish model “works” – that is, that it really reduces sex trafficking and shrinks the sex industry, and that sex workers are happy and grateful about the law. Let me just highlight a few issues. For example, the fact that the Swedish police do not have many victims of sex trafficking in their statistics does not necessarily mean there are none. A very basic rule of thumb in research: the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It might mean that they can’t find them, or worse, didn’t actually look for them because they were too busy policing consensual sexual acts between sex workers and clients. As a Northern Irish police officer explained to me in 2014, commenting on a collaboration with the Swedish police on an international crime network that exploited women in the sex industry: “They had no idea this was going on in Sweden. They said ‘we normally just go after the punters.’”

It is also a good idea (in any field and for any contested political question) to question the source of information. I am going to give you a very concrete example, and you will have to trust me that this is not an exception but a typical example of how research is misrepresented in this debate (or you start following the information back to the source like I did, which I highly recommend).

Supporters of the Swedish model present the view that sex work always constitutes violence and abuse. They pretend that this is a view based purely on empirical evidence, rather than a view based mainly on ideology – based on picking and choosing and tweaking selected bits of evidence rather than actually engaging with all the existing empirical data. See, if they clearly stated that their policy proposals were driven by their moral and political standpoints, at least we could have an open debate about these. None of us are morally neutral, especially when it comes to sex and money. [And if you are wondering what my moral and political position is, please re-read the questions I posed above, particularly No. 1. First and foremost, I am a firm believer in people’s right to self-determination, self-expression and self-representation, none of which are compatible with the views expressed by proponents of the Swedish model].

Now, let me give you an example of the misrepresentation of empirical evidence in this debate. In Northern Ireland, supporters of the Swedish model liked to support their view of sex work by arguing that the majority of people started selling sex when they were children or teenagers. This argument is explicitly presented, for example, on the website of the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign (a very successful lobby group across Ireland) as one of the “10 facts about prostitution.” They state that 75% of women in prostitution became involved when they were children, citing as a source a conference paper by Prof. Margaret Melrose from 2002. I read the original paper and learned that Prof. Melrose’s research specifically investigated the exploitation of children in the British sex industry. And logically, because she wanted to know about child sexual exploitation, she recruited participants who had experienced child sexual exploitation, that is, people who had entered the sex industry before the age of 18. In her presentation, she states that 75% of the people in her sample, 75% of the people she interviewed, had started selling sex when they were children, i.e., 14 or younger – not 75% of all people in the sex industry! Huge difference!! And pretty obvious, even to the untrained lay eye. I also emailed Prof. Melrose to ask her about this rather distorted use of her study, and she replied to me saying:

“The findings were never intended to suggest that 75% of ALL women involved in sex work become or became involved [as children] – only those included in the study – and as we were looking at adult women who became involved before they were 18 this is hardly surprising. I am aware that the work has been used by those who argue that all sex work is violence against women – it is not a position I adhere to myself.”

Now, my last point. After everything I just presented to you, you might still say: But what about the kind of society we want to live in, should we not envision a world without “prostitution”? And you know what, I might actually agree with you.

But I also envision a world without Amazon, where temporary workers run from one shelf to another all day long to meet the targets, and get punished for taking sick leave. And a world without large scale agricultural businesses that employ undocumented workers who get paid shitty wages and are exposed to poisonous chemicals on a regular basis. And yes, also a world without neoliberal universities trying to compete in a market by running their staff into the ground until we end up with “burn-out”.

How do we get there? I would say, first and foremost, through solidarity with the workers. And second, through a critique of the social structures that enable exploitation. Distributing books, growing vegetables, investigating the world, and having sex, mind you, are not inherently problematic activities that need to be eradicated. It is the ways in which they are integrated into the current economic system and tied up with multiple forms of oppression along the lines of gender, “race”, class, and nation, amongst others, that is problematic!

So, what sex workers could really do with is, for example: free access to higher education, equal pay for women, decent social welfare, erasure of their criminal record when they try to leave the sex industry, legalization of their immigration status, and gender norms that do not instill in young people that men need to fuck (lots of) women and women need to please men.

So how about we align ourselves with the workers – of whatever industry you fancy – and fight for a better, more just, less violent society, rather than spending our time applauding a bunch of narrow-minded, hard-hearted misogynists and their (perhaps) well-meaning, yet out-of-touch feminist allies, for a judgmental, regressive, and ineffective law.

If you want to read more, check out, for example, the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.

Abortion on demand and without apology

Pro-choicers: does the above sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you need to learn your fucking history. This was a slogan of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, a movement that succeeded in greatly broadening access to abortion for women in the US and UK.

Sadly, it seems that the legacy of these older feminists’ activism has indeed been forgotten in Ireland. These days, when you hear a pro-choice activist speak the words “abortion on demand”, most of the time it’s for the purpose of denying that this is our objective at all. Even worse, the slogan has been actively disparaged by the Irish pro-choice movement as if it was a slur dreamed up by the Iona press office, with people who really ought to know better describing it as an “awful” phrase, as “stupid”, as “nonsense”.

To which I have to ask: if we aren’t fighting for abortion on demand, what is our fight all about?

The meaning of “on demand” isn’t particularly complicated or controversial, at least in any other context. The Oxford definition is “as soon as or whenever required“. Cambridge Dictionary has it as “at any time that someone wants or needs something“. Collins states “as soon as requested“.  Other dictionaries may use slightly different wording, but they’re all expressing one or both of two simple concepts: unconditional access, and access without delay.

This is, of course, precisely what abortion rights campaigners are seeking – and contrary to what some have suggested, it’s also precisely what is meant by those who say they don’t support “abortion on demand”. They mean they want to preserve a system in which women must get permission before being allowed an abortion, if indeed we’re allowed at all. They don’t object to abortion on demand because they think it will mean abortion hen parties; they object because they think access should be controlled and limited to what they consider “deserving” cases.

Some pro-choice objections to the slogan seem to think it conjures images of women doing a Veruca Salt outside the abortion clinic. This is simply confusing different meanings of the word “demand”. Demand for abortion no more implies demanding abortions than “the demand for” anything else necessarily implies people pounding their fists until they get it. It’s a little icky to conceptualise abortion as an economic service, but technically it is – prior to the 14th Amendment, this was a key element of the fight for the right to distribute abortion information – and in that respect it’s subject to “demand” in the same way as any other good or service. NBD, again.

The other argument I hear against the phrase is that it would have negative connotations (the hen party abortions) with that fence-sitting public we’re trying to win over. Well, sorry, but who was it that allowed those connotations to develop, if not a pro-choice movement constantly responding to the phrase by insisting that oh heavens no we’re not calling for something called abortion on demand?

To be clear (let’s see how many people miss this point), I’m not suggesting that the Repeal campaign should adopt “abortion on demand” as a slogan. A slogan is a tactic, not a principle, and as long as we’re campaigning for what abortion on demand actually is I don’t really care what we call it. But there’s a difference between not adopting a slogan, and the kind of defensive disassociation from it that the Repeal movement has engaged in. Not alone is the latter grossly ahistorical, and disrespectful to the women who went before us; it also puts us on the back foot while diverting from a real discussion about abortion accessibility in a post-repeal Ireland.

Let’s try this. Instead of going all defensive every time we hear the slogan, what if we use it as an opportunity to make our argument for unconditional access? To challenge those who wield it as a weapon to declare which women they would exclude from the right to abortion, what measures they would put in place to filter out the “undeserving” cases, how they would enforce those measures and any violation of them? This would be a far more constructive response, and would also have the advantage of not handing them a microvictory by shifting into denial mode every time they say it.

But if you must continue to object to the phrase, for god’s sake do it in a way that doesn’t insult the legacy of past generations of activists. Their struggle for abortion on demand was not awful or stupid or nonsense. It paved the way for where we are today – on the cusp of liberalising one of the Global North’s last black spots for reproductive rights – and though we need not follow their exact footsteps, we owe them at least the courtesy of acknowledging the path they took.

 

#coponcomrades Revisited: The IT Women’s Podcast

Feminist Ire’s Stephanie Lord and Sinéad Redmond, along with Niamh McDonald and her son Tom, join Kathy Sheridan to discuss the origins of Cop On Comrades, how men can support the feminist struggle, and activism in the social media age.

Dear Mary

Posted on

The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous

Daily newspaper problem pages and agony aunt columns are usually the stuff of tea-breaks – a few subbed-down lines is all the reader gets to explain the situation that needs sorting. This week, though, the Irish Independent’s “Dear Mary” feature printed an extraordinary letter from a man who claimed to hate his wife but who said he would continue in the relationship if she had sex with him once a week. It caught my attention, not because of the misogyny – though that is astounding in its intensity – but because the writer admits to forcing his wife to have sex….and Mary welcomes this “other perspective”.

It prompted me to imagine what the writer’s wife might say to Mary, if she’d read her husband’s letter and recognised him. Perhaps other women might like to imagine too?

“Dear Mary,

It’s been 14 – no 16 – years. Of hell. If you must know.

Fourteen years with his ring on my finger.

God he begged and begged me to marry him when I was at university. We met at a gig in the students’ union. He caught me unawares after a few drinks. It wasn’t until sometime later that he admitted he wasn’t a student too.

He was a salesman.

Who liked hanging around the university in the evenings.

And it wasn’t until sometime after that again that he admitted he still lived with his mother, not in a house on the edge of the city with two friends from college.

These untruths annoyed me and we split up several times. So why did I marry the liar?

Well, I met his mother on the final get-back-together weekend.

“Ah sure you’re great together.

“Ah he worships the ground you walk on.

“And when I think about it, he’s very good to me really.”

As I listened to her gush in her sparkling kitchen, I thought this was strange because he was always complaining about her. But I let it slide and accepted the ring.

And it was grand for a while. We honeymooned hornily in Benidorm for a week and our first child was born 40 weeks later.

When I found out I was pregnant he was delighted.

His own personal taxi service to and from the pub.

When the child arrived, he celebrated over the whole weekend with his friends. I saw him at the delivery and then 36 hours later, dishevelled and so drink-sodden I thought the nurses would turf me out of the bed and put him in it.

I’d just started a good job before I got married. The child put paid to that. They didn’t have to keep the post open and so I scraped by on the notes he put on the kitchen counter each week.

He was always promising more – there’s a big deal coming off, he’d say, loads of commission. But it never happened. It was on one of those Friday nights that I fell pregnant again. A couple of cans of cider in my three-month-post-baby-body and that was it. In spite of his assurances that he’d seen on television that a woman who’d had a baby couldn’t get caught again for a year.

Yes. I was that in love, that gullible.

So three years into the marriage and two youngsters under two. His money stayed the same so I had to do something. But who would look after two kids that age for nothing?

Well actually,his mother did – for a few mornings each week – and I started cleaning other people’s houses. Cash in hand. No sick pay. No holiday pay.

So, Mary.

I could buy bits and bobs at Christmas….new shoes for the kids…the usual.

And it was hard Mary, do you know that?

Getting him off to work with a clean, pressed shirt each day. Getting the kids organised for their gran’s, getting to work – I’d no car – and back. Then housework, the dinner, the kids.

I was shattered.

He came home from work, threw off his shoes and ate his dinner with the six-pack he’d brought home. Or phoned me to say his workmates were having a few drinks and he’d see me later.

Either way, I couldn’t win. Either way, when I had put the kids to bed, he’d start pawing from the sofa, or arrive home with just one thing on his mind.

And I was shattered Mary.

A lot of the time I got away with it. I’d say one of the kids wasn’t well and sleep in their room. Or say I had my period. For a man who was supposedly so well up on female reproduction he had no idea most periods don’t last two weeks.

But sometimes there was nothing I could do.

Now don’t get me wrong. At that stage I did kind of still love him. If he’d lifted the toys or said he would iron his own shirts, I’d have been all over him like a mare in heat.

But he never did.

And he was no stallion Mary. He was a little mongrel dog. One, two, three. Done.

A good lover?

I climaxed three times in our marriage – twice on honeymoon. As the Americans would say, go figure.

Anyway, after a few years he stayed out more and more.

It sounds like a 1950s record, but when I washed his shirts I knew he was with other women. They can’t help themselves with the perfume – even their deodorant smells different. And it was all over his shirts.

Then one night he came home earlier than usual. The children were watching television and I was making their school lunches in the kitchen. In he comes through the back door, swaying, demanding.

I suggested later. He wanted it there and then. I protested the kids were in the next room, could walk in any minute. He tipped the back of a chair against the door handle and raped me over the kitchen sink.

Do you know what that’s like Mary? To be violated in your own home, your children in earshot so you can’t scream?

One, two, three. Done.

Be thankful for small mercies.

He said nothing the next day and neither did I.

I thought about leaving him then. But this was before the internet was big and I’d no mobile phone anyway. It wasn’t until weeks later that I saw a poster for Women’s Aid in the library – but when and where would I get the time to ring them? What would they be like? Would they give off that I had stayed there that night – and since? I did not know these things. Besides which, on the night it happened I’d four euro fifty in my purse and no idea of where to go.

Now, it’s different.

Now I’m still cleaning because the kids are still at school but I’ve saved a bit for what I call my sunshine day.

Now I know the Women’s Aid number. I’ve got someone to speak to.

He’s forced me since. And I’ve told her. She’s written it down.He’s never hit me, but she says that doesn’t matter – rape in marriage is still rape. I always thought the hitting mattered most, the black eyes and the bruises . That that was domestic abuse. I think lots of people – men and women – do. Maybe you do too. Maybe you should talk to Women’s Aid too. Ask them about rape in marriages and partnerships.

I didn’t know that controlling the money in the house was abuse. Both our names are on the mortgage, but he keeps telling me that I’ve let him down and it really should be his because I don’t have the job that my university education lead him to believe I’d get.

I’d didn’t realise that his never-ending put-downs were abuse too. After the second child and thinking I was stuck with him forever, I didn’t care about anything. I ate when I wanted – crisps and toast. No, actually, I ate what we could afford and when I wasn’t cleaning, or looking after the kids or him. So my jeans and T-shirts got bigger, but I’m always clean and fresh, even if my hair is constantly tied back in a ponytail and I cut my own fringe.

And I make my children smile. And the people I work for and anyone I talk to. Though I haven’t been able to keep up with my uni friends – or make many news ones. Well, you can’t when you’re never out, Mary, can you?

He has lots of “friends”.

But the Women’s Aid woman is a friend now. She persuaded me to tell her how my life is lived. And she helped me see that it is no life at all. She knows because it used to be her life too.She understands that a time will come. And she says they’ll be waiting.

I have a phone now but he doesn’t know about it. I hide it under those shirts he never irons in the basket. So, when that time comes and I’m ready, I can call them and tell them I’m coming.

He still comes home expecting his dinner and all the rest – and sometimes, like before, I can’t escape, but I will….soon.

When he’s sitting, furious at the lack of sex, on the sofa, he texts a lot. I know it’s other women but I ignore the pings. He smiles sometimes and puts on his coat and leaves me in the kitchen. I know he’s meeting them for sex – he keeps condoms in his jacket pocket. He doesn’t know I’m studying the books I’ve hidden behind the cereal boxes.

So yes, Mary.

Tell him to leave.

Tell him to get out of this house and move away, far, far away. He never cared about the kids up until now – ask him the dates of their birthdays and see what he says. He won’t miss them.

We won’t miss him either.”

When the Women’s Podcast Was All About Men

The Irish Times Women’s Podcast today aired a show entitled #coponcomrades: Men and Feminism. For some reason none of the initiators or signiatories of the #coponcomrades letter were invited to speak. Instead three male writers for the Irish Times were on the panel, Frankie Gaffney, Mark Paul and Patrick Freye, only one of whom describes themselves as a feminist.

As someone who signed the #coponcomrades letter I listened with interest to the podcast. In some respects it was very illuminating. Like I was unaware when I signed #coponcomrades that I should’ve indicated my economic status when signing, which by the way is working class. (I can provide all the poverty porn details for anyone who needs it if required).

Listening to the podcast I discovered that I had apparently been duped by some bourgeois academic women who lured stupid old working class wimminz like me into signing the letter. Apparently my voice and those of the many, many other working class women who signed was purely “tokenistic”. Thank god I listened or I never would’ve known that no matter what I do or say or put my name to — my opinions can easily be dismissed as tokenism, by virtue of my working class status. But then, how could I have know this before, without an academic woman to tell me what to do or a Not-Feminist (but in no way mansplaining) man to explain it to me?

So, please bare with stupid working class me while I talk you through the podcast.

It started on a dodgy note, with host Kathy Sheridan saying that the podcast was to be about “The challenges for men that want to stand with women and the views that men hold that they don’t think they can express without being shouted down.”

I wonder what kind of views men might have that they might feel afraid to express without being “shouted down”? And who are these shouty women that are silencing the voices of men who HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT FEMINISM?

So, let’s delve in (this is HEAVILY abridged),

Gaffney: “The Irony is that the people who use “mansplain” are the most patronising people I’ve ever encountered.”

I have to put my hand up here folks, as I’m one of those patronising women who uses the term “mansplain” when I’m trying to express my dislike of men who assume I’m an idiot. Luckily I have men like Gaffney to tell me that my use of the word is wrong.

Gaffney continues: “This is not America. There is something perverse in the narrative… Girls from Dalkey lecturing me about my privilege…This is not normal. This is not right…We can’t just import American ideas wholesale into Ireland and expect them to work.”

I assume it was intersectionality that Gaffney was taking issue with here, a systematic way of looking at the intersecting oppressions that any individual may have. (The expression was coined by American Kimberle Crenshaw and aims to make feminism more inclusive). These are the kind of ideas I personally would like to see more of in Ireland. (Here’s hoping those hated women from Dalkey were intersectional feminists!)

Gaffney: Speaking about #coponcomrades, “The most striking thing in the reaction since, when I talk about using straight white male using that as an insult, middle class Irish girls, fellas as well, talking about white cisgendered male, why are you excluding…if you’re talking about misogyny why are you bringing race in and throwing these things in together when class is one of the biggest predictors of life outcome in this country?…It was like apartheid going in in the demographics in Trinity….(conversation moves on)… the gender balance was 60–70% female.”

*EDITED to add that I have been told (by Gaffney) since I initially posted this that the apartheid comment was in relation to class, not gender  (Gaffney said,”the class ratio in Trinity TSM maybe 2%”)*

Apartheid – yeah… I’m just gonna leave that one for all you smarter and middle class people to dissect.

But Gaffney wasn’t the only enlightening male voice on the panel, Mark Paul had a lot to say about feminism too,

Paul: “You can get too wrapped up in putting people in boxes. I’m more interested in what people do than what they are…. Trudeau bought in a cabinet was completely gender balanced and that is obviously a very laudible thing to do… has it performed any better than any of the governments that went before, I dunno….”

Kathy Sheridan tried to interject here but Paul spoke over her,

“…Tredeau’s pretty clever embrace of feminism”

Freyne: “Varakar doesn’t care about class or gender. He is entirely economic focused.”

Paul: “The Taoiseach isn’t a superman.”

Apparently only a superman cares about class and gender. I didn’t know that it requires super powers to care about class or gender, but I guess that makes sense, him being a man and me being, well just a silly and gullible woman. 

Gaffney:“People have attributed views to men that I don’t hold. Like I believe in gender quotas”

Paul :“I’m against anything that puts a restriction on someone’s vote.”

Gaffney :“Parliament should reflect demographically.”

Paul (speaking over Gaffney): “But mostly it should reflect the votes of the people.”

Gaffney: “I’ve been getting smeared, coponcomrades connected me with alt right language, and I didn’t…. on the one hand you have a prohibition on offensive speech… on the other hand an opening up and normalisation of anti male, anti white, anti straight rhetoric. Identity politics is very bad when it stigmatises and attacks based on a demographic.”

Sheridan: “About the #coponcomrades, the response to the letter felt like a silencing to us — these people represent a lot of threads in society, have you any reservations at all about that piece now?”

Gaffney: “None.”

Paul: “I defy you to look at the reaction to Frankie’s piece and say that the reaction he received was not a personal attack on him.”

Gaffney: “I don’t mention any person’s name in my piece…People object to any objection going in the opposite direction…The article wasn’t about feminism it was about a certain style of identity politics and some terminology used by feminism.”

Freyne: “…I think you’re punching down in this instance…”

Gaffney: “ Listen, academics using their departmental accounts to tweet about me, I’m not punching down, upper middle class women having a go at me giving out about me and using departmental accounts.”

Sheridan: “ The people who signed this letter aren’t all middle class Frankie.”

Gaffney: “The people who drafted the letter and the people that organised the campaign are. 500 people didn’t write the letter. It was initiated by one small group and they tokenistically they got working class women on board… I have empathy for everybody that’s the difference between me and those that single out and generalise.”

Freyne (to Gaffney): “No body is stopping you talking.”

Paul (speaking about #coponcomrades signators): “There is a complete and utter intellectual insecurity in people who can’t tolerate another person’s opinions. Feminism to me that exemplifies the worst of it is like a big tent right, and everybody is inside the tent and in order to get into the tent you have to bend your knees to the rules of the tent but they’re absolutely useless at talking to anybody outside the tent. Why such a backlash against Frankie’s article? Why such a ferocious response to his article?”

Say wha? But if everybody is inside the tent Paul who is left to try and get in the tent? (Also, I hope I’m in the #FeminismTent)

Sheridan reads from the #coponcomrades letter, then says: “You’re putting all these people into one little basket, like your accusing them of doing to you.”

Gaffney: “What I meant by that was it was initiated by a group of middle class people.”

This is how I found out that some of my friends have been lying to me about their working class backgrounds! (But then I am just a silly working class woman.)

Sheridan again reads from the letter: “They feel betrayed by what you wrote Frankie.”

Gaffney: “That’s not my problem. That’s their own projection.”

Freyne (speaking about Gaffney’s article): “There’s a much better way to engage with these things…”

Gaffeny: “You’re tone policing.”

Freyne (laughing): “I don’t have a problem with tone policing.”

Gaffney: “I’m glad you say that. I have a problem with the hypocrisy involved of the people who would decry tone policing when it goes one direction or who would decry gender generalisation… I see these words abused more than they’re used toxic masculinity , fragile masculinity, mansplaining, all of this kind of stuff…”

Men bonding over not having a problem with tone policing…#sweet

Paul (on toxic masculinity): “When you portray it as the only form of masculinity that is out there….”

Freyne: “Nobody is portraying it as the only form of masculinity, I’ve never seen anyone describe it as the only form of masculinity, maybe you have but it’s not common. People are taking descriptions of structures as a personal attack and it’s not-”

Gaffney: “People are taking descriptions of language as a personal attack.”

Freyne: “It’s one thing for you to come out and point out that there are levels of lack of privilege in your life that aren’t being addressed by these people…”

Paul: “Feminism is no longer the underdog when it comes to public debate. We are here in the Irish Times Womens’s podcast, there are more feminists in the….Feminism is not the underdog. For anyone to say that feminism is the oppressed viewpoint.. there are more feminists per square foot in this building than in any other building in Dublin… It’s not an oppressed viewpoint. ..Any movement with power is deserving of criticism. of scorn, analysis. Why when anyone criticises or analyses it are they piled on?”

Gaffney: “What I was talking about in the article was when feminism talks about me, I’m entitled, when someone talks about my demographic, I’m gonna talk about it. It’s a movement that objects to gender generalising and gender stereotyping and invents new forms of it and pushing the boundaries of discourse by making terms like straight white male a part of it…”

Paul: “Straight white male is very often deployed as an insult.”

Sheridan: “I don’t think it’s used as an insult, it’s used as a label for someone who already has intrinsic power.”

Paul: “Ah, come on.”

Gaffney: “It’s a derogatory phrase.”

Freyne: “They are genuine signifiers of power in western society, with class.”

Gaffney: “I don’t believe for a second that single white men are the most oppressed in society…(discussion moves on to the alt right, Trump and how feminism has been accused of playing a part in his rise to power)…The rise of the alt right have been fuelled by that kind of style of identity politics rather than trying to liberate their own group.”

Paul: “Feminism as a movement should try talking to men.”

So THAT’s what we’ve been doing wrong! We weren’t talking to the right people about the structural and societal inequalities women have been facing for thousands of years! Silly us! We should’ve been talking to MEN! Duh! Like, why didn’t we think of that? I mean I said, “Please don’t rape me” To the guy who raped me but I guess I must’ve been saying it wrong, cause it obviously wasn’t the way he was culturally conditioned to feel entitled to use my body. I said “Please stop abusing me” to the man I was in a relationship with who abused me but now I know it wasn’t becuase he grew up in a society that doesn’t even bother to collect statistics on domestic abuse victims, such is the disregard for women’s lives. It was just me, silly feminist, always talking to the wrong people. Thank God we have Mark Paul to tell us that all we need to do to achieve gender equality is TALK TO MEN. #HighFiveMark

(Still Mark espousing about feminism): “Feminism in not very good at talking to people who don’t bend the knee to it’s ideas. Feminism doesn’t engage with the world very well, it’s not a great communicator, it’s intellectually incestuous I think… I don’t identify as a feminist.”

*insert a bajillion laughing emoticons*

Freyne: “I think it’s threatening to people the idea that they don’t own all their success. People take these analyses as personal attack.”

Gaffney: “I don’t do that though. I don’t expect Richard Boyd Barrett or Paul Murphy to bend down to me and apologise for being born middle class… I hate this check your privilege stuff. People should identify oppression and fight oppression… Making young men, young people, think about their skin colour rather than their economic position in society is a dangerous game to play — that has contributed to the…(Gaffney was talked over at this point).

Sheridan: Reads from the #coponcomrades letter. “Have you had any rape threats Frankie since your piece?”

Gaffney: “I’ve had threats of violence. But not rape threats no…I believe in solidarity and shared humanity.”

Sheridan: “And they’re accusing you of the exact opposite…I’m talking about gender based violence, where women can’t walk home alone at night.”

Sheridan: “My little brother is much more at risk of violence.”

Freyne: “You have to acknowledge that there are different problems, related to identity.”

Gaffney: “I know women have needed and still need to organise away from men for their rights. Equality, is the word I believe in, I want to fight together.”

Freyne: “We have to look at all the different problems in society. Working class women have very different issues to working class men.”

Paul: “The backlash against Frankie wasn’t because he wasn’t listening to anybody else it was because people were trying to silence what he was saying.”

Gaffney (speaking about the response to his article): “…This constant demand that I should listen to the women. The amount of left wing people and the amount of feminists that agreed with me, I could’ve got 500 people to sign something no problem…(conversation moves on)…If I’d been a woman saying these things I wouldn’t have got half the attacks I did. .. I don’t put out tweets like typical bourgeois wankers. The working class women I know see me as representing the working class just as well as they could. They don’t see me as representing a working class man.”

I only speak for myself but I see Gaffney as representing working class men, he does not speak for me. There were over 100 women from all walks of life and classes who worked on the many, many drafts that created the #coponcomrades letter and hundreds more who felt so strongly about the contents that they signed it. Many of these women were frightened about signing it and I’m aware of a couple of women who agreed with the message but felt afraid to sign. I don’t doubt that some working class women see Gaffney as speaking for them, but he does not speak for all of us. 

Sheridan: “Should men be listening to women more?”

Gaffney: “Men talk a lot more than women and certainly women should be heard.”

Wouldn’t that be great?

#coponcomrades