Category Archives: Feminism

#Metoo

Standard
#Metoo

I was 7 years old, taking swimming lessons. I told my mum that the swimming instructor was holding me around the crotch area and it made me feel funny. I contracted a whole batch of verrucas from the swimming pool and the lessons stopped. I’ve never liked swimming in pools much since. #Metoo

I had chronic childhood acne, so I went to see the top dermatologist in the city. I told my mum that I got a funny feeling from him, and so I never was taken to see him again. It was later found out that he had sexually assaulted a number of patients, including a girl I worked with later on. In this instance, not #metoo.

I was 13. Like a lot of 13 year olds, I wanted to be older than I was, so I snuck into a disco with my cousins for over-16s. I met a guy there. We met up the next day. He was 25. I told him that I was 13. We kissed. He didn’t seem to mind about my age. #Metoo

I was 14. Lazing in bed in my room. A relative, who was staying, came in. I pretended to be asleep. He stuck his hand down my nightie. A year later, I told my mum. I never saw him again. #Metoo

I was 15. Staying with my best friend in her house in Sicily. We wanted to put on a show, a ‘spettacolo’. We decided our contribution to the show would be to dance around in our bikinis to ‘Papa don’t Preach’. We showed her father our routine. He was horrified and absolutely forbade us to do it. We didn’t understand why. I understand now. It would have been a spectacle and we were spectacularly naive. Not #metoo.

Between the ages of 13-15, I was bullied by two boys at my school. Bullied with daily, relentless gendered insults, whispered sotto voce: Slut’. ‘Bitch’. ‘Cunt’. There was nothing sexual to it, but it was relentless, daily harassment and terrifying. When I watched my dad die, age 16, I knew that nothing they could say could hurt me anymore. The next time they tried to harass me, I tore them down with a sharp-as-an-arrow, whip-accurate retort. They never bothered me again. #Metoo

Aged 16, I go to New York for the summer to au pair. I am on a bus to upstate New York to stay with my grandma. On the bus, a man starts talking to me. He tells me about how his mom, Big Red, would love to meet a real Irish person, and how I should definitely get off the bus at Roscoe with him. I politely decline a number of times, though he is incredibly insistent. I go on to meet my unsuspecting grandma. I had no idea why he was so desperate for me to meet his mom, but something didn’t feel right. Not #metoo.

I’m in my bed in a shared house in Dublin, aged 18. Earlier that evening some friends of the live-in landlord had come to stay. They seemed nice enough. I chatted a little with them and then went to bed. I was woken up by one of them on top of me, trying to hold me down while telling me that ‘I wanted it’. With all my might, I kicked him in the groin, and rushed to a room in the house vacated for the weekend. Luckily, this room has a lock. I lock the door and stay there, heart racing, until I know they’ve gone the next day. I tell the landlord. He tells me I must be mistaken, his friends wouldn’t do that. I move house a few months later. #metoo

I hitchhiked everywhere up until the age of 21. I got a lift one evening from a lorry driver going back to Dublin. We were chatting about AIDs. Suddenly, around Cashel, he said ‘So do you want me to pull over and we can do it?’ I let out a horrified ‘No!’ and very firmly told him to drive or I would kick him with my Doc Martens. We drive in silence to Dublin and as he’s about to let me off on the quays, he said, by way of an excuse ‘You kept talking about AIDs. You made me think you wanted to do ‘it’.’ I thank him, because I’m a polite middle-class young woman, and slam the door shut. I didn’t hitchhike long-distance after that. #metoo

It’s my first sun holiday. I was so excited, and I’d bought a long, navy, figure-hugging dress. I loved that dress. I went through the security barriers at the airport. There was no beeping but the security guards made me go through it again. And again. And again. And again. They started giggling and admitted they just wanted to see me walk in my tight long dress. I felt humiliated. #metoo

I’m walking home from a friend’s on the South Circular Road in Dublin. A man stops and asks me for the time. He then asks me if I would have sex with him. For £20. I shout ‘No!’ and run all the way home. #metoo

I visit Leipzig for the first time. I’m staying with my friend Claudia. We walk past a park. Something looks out of place. It turns out it is a man, with a shirt and tie, and a hedgerow up to his thighs, visibly masturbating. My friend is horrified and assures me this is not acceptable behaviour in Leipzig. I’d already seen a guy do that twice in Cork, walking down the street, masturbating as he walked, his penis sticking up over some very baggy sweatpants. The first time I saw him, he shocked me. The second time, I told him to put it away, or else it would fall off. I’m 26, and already wise to the ways of men. #metoo

I’m on my first job out of drama school. I’m excited to be working. The experience is marred by the constant harassment from an actor in his 60s. He wants to impress upon me what a big deal he is – he’s had some one-hit wonder with a song back in the 70s and been living off the royalties ever since. I tell him to keep his hands to himself and to his side of the room. #metoo

I grow long, Titian-red hair and so am hired for a show which requires nudity. Great, I think, I can do that. I’m comfortable in my own skin, it’s not gratuitous, it’ll be a new experience. For publicity shots for Time Out and The Stage, I’m offered a closed set and I take it. The director and his stage manager keep peeping through one of the windows that have been covered with black-out paper, pointing and giggling. I feel humiliated. I explain to the PR lady after what happened, and why I really don’t want the pictures used. They’re published anyway. I might be comfortable with my body, but I won’t ever put myself in that situation again. #metoo

An older director invites me for tea. We have a lovely afternoon. He grabs my ass as he kisses me on the cheek as I leave. It barely even registers at this point. It’s certainly on the tame side of my experiences in life thus far. But, hey, #metoo

I’m working in a non-acting job. I need it to pay my bills. I’ve fallen into serious debt and need that steady income. They are trying to get rid of me. Not because I’m not good at my job. But because I’ve held them to account on their practices around women. One member of their senior management was allegedly arrested for wife-beating while in a more junior position. This does not stop him getting promoted. There were whispers around another as a rapist. He is also promoted. Yet another would summon young attractive female employees to come sit on his knee. He is one of the owners. Women are ritually undermined, overlooked, humiliated. They get rid of 5 women over a 9 month period in key positions. I do not stand with 4 of those women at the time in a meaningful way. I am ashamed of myself. I am the 5th. I decide to do something meaningful. I prepare a 22-page document with supporting evidence of their sexist practices. I know where this is headed and I know I must stand up now. I must be counted. The boss is affronted. He later rants to a fellow worker ‘How could I be a misogynist? My wife is the biggest feminist there is!’ After a 7-month campaign of bullying, mind-games, harassment, cajoling, a nervous breakdown (mine), I come back to work. I last 4 days before telling them we either settle or go to court, and I don’t care which it is. I’ve had enough. We settle. #metoo

I have been cat-called as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. I’ve been stalked a number of times by ex-boyfriends. I’ve been harassed into dates and even into relationships by men who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’ve had men pull over in their cars to ask me to get in. I’ve been knocked off my bike by men looking for a date. I’ve worked with men who tell me their wives ‘don’t understand them’. I’ve worked with men who’ve used their power and reputation to bully me in a non-sexual, but nonetheless damaging way. I’ve overheard men on public transport talking about what they were going to do to particular girls in the type of locker room talk that one expects now from the POTUS. I’ve been catfished by someone pretending to be David Haye until I contacted his agent to confirm it was him. I’ve been invited by a producer of porn to contact him. I’ve been the subject of death threats for having an opinion online. #Metoo. #Metoo. #Metoo. More times than I am capable of remembering or writing about: #MEFUCKINGTOO

And yet: I’m lucky. Despite several near-misses, only a portion of them listed above, I’ve never been raped, unlike several friends who’ve confided in me. Unlike other friends, no man has ever attempted to hit me. I’m tall, athletic and strong. I keep myself athletic and strong and always on guard. My keys are my weapon of choice. I’ve developed a persona that is my armour. The strong woman. The warrior woman. The woman with the big voice and the big laugh. I like this woman. She protects me. She takes on my adversaries one by one, the bullies, the misogynists, the would-be abusers and belittlers of women and vanquishes them. One by one. I cover my vulnerability not because I want to, but because I have to. As a woman, never give away all of your heart, I was once told. I thought that was dispiriting at the time, and now I see the wisdom of it. I thought I thought I’d be done with this shit once I hit my thirties. Oh the innocence. Every time something happens, I am jolted from my reality of being a human being to the reality of living in a world that does not favour the human beings with vaginas.

Can we change it? I don’t know. I know it will not happen if men do not help.

Should we change it? Yes. Absolutely yes. The only objectors to this would be  people who want to continue harassing and abusing.

How do we change it? The first step is listening. Believing women and their stories. Whether it’s misogynistic bullying, sexual harassment, assault: giving the benefit of the doubt. Not many women would want to go through even a workplace hearing to tell their stories of harassment and abuse unless it was true. That in itself can be a harrowing and mentally traumatising experience. It says something that in the #Cosby case over 60 women came forward, in the #Weinstein case over 30, and still there are murmurings of ‘Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Is this a vendetta against men?’. This very thinking is a silencing mechanism, because women know the cost of being visible. It’s something we live with all our lives. It’s a technique that men like Weinstein use to great effect. After that – I’m not sure. Make certain more women are involved in power positions? It can’t hurt to at least try that. After all, it’s not really been done before, and we can tell from the #metoo stories emerging that this is not just a Hollywood/arts industry problem. The industry of story-telling has merely been the catalyst for women from all walks of life to tell their stories.

Let me tell you why this is important. I’m not going to tell you a story about why this is important for your daughters, your wives, your sisters. I was house-sitting in a very wealthy part of London last year. The house belonged to a wealthy older woman of 87. She’d led a privileged life, and her husband had worked in close proximity with a relative of the Royal Family. She was in the early stages of dementia, in and out of lucidity. One day, when I was sitting down with her, she told me of her driving lessons, aged 17. She spent at least as much time fending off the driving instructor from touching her up. She didn’t want to tell her father, because she felt he would have done nothing. She didn’t want to tell her mother, who would have made a scene and that would have stopped her learning to drive, which signified freedom. So, 70 years later, this patrician, Cambridge-educated lady in the first stages of losing her mind, still remembered this ritual humiliation, this abuse of power, this demonstration of privilege. Despite all she had achieved in her life (and it was considerable), that scar still burned bright. Her fear, anger and upset was palpable.

That’s the power of the #metoo hashtag. We’re finally visible. Telling our stories. This is not an attack on all men, but it sure is about as personal as it can get. Because until we tell our stories, reconcile the truth of those stories with the fiction of the patriarchal narrative, how can we hope to create space in this world for every human being to live safely, to reach our potential as a species and to evolve and thrive accordingly? That’s what I want – do #youtoo?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Why the resurrection myth is a patriarchal cop-out

Standard

There’s a well-worn joke about how Jesus could be Irish: 1. He lived at home until he was in his thirties. 2. His mother thought he was God. 3. He thought his mother was a virgin. It’s a universal joke in fact – many elements of it are transferable to other cultures. I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and the whole Jesus legend being taken as historical fact; the memes that are used stating that he was a radical non-violent revolutionary and considering the myth, the man and how, in an age of rising white Christian supremacy (the irony being, of course, that even Christ himself was not a Christian) he is, some 2,000 years after his death, he is being used to justify oppression. If we look at the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – which are all interconnected, we can see that the deepest connection that they all have in their practical execution, is structural patriarchy. Not to condemn religions outright, as in my experience, as a religionist and non-religionist, patriarchy rather than religion, is the greatest issue facing the world today. And a big part of this issue, as a former Irish Catholic, is the issue of resurrection.

Let me clarify: it is not just the resurrection itself which is the issue. It is the concept of man dying for ‘all the sins of the world’. Now, while that was big of him, and, in a sense, a noble aim (if true), what it inherently implies is an abdication of responsibility on the part of some of the people(s) he was dying for, and too great an assumption of responsibility on the part of others. Having been brought up Catholic in Ireland, how it works in a practical sense is with the whole concept of confession.

‘Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s a week since my last confession. I really coveted and was jealous of my brother’s/sister’s bike etc’

‘Say three Hail Marys and one Holy Father I absolve you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit go and sin no more’.

‘Same time next week…’

Now, on the scale of innocence, what harm, might one say? Well, there’s a side concept of, rather than working through challenging emotions in a positive way, of guilt. Which,   from my observance, is a double-whammy when one is female. There’s a whole society  out there designed to make women feel guilty. Not married yet? What’s wrong with you? Can’t balance work, a family AND housework? What’s wrong with you? Not a perfect size 8/10/12 anymore and therefore not eye-candy for the male gaze? What’s wrong with you? ‘Became’ pregnant out of wedlock/raped/assaulted? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

There are so many contradictions within religions themselves, but the transference of blame onto the vulnerable seems particularly heinous in my view. The concept of someone dying for other people’s sins immediately infantilises everyone else, which is not a danger in and off itself, depending on how far it goes.  And therein lies the rub. I’ve had two situations in the past week happen to me personally which might demonstrate on a microcosmic level how insidious this abdication of responsibility is in an Abrahamic, patriarchal structure. One was when helping a relative to find work and suggesting that he might want to consider toning down his quasi-evangelical views, which have been problematic in other employments in the past. While he was wholly aware of this, he still managed to turn it into my problem: I was a ‘disappointment’ but he ‘forgave’ me. I naturally told him that I didn’t need to be patronised or forgiven for helping him find work and subsequently ended the conversation.

The second situation was while out at the theatre with a man who happened to have a spare ticket. Within 10 minutes he was telling me how unlucky he was in love, and how he always seemed to meet the ‘wrong ones’. Not to mention some other, more physical breaching of boundaries later, but I found it both sad and interesting that there was zero assumption of any kind of shared responsibility for the breakdown of his relationships. And to be fair, he was incredibly polite compared to other men I’ve heard talking about their female exes. ‘She was a psycho’; ‘a bitch’; ‘a slag’. Maybe there is no blame to apportion; however, it does seem to me to be a curiosity and major red-light if there is a pattern involved.

Again, on a microcosmic and personal level, this is relatively innocuous. What deeply concerns me now, however is that we seem to be in an age politically both of infantilism, misogyny aligned with complete abdication of responsibility. The trend is being set by the rise of the political man-baby, who whines and tweets like a bratty pre-schooler ‘IT’S NOT MY FAULT!’

In a so-called Christian country, based on the actual tangibilities of a single mother, a man who broke bread with thieves and lepers and prostitutes, we have the abdication of responsibility of the have-mores in Phariseean mode at the expense of the have-nots. The ridiculous concern about chocolate eggs over austerity cuts (And yes, the PM is a woman – out of some 29% in Parliament). We have a so-called Christian man in John Smith, who refuses to take responsibility for his abuse of young boys terrified by his messianic zeal. We have the all-too-familiar scenario in Ireland where the Church, while quietly paying hush money on the side, refuses to admit liability for widespread abuse of women and children. We have, in religious countries, scenarios where a woman can be raped brutally and the man get off virtually scot-free, as with Brock Turner; where a man can say ‘I fell and penetrated her by accident’ as Ehsan Abdulaziz claimed a little over a year ago; and yet, where women are prevented from having autonomy over their own bodies on religious grounds. Where are the men in this picture? No doubt in some confessional near you, being absolved of rapine and child abuse with a few Hail Marys’ and in the case of the clergy, a move to a new parish.

It is clear to me that religion has its limitations with regards to the development of emotional intelligence.  It has those limitations, in my observance, because of its close connections with, and reliance upon, the structure of patriarchy. It offers, at its best, a moral code and structure which helps some people to reconcile the very many challenges of living as a human being. This, I have no issue with. At its worst, however, it gives the adherent carte blanche to engage in acts of aggressive tribalism, and inhumane acts, be that the incarceration of women as slaves in the Magdalene laundries, racist attacks on people of different colour, gender, religion or sexual persuasion as with the worldwide rise of the KKK and the Knights Templar, the torture and imprisonment of gay men in Chechnya – the list could go on of the crimes perpetrated in the name of religion, washed clean by pious absolution and the transference of the sins of the world onto a single historical figure.

To me, religion is full of metaphors being treated as facts, and therein lies the problem. The very essence of the story of Christ is the acceptance of responsibility, towards ourselves and other people. The idea that one person can make a difference in the world and to those around them. I don’t believe the resurrection to be an actual one – it is the enlightenment that happens when one lives a life of accountability. We have little hard evidence of renewal after this life, but it is possible that we can renew ourselves and our world within this life, by being responsible for our own actions and emotions, good and bad, by being open and vulnerable in our interactions with others, by balancing all of the traits of yin and yang inherent but underused in most people and in our wider societies. After all, as the findings of Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson confirm, Jesus himself knew the importance of the Divine Feminine.

 

 

The weakness of supremacy

Standard

‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free.’

This quote by Emma Lazarus came to me tonight, after watching an utterly devastating clip on YouTube about the  Tuam babies . Those of you who read my blog will probably be aware of my feelings about the Catholic Church in Ireland – a vile, patriarchal, inherently corrupt and venal institution which should never have gained the place that it did (and among people of a certain age and mentality, still does). But an institution in itself does not have the power to wield authority – and what is becoming clearer, with the uncovering of each scandal, is this:

  1. Power and status was roundly abused by priests and nuns, the self-proclaimed representatives of Christ on earth.
  2. They were aided in this by the State, and, it seems, both profited by the incarceration and slavery of women and children for over 200 years.
  3. The feminist rebels of 1916 and the promise of gender equality for which they fought were roundly dismissed.
  4. In order for these places of slavery to have flourished, there had to have been collusion from the general public.
  5. In line with all patriarchies everywhere, and all countries dominated by religion, there was an unhealthy obsession and stereotyping of women into either Madonna or whore categories.

The first point is self-evident. It doesn’t need me to point out the sexual and physical abuse of women and children – this has been well-documented. The second point is perhaps less well-discussed, but a point that niggles at me on this score is: who profited? Because all that money made from slave labour, the selling of children to wealthy Americans etc, had to have made somebody (or somebodies) rich. Yes, the State is compensating these women. Notably the Church has yet to do this. One wonders, in austerity-stricken Ireland, what deals have been struck behind closed doors that the direct perpetrators of these crimes have virtually, bar receding power and reputation, gotten off scot-free.

What interests me most are points 3-5, because all of them have one thing in common: Patriarchy. This is not necessarily particular to Ireland, though Ireland serves as a relatively recent example of the betrayal of the promise of gender equality, and how, when women have served their purpose in fighting on the frontlines, they are pushed to being a footnote in history.

Men I’ve spoken to about this have normally come back with ‘But the nuns were just as bad’. Yes – behaviour-wise, they almost were (though there doesn’t seem to have been the widespread rape of children that was a feature of their male counterparts). But they were also operating under a system devised by men, for men. For a lone woman to go up against that could be fatal. We saw that all too clearly with the Gay Byrne interview with Annie Murphy, where she was cast as the evil seductress bent on taking down a poor fallen man of God. From my own conversations with an elderly relative, who was a young woman in the 1950s, people knew what was going on – but as young girls/women, they were terrified to speak up for fear of being sent to the laundries themselves.

So let’s take this argument back to where it should lie: at the feet of men. At the feet of the men to whom female sexuality was and is an affront, something to be controlled, not encouraged. At the feet of politicians and the priesthood, who wielded the bulk of power and privilege. At the feet of fathers, brothers, male relatives who saw their daughters and female siblings as less than equal, deserving of slavery.

And this is an argument that still dogs the Irish psyche. We can afford marriage equality to all (marriage essentially being a conservative, approved institution, and Ireland being a conservative society at heart), but we cannot yet afford women equality. Either in the workplace, in the public spaces (which is what #WakingtheFeminists was about – the irony of women having to fight to be heard in a space which was championed by Countess Markievicz!), or, most humiliating of all, over their own bodies.

I would have more tolerance for the pro-life brigade if, in the interests of absolute consistency, they condemned every male masturbatory act as an act of murder and picketed every man’s bedroom and sperm donor clinic. To paraphrase Monty Python, by the argument the pro-lifers make, why isn’t every sperm sacred? Again, there will be those who say (rightly) that there are prominent female ‘pro-lifers’ who also, in the mode of Kelly-Anne Conway, see themselves as both ‘pro-life’ and an ‘individual feminist’. Ladies: there is no such thing. You can be one, but not both. Because your brand of ‘individualistic feminism’ takes away choice from other women – and that’s not feminism, that’s patriarchal brainwashing, and pandering to male fears about losing their supremacy in the world. In Ireland, to realise the Proclamation in full, it is absolutely vital that the 8th Amendment is repealed. Worldwide, (and again, it’s interesting to note that this backlash against women’s rights is not just confined to Ireland, but worldwide) it is vital that women’s reproductive options are defended against a worldwide resurgence of male supremacy.

The issue of supremacy is an interesting one. Here are my thoughts on it – be it along race or gender lines. Supremacy is weakness. It is weakness because it explicitly needs structures in place to give its beneficiaries an unfair advantage over another group. And we have reached a tipping point where, as women fighting to maintain rights hard-won, and move towards a more equal world (which benefits everyone), we don’t want to do it alone. We can – that has what the last 100 years of suffrage has been about – but in order to make real steps forward, it requires men to yield the supremacy in power and privilege that has rendered our world weaker. So this International Women’s Day, it is up to men not only to notice what life would be like without women, but also how much better it might feel to not rely on an unfair advantage. I wonder if men as a group are that fair-minded – history and evidence would point to the contrary. Yet I remain hopeful.

 

 

My Citizens’ Assembly submission for #Repealthe8th

Standard

Why it is essential to the concept of the Irish Republic that we repeal the 8th

 

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising. An Easter Rising in which women fought, and sacrificed their lives to, the ideal of a nation that ‘….guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally..’. Where the women of the nation have been concerned, however, the idea of civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities have been denied, and, through an unholy alliance of Church and State, betrayed.

It is essential that we no longer betray our forebears who sacrificed so much on our behalf. The suffragettes who risked life and limb, and who had the added burden of not just being revolutionaries on behalf of their fellow citizens, but on behalf of their fellow female citizens. Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara and Elizabeth Farrell, Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell are names all but unknown now – yet the role that these brave women played in altering the course of Irish history needs to be honoured.

There needs to be reparation for the sins of the past, in particular the sins of the State in colluding with the Church to imprison and enslave generations of Irish women in the Magdalen Laundries. There needs to be reparation for the toxicity of a State that held the rights of its male citizens as paramount and sacrificed its women at their altar. There needs to be reparation for the lack of care given to the women who were unjustly denied abortions: Miss X. Savita Halappanavar. The endangered, unnamed migrant woman in 2014 denied an abortion by our courts. All the unnamed women who, for reasons of their own (which should be their citizens’ right to decide) have had to make the lonely trip to England. Oh the irony that their former colonial masters can provide the medical procedure that their own supposed Free State will not. What a bitter pill to swallow, on top of all the other bitter pills women have endured since the beginning of our nation once again. Same oppression, different master. In modern Ireland, the possession of the Y chromosome is paramount.

Towhit: either all of our citizens are free and autonomous, or none are. For anyone who considers themselves an Irish citizen, true to the values of the Proclamation, no matter one’s personal or religious beliefs, this is the crucial point to understand. To believe otherwise is to dishonor the very tenets upon which the Irish State was created. To believe otherwise is to betray those brave men and women who sacrificed their very lives on our behalves. To believe otherwise is but to ape the tactics of British rule, by which we were but second-class citizens in our own country. It is time to elevate women to first-class citizenship, whereby they have that most basic of human rights: complete bodily autonomy. Let’s finally do the right thing and be a shining example of transformation in the world. #Repealthe8th

What happens next?

Standard

On Thursday 12th November 2015, I joined some Irish artists and theatre makers in an upstairs room at the Unicorn Theatre in London Bridge. Truth be told, Irish theatre is not something that has ever affected me personally in real terms; I trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and my work has been predominantly UK-based.

But the Abbey is an institution that every Irish artist, and possibly most Irish citizens want to feel connected to. As Emer O’Toole put it so well in the Guardian, the story of the Abbey Theatre is the story of our nation. The two are inextricably linked. Lady Gregory and the women of the time played their part in birthing the new nation, and as such it is the duty of every citizen (not just women) to ensure that their legacy is not forgotten.

So it was with much interest, and a feeling of excitement and solidarity that we gathered around a laptop (the modern equivalent of the wireless) to listen to the speakers. None disappointed, save the artistic director of the Abbey. It seems incredible to me (never having met Fiach MacConghail) that out of all the topics he had clearly given considered thought to – “war stories, about poverty, about housing, about disenfranchisement” – that the glaring omission of half the population and their views and perspective on 1916 wouldn’t have been obvious.

But then, one has to look at this in the wider context of society. It’s not uncommon, when in meetings/rehearsal rooms etc as one of the token women that all one hears is the loud guffawing and braying of male voices. Men don’t have very much interest in women’s opinions or stories, and when women do offer them, they are treated as less important by virtue of gender. I witnessed this in a very microcosmic way some months ago when riding the Overground in London. Three young people in their late teens/early 20s, two boys and a girl. They were talking about getting jobs, and it turned out the girl had just got one. She was trying to offer advice to the boys on what to do in interviews, and they both dismissed her out of hand. SHE WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO HAD MANAGED TO GET A JOB SO FAR. But her opinion wasn’t valued for no other obvious reason than her gender. Go figure. When the basic structure of this story seeps into society as a whole – Heuston, we have a problem….

Being in the middle section of my life, I’ve experienced this story many times over. The sexism. The bullying. The dismissive tone. It’s a familiar and immensely irritating one at this stage, and it’s time this was changed. Also, personally, as a theatre and cinema goer – I’m bored with men’s stories. For a man’s coming-of-age story: Boy grows up with gang of friends. Boy discovers girls. Boy discovers penis. Tragedy strikes one of the friends (not through boy’s penis, might I add). Lessons are learned about growing into puberty. Roll credits. The End.

As a female audience member, I can sort of relate – but I would relate more to something like this: Girl born in different country comes to live in rural community. Girl is outsider to begin with. Girl is bullied because of cultural differences. Tragedy strikes through the death of a parent. Girl starts leading double life as good student during the daytime and nightclubbing rebel at night. Girl gets hit on by older guys. Girl goes off during her summer holidays on her own to New York to work. And that’s just me until aged 15.

I’m sure my story is not unique by any stretch of the imagination – it’s just that girls’ stories don’t tend to be allowed to be heard. And as a woman – I’ve had enough. Not only because I identify more with women’s stories, but also because I believe the arts are failing because of the virtual exclusion of the world perspective of half the human race. Anytime I’ve been to the theatre/cinema and it’s told women’s stories from women’s perspectives it’s been pretty much packed to capacity. This is not coincidence, people.

Groucho Marx had a saying: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” With all due respect to dear Groucho, he was a man and a celebrity and could afford that careless quip. My policy is, as a member of the human race, artist and theatregoer, is that I don’t support companies or organisations engaged in active discrimination. I don’t support or attend performances with all-male casts. I know people who run these companies, and while I wish them good luck, they won’t have my money or my bum on their seat. The same absolutely goes for companies if they actively have as their policy that they discriminate against people of colour, the LGBT community and so on.

The suffragettes had a saying ‘Deeds not words’. There have been a lot of fine words said since 12th November , but also a lot of inaction. As Lian Bell so eloquently put in an article for the Irish Times, it’s now time to ‘do sorry’.While it may be a step in the right direction that a subcommittee has been set up to examine the issue of gender imbalance in the Abbey, I suspect because it is headed up by Bryan McMahon that an elaborate game of chicken is being played and very little will transpire.

So here’s my suggestion as a safeguard against inaction: Boycott. If you believe in female equality, do not buy tickets or support the 90% of plays that are written and/or directed by men in ‘Waking the Nation’. As an artist, it goes against the grain to advocate a boycott of any art form. And I hope that the Abbey will take action to be more inclusive and that it will not come to this, on what is an extremely important commemoration in Irish history. But I believe this issue to be a wider one about the way women are treated in Irish society and society in general, and I believe that we owe this to the ‘mothers’ of our nation. All things considered, I do think this must be an option. Women make up about two-thirds of audiences, according to a SOLT report from 2005; and if those statistics hold true currently and in Ireland, there is considerable power in that. At the very least, a boycott would ensure that there are consequences for active discrimination. And the lack of tacit and tangible support may force the white men of theatre to ‘check their privilege’ before programming rather than after.

 

 

Silencing through space

Standard

When I was in my final year at university in Cork, I wanted to do a music technology module. To my chagrin, I was too late, and my only option was to do a self-taught module i.e. research something of interest and present it as a paper. Someone had posed the question as to why there were no female Mozarts, and that question niggled at me until it became too loud to ignore. I was presented with the perfect opportunity to allow myself some relief from that niggling; the result was a voyage of discovery through the social and educational oppression of women, since the year dot, really. The women that did manage to break through did in spite of society, and many without the educational access and advantages afforded to their male counterparts. The voyage eventually led to a radio series on RTÉ’s Lyric FM, which garnered Critics’ Choice from the Irish Times for its duration.

I was brought to mind of this by the petition launched by Jessy McCabe this week to demand that female composers be included in the A Level syllabus, and she posed some interesting questions: “How can we expect girls to aspire to be composers and musicians if they don’t have the opportunity to learn of any role models? How can we accept that the UK’s largest awarding body doesn’t adequately acknowledge the work of female musicians? Why are we limiting diversity in a subject which thrives on its astounding breadth?”

The fact of the matter is that music history (and Western Art Music history at that – it is one small area of music) is not the only area of history, and wider storytelling as a society where women’s endeavours have been cast aside. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s endeavours for the abolition of slavery are only rarely recalled, and mainly in reference to Abraham Lincoln, who ironically did not believe in abolition. Rosa Parks is remembered, but doesn’t evoke the same emotion historically as, let’s say, MLK or Malcolm X. Even in recent years, until he won Wimbledon, it was erroneously reported that Britain had not had a Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry, when in fact it had, in Virginia Wade.

A small example, but noteworthy in that the endeavours of women are not seen as important in the area of historical narrative, which, by no coincidence whatsoever, is dominated by men. Moreover, this view of the world is supported by the power prerogative  of men across the corporate world, political world and educational establishments from university onwards. It is no wonder then, that, given who controls the narrative, most people are kept largely ignorant of women’s achievements, many of them not inconsiderable given the societal adversity they face(d).

But there are a couple of key points which I believe need to be implemented on the road to true equality. First is the idea of non-appropriation. The amount of times that I’ve been in situations where I’ve offered an idea or an insight, only for it to be met with grand indifference until, a few moments later, a male appropriates it as his own and (almost universally) it has been treated as an original and brilliant thought. When that happens to you a number of times, there is a sense of one’s own invisibility that sets in, and an annoyance that one’s ideas are being falsely attributed to another, allied with a sense (dependent on the situation) of futility and helplessness in actually being able to address it (unless one is able to record every instance of one’s life, it is not feasible in real terms). Recently I’ve discussed this with other women across different sectors – all with the same experience. (It’s also outlined in an excellent article by Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/jul/30/10-sexist-scenarios-women-deal-work-ignored-maternity-risk-everyday-sexism, which indicates in the wider sense, this is something that women confront on an almost daily basis).

Ultimately, all these roads lead to the idea of shared space. I’m always struck by this in a physical sense on the Tube, and amuse myself on an almost daily basis by taking a tally of man spreaders (For the man I saw recently on the Jubilee line whose spread occupied almost two seats – talk about letting it all hang out….) In all seriousness, until we address men’s insecurities (in a general sense) at the prospect of having to share their world and give equal physical and metaphorical space (and airtime) to women, we may always be fighting an uphill struggle on this front. The fact that online comment sections of newspapers like the Guardian have to exert stricter levels of moderation when the words ‘sexism’ or ‘feminism’ are used is a clue that there are a lot of men out there who feel threatened and do not want women’s voices to be heard.

In one sense, if men are that insecure as to feel threatened by another person’s opinion because of their gender, I’m inclined to ignore them and refer them to a good therapist to deal with their obvious mommy issues. However, the politic part of me has long recognised that it is in women’s interests to appeal to the many fair-minded men out there (and I believe they are in the increasingly vocal majority) who have been, till it was brought to their attention, largely unaware of how unfairly skewed narrative is in many areas in favour of the male. It is the case that people are largely unmotivated to affect change unless it directly impinges on them, and parallel to encouraging women to come forward and agitate and protest and petition and raise awareness of women’s stories and achievements, we must continue to encourage men to do the same. This is why I believe Jessy McCabe’s petition to be absolutely vital, timely and worthy of support (if you’d like to sign, you can do so here: https://www.change.org/p/edexcel-ensure-the-representation-of-women-on-the-a-level-music-syllabus.

As I found out all those years ago in University College Cork, there is a wealth of untapped history out there. The more we uncover it, the more stories there are of human achievement to wonder at, recount and inspire. The more we uncover it, the more room there is in the history books, the more space is created for everyone, regardless of gender, to occupy.