#LondonBridge

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I was lying in bed in London on Sunday morning catching up with the news on #LondonBridge.

What to say? To be honest, I feel a bit numb. Before making it my permanent residence, I travelled through London a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s en route to elsewhere. The main concern at that time, when there was a bomb scare, was to keep my mouth shut. It was pure instinct. Any bomb scare at that time was likely IRA-related, and while Irish people aren’t necessarily the most identifiable through skin colour or what we wear (apart from if one had a big auld Ireland/ GAA jersey), the accent could make one a target for aggression. Later, in 1998, when I first came to live here, it did. Barely-old prejudices die hard.

Since living in London, I’ve lived through several terrorist attacks. The most immediate for me was the Admiral Duncan attack, as I was around the corner on Dean St on a date. The one that resonated most was 7/7, as I was working in Covent Garden that day, in a new job at the private members club The Hospital. I wasn’t scared, funnily enough, and was kept busy helping panicked people to use the phone. One of my colleagues was in the bus behind the bus on Russell Square and she was understandably upset when she came in. There was an eerie sense of calm and desertion in Covent Garden that day. We’d been told not to venture out in the streets, because at that stage there were rumours about at least another 10 tube stations being targets, but being young(er) and maybe a little foolhardy, I went out for my lunch break. I’m really glad I did. I got to experience a noiseless Covent Garden, and even in the midst of terror, there was a beauty in this.

The most scared I’ve ever felt in London was during the London riots of 2011. I was living on my own, in Forest Hill, and it seemed during those dark days, like a wave of feral, unstoppable youth was marauding through London, like a wave of black smog, rampaging and overturning everything in their midst. Of course, the reality of what came out afterwards was quite different – it wasn’t just young, poor people, but also older, middle income earners who got caught up in looting and stealing, infected by atmospherics and their lizard brain being triggered. That hadn’t stopped assumptions by the media over the course of a week.

There have been more in the interim – Woolwich, Jo Cox, the Westminster attacks, Manchester etc – and this is the first time that I’ve felt this numb. I don’t think it is any coincidence that we are seeing an increase in attacks in line with cuts to policing and social services. The police and social services have their issues (racism being one of the biggest for the police), but police personnel and social care workers and all those who work with communities and that know their communities are vital.

There is also the issue of these attacks being, to a man, committed by men. I cannot tell you how deeply frustrating I find it that no one really has started to acknowledge this, apart from maybe people like Sara Khan at Inspire. There are issues with Khan and her organisation, especially with their once-entanglement with the Tories. However, identifying the seeds of radicalisation is incredibly important, be it white supremacist or Islamist.

I teach a lot of young boys when I am ‘resting’ as a private tutor, and young boys are loving, and immensely confused. They have all these feelings and emotions, and no one to really help them to process them as their society says ‘Stop crying’ ‘Be a big boy’ and other damaging messages. And their background has no bearing on the volatility of their emotions.

One of the angriest kids I teach (age 6) goes to one of London’s premier schools (hint: A certain former rightwing party leader went there). His parents are in very high-powered jobs, but by and large (from what I can tell), absent. We talk about his feelings, and he often said to me ‘I’m angry’. I don’t really need to help this kid academically – he’s far ahead of his age group (by years). But emotionally, he was a minefield when I took him on a couple of months ago. So I took him outside into his garden one lesson and showed him plants, and grass. I implanted the notion that maybe he could grow things so he would have something to pour all this emotion into. (Much as my parents did for me, when I was an angry 7 year old – my father’s answer to this was to give me his punch-bag and my mother’s was to give us all a little patch of garden to call our own. Both worked.) A mere two weeks later, this same kid was giving me some of his very precious football cards and showing me with pride his strawberry and thyme plants and was noticeably calmer. He’s probably my most extreme case in terms of his rage – but it is interesting that listening and giving him something to care for, and to love has worked.

The thing is: young boys who don’t know how to handle their emotions grow into men who don’t know how to handle their emotions. Given that men have the bulk of power and privilege in our society as things currently stand, this is a recipe for what we are witnessing. It is very easy for Wahabi Saudis, or white supremacists, or other damaged males with their hatred of Westerners/Muslims/women/gay people/take your pick to come in, and prey upon young men that, for whatever reason – life, family circumstances, lack of a father figure or positive male role model etc – feel enraged, alone, entitled and unaccepting of their own human vulnerability (because they’ve never been taught how to intelligently deal with it in emotional terms).

 

I’ve witnessed how this sense of coming into a ‘brotherhood’ ‘community’ can both stabilise the person but skew their thinking in a member of my own family. They were lucky enough to have some emotional tools to extricate themselves, even luckier to have met a fantastic woman that understood on a very visceral level how to modify some of the more destructive tendencies – but it’s hard. Others are not so lucky – the feeling of belonging to a community, be that Daesh, or the KKK, or the EDL is irresistible because, after all, it is a very human instinct to want to belong. Even if that community has a more malevolent purpose, those that are desperate for love will just want to belong. The saying of every child needing a village is so true, and in a society where society itself isn’t valued (according to Thatcherite and neoliberal principles) there is a falling through the gaps more and more of these angry, emotionally volatile young men.

Let me be clear as well: I believe that if young girls were raised along the same principles and thought processes and expectations that boys are, we would have exactly the same issue. I see no difference in emotional intelligence of girls up to the age of about 8 in those I’ve worked with. Society expects women to be in touch with our emotions; and for the most part, we are. Society expects men to suppress emotion on a grand scale, and for the most part, they do. Hence – if one looks at crime statistics, and abuse of power, attacks and other things that destroy our sense of well-being as communities and a society, one will find they mostly have, as a root, male disconnection from their emotional selves at the core.

This is not to reduce the absolute senseless, awful tragedy of lost lives in this attack and other attacks. It is just that I believe if we want a better society, and these sort of attacks to stop, we need to address the root causes. We can bring nothing with us into the afterlife – if there is even such a thing. All our energies must therefore be expended on (in the first instance) coming to a full understanding of ourselves and how we can overcome our own worst prejudices and accept ourselves and love ourselves. Secondly we go out in the world and help others, our communties on a small scale, or on a grand scale. For most of us, it will be on a small scale – and that is great. Every interaction we have with another human being has an effect. Sometimes it is difficult if the interaction itself is difficult. But there is great power in knowing that we can effect change, even in a small way.

Let’s really demand that, at another level, our politicians start investing in people rather than in bombs. If a group of people can spread this much terror with guns and what sounded like kitchen knives, we really have to question the practicalities of weapons like Trident. There are many layers to what is happening in the world, but addressing it with roots in teaching emotional intelligence, caring for each other in our communities and tribes and making sure our tax pounds/euros/dollars are directed to what is important rather than expansion of profits of the military industrial complex (banks, munitions, big pharma, energy companies) seems to be a good start. Most of all, let’s love. Let’s love ourselves and other human beings, with all of our collective faults and peculiarities and differences. Hell, let’s love ourselves because of our differences. We don’t see the rose hating on the chrysanthemum for being a different flower; as in nature, so should we be.

 

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Let’s talk about polls

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Polls. Polls. Let’s talk about polls: Are the Tories really ahead still in them?

I think this is a pertinent question on a number of counts. Firstly – a disclaimer. I used to work in a position (for a fundraising agency) that required me often to analyse data. Analysing data is something that is very subjective – one can skew it in order to get an answer that is favourable to oneself, and/or to a client.

People talk a lot about opinion polls, naturally, in the run-up to a GE. The results of opinion polls are also dependent on the questions being asked. As posted on my Facebook page last week, an utterly biased poll was being sent out by #YouGov, with  some very leading questions. Then one gets on to the people surveyed – how can we be sure that this is genuinely a ‘cross-section’ of society? We only have the polling company’s word for that, and if they are being employed by Conservatives, they will most likely choose the option that appeases their client the most.

Think this doesn’t happen and that this is some conspiracy? Think again. I know that the Tories (for example) at the last election hired at least one telephone fundraising/marketing company to work on their behalf, Return Fundraising. How do I know this? Because they told me so when they attempted to ‘head-hunt’ me (a move motivated by the demise of a former employer). They also told me at the time that they did the canvassing for the MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

When call-centres do this sort of work, their scripts will be scrutinised to the nth degree so that, subliminally, the answer will always favour the client. Of course people have their own opinions; but there is much that can be done, in terms of the language used, the questions asked, to subliminally affect the answers in favour of clients. Anyone who works in fundraising and marketing knows that this is the case, and in a sense, that is ok. As much as politics, it’s about the art of persuasion – but let’s be very clear also that an answer elicited for a survey/charity donation doesn’t always hold once the conversation is over and the phone put down. In fundraising, it’s known as attrition. So: pollsters may have an opinion at the start of a call, they may hold to that opinion or have their minds changed during the course of the call (because one of the curious things I found out when telephone fundraising is that even on the end of the phone, people are social animals that often want to be seen as agreeably nice people to the faceless voice at the other end of the phone), but when that phone is put down, they can often change their minds. In that sense, if one is polling people with semi-formed or wholly uninformed opinions, there is a high probability that those opinions are malleable during the duration of a call, but potentially not beyond that.

As well as all of this: how current is the data we are being presented with? How many thousands of people are being canvassed? Is it a genuine cross-section of society, or targeting areas where the answer is more or less a done deal? Who has commissioned the polls (this is important)? Which media outlets are these polls being distributed to, and what is their editorial agenda? (In the UK, this latter point is crucial) With those papers, would it potentially upset their investors/advertisers if the polls projected an outcome they didn’t want? Who are the polling companies being run by (as in who is their CEO), and what is their political agenda? For example, YouGov has as its CEO Stephan Shakespeare, who formerly ran ConservativeHome – immediately there is cause for scepticism there over political neutrality in their polling.

The media are also key in polling in the UK, perhaps more than in most countries, because they are undoubtedly (on the results of previous elections and the influence of Murdoch) able to sway elections. The Sun and Murdoch are the big beasts here as regards this, because to the best of my knowledge there has been not one PM since 1979 that hasn’t had Murdoch backing. Essentially what we’re looking at there is corporate propaganda filtered through politics at the highest level. Murdoch’s other investments (let’s say, like his investment in Genie Energy, as well as Sky News) would be subject to huge unbiased and potentially unfavourable scrutiny if the potential PM was not a Murdoch acolyte.

And then there’s the public. Up until a few years ago, there was little interest in politics among the British public, and often an embarrassment in saying who they were voting for (especially on the more right-wing side of things). This is in marked contrast to, let’s say, Ireland, where, for better or worse, people are incredibly vocal about their side of any given issue, thus enabling more polling accuracy.

This is not even getting into the increasing influence of organisations like Cambridge Analytica, who collate evidence from social media and target voters accordingly. We’ve seen how successful this was in the #Brexit referendum and in the election of #Trump.

So while not dismissing polls entirely, let’s be aware that they are (a) not unbiased at the source i.e. the company that is commissioning the polls and the company that is working on their behalf (b) dependent on media source and editorial bias (c) open to interpretation (d) time-dependent (a week is a long time in politics, etc) and (e) subject to change. It’s that latter point that the Labour Party and other non-Tory parties have to really make the case for.

The outcome of #GE2017 depends on who Britons are

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Before the manifestos come out, thought we all needed a reminder of what was promised in 2015 by the Conservatives: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto. I was especially interested in this:

“This Manifesto sets out our plan to do just that. It is a plan for a better future – for you, for your family. It is a plan for every stage of your life. For your new-born baby, there will be the world’s best medical care. For your child, there will be a place at an excellent school. As you look for your first job, we are building a healthy economy that provides a good career for you with a decent income. As you look for that first home, we will make sure the Government is there to help. As you raise your family, we will help you with childcare. And as you grow older, we will ensure that you have dignity in retirement.

Throughout, we will make sure that if you or your family fall ill, you will always be able to depend on our cherished National Health Service to give you the care you need.”

Whatever way you vote, take this as your mantra:

Anyone But Conservative (#ABC)

If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter but in your area the Lib Dem MP has the best chance of beating the Tories – hold your nose and vote for them. If you’re a Lib Dem supporter and the Labour candidate is the best chance of ousting the Tory candidate – hold your nose and vote for them. If you’re a Lib Dem/Labour and a Green candidate has the best chance – you get the picture.

This is beyond #Brexit. #Brexit is a done deal at this point in time. That’s not to say at some point in the future, when the consequences become more apparent, that it won’t be reversible. At this point in time, everything is too raw, and any Bremainers angling to change it are going to skew the situation even further, and perhaps irreparably. The primary objective over the next 7 weeks must be to consign the Tories to the scrapheap of electoral history for a generation.

The 18-24 year olds are key. So are disabled people, who have been affected from the outset by austerity. I did a little rough calculation last night – and with these two groups, you have approximately 34.9% of the voting public. So do what you have to, to get these groups to the polls.

I’m Irish, so not even a British subject – but I’ve lived here for 18 years and it angers me to see the rise in inequality and poverty. I do not pay my hard-earned taxes to subsidise corporations. I don’t pay them so that while some Hooray Henry (or George, or Dave, or Boris, or indeed Theresa) lives it large in Chelsea, 3,900,000 children live in poverty in the UK. There’s roughly 12 million children in the UK, so 1 in 3 of them are living in unsafe housing, with little food. Think about that – that could be your child, or one of their friends. I want those taxes to go to the NHS. I want them to go towards helping people into decent housing. I want every child to have enough food in their belly. I want them to go towards education.

The question is more than tribal now – it’s visceral and it depends on a very simple question:

What do you want to see in 5 years time?

Do you want a nation where the majority are well-fed, well-housed, well-cared for in health terms, well-educated, happy? (For all his talk about happiness, David Cameron seemed to know exactly what to do to create the maximum amount of misery). Well, guess what?

YOU CAN HAVE ALL THAT.

That’s the good news. But it comes down to choice. If the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, giving any leeway to the Tories to regain power on June 8th, or to give them a bigger mandate, will reveal exactly the type of person you are. Are you the type of person who fixates on someone’s appearance/awkwardness, rather on the substance of their policies? Are you the type of person who needs to hear sweet nothings from your politicians, even if you know they have no notion of keeping their electoral promises to you? Or are you the type of person who can look at themselves in the mirror squarely and say ‘I will do what needs to be done for the greater good?’

In the end, it’s all down to you.

#VoteResponsibly #GeneralElection #GeneralElection2017 #ABC

Why the resurrection myth is a patriarchal cop-out

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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.

 

 

B-Day

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So now B-day has come – and yes, I am naming it as such phonetically, after the French contraption that blows water up one’s arse. Here’s my prediction for what will happen:

There will be a short spike in the markets, which will make the Brexiteers feel smugly justified in their choice. Keep in mind that the markets love stability and decisiveness, so a decision is naturally going to create that hump.

For no apparent reason whatsoever, perhaps on the advice of Sir James Dyson, famous for inventing machines that blow hot air, manufactured in the ‘far East’, Theresa May’s government is heading for a ‘hard Brexit’. Even Thatcher, the much-loathed and excoriated, would never have agreed to this – on this she was very clear. Like her or loathe her, she was an astute politician. Imagine we were in the 1700s and the UK had decided to cut off all ties with Europe and close its trading ports. This is as visceral as what’s about to happen in a less visceral age.
EU migrants will leave – what incentive to stay now? And in fact, countries like Poland are offering their migrants incentives to buy houses, to work and graft in Poland as they have here. As Brexit austerity kicks in for real, in a couple of years, and there is no money to be made, and the mutterings of ‘non-Brits coming in, stealing our jobs’ grows to a roar, there will be no reason to stay. The funny thing is – I’m not sure British people want to be the baristas and builders and NHS staff, having worked on the recruiting side of things once. There’s a reason the Empire went out to conquer the world.

And the UK – or such as shall remain of it – will be screwed over time and time again in trade deals with the US, India and China. I mean, it’s only business, right? To use any advantage available? As one of the former big business centres of the world, you understand that, yes? (Kapow! A gratifying blow for former colonies, at least).

However, to look on the bright side: Brexit has made a united Ireland more probable. An independent Scotland is possible. And the citizens of those countries have Nigel Farage to thank for that. I can’t quite believe I’ve typed that. The caricature of John Bull come to life, Mr. Little England himself. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the denizens of those places will not know whether to praise Farage, or to bury him. Even in Gerry Adams’, Martin McGuinness’, Alex Salmond’s and Nicola Sturgeon’s wet dreams combined would they ever have envisioned that Farage would be the deliverer of independence from England’s yoke. Tiocfaidh ár lá, and in the most unlikely of ways. For Adams at least that won’t matter – ever the political opportunist, a united Ireland by any means available.

And in 30 years time, when the die-hard anti-EUers are dead and the great English poet Donne’s admonishment of no man being an island comes home to roost, and those who are young enough and still alive to remember how some of their elders (and some of their peers) tried to sell the notion of freedom from laws they’d created, border control they’d refused, and the swapping of a relatively benevolent master Europe for the small and petty master England – fearful, isolationist, out only for cronyism of an inner and elite circle – then England will re-apply to be part of a community it should never have left. Prodigal, bowed, chastened. And sometimes, in post-imperial societies, this is how former great empires consign themselves to irrelevance.

#Brexit #A50

#ThisisLondon

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Been feeling very unsettled since I heard the news about Westminster. It brought back memories of being in Central London on 7/7. Thankful to not be in the centre of it, but a feeling of helplessness and depression was setting in.
So I was coming out of Streatham station on my way home last night, and saw this little old lady struggling with these humungous bags. Really, she was just shuffling along, barely able to carry them. I walked just past her, and then thought ‘F**k it!’ and asked her if she wanted a hand home with them. She was walking to the bus stop across Streatham High Road – literally a 2 minute walk for me, but it took 10 mins + to get her there. We chatted, she told me about seeing Peter O’Toole as Hamlet in the Bristol Old Vic prior to Lawrence of Arabia fame, and I left her at the bus stop with her shopping happy as a pig in sh*te, and with a lighter heart.
Now I’m not telling y’all this as an attempt to garner praise – honestly, please don’t. I probably got more unwittingly out of this gesture than she did, in a way. I’m writing this because it’s not possible for all of us to be part of the police force or emergency services or NHS – and they are all brilliant btw. But it is possible for us to be a mini-hero in someone else’s world, be that standing up for someone if they’re at the receiving end of abuse, helping an elderly person with their shopping or even offering someone a reassuring smile. I remember the first time getting back on the Tube after 7/7 and realising we had the choice to retreat into ourselves or to reach out. Even offering someone a smile can be powerful in the aftermath of something like this. While remaining safe and informed and discerning it is also possible to be open and kind to ourselves and each other – and light. Be light. Be the light. In your own and other people’s worlds. #ThisisLondon, after all.

The weakness of supremacy

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‘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.