Tag Archives: Magdalen Launderies

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

The Awakening

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There was a great meme doing the rounds a few weeks, that showed how few women there are in the political landscape worldwide. The pictures depicted lone women sitting down in various governments and organisations, with the men around them taken out. The pictures were a stark reminder of how much work needs to be done before female equality is achieved, and also, whether we realise it or not, our lives are dictated by a one-gender world viewpoint.

Something strange and wonderful has been happening within the Irish community however, both worldwide and at home, over the last couple of weeks. People have been looking for the missing women. Ignited by the Abbey Theatre’s virtual exclusion of women in its centenary celebrations, the conversation started by Lian Bell and #WakingtheFeminists is having an open discussion at the Abbey today. I am cautiously optimistic about this. The first part in any process is dialogue, hence the optimism. The caution because, let’s face it, most women have been in this place before. I marched on the original Miss X marches in Dublin, and was reminded of this starkly when Savita Halappanavar died. Those of us who’ve emigrated and been away from Ireland always have this dichotomy when it comes to the motherland: we love its optimism, we hate the inertia towards meaningful change. And yet, quietly hopeful since the Yes Equality vote that maybe real change for women is possible.

There has also been the inevitable backlash from some quarters – fairly quiet, but inevitable. Regarding the Abbey, I’ve seen a few comments on social media along the lines of ‘Maybe women haven’t been submitting plays to the Abbey theatre and that’s why they haven’t been chosen’. Yes – well, maybe. But the way to dispel that train of thought is to get the figures on submissions from the Abbey Theatre itself. I’m fairly confident that is not the issue however, as the Abbey itself has acknowledged potential unconscious bias in its selection. Also, if that were the case, there would need to be questions asked as to (a) why was this lack not identified  and (b) what are the impediments to women writing and the solutions i.e. a room of one’s own, childcare etc. We also have to recognise that opinions and preferences are formed, by and large, by our life experiences; and no one person’s, or group of people’s opinion is infallible. We only have to look at the history of the Abbey Theatre (as an example – the theatre is far from the only institution to reject great works) to see that is the case: the rejection of ‘The Silver Tassie’ by O’Casey, several early works by John B Keane, and also of the modern Synge himself, Martin McDonagh.

Women are hamstrung in the world of film, theatre and TV, more than our male counterparts. That’s a worldwide issue, not just an Irish one. And it happens to women across the spectrum. Reese Witherspoon made a valid point when she joked to Amy Schumer this week that she, at age 39, would probably now only be able (in the prevailing patriarchal ‘wisdom’ of Hollywood) to play Schumer’s grandmother, and Schumer would have to play her own mother in a biopic of Schumer’s life. Ageism and sexism mainly has an adverse effect on women, to the detriment of fulsome storytelling in society. In a way, when we look at the gender bias in parliaments and board rooms worldwide, this is not surprising. In Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament, women make up 20.5% of the total TDs (MPs). That’s an increase last year, by the way, and was seen as a ‘record high’. In a patriarchal society, the dominance of the stories of one gender takes precedence over the other, and that is down to a number of factors – social status, economic status, power prerogative – which all have their roots in inequality. One of the more imaginative campaigns that is challenging that narrative is that of my namesake, Gráinne Maguire, who has taken to live-tweeting the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, her menstrual cycle. A light-hearted approach to a serious issue, she makes an important point: Irish women are such second-class citizens in our own country that our bodies are not our own and our voices and stories go unheard.

Maybe it is the case that women have to be more vociferous in the telling of our stories. There are economic factors that sometimes mitigate against that however, one of the biggest being economic. When you are living a life, trying to put food on the table, be you married or single, it is made more challenging by the fact that women work the best part of two months of the year for free. As Laura Luchador tweeted to @EverydaySexism this week: “If I had a pound for everytime I was told I didn’t need feminism I’d have 85p each time”. There’s childcare. There’s trying to operate in a man’s world with female biology. As Oona King recounted, she was expected to do her job despite suffering monthly with endometriosis, to the extent of collapsing on the House of Commons floor and being stretchered out on an ambulance. I sometimes wonder whether there would be a sea-change in Irish men’s opinions on female equality in Irish society if they sat down with their mothers and had a frank discussion about the challenges in her life: maybe the men who sexually harassed her, even in casual instances of everyday sexism; the expectations placed on sexual self-restraint and the real consequences in the era of the Magdalen laundries should she fall short of that; the fact that she could not legally buy contraception and had to give up her job up till the 1970s if she married. Maybe we could start an #AsktheMammy campaign. I’m sure it would be an eye-opener for some men into the world of women.

And here’s the crux of this issue: women are usually well-versed in the ways of men, because we live in a world dominated by their systems and stories, whereas the reverse is rarely true. So this latest chapter in the history of the Abbey Theatre is of paramount importance not only on an artistic level, but on a national, and potentially, because of the history of great writers in the English language our country has produced, on an international level also. To be fair to a lot of men out there, they are keen to know more. I’ve been inspired and grateful for their support and interest and their stories of the great women who’ve inspired and helped them in their lives and careers. To be fair to the Abbey, they are engaging and hosting this discussion today and that is a very positive  step in the right direction. But with a mere 10% of the female experience originally proposed for such a seminal centenary by the theatre that had as one of its founders the playwright Lady Gregory – well, there’s a lot of discussion and constructive action to be had. I’m looking forward to it.

#WakingtheFeminists #WakingtheNation