On crisps, chivalry and showing off bits…

21 Jul

I originally wrote this for another women’s organisation with the intention of posting it on a bigger, more well known, blog. However, after serious thought decided it might not be taken the right way and shied off the thought. To complain about media attention is never going to go down well and particularly not for a bigger, more well known, women’s organisation which needs all the serious media attention it can get. So, I changed it around a bit and decided not to waste the article entirely. Its a bit of a ramshackle job, and some of the statements about the IFN are a bit grandiose but anyway, I hope the general gist of it comes across…

The phones are ringing off the hook with media calling for comment. Newspapers, radio and television appearances are requested while I attempt to find a moment to speak to each journalist. You’d think this would be an excellent result, the Irish Feminist Network in demand, with the media attention we’re often seeking. However, the journalists aren’t seeking our opinion on the serious issues we’ve been working on for the last couple of months. Instead, they’re seeking comment on the newest controversial advertisement presenting half naked women on the telly.

Of course we view the objectification and degradation of women’s bodies in any media forum as an important women’s issue. However, it’s frustrating when our work is narrowed to such sensationalist news items. It seems that when we’re talking about issues such as cuts to low paid workers; justice for Magdalene’s; more balanced gender representation in parliament and on boards; and campaigns around prostitution; we have to shout to have our voices heard. Yet as soon as a new controversial ad hits the airwave we’re called upon immediately to be the outraged feminist voice.

This is the situation for many non-governmental and charity organisation’s and don’t get me wrong, any publicity is good publicity. But occasionally one can’t help but feel disappointed that out of all the work we do, all the campaigns we initiate, the only time we get widespread media coverage is when journalists are seeking the voice of moral outrage.

It’s disappointing for anyone to be used as a pawn in someone else’s game, even more so as an organisation desperately trying to get attention for serious social justice issues. By being constantly associated with faux news items, the more in-depth research we do is overlooked and we end up being bound up in age old arguments we’ve repeated a hundred times before. As an organisation focussed on women’s rights we are not naïve in thinking that there won’t be occasions when we will be called on for comment about issues in popular culture, however when they start becoming the main thing we’re talking about, we get a bit tired of it.

So what’s the solution to this problem? At the moment women’s issues are seen as a side-show to the main event. When issues of inequality are raised they are often dismissed as being frivolous, philosophical discussions, which should only be referenced on a slow news day.

When women’s issues become societal issues the IFN, and other women’s organisations, will just be a voice in the discussion. We will be included on general discussions about economic, political and social issues without there having to be any particular event to force our inclusion. Instead, women’s perspectives will be asked for on all issues and our voices will be the voice of the people, rather than featured as if we’re the voice of a minority group. We’ll know we’ve come to this point when the first question in an interview isn’t something like “So, what do you think about naked women being used to sell washing detergent?”

This is not a whiny cry seeking sympathy for too much news coverage, but rather a statement on the inclusion of women’s groups in national discussions. We look forward to the day when instead of being viewed as the voice of feminist outrage, we can finally be one of many voices discussing how we can improve society across the board.


International Women’s Day

28 Feb

Im hoping to put up some speeches that I will be making over International Women’s Day week on gender quotas and Irish feminism from second wave to today.

In the meantime though it would be great to see you at our IWD gig, ‘Suffragette City’, which is on at 8pm on 8 March at the Mercantile Bar on Dame st in Dublin.

There are a number of great events going on for International Women’s Day. Probably the best resource for them is http://www.internationalwomensday.com/ which has listings of everything that’s going on all over the world.

Happy IWD and I hope to be back blogging soon!

Feminism in Modern Ireland: Part One

2 Dec

At the age of 22, having only been a self-proclaimed feminist for about 3 years, I feel a bit nervous about being the only speaker here to discuss the state of feminism in modern Ireland. However, I do hope I can give you some insight both into my own feminist perspective, that of the organisation I co-founded, and also the issues, as I see them, for both feminism and women in Ireland today.

I was brought up in a relatively feminist family. Both my Mum and Dad view themselves as feminist and aimed to raise their kids in the most gender neutral of ways. Neither my brother nor myself were forced to play with gendered toys, wear gendered clothes or behave in different ways. This method, however, worked far better on my brother than it did on me. I bucked the system, insisting on staying as cis-gendered as possible. I delighted in wearing dresses, the colour pink, playing with Barbies and pretending to be a fairy princess. My most prized possession was my baby born doll with whom I spent hours feeding, clothing and cooking for in my little toy kitchen. I loved pretending to iron and sweep, was jealous of my friend Melissa who’s cubby house had a clothes line on its front porch, and generally aimed to be everything that society tells little girls they should be. I was everything a feminist child should not have been! And yet, I still feel that I have ultimately always been a feminist.

I felt strongly, even then, that girls were capable of anything boys were. When I was in high school I began to get involved in music, later attending college to study it. Music is a mostly male dominated environment. The university I attended in America was only 30% female, a record of female representation only achieved in the last few years. I never doubted that my skills were any less than the boys in my class. And yet, I only truly came out as a feminist 3 years ago. Previous to that my fear of social derision and my apathy for the plight of other women prevented me from doing so. In my head, the stereotype of a bitter, angry, man-hating feminist was one I didn’t want to align myself with and I was too scared what other people would think of me if I began speaking out on women’s issues.

My ‘Road to Damascus’ feminist moment, though, occurred in a bookshop on Boston (where I was studying music) when I stumbled upon a book called ‘Full frontal feminism’ by a popular contemporary feminist called Jessica Valenti. In the book she outlines why feminism is a positive movement, designed to promote self-acceptance rather than self-hatred. She outlined the issues facing women, and there is not one man-hating line in it. You see, one thing Ive learned in my feminist journey is that the stereotypical feminist doesn’t exist. I have never, and don’t anticipate ever, meeting the woman that is so often associated with the feminist movement. It perplexes me how advocating for women’s rights automatically turns you into such a negative person. But it was this moment that made me realise this and I have been so much better for it.

The line in Valenti’s book that resonates with me most begins:

As different as we all are, there’s one thing most young women have in common: we’re all brought up to feel like there’s something wrong with us. We’re too fat. We’re dumb. We’re too smart. We’re not ladylike enough… We’re too slutty. We’re not slutty enough. Fuck that. You’re not too fat. You’re not too loud. You’re not too smart. You’re not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.’

This message resonated with me so much that within minutes I was a born again feminist. Previous to reading this statement I had suffered from a culturally afflicted feeling of profound inadequacy. Every day I woke up with a blanket of crippling self-doubt and anger towards both my body and mind for deficiencies I was told I had, either by people around me or the wider influences of media and politics. In the moment of reading this book, as hard as it may be to believe, I was reminded that not only was I not alone in feeling this way, but more importantly that there was an alternative. Even though every so often I still have to occasionally dismiss feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, I am far more geared for it than I used to be.

So, I suppose this is what I feel is most important issue for feminism in modern Ireland. The way that most women I know feel about themselves has eclipsed a sense of motivation for change. Many women feel that they are alone in their sense of dissatisfaction with their bodies or with the way they are treated, or if they do notice other women feeling the same way, they rationalise it as being something inevitable. The future of both feminism and women’s rights in Ireland depends on women and men recognising that our current treatment is not the way it is, should or has to be. But rather that even small changes in the way society operates could have a big impact on the state of gender equality in Ireland and abroad.

So it is here where I come to the Irish Feminist Network, where we stand and what we hope to do. Myself and 4 other women set up the IFN in May of this year, so we are still a very new organisation. We started the Network with the aim of encouraging more young women and men into the feminist movement, hoping to make feminism relevant to a new generation of people. We started with a desire to build a mainstream movement, not aligned with any specific political or religious organisation, which would focus purely on engaging young people. Our five aims are: reclaiming feminism, involving young women, engaging in education and awareness, building alliances with other NGO’s and charities working with women, increasing political representation and challenging media representation.

The IFN is built on a foundation of education and self-empowerment. We have no desire to go out and proselytize or force feminist philosophy down the throats of those who feel we shouldn’t exist. Instead we hope to capitalise on the positive side of feminism and hope that this approach will lead people to their own feminist consciousness. The IFN works on a kind of pyramid basis, where on the bottom we have regular social gatherings. Activities like our feminist book club and film club and our discussion series, Feminism in the Pub, is directed at encouraging discussion about feminist issues. These discussions are not limited to self-proclaimed feminists and we see that the future of feminism in Ireland is dependant on allowing people the freedom to choose when to identify themselves. We do not limit participants based on any personal choice, including that not to strictly be a ‘feminist’.

The second tier of the IFN structure involves lectures by guest speakers, workshop’s, debates and discussions around feminist issues. Through these we hope to engage people in a deeper feminist discussion, gaining insight from those who work on feminist issues and exist as strong women in public life. An important element of empowering women and encouraging women’s political and social involvement is by mentoring and role modeling a possible future, in particular for young women. The third and final tier of what the IFN does is in research, campaigns and publications. We hope to engage a slightly more academic audience with studies and research on contemporary women’s issues in Ireland. For example, we recently launched a campaign collecting qualitative data for a study of sexual harassment in the Irish workplace. We set up a blog called ‘You are not alone: the harassment monologues’ and have since been receiving stories from women about their personal experience of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Our second research task, which I am currently putting together at the moment, is a study of Irish women’s body image and body satisfaction, which we hope to present a paper on at the upcoming ‘Endangered Species’ conference on women’s body image in the UK.

As you can see, we recognise that feminism in modern Ireland will only survive if we take it from multiple different angles. It is not enough to protest in the streets anymore and nor is it enough to purely discuss feminist issues at social gatherings. In order to have the greatest impact we are dependent on tapping in to multiple sources of influence. This, we hope, will work on reviving a sense of social motivation that has waned over the last 20-30 years.

Feminism in Modern Ireland: Part Two

2 Dec

And so now onto feminism in modern Ireland as it stands in this very moment. In order to recognise why feminism is so important in contemporary Ireland, I will outline a couple of the issues that are still facing women here.

Firstly, as you are a politically engaged audience, we should look at the appalling lack of female representation in Irish politics. It is beyond reproach that women still only make up less than 14% of the Dail, with this figure rapidly declining. Without political representation women end up lacking a say in issues that affect them perhaps more so than their male counterparts. Women’s absence from public life means that basic issues women face everyday are overlooked and overwhelmed because these are issues that white, middle class, older men have little time or understanding of. Furthermore, beyond being underrepresented in the Dail, women also only make up only 17% of council seats and 12% of positions in regional authorities. Women are invisible on every level of social governance, with their voices not only being absent from discussion, but in many cases silenced. Politics ought to represent and reflect the society it serves. Respect for women’s input and women’s existence in the political debate is profoundly lacking in this country and without swift and efficient change, we could see this pattern of political exclusion continue for the next 300 years.

Another different, and yet equally important issue is that of violence against women. One in five women in Ireland report being sexually assaulted as adults. This means that in this audience, there are a handful of women who have had to bear the burden of sexual assault both on their mind and on their bodies. This figure is unacceptable and yet has become a normalized reality for women in modern Ireland. Furthermore, 1 in 5 women in Ireland have been abused by a current or former partner. 1 in 7 women in Ireland, compared to 1 in 17 men, experience severe domestic violence. Women are over twice as likely as men to have experience severe physical abuse, seven times more likely to have experience sexual abuse and are far more likely to experience serious injuries from such violence as men. The high incidence of things like pornography and normalized sexual harassment against women heighten the vulnerability of women to this treatment and also leave many women feeling unable to report assault or violence against them.

In the work that we do with the Irish Feminist Network we come into contact with a number of organisations working to combat violence against women.Though the statistics I mentioned previously may shock you, what might shock you more is the 100% increase in violence against women that has begun over the last few years in Ireland. One woman I was speaking to who works at a domestic violence shelter in Galway has not only had a 100% increase in demand for their services in the last year, but has also had a 17% slash in their budget. This means that though our society is getting more and more violent towards women, we are getting less and less interested in these women’s welfare. It is here where once again women are disadvantaged by not having their voices heard on a political level.

Finally the last issue I will discuss with regard to women in Ireland is women and the workplace. Beyond it being very difficult for women to sustain both their family and work lives (with women ultimately bearing the burden of both primary care, cooking, cleaning and then full time work) women are also profoundly disadvantaged from a financial and representational perspective.

Firstly, women are at a much higher risk of poverty, particularly those over the age of 65. Women earn on average 8% percent less than their male counterparts for exactly the same work. These are women who hold equal qualifications to men, have the same job characteristics and are equally experienced in their job. So, women in this audience, though you may have done well on your leaving cert, be topping the class here at Maynooth, you can almost be guaranteed that your work will be valued less than the man who is sitting beside you. Furthermore the burden of childcare will most likely fall squarely on you and the lack of affordable childcare serves as one of the greatest barriers to women’s full participation in the workplace.

So this is the dire state of affairs for women in Ireland. Though it is far easier to look at other less developed countries and pat ourselves on the back for having some level of progressive legislation with regard to women’s rights, it is clear to see that out respect for gender equality goes out the window when it comes down to the true nitty gritty aspects of everyday life. So, where does feminism come into this? Feminism for me is really a way of life. It’s the reason I am able to get out of bed in the morning, even carrying this heavy burden of statistics and doom and gloom, feminism offers an alternative to this current situation in which women are valued for everything that they are.

When I was a child growing up in Australia in the 90’s there was this huge stranger danger campaign in which they warned children of dangerous individuals who may like to take advantage of them. The government set up a neighbourhood watch program in which people were vetted by social welfare and subsequently allowed to place a sticker on their front door which indicated they were a safe house, should a child feel vulnerable. We all knew that if we were feeling like we were not safe on our walk home from school or if we felt threatened in any way, we could knock on one of these doors and the people inside would be welcoming and provide safety for us.

I know it may sound a bit strange, but in my labeling myself as a feminist, I see myself as one of the people with the stickers on their door. My main aim is to provide a safe environment for women to feel valued and cared about and to allow them to recognise that I am an ally in the fight for women to be treated equally. Feminism for me is not a negative movement, I hold no hatred towards all men (I have a dad, brother and boyfriend, all of whom I love very much) and I am not bitter about the inequality I see in everyday life. I am, however, convinced that this current state of affairs in which women are constantly devalued in every aspect of life is not inevitable. Feminism in modern Ireland is very real and very active and very relevant.

Furthermore, the IFN is by no means the only feminist organisation in Dublin or Ireland and are limited by what we can achieve both from a financial and also time perspective. It is profoundly important for us to be working with other feminist organisations, particularly those working in direct contact with vulnerable groups of women. These organisations include Women’s Aid, the Rape Crisis Centres across Ireland, Ruhama, Akidwa and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

So, to end Id like to focus on what you can do. The first step is being here tonight. The fact that you bothered to come along to a discussion on feminism indicates some level of interest, which is to be commended and encouraged. Being a political audience you would recognise that change occurs through leadership and through challenging the status quo. Though you don’t have to identify yourself as feminist I urge you to identify yourself as someone who values women and who recognises their continuous and unending struggle for social and political equality. Join feminist organisations like the IFN or the National Women’s Council of Ireland, volunteer with organisations like Women’s Aid or Ruhama. Speak up when you think women are being disrespected whether it be in the workplace or at a party when someone thinks its funny to make a rape joke. Remember, you never deserved to be raped. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing or how drunk you were it’s still assault and it’s still a criminal violation.

Finally, if nothing else, for the women in the audience I urge you to value yourself, both body and mind. Young women in particular are encouraged to be so down on themselves that this cripples their ability to contribute everything they are capable of. Don’t diet, wear what you want to wear, get politically active, vote, call yourself a feminist and feel free to identify yourself as the strong, capable individual you are. The most feminist thing you can do is value your own voice and everything that you have to contribute to this country.

For the men in the audience, your role is equally as important in the feminist movement as women’s. As an individual you have the capacity to break down stereotypes of men in which they are painted as having little or no control over their faculties. Speak out against violence against women, allow women to speak when they have something to say, work to build women’s self esteem and don’t take pleasure in their insecurity. Your actions in the struggle for women’s equality will not only improve the lives of women around you but ultimately provide a society that works better for you in the long term as well.

This may all sound very motivational speakery and perhaps it is. But I suppose what Im trying to say is, be the change you want to see in the world. Individuals have the power to enact great change, you just have to be courageous enough to take the first step. To end, Ill quote something which was originally published by an unknown author in 1987 in which they said:

Because women’s work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious
and we’re the first to get fired
and what we look like is more important than what we do
and if we get raped it’s our fault
and if we get beaten we must have provoked it
and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches
and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos
and if we don’t we’re frigid
and if we love women it’s because we can’t get a “real” man
and if we ask our doctor too many questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy
and if we expect childcare we’re selfish
and if we stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and “unfeminine”
and if we don’t we’re typical weak females
and if we want to get married we’re out to trap a man
and if we don’t we’re unnatural
and because we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive
but men can walk on the moon
and if we can’t cope or don’t want a pregnancy we’re made to feel guilty about abortion and…
for lots of other reasons
we are part of the women’s liberation movement.”

Gender inequality a thing of the past?: That so ain’t right

29 Oct

What’s the worst thing you can possibly call a woman? Words that come to my mind include slut, whore, bitch, slag. Now think about the worst things you can call a guy; names like fag, girl, bitch, pussy or cunt. Do you notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. By its very nature, this discrepancy in language illustrates gender inequality.

If you think about it, there are so many of these instances, both linguistic and social, where women come out worse than men. Here are a couple of examples to get you thinking:

  • A guy who sleeps around is affectionately titled a legend, a hero, a player. However, a girl who has multiple sexual partners is known as a slut or a skanky ho.
  • When a guy turns up at a girl’s doorstop unexpectedly, he’s romantic. However, if a girl does anything too unexpected, she’s a stalker, crazy or desperate.
  • When a man is upset, he has a right to be, he’s angry. But if a girl has a bad day, she’s just hormonal, irrational or PMS’ing.

So often women are treated unequally purely by virtue of their birth. The first question asked after a baby is born is whether it is a boy or a girl. The answer remains of crucial importance throughout the child’s later life with gender differences determining so much of their human identity and social relationships. Politically motivated assumptions about what women should and will be create a social hierarchy where women’s biology is more often a handicap rather than an asset. But the inequalities that women face in contemporary society are not limited to language used to describe them, or assumptions about their personality traits. Women are also profoundly unequal in tangible and unmistakable ways that affect every aspect of their daily life. Such inequalities revolve around two central categories. The first is in positions or situations where men are highly represented often in instances where power, prestige and financially lucrative positions are many. The second category is where women are highly represented but often in situations that include low paid work, lack of power and sexual or domestic violence. Each component contributes to a gender inequality that has permeated the society we live in. However, where in one category women are excluded and need greater representation. In the other, men are not excluded and their lack of representation is one resulting out of privilege, rather than discrimination. Women still remain the people who are over represented in domestic violence shelters but under-represented in the board room.

We can only say inequality is a thing of the past when equality exists in the present. Even if you refuse to believe that sexism, misogyny or gender discrimination still exist, I challenge you to argue that women comprising only 13% of politicians in the Dail is equal. Like, really, if I were to give you 13euro and your friend 87 euro, would that be equal? If you say yes, I seriously don’t know how you passed the Leaving Cert. The best way I can communicate to you the seriousness of the inequality between men and women in Ireland is by reading statistics, as maths always makes things that little bit more real. With regard to the first category, it is plain to see that men are in the overwhelming majority across all positions of power in Ireland. As I mentioned before, women now make up 13% of the Dail, 17% of council seats and 12% of regional positions. . Only 30% of managerial positions in Ireland are taken by women and Ireland has never nominated a woman to represent them at the European Commission. Finally, women in Ireland earn 17% less than men for the exact same work. This means that for all the young women in this audience, in the next couple of years when you’re looking for a job, you are almost guaranteed that the men here, with exactly the same qualifications, will automatically receive more money than you, purely because they’re male. Whatever the reasons the opposition may use to justify these statistics, the reality is that women continue to be treated unequally to men in Ireland.

Looking at the second component I mentioned earlier, women are over represented in situations that involve violence. One in five Irish women report being sexually assaulted as adults, this is over double the amount than men. Meanwhile 1 in 7 women in Ireland experience severe domestic violence, are twice as likely to experience severe physical abuse and seven times more likely than men to experience sexual abuse. That means that in this room, it is almost guaranteed that some of the women here have experienced either sexual or physical violence. This is beyond the realm of debate and is such a horrific discrepancy that discussion over whether inequality exists in Ireland becomes immediately redundant.

I need to make the point however that this last collection of statistics is not an instance I wish men to be equal to women. It would be no more acceptable that men be subjected to such appalling lack of respect for their bodies as it is for women. Just as in the first instance women need to be equal to men in order to have any influence over the trajectory of their political and economic existence, women should also be equal to men by having less to fear when going out alone. Women should be able to say no and it mean no and have the power, both financially and socially, to leave abusive relationships.

Statistics mentioned here are also not unique to Ireland. A valid and critical component of this debate is gender inequality that exists in developing countries. Instances like female infanticide in China and India, sexual subjugation in Morocco and access to education for women in Afghanistan are but a few examples. Women’s right to travel is highly restricted in Egypt, Bahrain and Syria and in Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to drive. Women are unequal to men across the world, so whether or not you choose to acknowledge the gender inequality in Ireland, take the word of thousands of researchers that it definitely exists elsewhere.

Finally, gender inequality is not limited to women. The inequality that exists between men and women in Ireland affects men almost as much as it does women. Men’s role as the dominant and forceful influence on society encourages environments in which men do not have the ability to choose their own identity. Instead they are forced into macho, aggressive stereotypes that constrain their own freedom of expression. The pressure to be the main breadwinner leaves men with an inability to play the primary caregiver role with regard to parenting. Furthermore, men are encouraged to be sexually single-minded and are often displayed as having no control over their hormones. I don’t know about you, but I like to think men are more than sex-crazed, aggressive and emotionally crippled.

Gender inequality is not a thing of the past. The concept is actually impossible to argue, as in order to do so you must deny reality. For, whatever the reasons you may use to justify the inequalities that exist for women, the discrepancy in figures still exists. To end I would like to paraphrase a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest critics of gender inequality, who said “I do not wish [women] to have power over men, but [rather, I wish women to have power] over themselves.”

Debating porn: Round 2

11 Oct

This time the debate was at DCU. The convenors were good, the crowd was good and, the most important thing, this time we won!

Here is my speech (I should warn you now, it is quite graphic in some parts so prepare yourself!):

The motion: Porn Degrades Women

This is a question for all you porn users in the audience: In pornography, how often do you see a man crying, choking or saying that it hurts? When was the last time you saw a man in mainstream porn willingly and enthusiastically penetrate one, or multiple orifices, with a foreign object?

Think about it. If we’re really honest, all of us would recognise that the most degrading scenes in pornography are those featuring women.

To get things straight Id like to define exactly what I mean by pornography. When I say pornography, I mean the overwhelming majority of what is produced. The porn industry is one that is predominantly driven by men, funded by men, managed by men, directed by men and targeted at heterosexual men. We could talk about every subsection of porn in explicit detail, but ultimately we have to talk about what is most prolific and what an overwhelming majority of porn is. There are exceptions to every rule and the opposition will undoubtedly depend on them to boost its argument, but the vast majority of porn does, without question, degrade women.

In the porn world, female porn characters are astonishingly immune to what women in the real world would define as utter degradation. Porn women delight in being called whores, sluts, bitches or stupid hoes. They seem totally cool with the idea that their partner views their sexuality as something unclean; filthy, dirty or nasty, often even referring to themselves in this way.

In fact, women of the porn world seem to thoroughly enjoy having sex with men who express nothing but contempt and hatred for them. The greater the insults, the better the orgasm for all involved. Porn simplifies the world by creating a one-dimensional woman who is prominently displayed as nothing more than a collection of holes.

Most avid consumers of pornography would recognise the type of woman I’m describing as standard fodder, but may say that when they watch porn they don’t see this as degradation. They may attempt to justify porn by saying that there’s no cruelty in being penetrated in aggressive fashion by three men who call the woman a whore throughout sex. That when two men thrust into a woman’s mouth to the point where she gags and finish by ejaculating into her mouth demanding that ‘the bitch’ swallows it all, there’s no degradation.

In some sense, perhaps they are telling the truth, in that they can’t see the degradation because they are too caught up in the sexual arousal, and in such a state their critical faculties are distracted. They don’t see it because they are ultimately focused on their own pleasure. That to see the woman as a person deserving of respect, to see her as fully human, would interfere with their sexual pleasure.

The first and foremost way pornographers get men, and some women, to buy into porn is by depicting and describing women as sex objects who are deserving, evening desiring, of sexual abuse. In porn, sex is framed not just as consensual but as something the woman seeks out because she just loves all kinds of sex. This is a prime method for lessening any guilt the user may feel, as he can reassure himself that she likes it and is not being hurt.

Many porn viewers like to justify enjoying porn by employing the ‘choice’ argument. When asked whether they would like to see their wives, girlfriends, sisters or daughters featured in a three way, being penetrated in every orifice, it is a very rare person who would say yes.

Instead the likely response will be that their loved ones would never ‘choose’ such a job. The image many men and some women seem to have of female porn stars is that of dreaming of a life in the sex industry, stumbling onto a porn set one day and realizing that all her dreams have come true! That these women are ACTORS and may not have come to porn through choice, but due to lack of alternatives is rarely considered, because this premise threatens to puncture their sexual fantasy world.

To use a relevant example I shall refer to a model from Blue magazine, the publication one of the other speakers works for. In a television interview on Ireland AM, Maggie Page from Blue magazine, when asked why she decided to pose naked responded:

“Because modeling is something I’ve always been interested in since I was 16/17 years old” however” A lot of people wouldn’t take me on as a mainstream model because of the fact that I have tattoos and piercings” and so, she continues, adult entertainment was an arena that would accept her body as it is.

Maggie is not an unusual case when it comes to why women go into adult entertainment. Many women involved in pornography have reported similar aspirations of modeling or acting and found that their looks or their personalities were not accepted by the mainstream. It is a rare, and very well paid, porn star who will tell you that their reason for going into pornography was because they just adored never ending sex with strangers. A substantial majority of porn actresses will testify that the main incentive was the money. This is a reason Blue magazine also references in their press release which states that many volunteer because ‘they like the extra cash’.

So where is the choice in a situation where the main incentive is not to be used as a sex object, but to gain access to something that is not available through other avenues. When women are forced to conform to narrow stereotypes of beauty in order to go into modeling or acting and where they are paid less then their male counterparts for almost every other job, how much of that is purely free choice? When women have equal pay, equal rights and equal treatment in society, it would be interesting to see how many actively seek a life in porn.

A common argument utilised in justifying brutality and violence against women in pornography is that it does not affect real life. This is just fantasy, that men are able to distinguish real women from the ones they see in pornography. But, unfortunately this is not true. It seems that many men, particularly men of my age, have great difficulty distinguishing between porn sex and real sex. Almost all of my friends have at one time had a man pull a porn move on them without discussion or consent. Women I know have been slapped, bitten, pinched, had men wrap their hands around their throats or attempts to induce choking through other means. These are not violent guys, and they are not at a BDSM convention. With the average age of first exposure to Internet porn being 11, these are boys whose first image of sex was most likely watching porn, a medium, which identifies women as living sex dolls available for any kind of violence or degradation.

Finally, I must emphasise that I am in absolutely no way anti-sex. To say that by objecting to porn I am automatically pro-censorship, anti sex or anti freedom of sexual expression is a tired and untrue stereotype used to silence those who think of porn as a negative force in our society. Think of it this way, if I were to stand here and criticise McDonalds for its exploitative labour practices and its impact on our diet and health, would it be right to accuse me of being anti-food or anti-eating? I would hope that most people have the ability to differentiate between criticism of an industry and criticism of human behaviour.

My main message is that women are women. We can pretend that women in pornography and women on the street are different, but unfortunately that distinction seems too unclear for most men. To say that women on the receiving end of some of the pornographic behaviour I have referenced are not being degraded, is to be willfully ignoring what you see. You can justify it whatever way you want, but crying and choking or even just glazed eyes and fake orgasms are all turn offs for me and I hope the next time you watch porn, they are for you too.

Because, while you continue happily consuming the pornography that is being mass produced at the moment, the cycle of violence and degradation of women in porn will never be broken.


(I should add that some of these concepts were thought up by other people. I don’t claim credit for the McDonalds analogy, for example, that can be found in a really good book called ‘Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Culture’ by Gail Dines)

Taking it to the streets

7 Oct

When we took to the streets last Friday, I can tell you we had no idea what to expect. Neither Amanda nor I are the outgoing types, happy to accost people on the street about controversial subjects. Adding to this was our anxiety about representing a Feminist Network and what implications that would have on whether anyone would talk to us. However, thankfully, the glamour of being filmed and the potential to become a youtube superstar was enough for people to cast aside their unease about two young women asking questions about feminism leaving just enough time to capture their thoughts on tape.

Many laughed and scoffed about feminism before being filmed, but became suddenly serious when in front of the camera. Some people who told us flat out how much they disliked the feminist movement in off-camera conversations were then the ones to answer ‘yes’ to the million dollar ‘are you a feminist?’ question. But the two most interesting discoveries relate to what our vox pop participants knew, and it is here where we can begin with what I feel the Irish Feminist Network is all about.

Though many people identified in one way or another with feminist ideals, most found the concept of feminism difficult to define. Many answered an enthusiastic ‘yes’, ‘kind of’ or ‘im not sure’ to being feminist but then, when asked to describe what feminism meant to them, many participants became a bit bewildered. The second interesting part of the project, and something you would notice when watching it, was that very few people could think of any famous Irish women from history. The two most common responses were Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, and, I don’t know about you, but as far as Im concerned, as great as those two women are, they are hardly ‘history’. We found that in going out on the streets to discuss feminism, the hostility we expected was lost in a sea of miseducation and confusion. Very few people were vehemently anti-feminist, most just didn’t know what it was. And so it is here where I hope the IFN can step in.

The way I see it, the IFN is not an organisation aimed at ‘converting’ people to feminism. One cannot force a belief system on anyone, no matter how much one may at times like to. My aim is rather to make people have an opinion, even if it doesn’t align with my own opinion (though I’d like if it did!), Id just rather they have it. So, my hope with the IFN is that it provides an opportunity to learn about gender equality issues and concerns and to participate in events and discussions. I hope that through this process, people will gain a greater understanding about the complexities of feminism and also just learn about the fantastic contribution women have made to this country, and continue to make. Hopefully then they might, of their own accord, realise the relevance of feminism to their lives and to contemporary Irish society, but it would be their choice and their knowledge that leads them to this conclusion.

So, the vox pop gives a good insight but also a benchmark. With the launch and promising positive response of the over 900 women and men interested in the IFN, I hope that the next time Amanda and I go out on the streets, we might be even more pleasantly surprised by what we find.