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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.

Debating porn: where overactive hormones meet freedom of expression 2

29 Sep

My speech to the rowdy youngsters:

I’d like to begin by reciting you the lyrics of a song many of you will be familiar with:

“She’s nothing like the girl you’ve ever seen before, Nothing you can compare to your neighbourhood whore, I’m tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful”

Well, at least he’s trying his best. Though I’m not sure how I’d feel if I were the neighbourhood whore. As the song reaches the chorus the male singer finally lands on a term he feels is respectful enough to the female he is trying to woo. “Damn you’s a sexy bitch, a sexy bitch,” he sings.

The fact that the protagonist in this love song has searched the English language trying to find a respectful term and ultimately, out of all the possible alternatives he has to choose from, decides to call her a ‘sexy bitch’ is central to my perspective in debating porn, pleasure and pain.

The attitude exhibited in David Guetta and Akon’s song, inspiringly titled ‘Sexy Bitch’ shows the level to which pornography has permeated our society, moving from the margins into the limelight. This song that is played on daytime radio, performed at music award ceremonies and generally accepted as a catchy pop tune illustrates a concerning development where language previously contained within pornographic discourse has entered mainstream. Where the fantasy of attracting a woman by degrading and insulting her has consumed popular culture. For the record, no woman I know would be endeared to any stranger who called her a bitch, affectionately or otherwise.

As the line between pornography and real life begins to blur, so too do our expectations for what is and isn’t appropriate sexual behaviour, what’s real and what’s fantasy. Pornography so rarely exhibits reality, in particular the reality of a variety of women’s sexual expectations and desires. Rather than creating a film where the synopsis reads like a realistic sexual encounter, the narrative is more likely to cast women in stereotyped, narrow and predictable roles. If the woman is not a teenager, she is a secretary, a nurse, a schoolgirl, pregnant or a housewife. She is very rarely a doctor, CEO or successful businesswoman. The role of the female character in pornography is almost entirely a subordinate one and rarely exhibits her own desire, most often being an object for her male partner to do with what he wants. Furthermore, women must either embody the virgin role, innocent and subdued, or the dirty whore in need of re-education. There is no middle ground.

The expectation on women to either be, as one Australian feminist coined, ‘Damned whores or God’s Police’ is one that has been going on in feminist circles for decades. In porn, more often than in life, this expectation is magnified. Herein lies a particularly negative side of porn. The narrow view of women propagated by pornography has had hugely damaging consequences on women whose feelings of physical inadequacy are leading them to sign up for genital surgery to make themselves look more like the women they see in pornography. Furthermore, men are disadvantaged by a life in which their self-esteem has grown intrinsically entwined with sexual performance, where not only does sex become almost the only means through which many men can feel intimate and close, but also the way in which they find validation. But sex itself, of course, cannot possibly satisfy such demands.

It is this unfortunate situation that porn has openly exploited. For in pornography, unlike in real life, there is no criticism, real or imagined, of male performance. Women are always, in the words of the average porn site, “hot and ready”, eager to please. In real life, by contrast, sex is not so straightforward. However, with the convergence of porn and pop culture, this dichotomy is becoming more and more difficult to discern

One male writer on pornography states, “The illusion is created that women are really in their rightful place and that there is, after all, no real and serious challenge to male authority.” Seen in this light, the blatantly ridiculous typical porn scenario of the pretty hitch-hiker, nurse or secretary who is happy to let herself be gang-banged by a group of overweight, hairy-shouldered couch potatoes makes perfect psychological sense to the porn consumer.

Hardcore porn is an industry predominantly driven by men, funded by men, managed by men, directed by men and targeted at men. Hardcore porn tends to have one worldview, stating this is the way sex is and should be. And while previously porn was difficult to access, embarrassing to admit to watching and clandestinely circulated by magazines after school, today’s porn consumers access to pornography has never been easier, and its users never younger.

With the advent of the Internet………….. porn has become so easy to access that one can accidentally stumble upon seriously hardcore porn without meaning to. In an internet search for ‘porn, virgin, whore’ that I did when researching for this debate, I was directed on the first page to a website called rapescan.com which openly advertises its rape fantasy films including the titles “virgin girl brutally gang raped”. “Hot blonde teenager drugged and raped”, “sexy whore assaulted by two bastards”. This page is not just available to me as a 22 year old actively seeking information on the painful side of porn, but also to far more vulnerable characters in our society. In particular children are becoming more and more exposed to pornographic imagery, with the average age of first exposure to porn being 11 years old. Kids have also been subtly engaged in curiosity about pornography whether through music video clips or television programs with explicit sexual content. Perhaps the most disturbing thing I found in my research is that the fourth most popular search term for 7 year olds, after facebook, YouTube and Google, is porn.

This is where fantasy meets reality. Where pornography is no longer just about satisfying adult sexual desire, but where children are seeking education from something that is so damagingly misleading.

We currently live in a culture of Puritanism and double standards, where people believe abstinence-only programs will extinguish teenage pregnancies and rising rates of STD’s, where parents are too embarrassed or afraid to discuss sex with their kids, and where high schools and colleges are vilified if they decide to introduce comprehensive sex education programs. Hardcore porn has become by default the sex education of today.

Ultimately this is my greatest concern and perhaps the most compelling argument against pornography. As a feminist woman who has seen first hand the pervasive influence of porn on contemporary society, I can say that indeed pornography has the capacity to cause far more pain than pleasure. However, in saying this I am not trying to deny the importance of sexuality and sex and also recognise that all attempts to stifle human sexuality have thus far failed. Furthermore, I could not say that all depictions of sex are negative; erotica as distinct from pornography can in many ways stimulates sexual imagination, and more often promotes both sex and love where pornography enforces domination and control. Sex ought to be interactive, not a one man show.

I do not believe that my musings on the more detrimental aspects of porn will convince those of you who regularly watch porn to switch off your computers and throw away your magazines. However, as the new generation of politically active members of society, I would encourage you to move away from blending fantasy and reality.

The reality, I can undoubtedly tell you, is that you will have great difficulty finding the female porn character in real life. Trying to turn a real woman into a porn star, or trying to turn yourself into one, will most definitely cause you more pain than pleasure.

Finally I will leave you with a message from a prominent feminist that I hope will influence your behaviour next time you have the desire to reenact a fantasy you viewed online. Remember, ‘make love, not porn’
Thank you

Debating porn: overactive hormones meet freedom of expression

29 Sep

One must only enter through the gates of a University during Fresher’s week to realise that sexism in Ireland is alive and well. Where young women advertise a local business with slogans like “ask to see our bits” emblazoned across their chest and posters for ‘pimps and hoes’ parties line the walls, the University atmosphere successfully reproduces an adolescent boy’s teenage fantasy in real time. The UCD Historical and Literary Society debate on pornography was no exception to such an overt display of laddish culture, where overactive hormones met freedom of expression, as 2 teams debated the motion that “This house believes porn causes more pain than pleasure”.

The night began with a show of hands as to how many people watched pornography. Amid the hoots and macho roars of the mostly male audience, almost every person raised their hand. It was at this time that I realised I was on the losing side. In support of the motion that porn causes more pain than pleasure, I was accompanied by Prof. Linda Connolly from UCC and two male students from the Society. The other side comprised of one guest speaker, a male journalist from Ireland’s one and only porn magazine, and three male students. A female porn star was originally recruited to argue for the opposition but called in sick at the last minute. The disappointment at her absence was keenly felt by many audience members who had obtained tickets to the event particularly to see her.

As the debate began, Linda and I were immediately labelled ‘the feminists’ by the opposition. The only 2 women out of 8 speakers and both self-identified feminists, we were pigeonholed into an unflattering stereotype that we tried, unsuccessfully, to counter. The anti-sex, humourless feminist is a character I am familiar with, but not one I wish to portray. With a distinct lack of female representation, and both women on the ‘anti-porn’ side, the debate lacked a balanced perspective with the overarching theme emerging that pornography exists to allow boys to be boys. On the pleasure side of porn, the students argued that porn serves as an education, a release and a right of passage. On the pain side, the negative effects on women, cultural implications and dark underbelly of the porn industry were exposed. Points of information covered a number of topics including the question ‘what’s wrong with sexualising children?’. Needless to say, my team did not win.

Though I did not expect the debate to be academic or serious, and even though I risk identifying myself as the ‘humorless feminist’ yet again, I found the whole night overwhelmingly depressing. Cocooned in a feminist bubble for the last year, the naked display of machismo was unsettling to say the least. I found myself rolling my eyes and clicking my tongue when the boys in the audience applauded at innuendo. I resented being set apart from the girls who accused ‘the feminists’ of trying to say that women didn’t, or shouldn’t, like sex or watch pornography. Finally I hated the fact that, though we were debating whether porn causes more pain than pleasure, the argument degenerated into a censorship debate on which I found myself unwittingly arguing on the ultra-conservative side accused by the opposition of wanting to ban all pornography (though we never suggested that as a solution).

At the age of 22, I felt upset at how distant I was from kids who are only a couple of years younger than myself. The event took me back to a time when I was like some of the people in the audience, desperately trying to fit in with a crowd so at odds with my own world-view. It reminded me of the rape jokes told by acquaintances, the 1-10 ratings the boys gave the girls on my course and nights where my friends and I would participate in heavy drinking games, just to show the boys we could. I was sad to see that things haven’t changed and, though I have moved on, the university culture may have even regressed.

It’s sometimes easy as a feminist moving in liberal circles to forget what we’re fighting for. However, I can personally recommend that an hour at a fresher’s week debate will successfully serve as a swift and lasting reminder; not for the faint of heart!

‘What I gotta say is rebel…’

3 Jul

After listening to the album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ ad nauseam for the past 6 years or so, it only just occurred to me to see if Lauryn Hill had recorded anything else since. I was delighted to find that she has in fact recorded one other album, an MTV unplugged live recording released in 2002. Though not as polished as her first album, this one holds a raw energy that illustrates Hill’s talent, a talent that is able to transcend the three chords on the guitar she is playing and relay some important messages. Though preachy and zealously religious at times, Hill is undeniably a deep thinker and someone who has wise words to impart.

So, you may be wondering why Im reviewing a Lauryn Hill album on a feminist blog. Well, it was this album that provided the inspiration for this post. Throughout the concert Hill constantly reiterates the importance of staying true to ones own identity and furthermore notes the importance of having a social conscience. At one point she says:

“Fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need and Ive just retired from the fantasy part ”

This is one of the most profound things she says in the entire concert. In order to excuse oneself from having to act on social injustice, it is often easier to live in fantasy. Many men and women would prefer to congratulate themselves on achieving gender equality, relying on fantastical interpretations of the world we live in. However, I feel its profoundly important to remain true to reality, particularly in regard to women’s liberation. So to illustrate my devotion to the reality of gender inequality in Ireland, here are a few facts, real facts, because nothing gets done when people live in fantasy.

In the words of Lauryn Hill, “let me break it down for you my friend”:

  • One in five women in Ireland report being sexually assaulted as adults.
  • 18% of Irish women who have been involved in intimate relationships with men, 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 experienced severe physical abuse, seven times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, and are more likely to experience serious injuries than men.
  • Women still do not have full reproductive rights. Abortion is still not allowed to be legally performed in Ireland.
  • Men dominate Irish politics, taking up 86% of the seats in the Dail.
  • Irish women earn on average 17.4% less than men for every hour worked.
  • Women in Ireland have a harder time making it to managerial positions. Only 30% of managerial positions are taken by women, lower than the EU average.
  • Women are at higher risk of living in poverty, particularly those over the age of 65. 21% of women over the age of 65 are at risk of poverty, compared to 16% of men.
  • Ireland has never nominated a woman to represent the country in the European Commission.
  • Women only make up a third of the posts on state boards in Ireland, 17pc of council seats and 12pc of positions on regional authorities.

And this is only in Ireland! For stats and information about global women’s inequality check out the site for the new UN women’s organisation: http://www.unwomen.org/facts-figures/

So to end on a Lauryn Hill quote: “Where we gonna go now? What we gonna say now?”. Time to face reality.

Lessons from a night on the town…

2 Jul

Last night, when I went to the pub, I had a couple of revelations and I felt that I ought to share at them with you as they relate (like everything in life) to feminism. As a very occasional drinker (Im talking like 1 glass of wine every six months) I am often the only sober person on a night out. I don’t really have a problem with other people drinking, in fact its sometimes nice when other people are a bit drunk, as they can become more sociable. It’s just that I, myself, have a number of reasons to steer clear.

Hanging out with a bunch of drunken musicians, I had a moment to reflect on the situation I found myself in and came up with what I think is a brilliant analogy.  I realised that being a feminist in contemporary society is similar to being a sober person in a room full of drinkers. Being sober you are conscious of everything going on around you, from the guy who thinks he’s subtly coming on to you to the woman who is being coerced into going home with a stranger. Though often times you can have just as much fun when you’re not drunk, sometimes it does get you down that everyone around you has stopped articulating words or making full sentences. It becomes particularly uncomfortable when people do anti-social things or you see others, particularly women, finding themselves in vulnerable situations and there’s nothing you can do.

In identifying yourself as a feminist you automatically become the sober person in the bar at midnight. You are still very capable of operating normally in society, having fun and participating, sometimes more fully, in every aspect of daily life. However you are always alert. You notice when things are not right, when someone makes a sexist slur or there’s a story in the newspaper about a subject particularly relevant to women’s rights. As a feminist you can still enjoy yourself but you have a heightened awareness, its difficult to have the same reckless abandonment that you may have if you didn’t think deeply about social injustice.

The feminist is the sober person in the pub who is often frustratingly aware of all that is going on around her. So, though I don’t mind alcohol in some situations, it is in this analogical instance where I take issue with the drinkers. I really don’t think its fair that feminists to have to constantly play the moral police, or for women to have to be on constant alert purely because of their gender. And, unlike being the sober person in the pub, the feminist can never just leave and go home. Being a feminist in a patriarchal society is a 24/7 experience and that’s what makes it so disheartening and exhausting at times.

The second thing I noticed on my night out is how alcohol serves as a perfect amplification of sexist tendencies. Not only does it bring out a sometimes nasty, sometimes affable character in the person who has consumed it, it also does away with inhibition. Some think everyone should be free to speak whatever is on their mind, however I would prefer people abide by some form of societally encouraged behaviour. This includes political correctness, restraint and diplomacy. This does not include sexist jokes, lingering unwanted body contact or drunken lectures. Unfortunately for me, last night was a whole lot of the latter and not so much of the former. Now, one can’t blame alcohol for assholes. However, just like religion, alcohol provides a cover for people to do ass-holic things with a fair amount of impunity.

On my night out I was followed around by a man double my age who insisted on lecturing me about how to live my life. It wasn’t enough for him to keep putting his hand on my waist or say inappropriate things trying to make me blush, no no no, he then had to tell me how to live. Now you can’t have it all Im afraid, you either want to pretend you’re my age to try and lure me home with you OR you can try and be the parental figure. But the two will never, and should never, mix. This lethal combination of condescension and objectification is a common mix for relations between men and women but is forcefully displayed, in all its glory, on a night out.

So, on my night out I was ever so privileged to view our society through a magnifying glass. The soberest person in the pub AND the woman who ‘needed minding’ were two roles I played last night and I didnt enjoy either of them very much. It’s one thing to be fighting for women’s rights with other like minded people but its a totally different thing experiencing the issues in real life. Last night made me further determined to try and eliminate gender inequality. If nothing else, Ill be grateful when the day comes that alcohol isn’t served with a side of patronising objectification.