With the current international media focus on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and the accusations of sexual abuse made against him by 3 women, it is time to remind ourselves again of our obligation as feminists to step outside of party political agendas, wherever abuse occurs, and to offer our support to women survivors of all political stripes.
Máiría Cahill is a survivor, and we believe her.
In recent years our understanding of violence against women, such as sexual abuse and intimate partner violence (IPV), has expanded to include the concept of coercive control. Legislation that reflects this key dynamic in these abusive circumstances has been in force in Great Britain since 2015 but has been stalled in Northern Ireland due to the collapse of the Executive. Even in cases of sexual assault and rape where there is no intimate relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, it has long been understood that these crimes are primarily about control and an abuse of power.
When you consider then the community dynamics present here throughout the conflict and beyond into the ‘post-agreement’ era, issues of power and control take on a huge significance through the presence of political, state, paramilitary and social movement organisations that bore high levels of influence within communities and families. Ground-breaking research in 1992 undertaken by Monica McWilliams and colleagues at the University of Ulster looked in depth at the ways that violence against women has been shaped due to ‘the Troubles’. A recently updated version of the research was published just last week making comparisons between the data gathered in 1992 and data collected in 2016.
The 1992 study detailed how ‘membership of paramilitary/armed groups increased the level of power, control and impunity available to perpetrators of IPV; how the increased availability of legal and illegal firearms increased the risk to and threat felt by victims of IPV; and how the conflict affected police responsiveness to IPV.’ Despite it having been 2 decades since the official cessation of violence in Northern Ireland, 17% of participants in the 2016 study said that their partners had ‘used paramilitary connections or alleged paramilitary connections to threaten, control and/or abuse them.’
The study also highlights the use of paramilitary control to informally ‘police’ domestic violence by making threats to perpetrators. However, the 1992 data revealed how this often made things worse for women as they were concerned that ‘perpetrators were being recruited as police informers to avoid prosecution or enforcement orders for IPV’ thus ensuring women were even more alienated from being able to get protection from or justice for the crimes committed against them.
Anecdotal evidence from women involved in rape and sexual violence services throughout the troubles suggests that Máiría Cahill’s description of the ‘kangaroo court’ she was subjected to following her disclosure to leaders within her community, was something many women would have been familiar with.
It shouldn’t have to be said but the kind of process that Máiría was put through by members of the republican movement is a completely unacceptable course of action for any organisation or community to undertake when someone comes to them with a disclosure of sexual abuse. The fact that Máiría was a child at the time the abuse took place makes it even more abhorrent. Making someone face their abuser in this way, demanding she recount her experience in front of him and trying to judge the authenticity of her account is not only re-traumatising; it serves to add unnecessary new trauma and fear. This kind of practice leads to injustice and the silencing of women whose testimony deserves and needs to be heard. Every person who was involved in that process in the Máiría Cahill case should be ashamed of their actions.
The current dynamics of power and control in communities might not look like they did in the 1990s. The presence of firearms has greatly reduced on all sides and organisations might be more concerned with controlling their media messaging than anything more sinister. However, it is still extremely difficult for any woman to speak out about powerful or influential individuals who harmed them.
Máiría Cahill must be commended for the way she has fought for the truth. She has been vindicated by both the Starmer report into the failings of the Public Prosecution Service and more recently the Police Ombudsman’s report into the actions of the PSNI. The apologies she has received from the heads of both public organisations have satisfied her that they accept all the accusations levelled at them and understand that they let her down.
This response stands in stark contrast to that of the leadership of Sinn Fein, whose response has been widely criticised in the media and on social media, by journalists, commentators, activists and political representatives. Mary Lou MacDonald and Michelle O’Neill have stuck to a conservatively pitched apology stating that Sinn Fein now has robust mandatory reporting procedures and they are sorry the party ‘didn’t have those procedures in place’ at the time of Máiría Cahill’s disclosure. This seems woefully inadequate when you consider the level of harm that an interrogation by powerful leaders within your community is likely to cause any individual. We know too much about the mishandling of abuse from numerous institutions in the last decade to accept such a blasé dismissal of responsibility. What would be more appropriate would be a proactive commitment to examining everything that led people to believe such behaviour was an acceptable way to deal with a young woman in 2000 and ensuring that any trace of such attitudes has been completely eradicated.
When Michelle O’Neill made the statement ‘It’s not for me to say that I believe her’ in response to a question by a BBC journalist earlier in the week, the feminist movement here let out a collective gasp of disapproval. In the face of such conclusive evidence from both the Starmer report and the Ombudsman’s report that Máiría Cahill has been nothing but honest about what happened to her, it seems nonsensical for the leadership of Sinn Fein not to accept her accusations. It also seems extremely out of step with the post ‘me too’ era, at a time when the public is waking up to the fact that this kind of sexual abuse and harassment of women is extremely widespread, pervasive and for too long has not been believed. ‘I believe her’ has become a rallying call for women who won’t be silent anymore when we see this level of injustice and we watch with disappointment those who are reluctant to make this call on behalf of Máiría Cahill.
There are brilliant, committed feminists in all political parties in Northern Ireland and many passionate elected representatives of all political backgrounds that we in the women’s movement continuously work with on issues that affect women’s lives. We hope that those same people will have the freedom to speak up on behalf of themselves and women they know when power and inequality tells them they should stay quiet. We hope the women’s movement will be somewhere they will always know they can get support as they seek to do that. But most importantly, we will stand with victims and survivors of violence against women and strive to support, show solidarity and amplify their voices.
Kellie Turtle and Elaine Crory, Women’s Resource and Development Agency. Kellie and Elaine are also activists with grassroots feminist organisations Belfast Feminist Network, Alliance for Choice, Reclaim the Night, Rally for Choice and Reclaim the Agenda.
Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage women’s participation in social and political issues.
Recent news has been dominated by Northern Ireland’s record-breaking period without a government and the terrible fire in Primark in Belfast City Centre, as well as the now-normal barrage of Trump and Brexit bad news. While all of this is undoubtedly real, serious stuff and deserving of our attention, sometimes it can feel that there’s too much of this to deal with, especially when we all have a whole glut of our own concerns to attend to as well. Many of us might be feeling a little downhearted as we wave goodbye to the summer and get ready for back to school, so this blog is going to attempt to provide a little distraction from the worries of day-to-day life over the course of Monday evening with a short list of suggestions of mood-lifters that might help us all to recharge.
#1 A Book – Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
“One of the most unusual and thought-provoking heroines of recent contemporary fiction” Irish Times
“Hugely original, a funny and sad tale of a survivor who tackles the challenges of emotional reconnection with grave courage. Unmissable” Sunday Express
A few of us in the office have recently had the joy of reading this lovely book. I read it myself when I was feeling in a bit of a funk and it really made me feel better about the world. The characters feel real and seeing Eleanor journey out of loneliness and find that she has the power to change her place in the world and to enjoy being part of a community in a way she hadn’t thought possible really challenges the feeling that the world is just a big, bad place. The whole thing feels like a tribute to human kindness, and the real hope and power that exists in all of our relationships.
Note, Eleanor Oliphant does go to dark places before it comes back to the light, and the book deals with themes of child abuse, alcoholism and depression and suicide, so it might not be for you.
If you’ve already read, and hopefully enjoyed Eleanor’s story, Waterstones recommends these if you’re in the mood for something similar.
#2 Meet a Friend – Get hold of a pal, maybe someone you haven’t seen in a while, whether in person or on the phone. It could be for a quick catch-up, or you could spend hours gabbing and putting the world to rights, either way, it’s always nice to make a connection and let somebody know you’re thinking of them, and have someone listen to you too. If you’re in or around the Belfast area it’s a great opportunity to get back into the city and show solidarity with all the retailers who have been experiencing a decreased footfall after the Primark fire too, though do be aware that the air quality isn’t great after the fire and if you’re sensitive to this or have respiratory problems you might be best to avoid the area. Many of Belfast’s shops are open to 9pm on Thursday so a perfect way to beat mid-week blues!
#3 Positive News – These days we’re all connected to the 24 hour news machine pretty much all the time, in our houses, offices and pockets, and sometimes you can feel overwhelmed by the negativity in the reporting. If you need something to shift your perspective and open your eyes to all the good things that are happening, have a look at Positive News, “good journalism about good things”. You can subscribe to their quarterly magazine, become a supporter, or read many free articles on the website. The whole project is based around the idea that too much bad news isn’t good for us and it might be just what you need to see to feel a little better about the world this week.
Media has a powerful influence on our world. We believe excessive negativity in the press is destructive for society, and instead we are working to create a more constructive and compassionate media. Positive News
#4 Podcasts, Audiobooks and Music – The Positivity Playlist
One of the many great things about music, audiobooks and podcasts is that they’re a mood lifter that you can fit in anywhere, you can have your headphones in or the radio on while you’re doing your grocery shopping, driving, or just standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, and it can always put a smile on your face.
In aid of a happy week for all of us, we’ve put together a Playlist of songs and artists that lift our mood, some have a positive message, some are nostalgic, and some are just great for a dance – hopefully you’ll find something here to brighten your day, and if not, you can always do your own version – and be sure to share it with us on social media!
Here’s to a mood-boosting week for all of us! Feels like it’s about time…
Finally, I want to make it clear that we aren’t trying to patronise anybody, these things are intended only as friendly suggestions to perk up your start to the week and distract from daily life stresses. There are plenty of us out there who might need more than this. If that’s you, there is absolutely no shame in seeking the help you need, and there are people and organisations who can help you, whatever your situation.
PIPS – 0800 088 6042
PIPS Charity have an open door policy no appointment is needed just come along for a chat a cuppa a friendly face to help you through your trauma or worry or just having a bad day, whatever, we will be there to help.
Lifeline – 0808 808 8000
Women’s Aid – 0808 2000 247
GenderJam – 028 90 996 819
LGBT Switchboard – 0808 8000 390
CAMPAIGNERS FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND EQUALITY SPEAK OUT ABOUT THE IMPACT OF STORMONT STALEMATE.
The results of a survey released today by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency reveal the impact of having no government at Stormont on women’s community organisations and campaign groups.
80% of those surveyed said they have continued to lobby decision makers in the 19 months since the collapse of the Executive, but the majority felt that it is now much harder to make progress on the issues that affect their organisations and communities.
The 48 respondents to the survey represent community based women’s centres, regional umbrella organisations, activist groups, specialist service providers and other types of organisations such as trade unions, carers’ groups and arts organisations.
When asked to rate the extent to which they felt the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly had damaged the work of the women’s sector, the majority felt that it has been ‘extremely damaging’.
The most common issues that the women’s sector continues to lobby on are funding for women’s services, legislation on domestic and sexual violence and progressing the inclusion of women in politics and peacebuilding. Other issues of concern were the impact of welfare reform on women, childcare provision and abortion law and access.
MLAs Ranked Most Effective
However when asked what they think the most effective avenues are for lobbying in the current political situation, the majority put MLAs at the top of the list. This was very closely followed by councillors. It is clear that political representatives are still working on behalf of the people, however, comments from the survey confirm that the real problem is their lack of decision-making power.
“MLA’s are supporting groups at a local level. Civil servants are working to move projects forward. The deadlock comes when a budget or approval decision is required and the project or request stalls.”
While a significant number of respondents highlighted that civil servants or council officials can be effective at progressing issues, there are severe barriers caused by their lack of authority to make key decisions.
“I had a negative experience lobbying civil servants on funding for our services. Due to the absence of a functioning executive, the Department could only confirm funding 3 days before the end of the financial year. We’ve had people on redundancy notice for months now.”
The survey also revealed that very few campaigners in the women’s sector think that lobbying MPs is an effective way to get decisions made, with only 4% of respondents ranking MPs as their first choice.
“Lobbying without an executive is an echo chamber. MP’s see all issues as devolved even though we have no functioning govt.”
“Went directly to an MP and I was appalled at their lack of awareness of our issues. There has been no follow up response despite the fact it was promised. I am disappointed, but not surprised.”
Respondents to the survey spoke of the urgency with which they believe law, policy and services that affect women’s lives need to be dealt with. The impact of austerity and changes to the welfare system was the most commonly mentioned area of concern. The lack of a childcare strategy or any policy to make childcare more affordable and accessible was the next most common priority issue, followed by funding for community based women’s services often located in areas suffering the highest levels of deprivation. Abortion law reform and domestic abuse protections like the stalled coercive control and stalking laws were next on the list.
There were a range of views as to how best to solve these pressing issues with some advocating a return to the Stormont institutions as quickly as possible while others felt that more could be achieved under direct rule or that fresh elections would be needed to see progress.
There is clearly a high level of concern in women’s organisations about the growing backlog of issues that require either legislative or spending decisions to be made. As one respondent summarises:
“We need to get Stormont functioning again in a sustainable way so as to legislate for universal childcare, abortion rights, domestic violence and stalking legislation, deal with the welfare mitigation policies which will be coming to an end, develop a gender equality strategy, encourage more women into politics, improve mental health services and to help prepare us for Brexit and mitigate against any negative impacts of Brexit.”
However, with a number of respondents also highlighting that issues like equal marriage, abortion law, and dealing with the legacy of the past are central to ensuring the sustainability of future government here, it is clear that the women’s movement is not saying ‘Stormont at any cost’. The survey also highlights that many in this sector did not feel much was being done to progress issues of women’s rights and equality before the Executive collapsed and do not wish to see a return to the status quo.
“The key priority is to get gender sensitive policies in place to begin with, and this requires both an understanding and a willingness to take action. Unfortunately the evidence is that even while the institutions were in place, the priority given to women’s issues was low.”
For many of us, prior to the #metoo movement, speaking out about our own personal encounters with sexism and abuse across many sectors felt taboo. It was often frowned upon to speak up and outwards against this kind of behaviour that has been accepted for decades. Women are often shunned into silence, and made to feel worth less than how much they are actually worth. This is not a piece to man shame or blame anyone for anything, other than to highlight the kind of behaviour some women face in the hospitality industry.
From the age of 15, I have always been the people pleaser but I have been bullied since I was young and defenceless for bizarre details such as my hairstyles, not having the latest backpack or because I had braces. Those things stick with you, and even now at the age of 25 when someone comments on my appearance I shrivel back into my shell of feeling powerless and unprotected. As I moved up throughout my professional career, I always sought out a working environment in which I felt safe and looked after. I’ve matured into a much more confident and social type of woman, bubbly with conversation, speaking to strangers and building friendships always came as a second nature.
When I entered the world of hospitality nearly 3 years ago, the buzzing nightlife and fast paced environment was next to none, the freeing feeling of listening to fascinating stories from different people from various walks of life, felt inspired. I often worked long hours, and even longer shifts but with a twinkle in my eye and pep in my step because this type of work never got boring for me. Someone new every day to speak to and swap stories, which was very much appreciated, I had a smile on my face for the world to see. Like most women before me, the odd comment from drunken men isn’t enough to make us feel unnerved, I shrugged off the lingering feeling that filled my entire being and replied simply with a weakened smile “thank you”.
This has become a repeated pattern, what began as flattery has turned sour, at lightning speed. Standing behind a bar, serving drinks at a click of fingers, I began to slowly but surely withdraw back into my shell, my safe haven. I regressed and became the tight lipped girl I once was throughout my teenage years. When I first began working in the hospitality sector I showed up for work neatly presented in a clean cut uniform, fresh hair and a light touch of make up to cover some dark circles and a soft touch of highlight to brighten my complexion. As the feminist in me would say, regardless of dress code, make up or hairstyle, I was not “asking for it”. I did not ask for the glances, the winks, the disgusting comments on my shape or size.
A survey in February 2018 found that almost 81% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. The survey, created by the non profit group ‘Stop Street Harassment’, also found out the locations of such harassment. Not surprisingly 35% of these experiences happened within the work place. These figures suggest that workplaces are not safe spaces for women, and not only for bar staff like myself, it is a global pandemic.
My eyes have been opened to the kind of abuse women receive while in the work place, as well as the problem of sexism. The comments grew more frequent and during one incident a member of the public placed their hands on me in a upsetting fashion – I knew it was time to find my voice. The voice I have had in my soul all my life ignited throughout my being and I emerged from my shell, with my head held high and ready to make a change within my work environment. In the past, I would have let an incident like this slide, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had enough of the staring, snide remarks and this was a step too far. I thought I would be met with scoffs and anger but the response I got when I spoke out against this behaviour was a warm, welcoming one. The perpetrator was put in their place and removed from the premises and since then they have stayed well clear from me as requested.
I felt like myself again, the confident woman I always have been, on the journey to rebuke these actions from certain individuals, to stand proudly as a strong woman who sets boundaries and will not take any ill action. While this experience wasn’t the most pleasant, it was an eye opening part of my career in hospitality that I have learned from. This has instilled in me my own core values that I must practice each day and remind myself to stand up and more importantly speak out against such behaviour. The compliments, and the pet names and staring, may seem harmless and “just giving you a compliment” but it is also vital to remember it is not necessary. The impact this can have on a person’s mental health and well being while at work is often detrimental. I often felt like a spectacle for the male gaze, I changed my appearance and often came to work without any make up or fresh hair because I was afraid of being preyed upon by the next male that entered the bar. The fear was what made me not want to come to work, often hiding out the back and being short with new comers to avoid any sort of unwanted attention. Flash-forward months later and the fear and dread of such behaviour has disappeared. I have come back stronger to my work place with my shoulders back and voice confident. I am able to handle any situation, I continue on, more powerful than ever.
This piece is by Caitlain Rafferety. Follow her on Twitter @Crafferty11
Once upon a time there was a girl called Claire.
Claire had not yet had children. Claire harboured dreams of being a rich and successful Solicitor. Claire and her future husband figured that Claire would be the main breadwinner. They figured they’d have children but never thought much more about it than that. Everyone knows childcare is super expensive, but sure you just get on with it, right?
I can remember after I had my eldest son in 2011, we decided to put him into daycare as it wouldn’t be fair to ask the grandparents to look after him. We had heard this wonderful information that if you earn under £40k you got 70% of your childcare covered by the mysterious entity that is Tax Credits. Of course, you can’t actually find out what you get until you embark on a course of action and submit your application.
Imagine our horror when we got our letter informing us we were getting the grand total of basically nada.
Cue some very frantic conversations with grandparents- ‘eh, remember that kind offer to help look after our cherubic offspring? That still open? For tomorrow…?’
The Claire who had sort of planned on children was now a full on Mother. I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work, and I hated the thought of being away from him for five days- his grandparents would see him more than me, his mother. So I returned part time, 3 days a week.
I was working as a Solicitor at this stage but it was not quite the fabulously remunerated career of my dreams. I qualified into the recession and my employer took full advantage.
Baby no2 arrived in September 2013. Again, we thought ‘we can’t land TWO children on grandparents!’ and so we thought we’d try to put them in to the daycare attached to the eldest’s playgroup a couple of days a week.
‘Eh, grandparents? Any plans tomorrow?’
At this stage I changed jobs, returning to work in pharmacy- the same money as I was getting as a Solicitor! But less pressure (plus I knew my future lay in a different career, Midwifery).
We have since had baby no3 (and our last). Now I work alternative Sundays. Weekdays are just not feasible as, aside from Childcare, school runs are my nemesis.
We live in a rural area. My two eldest are now in P3 and Nursery School, in two separate rural schools with different finishing times. There is not a school bus that serves where we live either.
Before baby no3 arrived, work was great at allowing me to start later to allow me to get eldest to school and mid
dle child to granny. I saved my breaks to collect eldest and get him deposited with granny & granda (who also look after other grandchildren) & back into work. I scoffed a sandwich as I drove. It was exhausting, particularly when pregnant. However, to now get two school drop offs, a baby dropped off with the grandparents, into work and then two separate school collections? I’d be out more than in!
Yes, I could work weekends but, for me (and I accept this is entirely my own choice) it is important to have some time as a family. The children are only young for a short time, I don’t want all our time together to be in the car and the crazy evening session of homework- dinner- argue over iPads- bed.
Me basically not working is really tough financially. We have gone from getting married and supporting two of us on two full time incomes to now having five of us to support on one income.
It is also tough on me personally- I have worked since I was 16, I enjoy working, so it is strange to be at home. I miss using my brain, having adult conversation and a pee alone. We keep saying I need to work more but then it just boils down to those school runs! Is it fair to ask our parents who are in their 60s & 70s to help?
I am not the only mum in this situation. I know a lot of women who are either in my boat of taking a temporary step back from work, or those who return to work for pretty much no pay once they pay the childcare, just so they don’t slide back down the employment ladder.
I honestly don’t know what the solution is. Yes, it is my choice to have children and no, I do not expect ‘free money’ for being at home with them. There are schemes such as childcare vouchers and tax credits, but the lack of information available to help us make a fully informed decision is really frustrating.
I do think we have work to do to address the value that society attaches- or really, doesn’t attach- to mothers. At the end of the day, we have the wombs, Birth canals, vaginas and breasts- if the human race is to not die off, women are going to continue to be the ones having the babies.
The relationship and attachment between mothers and babies is crucial to the baby’s development. It affects how a baby’s brain is wired. We have seen studies on the effects of neglect on the brain and behaviour. True, it’s not as bad here as America, for example, where mums are back to work at 6 weeks, and no statutory maternity pay! Of course, I am not saying all mums should be staying at home- but it’s not a great situation where we are choosing between staying home, struggling to make ends meet and, at best stalling but possibly setting back, our careers or returning to work for basically no money once we pay childcare but then still being away from our children at an important stage in their lives.
Really, I think traditional notions need challenged- such as a more flexible approach to working hours and conditions. Perhaps taking children to work (where appropriate) and not tying work to standard office hours. Mairi Black, the wonderful Scottish politician (could we trade a few of ours for her?!) recently gave a speech where she outlined the structural problems in our society which explains it well- our economy, our employment, everything was established during a time when men were the only ones working, etc. Now we try to slot women in to these structures and it just doesn’t work.
This post was written by Claire Hackett who blogs as Mummy McMumface over on www.facebook.com/mummymcmumface
A couple of weeks ago the Sunday Times printed an interview with Poldark actor Aidan Turner that attracted a considerable amount of coverage over the following days, most of it centred on the discussion of his diet and exercise regime. While filming the most recent series of Poldark he would routinely fast throughout the day, not eating until 7pm, and work out every day, and sometimes twice a day, during this fasting period. Clearly this is a pretty extreme approach, so it’s hardly surprising it was picked up a lot in the press and on daytime TV, what was surprising to me was the tone of these conversations. Any commentary I’ve seen has more or less begun and ended with the affirmation that “he does look great!” and something reflecting the notion that this behaviour is demonstrative of a kind of macho determination, an admirable commitment to his work and his body. Nowhere have I come across anyone expressing any concern about the idea that this sort of behaviour might be a sign of a relationship with eating, exercising, and your own body that is not entirely healthy or desirable, or that it might not be a good pattern of behaviour to promote.
“I guess people think that I care about my body a lot. I try to keep healthy, but it’s not an obsession”.
We are living in a boom-time for strange and restrictive eating patterns, the much-maligned clean-eating movement and various free-from alternatives are widely marketed as healthy choices to people who needn’t be restricting their diets and this is representative of a problematically skewed approach to health and wellbeing more generally. #fitspo and #cleaneating posts tell us we’re not chasing thinness or anything so superficial as “the perfect body”, we know better than that in 2018 – we’re better – this is about our health and so to be so preoccupied with diet and exercise is responsible and right, these behaviours are elevated to the moral high ground and are therefore beyond reproach. This is such a dangerous aspect of our current culture, when wellness is aspirational any number of unhealthy behaviours might be committed in its name. Furthermore, the picture of healthy living and wellness that is most often promoted to us, both in mainstream media and social media, is not an inclusive one and the more we look it’s hard not to see this as just another arena where we promote a narrow set of ideal characteristics and behaviours, that are much more concerned with a very restricted and prescriptive notion of physical beauty than they are with positive physical and mental health, at the expense of all others. Turner’s comments are born out of this cultural atmosphere, the fact that he describes this behaviour as “keep[ing] healthy” and that assertion is not questioned is reflective of some very harmful messages that many of us have unwittingly internalised about what a healthy body must look like and the behaviour that constitutes a healthy lifestyle.
At this point it’s important for me to make it clear that I’m not here to criticise Aidan Turner, nor to try and claim that I have any more insight into his relationship with food and body image than any TV or newspaper reporter. I don’t believe that it’s his responsibility to be a good role model for a healthy lifestyle, and I’m fully sympathetic to the fact that he’s been exposed to the same cultural influences as the rest of us that skew our perceptions of what a healthy body looks like and what it is reasonable to do in its pursuit. He is under more pressure than most to achieve this ideal, but I do think it’s concerning that he’s able to pass this behaviour off as a normal part of “keep[ing] healthy” with no further questions asked. I think it’s important that we have a conversation about the way we think about and talk about this behaviour, and how that differs when we are talking about men and women.
The general media response to Turner’s comments in the Sunday Times interview reflects a couple of very unpleasant aspects of gender politics in 2018. I think it’s unlikely that a woman in the public eye making the same comments would have been met with the same response, rather, she would be criticised for her irresponsibility, and for promoting unhealthy diet and exercise habits to vulnerable young girls. This reflects the double-edged nature of the way that women’s bodies are policed in the public sphere, wherein they are expected to adhere to specific and demanding beauty standards while making it appear effortless, never referencing any of the unpleasant or unreasonable behaviours they are required to engage with in order to attain these standards, and it confirms that a serious mental health issue is still being patronisingly reduced to a silly female problem, a diet gone too far. Aidan Turner can talk about these extreme behaviours and be congratulated for his display of strength and endurance without anybody asking whether it makes him a good or bad role model, while a woman in the same position might have faced reproach for irresponsibility, mental fragility and unhealthy obsession, because ultimately women and girls are considered to be at risk of eating disorders while men and boys are still not. In this case, this meant that boys and men who may be dealing with eating disorders or body image and disordered eating issues saw these unhealthy eating behaviours positively affirmed by every media outlet reporting on the story, and those who may be concerned about their own similar behaviours had those concerns trivialised. It is unacceptable that our society’s perception of masculinity did not permit any of those media outlets to consider the effect of their reporting on vulnerable men and boys.
Eating disorders are not a women’s issue, they’re not a diet, they are a group of serious mental health issues that often require treatment and the persistent stereotypes that surround them make it harder to reach the many sufferers who don’t fit the mould, and get them the help they need. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder and the number of male sufferers is likely much higher than we realise or expect, insensitive reporting won’t do, we ought to be doing everything we can to dismantle harmful stereotypes, rather than reinforcing them.
By Lauren Donnelly
The overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote in the Republic of Ireland which was announced on Saturday 26th May was a huge step forward for the rights of women in Ireland. The overwhelming majority with which the ‘Yes’ vote was won was inspirational and moving; a point of pride for the women of Ireland. The secretary of state Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have made it clear they are keen to move the legislation on abortion through Parliament as quickly as possible.
The majority with which the “Yes” campaign won provided the women of Ireland with a sense of solidarity from both other women and Irish men. When broken down the ‘Yes’ vote crossed gender, generation and socio-economic boundaries. Young, old, men, women, people from all backgrounds voted ‘Yes’. The most significant statistic from this referendum, I believe, is the most popular reason ‘Yes’ voters gave for voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment. In an exit poll carried out by RTE, 84% of yes voters said they chose to vote this way in order to give women choice (62% of voters overall). In short, the people of Ireland voted to trust women and ensure that each woman had the freedom to choose for herself.
This victory for the rights of women has brought attention to the fact that Northern Ireland is now the only area of the UK and Ireland where a near blanket ban on abortion continues to exist. Calls have been made by British MPs, from both the Conservative and Labour parties, to repeal the Offences Against the Person Act in Northern Ireland which would allow the process of decriminalising abortion to begin. Those who oppose abortion in Northern Ireland have claimed that Westminster has no business making this decision for Northern Ireland.
Trusting women is a lesson yet to be learned from some political leaders in Northern Ireland. Most notably members of the DUP. When asked about abortion, these DUP members continually justify their anti-choice stance by presenting the incredibly weak and factually incorrect ‘floodgates’ argument. Not only is this idea that the number of abortions will rise dramatically once abortion is decriminalised easily disproven, but it fails to address the fact that Northern Irish women already access abortion in the UK. As many as 3 women a day travel to Great Britain to have an abortion or take abortion pills at home. In addition to this, this weak argument also ignores the fact that the decriminalisation of abortion is about choice. The decision whether a woman decides to carry a pregnancy to term or not is her decision, and hers alone.
The decision of the Irish people in the Republic to give women choice highlights that the old idea of pro-life versus pro-choice is an oversimplification and inaccurate understanding of the abortion debate. The pro-choice and pro-life perspectives are not mutually exclusive. It is not impossible to personally feel that abortion is not a choice you would make but recognise that other women have different circumstances and therefore will make different choices. To argue that you don’t personally agree with abortion and therefore it should be illegal is not simply pro-life, it is anti-choice.
Presenting a personal moral opposition to abortion as a reason to maintain the criminalisation of abortion is simply not good enough. The women of Northern Ireland deserve better.
On Friday the 25th May the people of the Republic of Ireland didn’t simply choose to repeal the Eighth Amendment, they choose to provide women with the healthcare they deserve, they chose to give women bodily autonomy, to give women choice and dignity. The Republic of Ireland has chosen to trust women and it is time Northern Ireland does too.
By Aoife Clements (Edited)
If you would like to get involved in the campaign to decriminalise reproductive healthcare in Northern Ireland please contact Alliance For Choice or if you would like to financially support access to abortion please contact Abortion Support Network.
WRDA understands and recognises that abortion is a healthcare issue that impacts trans men and non binary people as well as cis gender women. We advocate for the reproductive rights of all pregnant people.
I was very much a reluctant member when I joined the single parent club 8 years ago.
There are a multitude of different routes that take us into single parenthood, often they are difficult journeys strewn with pitfalls of heartbreak, loss, grief and a sense of powerlessness. My journey was a special cocktail of all of these.
Anyone who has overcome an unexpected life transition will tell you that feeling sad and overwhelmed is a legitimate response. However, there is a major source of anguish that need not be accepted as part and parcel of becoming a single mother. And I’m finally learning to reject it and fend it off at every turn – The unwelcome opponent is stigma.
The shortage of positive representation and perpetual characterisation of single mothers as social pariah no.1 is our greatest adversary, but it’s one worth fighting. We’re fighting a narrative that tells us we’re the dregs of humanity, breeding rioters and future inmates, sponging off the system, wearing our pyjamas to school drop off, stealing our friend’s husbands, the list goes on. Before I was a single parent I never thought I harboured these negative attitudes. But when I abruptly found myself as a single parent I wondered why I felt such a sudden lack of confidence and a sense of failure and shame. All of this I struggled to articulate or understand in the beginning but I felt it nonetheless.
Stereotypes aside, let’s deal with reality. One in four families with children in the UK are headed by a single parent and there are 13.6 million single parents in the States. It’s plain and simple, we are mainstream, we are not a tick box called ‘other’ and we aren’t going anywhere.
This year we have celebrated 100 years of Women’s right to vote, with that milestone in mind it may be surprising to learn that only in 1987 were rights granted to [what was then called] ‘illegitimate’ children, nineteen eighty seven! Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was charting and we were only beginning to acknowledge the rights of single parents and their children.
As Feminist discourse (rightly) infiltrates the news, matters affecting single mothers (and indeed mothers in general) are often excluded from the conversation or indeed considered irrelevant altogether. With 90% of single parents being women, surely the single parent struggle for equality should be a priority for feminism?
With confidence, we the single parents, those who love and support us and, I would argue, the women’s movement in general, need to speak up and ensure that the single mothers pursuit for equal opportunities and inclusion is an integral part of the conversation. We must challenge the narrative that we are the broken version of a ‘real’ family. Because we aren’t broken and we don’t need fixing. What we need is representation, we need cheered on as we learn to hold our heads up high and we need equal opportunities, so we can participate fully in public life and flourish.
The best part of a decade has passed and I’m no longer a reluctant member of the single mum club. In fact I’m a proud, flag flying advocate wanting to challenge the stigma that makes lone-parenting so unnecessarily difficult. James Baldwin said “the victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”
I fully intend to become a threat to the stigma surrounding single mothers and to name it as that. I want to see single mothers portrayed as the resourceful and resilient people we so often are. And I want to encourage and promote new ways of existing that mean we are still able to have aspirations outside of family life.
It hasn’t been easy to find spaces where these conversations are happening, but they are, dig enough and you’ll find them. With the intent of amplifying voices and uncovering some hidden gems I’ve started a platform affectionately named ‘Tod’
‘On Your Tod’ is for those occupying the void between the nuclear family and singleness – A positive, progressive and empowering space for the oft vilified Single Parent. A website is in the works, but for now ‘Tod’s presence is purely on social media (Facebook and Instagram) where you’ll find regular posts celebrating our heroes, challenging stigma and sharing wisdom from academia, trailblazers and wise souls.* I’d be delighted if you joined the conversation and gave ‘Tod’ all the love via likes, shares and follows, there is much work to be done.
*for those who would like to lend their talents (writing, illustration or web design) please contact Alli at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage younger women’s participation in social and political issues. To find out more visit this page.
WRDA is one of a network of organisations that have come together to form the Childcare For All campaign. This campaign calls for universal, child-centred childcare that meets the needs of children, families, childcare workers and providers and benefits society. We have developed a Childcare For All charter setting out a vision of a childcare system that is affordable, accessible, flexible, high quality, and which supports children’s education and development. Childcare should be available to, and suitable for, children of all ages, those with a disability, and those living in a rural location. Childcare provision should enable parents to access and stay in paid work or education and training. We want to see the value of childcare work recognised with decent pay and terms and conditions.
The Campaign will be launched on Tuesday 1 May 2018 at Stormont. Keep posted for further information or, to register your interest in attending the launch, contact Aoife.email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to start this blog by saying that in the past year I’ve had more contact with the National Health Service than I’ve ever had in any other year, and certainly more than I would have liked, and while there are undoubtedly criticisms I would level at various elements of the service overwhelmingly I feel happy and grateful to live in a country that has an NHS, I value it highly and I feel strongly that it should be defended against those who seek to corrupt it with privatisation. NHS care, at its best, makes a huge difference in many lives every day and all of us know people who wouldn’t be able to live as they do without it. This story is not a criticism of the NHS nor of the numerous NHS staff who are truly doing their best with what they’ve got right now. It is only the story of one incident and a consideration of what this might tell us about the experience of women in the hands of healthcare services in the NHS and elsewhere and how a gendered and stereotyped approach to those women impacts upon the care they receive.
At the end of last year I was with my mum when she had a fall that resulted in a serious injury. It wasn’t a simple fall, she was attempting to pull my recently-disabled dad’s wheelchair over the threshold going into the venue of an event they were supposed to be attending when the wheelchair tipped over backwards, with my dad in it, and landed on top of her. Watching this I felt sick. I’d had enough time in hospitals this year already and I couldn’t gauge how serious her injuries were. Dad is a big man and she inherited her own mother’s brittle bones so I knew it was serious. Immediately things started moving. A group lifted dad in his chair, people who claimed to have some kind of first aid knowledge encouraged her to move herself and she refused. I wanted to get hold of my sister. I needed to know what was wrong with my mum. I was so angry she hadn’t asked for my help with the wheelchair, I’d asked her to call me when she arrived but she hadn’t and I was waiting less than 20 feet inside when I saw the accident happen. When my sister arrived she went into shock, my unflappable sister who doesn’t cry cried and panicked and asked me why mum wasn’t moving – could she? I answered honestly. I didn’t know if she could move. I only knew that she had terrible pain at the base of her spine and if she was refusing to move that was good enough reason for me to leave her where she was until she had proper help. I trusted her. If I had been the one to call the emergency services there would have been no doubt that she needed an ambulance, I could see that very clearly.
I didn’t make the emergency call. Somebody from the venue staff did and must have painted a picture very much different to what I saw. They didn’t send an ambulance. They sent a paramedic car to administer some pain relief and get her back on her feet, as well as making sure dad was okay. I insisted he did get checked out, though he was adamant he was fine. It had only been six months since his stroke and a bump to the head on his blood thinners could cause a haemorrhage. All of this went round in my head while I questioned what kind of injuries my mum was dealing with, and somewhere in the background as I tried to comfort dad I could hear her voice, irritated and sarcastic, “If you want me to wail and cry and beat my hands off the floor I can do that – is that what it takes?” The paramedic attending mum had asked her to rate her pain on a scale of 1-10 and she had responded that whenever she tried to move it was an 8.
“I don’t think so, you’d be crying if it was that bad!”
She didn’t say her pain was 100 out of 10, or 12 out of 10, she didn’t even say it was 10 out of 10. She evaluated her own pain, as she was asked to, and rated it as being 8 out of 10 specifically when she was trying to move. Considering the pain and the distress that she was experiencing, lying on the floor in a public place at the feet of her husband’s wheelchair, trying not to think about the kind of permanent damage that might leave her unable to walk, and at the same time hoping that his blood pressure wasn’t rising in panic and leaving him in danger too, this seems to me to have been an eminently reasonable response.
My mum reacted in that situation as so many of us would. She was in a public place, her recently disabled husband was beside her unable to help, her daughters and many people she knew were around. She was trying her very best to retain a sense of calm and control and dignity, and to protect my dad from the panic I know she felt, while still communicating very clearly how serious she believed her injuries might be. But her reaction didn’t match up to the gendered expectations of someone who was supposed to be her care provider and his prejudice had a tangible impact on the care she received that night. A moment’s consideration of my mum’s present circumstances could have illuminated why she might respond as she did, and why that response might seem entirely appropriate to her, or even the idea that she might be reacting strangely because of the shock. Surely it was part of his duty of care to her to take her estimation of her own pain seriously and to consider why his expectations may not be being met in this case? But he couldn’t divorce any of that from his own perception of a pretty blonde woman who wasn’t crying.
(Picture Credit: motherjones.com)
He continued to question her representation of her pain for some time, including, of course, asking her to compare it to childbirth. At this point he had no idea whether we were her biological children or whether we might have been born by caesarean, and at any rate having never actually given birth himself it is unclear to me why he thought that his conception of what that might be like would be a more useful tool for determining her pain level than listening to what she was telling him – 8/10 when I try to move should have been good enough. The gendered approach that he insisted on was entirely inappropriate and unhelpful and the decision he made not to trust my mum’s assertions of her own pain levels and not to take seriously her concerns about the severity of her injuries caused so much unnecessary additional distress, not only to her, and significantly delayed her getting access to the care and treatment she knew she needed. So much time was wasted while he attempted to cajole her into just getting up and moving about, as though he seriously thought she would be willingly lying in a doorway if she was capable of doing anything else. Throughout this time mum was given an incredible amount of heavy-duty pain relief and she continued to assert firmly that movement was unbearable for her, that the pain made her frightened. Very clearly she felt that she had to stay still to keep herself safe, her fundamental instincts told her that much, yet in the end she lay on that floor for over an hour before an ambulance arrived to take her to hospital.
I went with mum in the ambulance. Someone else took dad in their car, my sister went home with friends who promised me they would look after her tonight. I’d already got a change of clothes and an overnight bag for the hospital, I’d called work to say I wouldn’t be in tomorrow and my boyfriend was going to stay at home with my dad who couldn’t be alone. We had settled into crisis response mode, mum’s determined will to stay calm had allowed us to do what we needed to. As I waited with her in ambulance arrivals that calm that she’d been battling to hold on to disappeared. She was shaking and crying and struggling to catch her breath, so terrified that any of the ill-advised attempts at moving her might have resulted in serious damage to her nerves or spinal cord. She asked me to find out if they could give her something to calm her down and when I asked I was told that she’d had so much pain relief this evening that it wasn’t possible for them to give her anything, and still the pain had only been lessened and not taken away. Throughout the night whenever it was possible to give her more pain relief they did, at one point they had to adjust the position of her bed by about 15 degrees and she screamed in a way that made me want to scream too. Repeatedly she was tapped and poked to make sure that she had feeling in her arms and legs and had no pins and needles. In the middle of the night when a doctor came to give us the results of the scans and started by saying that it was bad news we were both terrified, but when he went on to say that she had fractured her spine I honestly felt relieved. We already knew that, and really it was the best we were hoping for. I couldn’t understand that anyone would be surprised.
To offer some context on the extent to which my mum wasn’t exaggerating about her pain that night, the first day in hospital it took her, myself and her physiotherapist twenty minutes just to get her out of bed, and when she was discharged a week later she went home to three months wearing a back brace, relying on carers calling four times a day for all her personal care and meals, sleeping in a hospital bed and taking oxycodone, an opioid painkiller, every day. A little research for this piece has confirmed that mum’s injury was not a surprising or unlikely one in the circumstances, it could have been predicted and her concerns absolutely should have been taken seriously. Given the paramedic who first attended her had the benefit of knowing her age, and the fact that she was taking calcium tablets for osteopenia, as well as her repeated assertions about the intensity of the pain she was experiencing, there really wasn’t a good excuse for the dismissive attitude he took to her representation of her symptoms.
Ultimately mum was so lucky, and I am so glad, that she had the strength and the confidence to trust herself and to stand up for herself when faced with such doubt from someone who was supposed to be an authority, but really she should never have had to bear so much of that responsibility in the circumstances. This story serves as a reminder for all of us of something we’ve probably already found out, that as women we have to represent and defend our own interests at all times, sadly we can’t always trust that anyone else is going to do this for us, even when they should. Hopefully it might also encourage us to consider what we expect of those who look to us for help or support in so many situations and how we can better respond when our expectations are not met, as necessarily sometimes they will not be, to ensure that we don’t allow these prejudices to do the real harm that we know they can.
Author: Lauren Donnelly, WRDA Volunteer