3… 2… and… IT’S CHRIIISTMAASSS! Well, almost. The big day is only 18 sleeps away and it can’t have escaped you that Christmas is everywhere. We’ve had Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and I, for one, have already put my tree up and had more than a few mince pies. Maybe you’re like me and you absolutely love the whole season (probably not exactly like me, I’m a grown adult who will be voluntarily sporting antlers throughout much of December), or maybe you’re not feeling excited at all, just pressured, anxious or a bit down. Either way, this blog is for you, it’s for all of us, a set of general guidelines to get us from here to Christmas with a little bit more peace and joy. Here’s hoping.
#1 – Take Care of You and Yours
This one’s pretty simple, and it will mean something different for almost everyone reading. Look after yourself and the people around you, don’t buy into anything that brings you more trouble than you feel it’s worth, and make sure to prioritise the things you need. Increasingly, and especially for the women who, for the most part, are making Christmas happen, the whole season can be just a rush of stress that ends up in total exhaustion by the time the school holidays start. We would all do well to remember that competitive gifting, cooking and prepping need not be what Christmas is all about, and to reject the pressure of a “perfect Christmas”. Martin Lewis talks sense about this, advising that striving for the unattainable perfect day, whether at Christmas, or when planning a wedding or any other big event, will probably just lead to debt, disappointment, or both. Perfect days just don’t happen, and we all know this really, in spite of the advertising that tries to make us feel differently. Your Christmas day doesn’t have to look like anything in particular, as long as it works for you, so say no to too much pressure and too much money spent. If you’re celebrating Christmas this year, just try to honour whatever it means to you, and enjoy those things on your own terms.
You can watch Martin Lewis talking about unnecessary gift-giving and the pressure that goes along with it here, and consider releasing yourself and your loved ones from any obligations you can’t meet.
#2 Do What Good You Can
Much of the messaging and marketing around Christmas would have us believe that everyone is simply having a wonderful time (to paraphrase a Beatle), with family, loved ones, too much food and a general atmosphere of comfort and joy. But again, we know this isn’t the case. There are many people in need at this time of year, and we can all channel the spirit of giving into making a change, however small it might be, to honour the true spirit of Christmas.
Why not consider supporting these organisations with your time or money this Christmas?
And bear in mind that this doesn’t have to mean volunteering or making financial donations, we all know free time and money can be hard to come by at this time of year. Instead, it could be as simple as giving a little extra thought and care to those around you. If this is someone’s first Christmas since losing someone important, or you just know it’s a particularly tough time for them, for whatever reason, check in and see if there’s anything you can do to make it easier on them, and let them know that you’re there. And please, of course, extend this same compassion and care to yourself, if Christmas is hard, do whatever you need to do to make it easier, even if that means doing nothing at all…
#3 Understand That Everybody’s Christmas is Different
If Christmas really is the season of love and understanding, and I believe Shaky was on to something there, then we should all try to extend those things to everyone in our lives, whether their Christmas looks like ours or not. If you have a friend, or a colleague who, like me, goes a bit Christmas crackers and starts getting excited in September, make allowances for their daft behaviour, Christmas can really come to mean a lot when life gets tough, and I think that’s okay. Likewise, all of us elves need to bear in mind that there are plenty of good reasons why people don’t engage with Christmas, and forced fun is no fun at all, so don’t try to wrap your colleagues in tinsel and make them “get in the spirit”. Instead show everyone the respect of letting them do this time of year however they want to, and make everyone feel welcome to join in, or not. Both are fine choices.
However you spend the season WRDA hopes you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Blog by WRDA volunteer Lauren Donnelly
TRIGGER WARNING: This blog contains details of a sexual assault and the medico/judicial process following it.
2018 has been a tough year for women generally and for sexual assault survivors particularly. The #MeToo movement, The Rugby Rape Trial, Bret Kavanagh and the recent rape trial in the Republic of Ireland where the victim’s pants were used by the defence to suggest consent have all been difficult for survivors. This blog has been submitted by a women who hopes sharing her experience will stop others going through the same thing.
If you have been affected by sexual assault here are some organisations that can help.
Nexus: Nexus NI offer services and support to people who have been affected by sexual violence in any form, and our services are delivered across Northern Ireland. https://nexusni.org/
The Rowan: The Rowan is the regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) for Northern Ireland. http://therowan.net/
Women’s Aid: Women’s Aid is the lead voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland addressing domestic and sexual violence and providing services for women and children. They have a 24 hour helpline 0808 802 1414. https://www.womensaidni.org/about-us/womens-aid/
To find out more about how to make a report of sexual violence to the PSNI and what happens when you do please visit https://www.psni.police.uk/crime/sexual-violence-and-abuse/
I was seriously sexually assaulted when I was 15 by a 35 year old man. We were on a group trip together. I’d chosen to sleep in the hall next to his wife, my friend and he slept on the other side of me. I felt safe sleeping there because they were my friends. I was asleep when the assault started. I woke up feeling confused. It took me a while to understand what was happening. I was frozen, not quite inside my body as I lay there still, with my eyes open in the dark. When he was finished he asked me if I had come. I lay there numb, unsure how to process my first ever sexual experience.
The next morning I sat with him and had breakfast. He joked with the others like nothing had happened. I struggled to look his wife, my friend, in the eyes. So full of guilt and repulsed at myself for what I had done with her husband. I could not believe how much I had betrayed her. I travelled back home in the car with them, quiet in the back; listening to the Cranberries, disgusted with myself. Numb.
I made the mistake of confiding in a friend who told another so I had to tell my friend what had happened. I had to admit to what I had done with her husband, to a woman I loved and admired. She believed me and then my life spiralled out of control. I was made to tell my parents and go to the police. I was taken into the fancy victim room, where I was interviewed by a male and female police officer. I sat on the floral sofa, looking out the window past the floral curtains, designed I imagine to make the experience less horrific. It did not. I was made to tell my story three times. To tell these 2 strangers about my first sexual experience. They asked me if I was a virgin. They seemed happy when I said I was, something that couldn’t be used against me in court. I was then taken to the hospital where I had to have an examination. The second man to ever touch me was the middle aged police doctor, whilst the other male police doctor and a nurse watched. I lay there naked, covered by a gown and again I spread my legs. I lay there looking at the tray of instruments they had wheeled in, petrified at what they were for. I lay there as they examined me, and took photographs of my vagina, as they opened me up with a speculum and took swabs. I lay there as the second doctor came closer to look at the grazing, a bright light shining on me. I lay there numb and exposed again whilst they collected their evidence. I lay there.
My abuser pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a minor, sparing me a trial where my sexual experience and what I was wearing would have been discussed. He received a one year suspended sentence. I received a much longer and tougher one.
It’s been over 20 years since my assault. I’ve gone to university, got a good career, met a wonderful man who I married and had 2 sons in that time. I spent my teens and 20s with the trauma and guilt and disgust at myself buried down so deeply I didn’t even know it was there. Its presence was more subtle, showing itself as self-loathing and disgust at myself.
I started my journey to healing in my late 20s. I worked with a fantastic lady who helped me tap into what my unconscious mind was hiding from me. What I felt about myself. How incredibly guilty I felt for letting him do it, for not screaming, for telling him I was ok, for hurting my friend, for hurting my family, for everything I’d put them through. I worked through these feelings in what was an extremely difficult time. Memories came back to me that I’d hidden and I had to relive the time over and over again. Eventually though I worked through a lot of the negative feelings and developed a way to love myself again. To value myself. To stop blaming myself. It’s still a work in progress but I think the bulk of the guilty feelings have gone. I’m beginning to understand that he groomed me. I can look objectively at the way he treated me like an adult, the slaps on the bum, the dirty jokes, the sitting next to me and feeling my thigh, the pulling me to sit on his knee. These were all done in public, in front of his wife at times, in front of others. All accepted. Socially normal behaviour. Boys being boys.
I am still healing. Writing details of the assault still makes takes me back there. Details are so vivid it feels like it could have been yesterday. I’m still on my journey as a survivor. For now I’m angry. So, very, very angry. Angry at him, for stealing my innocence and scarring me so deeply I worry I’ll never fully recover. Angry at her for staying with him. Angry at the judicial system for his sentence. Angry at the way I was processed. Angry at having to share my story with a male officer. Angry at the fact I was examined by 2 male doctors when I was so very raw and hurting, physically and mentally. Angry at the fact they returned my nightie and pants months after, a reminder of the attack. Angry that I can’t have a dental examination without feeling violated. Angry that I’ve carried this load around for such a long time. Angry my parents and family have had to carry the same burden. Angry that so many women experience sexual assaults and inappropriate behaviour from men. Angry that I don’t feel able to challenge behaviour from a colleague at work calling me darling and sweetheart. Angry that we teach girls how to not be raped or assaulted. Angry at the porn industry for objectifying women and teaching men that we don’t deserve respect. Angry at a society where a group of 14 year old girls are discussing in public about how they are all having anal sex with their boyfriends. Angry at revenge porn and social media. Angry that women are called sluts and whores. Angry that women are having to aspire to be fake and perfect. Angry that women’s bodies are objectified and used to sell things. Angry that a rape case of a 27 year old accused of raping a 17 year old is acquitted and part of the evidence from the defence is that she was probably open to sex because she was wearing a lacy thong. Angry a group of sex traffickers who literally snatch women off of the street, beat and rape them and then sell them to the highest bidder were given a 3 year prison sentence. Angry at the victim blaming and shaming of women involved in public figure rape cases and the societal responses to the case. Angry at the unchallenged behaviour of men behaving inappropriately towards women. Angry at the media for their portrayal of women and sensationalising of issues relating to women. Angry at the misogyny in the workplace and the inequalities. Angry that so many women will carry the burden of sexual assault their whole lives. Angry at the poor resources to help these women. Angry that I feel anxious about raising my sons in this world and the burden on me to teach them about consent and respect.
I’m angry, but I’m still hopeful. I’m hopeful we can change things. Hopeful we can raise our children to understand consent and respect. Hopeful we can call out sexism and inappropriate behaviour. Hopeful that we can change the judicial system to make it easier for the victim and to increase the prosecution rate. Hopeful we can properly punish offenders. Hopeful we can eradicate the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. Hopeful we can raise a generation of strong women and respectful men. Hopeful the gap between men and women will disappear. Hopeful I can get to a place of peace with my story.
I’m hopeful many of you can’t identify with my story. Hopeful that the people reading this are not fellow survivors. I’m hopeful my story will prompt you to think about your actions, how you treat others, about consent and respect and the consequences of not having this. I’m hoping my story will prompt you to challenge inappropriate behaviour. I’m hoping my story will help you understand the importance of raising our children to respect others and understand consent. I’m hoping my story will make you understand that what seems like quite a minor experience can have such profound and long lasting negative effects. I’m hopeful my experience can make a difference and stop others experiencing the horrific rollercoaster of being a survivor. Hopeful things will be different for my children. I’m still healing, but I’m hopeful.
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
Belfast has a problem with Rape Culture. Eating lunch, buying clothes or even just walking down the street, women in this city are met with a barrage of misogynistic material. Violence against women is made light of and women’s bodies are used as room dressing. We have a high rate of violence against women and the way women are presented in pop culture is part of the problem.
In February 2018 the David James Kerr clothes shop was called out on its misogyny for this poster showing the lower portion of a couple having sex. The owner responded to the suggestion that the image was demeaning to women and inappropriate in a clothes shop by posting ‘its only a toilet door FFS’ on social media. The pornographic image is degrading and it is outrageous that the shop’s Instagram feed shows a pic of a child posing in front of it. The toilet icon above the poster is also deeply concerning, It shows a male character looking over a stall divider at a female character. This is an image of a man assaulting a women and it is being casually displayed in a clothes shop. This shop is popular with children.
Some have tried to dismiss this as a bit of fun or just lad culture but this kind of behaviour has real world consequences. In 2016 there were 3,160 reported sexual assaults in NI including over 800 rapes. Crimes of this nature are notoriously underreported and so we know this is only the tip of the iceberg. NI clearly has a problem with men’s attitudes to women and sex. Educating young men about the basic concept of consent is an uphill battle when this kind of imagery has been in their faces and infecting their sub consciousness since they were children.
The décor of Made In Belfast, a trendy restaurant in the Cathedral Quarter is more subtle in its misogyny. They display vintage looking prints of women in their underwear across from a giant mirror with the words ‘treat me like a piece of meat’ printed on it. Northern Ireland definitely has a problem with rape culture if we consider this appropriate room dressing for a restaurant. Pairing these items together evokes the age old trope that women are somehow asking to be the victims of sexual violence. The pervasiveness of images and messages like this in our society creates the impression that misogyny is acceptable.
In 2017 Ribs and Bibs restaurant on Botanic advertised its bargain lunch with this catchy slogan, ‘ya can beat the wife but ya can’t beat a 5 pound lunch!’. The restaurant’s initial response was to try and gaslight people who found making fun of domestic violence objectionable by telling them to ‘get a life, it’s a bit of wit’ on social media. This did cause a substantial backlash and Ribs and Bibs eventually said it would discipline the employee responsible but that person still thought it was okay to try and use domestic violence as a marketing tool and their boss thought this was witty. Northern Ireland has a shockingly high rate of domestic violence (one call to the PSNI every 18 minutes in 2016) and maybe part of the problem is that as a wider society we don’t take violence against women seriously enough.
That is the common thread running through all these examples, that we as a society do not take violence against women seriously. Women are abused by partners, assaulted and treated like a piece of meat. Our bodies are disrespected and denigrated and our privacy and safety are compromised. Some of those actions are illegal, all are morally reprehensible but we are not going to make real progress in tackling them as individual issues unless we dismantle a culture which thinks it is okay to use them to sell us stuff.
The next time you’re out shopping or grabbing lunch and you see rape culture looking back at you, point it out to the proprietor and let us know on twitter and Facebook. No more women hating in public spaces.
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.