an open letter to Larissa Nolan

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Mo chorp, mo rogha = My body, my choice. Protestors block O’Connell Bridge in Dublin City Centre on International Women’s Day 2017. Image via thedailyedge.ie

Dear Larissa Nolan,

I’m writing this open letter in response to your article, published in the Irish Times on 8th March 2017, entitled Why The Repeal The Eighth March Will Backfire. I thought this was an odd article to feature on International Women’s Day, especially considering the day’s events were indisputably dominated by the Repeal Movement across the country, but of course, you are not responsible for the Times’ editorial choices.

In your article, you admonish Repealers for failing to listen to dissenting voices and to engage with women like you, women “in the middle” who do not see abortion as a clear-cut issue. You say that this is the reason a referendum would fail. However, having engaged with your words to the best of my ability, it seems that – even though you place more value on life in the womb than I do – we both believe that the Eighth Amendment is a draconian and inhumane piece of legislation that needs to be repealed. You identify as pro-life, but you also say:

“I do not judge anyone who has ever come to the decision that an abortion is the best choice for them at a given time. That is their own business, borne out of their own individual circumstance.”

As a commenter points out, this sentiment is the essence of pro-choice.

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fuck flattering: a performance

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Here is an exciting news! I am writing and performing a short one-woman show called Fuck Flattering as part of the Scene + Heard Festival 2017 at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. You can book tickets here.

What’s the show about?

Fuck Flattering is a performance piece about unlearning body hate. It’s about stepping off the hamster wheel of physical perfection. It’s about exploding conventional standards of hot and desirable, and finding beauty and power and strength in the wreckage.

In its current form, it’s part furious call-to-action, part no-bullshit crash course, part personal exploration of my own relationship with my body. I’ve written about my struggles and triumphs with body image in the past – Fuck Flattering feels like the logical conclusion of a long and turbulent journey towards learning to love the body I have right now, almost 100% of the time.

But the fun thing about Scene + Heard is that it’s a festival for developing work, so there’s going to be plenty of room for evolution built into the process between now and the end of February.

Will you be performing it?

I will! With my own body and my own voice! On the condition that I don’t expire from nerves before actually making it to the stage.

Where and when can I see?

You can catch Fuck Flattering for two nights – February 28th and March 1st at 8pm in the Main Space at Smock Alley Theatre. Once again, you can book tickets here. It is paired with another show called Handling It, a dark comedy about grappling with becoming a “victim” in the wake of sexual assault. A ticket for both shows is €10.

Making it safe for refugee women

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“I want everyone to live in a house and not in camps” – N, twelve years old, from Syria

Since the USA elected Donald Trump as its next president, liberal talking heads and Twitter personalities have been spending a lot a of time warning each other about the dangers of normalization. Normalization is the process by which certain actions, events or ideologies come to be accepted as a “normal” or even “natural” part of everyday life within a society. “Don’t let this become normal,” we tell each other with grave urgency, where “this” refers to the hurricane of naked corruption and mendacity that defines the political discourse.

Yet while all eyes are on the theatre of the US election and Britain’s shambolic exit from the EU, an ongoing and utterly abnormal crisis is becoming increasingly normalized. Europe is currently experiencing a refugee emergency on scale that has not been seen since World War II. In 2015, over one million refugees crossed into Europe – roughly half of them from Syria – and conservative estimates for 2016 show that this number will be similar or higher. Pictures of overcrowded dinghies adrift in the Mediterranean Sea were once a source of shock; now they’ve become par for the course. “Refugee crisis” has become a minor note in 2016’s relentlessly tragic news cycle. And the longer it drags on, the more entrenched the apathy becomes.

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A letter to the Citizens’ Assembly

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Photo by Justin Farrelly, via Independent.ie

Dear Members of the Citizens’ Assembly,

I am writing to you as a private citizen of the Republic of Ireland to express my strong support for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of our country’s Constitution.

Like every other woman of child-bearing age in our country, I have never been afforded the opportunity to vote on my reproductive rights. The Eighth Amendment was signed into law five years before I was born. I am now twenty-eight years old. I have recently moved back to Ireland with the intention to settle here permanently, after five years of living and working abroad – the inevitable consequence of graduating at the height of a recession. Despite all its flaws and faults, I love my country and I believe in our ability to constantly better ourselves as a nation. If I ever decide to raise a family, I want to do it on Irish soil.

However, while living abroad as an Irish citizen, our country’s blanket ban on abortion has been a source of shame for me. I spent two years working in a United Nations organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. I was there in 2014, when the UN Human Rights Committee conducted its fourth periodic review of Ireland. A committee of eighteen human rights experts formally called for Ireland to hold a referendum on abortion.

Working within the UN system, many of my colleagues became aware of the findings of the Committee’s report as a matter of course. Several dropped by my desk to ask me to clarify the criticism: surely Ireland didn’t have a blanket ban on abortion? Even in cases of rape? What about fatal foetal abnormality? I was forced to explain, many times in the course of one week: “Yes, my country would force a rape victim to carry a resulting pregnancy to term. Yes, my country would force a woman to carry a dying foetus to term, even if her health is at risk. Yes, abortion is still a criminal offence in Ireland.”

Many of my colleagues came from countries plagued with their own state-mandated human rights abuses. They were all uniformly shocked that Ireland, a so-called “developed” country was still, in 2014, dragging its collective feet on such a basic issue of human rights.

That was 2014. It is now 2016 and nothing has changed. I am intimately familiar with the varied and valid criticisms that can and should be levelled at the United Nations, but the fact is that Ireland remains a member of this organisation by choice. It is both arrogant and ludicrous to claim membership in a group while disregarding its most basic tenets.

I also want to strongly affirm my belief that abortion access should not be restricted to cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, and that whatever legislation replaces the Eighth Amendment should reflect this. I do not believe a woman’s right to access abortion should be offset by how much she has suffered. Like many women in my generation, I am single, sexually active, and unsure if I ever want children. I do not believe that consensual sex is the same thing as consenting to becoming pregnant, nor do I believe that childbirth should be treated as a sort of fitting punishment for women who openly enjoy sex. This insidious line of thinking is preserved and perpetuated by the Catholic Church, an institution with an utterly dismal track record of abusing the women and children unfortunate enough to fall into its care.

I do not believe abortion is murder. Nor do I believe that the majority of self-identified “pro-life” advocates believe that abortion is murder, as most, when pushed, will not agree that 200,000 Irish women should currently be serving life sentences in prison for this crime.

I believe that women are the experts on their own lives and their own bodies. I believe that the decision to end or to continue with a pregnancy belongs to no one except the pregnant person.

Above all, I believe that in a country founded on the principle of fair representation of the interests of all its citizens, I should have the opportunity to express my views by voting in a national referendum. I believe that democratic process on this issue is long overdue. It was overdue two years ago when I had to explain, shame-faced, to colleagues from all over the world, that pregnant people in my country do not have the right to basic bodily autonomy.

I sincerely hope I never have to feel that kind of shame again.

Thank you all for your time and your consideration.

Yours faithfully,

Marianne Cassidy

the US Presidential election: symbols and shards

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by kris straub of chainsawsuit.com

1. The centre of the universe

I don’t often write about events the United States of America. This is a conscious choice. It’s too easy to slip into a completely US-centric worldview. I rarely feel a pressing urge to add my point of view to the endless, echoing din of thinkpieces and hot takes.  My own small country, despite its relative insignificance on the international stage, has its own host of social and economic problem that could use my time and energy. The USA is not the centre of the universe, even though it sometimes feels that way.

But sometimes something happens and you have to mark it, even if you have nothing new to say.

Sometimes you just have to howl.

2. To be clear

I’m not here to discuss the various merits and/or failings of Clinton and Trump. I’m not interested in Clinton’s emails or her lack of charisma and all the ways she wasn’t perfect enough to secure a precarious victory. I’m not going to write a lament for an alternate timeline in which Sanders trounced Trump. I’m certainly not here to rehash every single racist, sexist, selfish, underhand, outrageous thing that Donald Trump has done or said in his career, because you’ve heard it all before and you’ve already made up your mind. And because I’m fucking tired, and anyway, it’s over. She lost and Donald Trump is President-Elect.

3. The world turned upside down

I’ve been drowning in the deluge of opinion pieces, each pundit scrabbling around for a narrative that answers the terrible question: How could this happen? It was misogyny! It was racism! It was a white working class revolt! The last gasp of neoliberalism! The end of the establishment! Except the establishment is now a woman who worked too hard to get what she wanted and the saviour of the working class is a billionaire bully  who only cares about the working class as long as they’re screaming his name in adulation and baying for the blood of his opponents.

I don’t have coherent opinion. I don’t have a pithy analysis or satisfying explanation for what the fuck is going on. Sorry. And because of that, I almost decided not to write anything.

But you know what? Neat narratives about why things happen the way they do are part of the problem. Things are too fractured for neatness, too cracked for coherence. All I can offer is shards.Read More »

what Black Mirror gets wrong about social media

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This post contains spoilers for “Nosedive”, the first episode of Season 3 of Black Mirror.

I have a love/hate relationship with Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. For the most part, it does exactly what it says on the tin: offers up a dark reflection of our world (or a near-future version of it) for consideration. While the reflection is usually somewhat askew, we can still identify aspects of ourselves staring back at us through the glass, which is what makes the series so uniquely disquieting. Part horror and part satire, each standalone tale of dystopia seems to whisper: “Watch your step, because this nightmare world is just around the corner.”

However, in its quest to satirize the technological and/or cultural phenomena that govern our world, Black Mirror often fails to engage with those phenomena in a meaningful way, falling back on smug technophobia and intense cynicism to propel the action towards the most horrifying conclusion imaginable. As Kathryn VanArendonk puts it “the show’s primary crutch is too often that it uses thought-provoking and fascinating foundations in order to reach the simplest, most alarmist possible conclusion about a variety of technological innovations.”

Nowhere is this weakness more apparent than in “Nosedive”, the first episode of the newly released third season.

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wonder and reality in Pokémon Go

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I was a Pokéchild. I had a biscuit tin full of meticulously sorted trading cards and an undefeated Psychic deck built around Alakazam’s intensely frustrating Damage Swap power. My sister and I religiously watched each new episode of the animated series as it aired on Sky One at 8am every morning. The morning they surprised us with a double episode finale, we were late for school. When the Gameboy release eventually dropped in Ireland and I got my sweaty little paws on Pokémon Red, I spent a long and indolent summer trading and battling on the green with the kids in my neighbourhood. I played so much that I would go to bed with the infamously tinny Pokémon music still ringing in my ears. Back then, the world of Pokémon was colourless and rigidly two-dimensional, the gameplay repetitive and the storytelling lacklustre. But for all its flaws, the contents of that little red cartridge instilled in me a profound sense of wonder and curiosity.

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Literally the most annoying power

I was eleven years old when the Pokémon craze swept through Ireland, which was also the average age of the protagonists in both the animated series and the games. I think, for many kids of my age, the near-universal appeal of the franchise didn’t come the collectability of the monsters nor the adrenaline of the battles (though these things were certainly factors). The beating heart of Pokémon was a world that said, “Hey kid, imagine if, instead of sitting at home and doing boring homework, you could be out travelling the world on an important mission with a loyal band of fantastic beast companions at your side?” It was an intoxicating proposition. When my Gameboy batteries were eventually confiscated and I was forced to go to sleep, I would indulge in detailed fantasies about what my life would be like if Pokémon were real.

Fast-forward to 2016 and suddenly the world of Pokémon is more real than that eleven year-old girl furiously tapping away at her Gameboy could ever have imagined. In 1999, the idea that almost everyone in Ireland would own a pocket-sized personal computer – one that could make video calls, respond to voice commands and surf the World Wide Web in full colour – was the stuff of science fiction. Now, my phone acts as a window to a parallel universe, an alternate world where vibrant monsters frolick in the streets. Pokémon Go creates a simultaneous sense of being privy to a magical secret and being part of a vast communal experience. The wonder is back and this time it’s on par with tumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia.

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