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than I do – we both believe that the Eighth Amendment is a draconian and inhumane piece of legislation that needs to be repealed.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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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 »

imagining gender equality: the case of Skyrim

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“Why yes, it is perfectly reasonable to have a boob window in sub-zero conditions!”

“Wow, this game does not discriminate based on gender,” said my friend, as we watched a graphic cut-screen of my female orc merrily decapitating a heavily-armoured female Bandit Chief.

As someone who has spent over 800 hours of my life playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, part of me wants to agree with this assessment. In some ways, it’s entirely accurate. In Skyrim, there’s a distinct absence of many of the gendered tropes that put me off mainstream videogames. In all my extensive play time, I never felt like I was willfully ignoring offensive portrayals of my gender in order to enjoy the rest of the game. In Skyrim, as in many open world RPGs*, your character is completely customisable; their gender, their appearance and their skill set all come down your own choices. Both male and female bodies are equally idealized (though even the bulkiest lady body does not look strong enough to wield a warhammer). In general, female armour is not more revealing or sexualised than equivalent male armour. (Albeit, there are some female sets that have an inexplicable chest windows, which, considering the climate of Skyrim, always makes me think “wow her tits must be cold”.)

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When sexism is bad storytelling: the case of Tauriel

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Evageline Lily as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

One of the best things that happened in 2014 was that The Hobbit “trilogy” finally juddered to a halt, meaning those of us who feel obliged to see the films out of residual Lord of the Rings loyalty can get on with our lives in peace, at least until Peter Jackson finds his copy of The Silmarillion.

We meet lady elf warrior Tauriel in the second installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. If it feels like she was shoehorned in, it’s because she was shoehorned in. The book of The Hobbit is an unrepentant Victorian boys’ club. So, this is positive right? Actively altering the source material to be more inclusive! One whole new female character in nine hours of rambling and unnecessarily drawn-out plot? You’re welcome, feminists!

As a rabid Tolkien nerd and a card-carrying feminist, I desperately wanted to be positive about this new female character, created for my presumed benefit. Sadly, Tauriel is a case study in how not to write and insert a new female character into a pre-existing world or story. The first and most obviously problem is that she’s suffering from a lethal case of Strong Female Character syndrome.

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a better way to be anti-abortion

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Schoolchildren protest outside Leinster House in 1992 supporting the right of X, a 14 year-old rape victim, to travel for an abortion. Photograph: Eric Luke, via The Irish Times

The evidence is clear and plentiful: making abortion illegal does not reduce abortion rates. In countries where abortion is severely restricted or completely illegal, the procedure is usually unsafe, traumatic and sometimes fatal for the women who seek it, but they seek it all the same, despite risks to their health and threats of prosecution and imprisonment.

Of course, if you live in Ireland, you don’t need a peer-reviewed study to tell you this. Our country is a live illustration of the trend. Every year, at least 3,500 Irish women (that’s an average of nine women per day) spend time, energy and money travelling to the UK to obtain a safe, legal abortion. Those who are unable to travel continue to turn to illegal “abortion pills” or even more drastic measures to end unwanted pregnancy – we’re not sure about their numbers, but it’s safe to assume they are not negligible.

For those of you who call yourselves “pro-life”, your one and only campaign point seems to be preserving our Constitution’s 8th Amendment at all costs. I’m sorry to inform you that your time and effort is sadly misplaced. Ireland is not and has never been “abortion-free”. Our blanket ban on abortion does little, if anything, to deter women from ending unwanted pregnancy. All the evidence suggests that repealing our 8th Amendment and replacing it with clear and humane legislation on reproductive rights will not increase abortion rates among Irish women.*

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