what we owe each other

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Sisters marching for Repeal, September 2016 and March 2017

The essay below was written by my sister, Lara Cassidy. She came to me for editing help, we worked on it together and then I offered to publish it here, because I stand by it and I want as many people as possible to read it. I admire her clear-headed approach to this issue and I think it may be helpful to voters who are still undecided on how will they will cast their ballot on Friday.

– Marianne

Dear friends, family and acquaintances. Maybe you already know how you’re voting on Friday. Maybe you’re undecided or maybe you don’t intend to vote at all. Wherever you stand, I wanted to ask you one last time to consider what this vote means for us, both as individuals and as a nation.

First off, I want to acknowledge that this referendum is not just a medical or legal dilemma. Emotions are running high, no matter where you stand on abortion. And that’s ok. Birth, life, death: these are emotional issues, and it’s important to acknowledge that. The debate around this referendum has asked us to interrogate our core values. It has asked us what guides the decisions we make and what decisions we would allow others to make. It asks what we believe we owe each other and the society we live in. It has asked many of us to question what we believe to be our own inalienable rights and freedoms.  

This is the question at the heart of the debate: does one human’s right to life trump another’s right to bodily autonomy?

I believe the majority of people on both sides of the debate would agree that both rights – the right to bodily autonomy and the right to life – are sacrosanct and central to human dignity. In the vast majority of cases, people are contentedly both pro-life (do no harm to your fellow humans either directly or indirectly) and pro-choice (my body is mine to do with as I wish).

Pregnancy is a unique physical relationship between two humans. Only fifty percent of the human population have the potential to experience it, and there is no easy analogy to explain it to those who can’t. Pregnancy is also one of the only spheres where these two basic human rights regularly come into direct conflict: when one human life cannot sustain itself without the body of another, which right takes precedence?  And more importantly, should that precedence vary on a situational basis or be subject to a blanket rule?

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on being worthy of abortion

Patient sitting on hospital bed waiting

A few weeks ago, I was at a family gathering and someone brought up the topic of abortion. A living room full of women, ranging from early twenties to late sixties, proceeded to drunkenly debate the issue into the wee hours of the morning. One of those women, who we’ll call “Jemima”, is a former NHS doctor. She informed us that, throughout her career, she had routinely refused to sign forms for women seeking abortion because she did not approve of their reasons for wanting one. She spoke with particular scorn about a woman she had refused on the grounds that she was wealthy and married, with two children already, and so could surely provide a loving and stable home for a potential third child? The idea that there were almost certainly considerations of which Jemima was not aware – or the novel concept that her patient simply did not want to be pregnant and her reasons are her own – didn’t enter the equation. Jemima insisted that, as a Catholic, she should not have to sign off on a procedure that goes against her beliefs.

I was appalled that it is (apparently) legal for medical professionals to engage in this sort of gatekeeping, especially in a country with relatively liberal abortion laws. And perhaps that’s naïve of me, but given what I know of the UK, I assume (I hope) that woman went on to find a GP who doesn’t refuse treatment on religious grounds and was able to get an abortion, having only been mildly inconvenienced by Jemima and her anti-choice views.

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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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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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this culture you speak of

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“You heinous bitch.”

Earlier this year, I read an essay called Shining a Light on Cutoff Culture. It’s almost four thousand words long and before I was halfway through, my shoulders were drawn up around my ears and my head was vibrating with ill-defined rage. Fortunately, Captain Awkward chose to tackle it on her blog and helped me pinpoint exactly why this essay made me so deeply uncomfortable. It took me a long time to sort my thoughts out on this one, but here is my letter to the man who wrote that essay.

Dear Jeff,

You claim to be trying to shine on a light the dangers of cutoff culture. But here is the thing.

Most women do not live in a cutoff culture. Far from it. Let me tell you a bit about the kind of culture women live in when it comes to dating, relationships and sex. Your essay extrapolated from an example from your own personal experience, so I’ll give you one from mine:

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