orientalcutlery

Juice from the sprawlings of the noodles in my noggin.

An open letter to Mandate for Marriage.

To whom it may concern,

I wish to respond to some points made by a representative of yours, in an interview on Ocean FM, regarding same-sex marriage and the upcoming referendum on the same. In this interview, your representative said that “[heterosexual marriage] is the only definition of marriage that has proven itself over centuries [and] has established itself as the bedrock of civilisation”. This is incorrect for a number of reasons.

Firstly, no one definition of marriage has lasted for centuries. The definition of marriage was redefined, for example, in the 90s when we outlawed marital rape in Ireland, and redefined again when we recognised the privacy to use condoms, in 1991. Prior to this in the 1970s we redefined marriage when we allowed women to keep their jobs in the civil service following marriage, and allowed Catholics and Protestants to enter into marriages with each other. Prior to even this, the repeal of Penal Laws allowed Catholics to marry freely. So you can see why your representative’s comments caused some confusion.

Your representative then claimed that your organisation simply seeks to inform the public with facts and statistics. I love statistics! Here are some of my favourite ones; 94% of people who identify as LGBT* are bullied. They are five times more likely to be medicated for depression and related illnesses, two and a half times more likely to self harm and three times more likely to attempt suicide. [i]Those statistics don’t sit very well with me, as I believe there is value in every human life. Which is something Jesus Christ believed in too.

Your representative then went on to discuss sexual behaviour. He said, “… don’t agree that sexual conduct between two men or two women should be given the same legal status as sexual conduct between a man and a woman”. Nowhere in the current definition of marriage does the Irish constitution mention sexual conduct of any kind. To add information about sexual conduct would actually be a re-definition of marriage, which your representative, I understand, disapproves of.

On the topic of homosexuality, your representative said that the problem is with “the sexual act”. I would like to thank your representative for his honesty on the issue of his “distaste” with the sexual acts of homosexuals. Such honesty is something I have not encountered in the ‘No’ campaign so far, though it is far from commendable. I would like to ask a question of the representative if I could; Why is it that you care about the sexual acts others engage in? I am heterosexual and I certainly don’t spend any of my time wondering about the sexual acts of others. Partly because it’s none of my business, and partly because I am simply indifferent to it. Further to this, I believe that your representative would be best placed to make calls for the re-criminilastion of homosexuality rather than fighting against marriage. If, for some unfortunate reason this referendum does not pass, LGBT* people in Ireland will still be having sex.

Your representative then made a disgraceful comment about the prevalence of AIDS amongst gay males in particular. This is a moot point. Firstly, one cannot “catch” AIDS from a partner, sexual or otherwise,. One can however become HIV+ on contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is also HIV+. HIV is a virus that is also contracted by many heterosexual people, many of whom share your representative’s Christian beliefs, or who belong to different faiths and races entirely. Diseases do not discriminate. And neither should you.

Your representative said that we are all given “heterosexual bodies, we all have the same reproductive organs.” I would like to point out here that 1% of the world’s population are in fact born with some sort of biological intersex condition. As I understand it, your representative is a student of mathematics, so will be better placed than I to inform you that 1% of seven billion is seventy million. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but that is quite a large number of people. What exactly would you say to those people? Or more importantly, why is it that you are so obsessed with what sexual acts they may or may not engage in, and with whom they engage in them?

Jane Austen never wrote a scene about two men alone. Her reasoning was that as a woman, she didn’t know how two men would speak to one another when alone. Your representative asked a question about the sexual behaviour of two men during your interview which seemed to go unanswered. I have male, homosexual friends and I could describe to you some of the sex acts they have engaged in and recounted to me, but the thing is I can’t verify them, and I don’t wish to. Their sex lives are none of my business unless they make it my business. I am not in the room with them. As my friends, all I want for them is to be safe and happy, and that goes for all situations they find themselves in; whether it’s crossing the road or having sex with another man. It is quite simply none of your business what anyone, other than you and a consenting partner or partners, get up to in terms of sexual behaviour, and it is certainly no business of the state unless someone is coming to harm or danger.

Your representative claimed that people should not use their body in “a way it’s not meant” to be used. Does this include tattoos and piercings? Hair dye? The use of glasses or contact lenses? Should people be prevented from using their bodies as art? Should we prohibit swimming since humans are clearly not designed to live in water? Should we put an end to space travel? Cars? Antibiotics? Vaccines? Gymnastics?

Your representative drew the interview to a close by saying he would have no problem getting a cup of coffee with someone who identifies as gay. I don’t identify as gay myself but I would love to catch up with him or one of your other representatives for a cup of coffee, provided you won’t be sitting wondering what sexual behaviours I may or may not have engaged in in my life, and that you won’t assume that I live my life by a scripture that, while of relevance to you and your lives, is of no relevance to me or mine.

Yours most sincerely,

Joanne Duffy

Your biggest fan

PS. Vote Yes.

[i] http://www.belongto.org/attachments/233_BeLonG_To_Submission_to_National_Strategy_for_Action_on_Suicide_Prevention.pdf

Ignore the nonsense, you’re not alone

The Irish media have an absolutely horrific attitude to the conversation about mental health issues, mental illness and suicidal ideation. Let’s just start with some stats:

  • Between 1987 and 1998 in this country, suicide rates doubled.
  • Ireland has the 4th highest rate of suicide in Europe (15.7 per 100,000 for 15-24 year olds)
  • About 50% of the LGBT community have engaged in self-harm, and are seven times more likely to take their own lives than heterosexuals.
  • Suicide is far more prevalent amongst young men than women in Ireland, with around 386 male suicides versus 100 female suicides in 2010.

This is a problem. It’s a big, big problem. As a country, we are not talking about this. It’s not enough that we’re willing to share an article or two by a GAA player or other celebrity, or that we wear a wristband for that campaign that gave out free chocolate bars that time. We need to have the conversation, and we need to have it today, every day, until we see this rate reduced to zero, and until we know that the people who surround us feel safe being who they are in their good times and their bad times.

I’ll start with a piece of my own story, in the hopes that it’ll make some difference. Recently, I’ve done lots of stuff with college and my students’ union and whatever else, and I’ve had this incredible outpouring of support from people. I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had this year. People often remark that I’m a “strong” person, because I’m vocal and tend to give off the appearance that I’m not phased by anything. People recently have been hugely supportive of my running for a part time position on the SU executive, with other elects saying they’re delighted they’ll get to work with me and that I’m a “great speaker” and commenting that I’m intelligent.

But here’s the thing. I’ve suffered with clinical depression for years. I’ve had a mixture of counselling and medical advice for it. It sucks balls, you guys. The fact that people have commented so positively on so many aspects of my personality makes absolutely no difference to my situation, I still suffer with depression. That does not mean I’m not grateful; I am. That does not mean that you shouldn’t wish well upon someone you think does well if they suffer with mental health issues; you should. I’m still a regular person. I’m still a daughter, sister, friend, colleague, fellow student. I’m still me. This is one part of who I am, it doesn’t define me.

For the last few days, the weather has been phenomenal where I live. The sun’s been shining, there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky. While it’s nice to dip out for a run to the beach when it’s like that, I’m also smothered with hay fever and feel like my sinuses are full of concrete. This is my body’s reaction to pollen, and I sometimes take antihistamines to counteract that. I’m not in control of my hay fever. I can’t sit down with my immune system and convince it that pollen is not a threat, my body reacts the way it does and that’s it. This might be a dodgy analogy but it makes sense to me. My mind sometimes goes blank, and I feel sad about everything. Everything. Nothing feels worthy of happiness. Sometimes if I start to feel truly happy about something, I’ll be stopped in my tracks by this gut wrenching feeling that it’s all going to be taken away, even if I have no reason to believe it will. This is the reality of depression.

When someone suffers in this way and it’s serious, they can become suicidal. It’s worth mentioning that you can continually suffer badly with a mental health issue and never feel suicidal, and that not all suicidal people suffer with a serious mental health issue. People who feel this way are not ignoring their friends and family. They are not oblivious to what is going to happen if they follow through with their wishes, in fact they’re more aware of what’s going to happen that you are. Articles, blogs, videos and whatever other media that vilify people who feel this way and try the “Would they ever think of their family”, “they have no idea the destruction they’re causing” approach need to fuck right off. It’s nonsense. You cannot approach people with depression like this, it does not work. Now we’ve made leaps and bounds in understanding that this approach is wrong, but I’m seeing it start to crop up again recently and it’s just plainly incorrect. You wouldn’t come to me in a fit of sneezing in the sunshine and say “Joanne would you just stop it with the hayfever, you’re spreading your germs everywhere and it’s not fair”. So don’t do the same to these people.

Now, I’m lucky. I’m in a position where I have a phenomenally supportive group of friends who are all open about this. I know there is a group of people I can go to when I feel like this. I know they won’t sit me down and try to pretend that everything is actually alright, because to me it doesn’t feel that way, and no amount of convincing can change that. I’m including a little cartoon below that perfectly captures the kind of approach people with depression need. I hope this is some kind of food for thought for people. I hope that you’ll go to your friends in the pub, over cheeky exam drinks in your houses, over coffee on your campuses and in between conversations about football, that new avicii song and who’s shifting who, you’ll ask your friends how they’re feeling. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them how their mental health is, if there’s anything they’d like to talk about. And finally, I just want to mention Jigsaw, who are one of the most phenomenal charities I’ve ever come across and have centres set up around the country with support services for people who suffer with mental health issues between the ages of 12 and 25. They are extraordinary, so approachable and so effective. If you’re trying to find a free, impartial, friendly service, I couldn’t recommend them highly enough, please go and talk to them. Image

Sexism. Again.

Feminism 77

Have you ever had that dream where you’re walking down the street naked, and you suddenly realise you’re naked? Or that you’re in your old school, and you’re in front of all your old classmates and teachers, and you’re naked? Or that you’re in a shopping centre, and you’re naked? You get my drift. So, if you’ve had it, have you ever felt completely in control in that dream? Did you ever feel like you could acknowledge your nakedness, and own it? Did being naked in front of other people when you did not intend on being naked feel powerful?

The answer is, most likely, no. That dream is a common one, and whilst I’m not a fan of interperating every single thing about a dream as though it were an exact reflection of your sub-conscious, generally speaking, if you dream about being naked, it means you’re feeling vulnerable. Being naked can feel very powerful sometimes, but it’s almost never the case when you’re only being acknowledged for your nakedness. That’s because when you’re naked, and all the people around you are fully clothed, you don’t have the same standing they have. You’re not in control like they are. You’re completely exposed.

This is the problem with both Robin Thicke’s almighty fuck up of a video (which he didn’t think was sexist, lololololol), and Justin Timberlake’s latest release. The problem is not the naked women. Naked women’s bodies do not always have to be thought of as a form of pornography, as I mentioned in my last blog. But when women are represented in a way that is lacking in control, lacking in power, and they are represented in this way over and over again, it’s not good. It’s not good at all. And when other people stand up in public, on the blogosphere, on social media, or wherever they please and say;

“Erm, is that sexist? Is that a bit of sexism there? Those women, being represented as nothing more than sexual objects to fulfill the desires of men who are telling them, whilst fully clothed themselves that they “know you want it”; are they really being represented in a fair and equal way?”

They are shot down as “neo femenazis” who have an “agenda” and read into things too much, as a commenter on my last blog so kindly advised me. Well, no. It is sexist. Sorry, but it just is. Women in these videos are purely decorative. They’re there to be naked, dance, wobble (in just the right places) and lick their lips and look up at the fully clothed male singers from beneath their heavy eyelashes. They’re there to take instruction from the lyrics. We’re confusing the already difficult notion of gaining explicit consent with lyrics that liken women to domesticated animals and insinuate that a lack of consent makes the sex somehow sexier. Any power they have is purely sexual, it’s a power that exists only because of the desires of the male that’s singing. They have no explicit, independent power of their own. They’re submissive, vulnerable and useless.

There appears to be a lot of confusion around the issue, so let me clear some of that up.

This kind of imagery is sexist. It is beyond me how it is possible for me to need to explain how and why that is sexist. The sexism is about as obvious as Tom Selleck’s moustache. The women are being treated like demure, passive sex objects. That is not ok. Women are people too, with just as many layers to their sexuality as men. Their sexuality is not bound to the perkyness of their breasts, or the hairlessness of their skin. Their sexuality is just as much psychological as it is physical. Women do not deserve to be treated like vulnerable, petty sex objects for decorative purposes. Women do not deserve to be oogled as naked objects around fully clothed men. Women are also people and deserve to be treated as such.

If you are still confused, or still think that “neo-feminists” (You know, the silly modern kind of feminists who fight for women’s rights and stuff, lolololol) are “reading too much into it”, then I shudder to think how far pop culture is going to have to go for you to recognise sexism when you see it.

Blurred Lines

So, my first listen of this song was on the Graham Norton show. Pharrell had his trousers turned up all cool, Hayden Pannettiere danced around in her lovely leggings and everything was great. I was hooked to the bassline, I could feel the addiction to this song making my brain swim. I felt spoiled, a Summer with “Get Lucky” AND “Blurred Lines”? I didn’t think it was possible.

Ohoho, but then… Then, I heard them discuss the fact that youtube had banned the video. Intrigued, I tracked it down on vimeo, and my opinion of the song and the artists plummeted as far south as it’s possible to go. Pharrell and Robin have made a big, big NONO.

It’s very easy to see girls in bikinis, or short skirts and dresses, or tight tops, and shout “THAT’S SEXIST”, even though that might not necessarily be true. What really makes situations like that sexist is when what’s happening doesn’t apply to males in the same way that it applies to females. In this video, the girls parade and dance around with nothing on except nude thongs, leaving well… nothing to the imagination.

The problem with this is not the naked women. Women can be naked. Naked women are lovely. It’s not true that a woman’s naked body needs always to be treated as a form of pornography, because it’s not. The problem is that the women are only there to be naked. That’s it. They don’t speak; they don’t do anything or than dance, naked. The men are all fully clothed; they don’t have to strip themselves down at all throughout the video.

On a second listen to the lyrics, I noticed that the whole song was pretty rapey, and quite frankly, full of yuck. Some key problems include:

“Tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal,  baby it’s in your nature”.
Implying ownership of women, or implying that women need to change their “wild” behaviour and become “domesticated” for your needs is not something I enjoy seeing in “modern” music.

“I know you want it”
This is repeated several times, and it’s exactly the kind of bullshit that anti-rape campaigns are trying to address. Guess what? You don’t know that I want it. Dancing with a girl in a club does not mean she “wants” it. If she wants it, she’ll let you know. Until that time, keep it in your pants.

“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two”
No. Just no. Don’t say things like that to women and think it’s attractive, or endearing. Again, if a woman is interested in having sex with you, or you are interested in having sex with her, there are ways and means about requesting that activity without making references to sexual violence or specific sexual desires that are pretty risqué. Ongoing consent is pretty sexy, if you ask me. (pun intended).

“He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair for you”
Implying that sexual violence is the norm, or is something desired by all, or desired by women as the initial sexual contact from someone is not ok. Rape fantasy sex is sexy to some people because of the safe environment in which it takes place. It’s not sexy to imply that you’re going to be violent towards a woman. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.

“I’m a nice guy, but don’t get confused, you git’n it”
If you are a nice guy, like you say, you’ll ensure that your partner consents. There should be no confusion.

Thicke has commented on the video in the media and said that he wanted to “break every rule” with it. That’s why animals appear in it, and there are implications of bestiality and obviously, full nudity. He reckons that they weren’t degrading the women, because they’re just “dancing and having fun” with them. If they were naked too, I might try to agree. But the idea that women being naked and men being fully clothed and in control is just the regular way to party is a bit, well, #thicke.

I am a skeptic

Today, I sat down and watched a programme following Psychic Sally on her tour in the UK. As a skeptic, I demand to be convinced of something before I will believe it. There is not a single thing in this show that led me to believe Sally has any kind of supernatural gift. The only gift I saw was one of clever intuition and manipulation, which is mightily useful to Sally and those like her who sell out arena shows and make a living from their “talent”. But it’s not supernatural, not by any means.

The show consists of snaps from shows with short interviews from those who interacted with her explaining further detail about their loved ones/lives, as well as recordings of one-on-one sessions with people at her house, again, including short interviews where the customers explain their situation. I managed to jot down a fair bit of information in between being absolutely infuriated by the content. So, here we go.

The first one I saw was a lady named Carol Anne who went for a private reading at Sally’s house. In a short interview with the crew immediately outside the house, the lady explained that since her father’s death, there have been schisms in the family with quite a lot of people not talking to her. She said her reason for coming to Psychic Sally is to hear from her dad that the fights are not her fault.

Sally starts by asking “well, who’s adopted then”. Now, it’s quite obvious that she has a lot of information in advance, of course given to her by the person. She knows that the lady is having fights with her family, and clearly has an indication of the family’s past. So the lady explains that she’s always had a feeling that she was adopted, that she feels her dad was her real dad but that her mother never had any maternal feelings towards her. She explains that her mother got a copy of her birth certificate and gave it to her. Pretty good evidence that she’s not adopted. So, no one is adopted. Sally hasn’t made a real hit. Shocking. Moving on.

Sally asks who Michael is, or why she’s hearing the name Michael. Michael is the lady’s father. She has brought a photo book with lots of photographs of her family. Sally mentions something about a tragedy in the family, a woman committing suicide. The lady says “Well, yes, a female”, indicating that the person was actually a girl, not a woman, as she was very young when the tragedy occurred. The lady’s daughter’s half sister tragically committed suicide in Lanzarote when she was twelve, as she explains in one of the interview sections, away from Sally. There is a photo in the book of the girl. Sally neurotically paws at the photo and whines and cries saying “THAT’S WHY, THAT’S WHY, BRING HER BACK HOME”. Sally then proceeds to ASK THE LADY IF THE GIRL IS IN SPIRIT. Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought the ENTIRE FUCKING PURPOSE of a psychic is that they’re supposed to be able to give YOU that information? Sally continues with this weird, crying baby talk, pawing photos in the book, making very little sense. And then the session ends. She hasn’t given any real information about the tragedy.

In the final interview to the camera, the lady says it’s a “great reassurance” to her to know that her dad doesn’t hold her responsible for the fighting in the family. Sally already knew that that is precisely what the woman wanted to hear. And so, she gave her that information, and everything else was inaccurate. But no matter, we’ll just ignore the inaccuracy, everyone makes mistakes, right?

The narrator then announces that Sally is about to play a sold out show to 1700 people. Now, based on statistics, it’s highly improbable for her not to get any hits when she has that many people in front of her, providing she uses names used commonly in Britain, as she always does. Also, considering the programme was only an hour long, they clearly edited the best bits from her shows. By best bits, I mean bits where, you know, SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS. In a pre-show interview, Sally asserts that when she goes on stage, somehow, “magic happens” and she gets “all these thoughts” in her head. Truly inspiring.

When people believe in magic, and they believe that only certain people are keepers of that magic, several problems arise. You instantly become more vulnerable. You’re handing over power to someone you believe to be above you in ranking, and you are allowing them to use you, which in turn, leads to abuse. The techniques that people like Sally use are obvious, if you step back to look at them objectively, even for a minute. She is highly intuitive. She throws out names to crowds of 1700 and hopes for a hit. If she gets a hit, she continues with vague information, and the mistakes are ignored, because the people are so desperate to believe that the magic is real, that they really are able to communicate with the dead. To see people in an audience shaking and crying, barely able to speak through tears as this woman gives them information that their dead child or mother or brother is “all around” them is , to me, sick. It’s preying on the vulnerable, and it’s downright evil.

If Sally really and truly is psychic, then why would she need to ask whether or not people she had named were “on the other side”? I’m sorry, but I just can’t hack that. There is a basket of photos on stage with her in some shows, which the audience have submitted in the hopes that she’ll pick them. You can tell A LOT about someone by looking at a photograph of them. In one case, she picks a photograph and asks who submitted it. Two ladies stand up. Sally asks them if the person was called Benny or Bernard. The ladies giggle a little and explain that it’s actually a photograph of their Nana, she just looks quite masculine as she suffered hair loss due to treatment for cancer. Sally GOT THE GENDER WRONG, but continues as though that were a minor mistake, and now she has the real nana talking to her. I’m failing to understand the communication barriers of the spirit world, I really am. And I’m failing to understand why people excuse this shit as “harmless”. Manipulating the vulnerable and lying to them about their dead loved ones is either dishonest or a sign of mental illness.  People pay these psychics money to hear unverifiable information. It is a form of emotional abuse, and it’s not ok.

If you truly believe that your dead relatives are still alive in some sense, in some place that we can’t know about, I disagree with you. It’s fine if you want to think that, it really is. But I ask you this, if your dead mother/child/brother wanted to communicate with you, why would they do it through someone like psychic Sally? What barriers are in place on the other side that mean only people like Sally can tell us about them? Surely you can feel the essence of your loved ones around you without paying to see someone whine, cry, pine, and babytalk inaccuracies at you? Regardless of your beliefs, surely there’s more to life, love and death than that?

You simply cannot get around it.

Today, the headline on the homepage of one of our national newspaper detailed the story of Cardinal Sean Brady and his threats to excommunicate ministers who are in favour of legislating for the X case. It stated that Brady would find this legislation to be immoral, and that the people cannot give the power to the government over the right to life. Interestingly, the cardinal mentioned that we do not have the right over the beginning or ending of life, which is rather insensitive given the recent trial in the Supreme Court for Marie Fleming. But then, when have the Catholic Church ever shown sensitivity in cases that they find immoral?

I couldn’t even begin to explain just how hypocritical it is for this man, this celibate cleric to think that he has a say in X case legislation. This is a man who stood over and actively covered up the systematic rape and abuse of children by priests. I am sick and tired of the pardoning that goes on in this country with regard to clerical sex abuse. The way in which the hierarchy of the church is structured allowed this kind of abuse to take place, and it is because of the same structure that the abuse was covered up.

Brady’s reasoning in opposing the legislation currently being debated in government is that it is tantamount to evil, and we must “oppose evil” as well as encouraging that which is good. He assumes so arrogantly that the entire country subscribes to the morality of the Catholic Church, and that no other morality, objective or otherwise will suffice. And he is simply wrong on that point.Not once, but twice, the Irish people have spoken on this issue. Twice, they have voted in favour of legislation that allows a pregnant woman to be given an abortion in cases where there is a substantial risk to her life, including suicide. As Sinéad Kennedy put it to Peter Mathews on Vincent Brown recently “You simply cannot get around that”. Cardinal Brady seems to think that the only morality is his morality. He would do well to excommunicate more than half the electorate if he believes them to be so evil, for it is they who have demanded this legislation.

Interestingly enough, Brady seems to be completely ignoring the fact that the legislation already exists, and all that is happening is codification and clarification. We are simply outlining the specifics that are required for the existing legislation to be acted upon, in an effort to save women’s lives. The fact that it has taken 21 years for this to happen is an absolute disgrace, and the fact that a Catholic Cardinal who covered up the rape of children in the same time period believes that he is qualified to instruct the government on morality is, at first, laughable, but after that, abhorrent. He has demonstrated a total lack of moral judgement and yet he feels that he can re-align the moral compass of not only the government, but the Irish people. At this point, I’m finding it very hard not to break into sentences consisting only of expletives.

The Catholic Church are not concerned with morality, they are concerned with control. Not a single member of the Third Reich were excommunicated. Hitler was not excommunicated. They are an organisation riddled with paedophiles and abusers, and are obsessed with overseeing the sexual behaviours of others.  Up until the 1980s, they believed they had the authority to instruct people not to use contraception, and in doing so were expressing control over the reproductive systems of the nation. Families who had a gap of more than a year between children could expect a visit from the parish priest questioning their activity. Women were but vessels to deliver more souls, and their attitude has not changed. They are as morally misguided now as they were then.

The Catholic morality, whatever that may be, is simply not the morality that the people of Ireland want to subscribe to in this case. Twice they have spoken on the issue, and twice they have asked for abortion on the grounds of suicide as a bare minimum. The absolute nonsense and pseudoscience that is being touted by politicians is, in my opinion, just a hurdle, and it will be overcome. All we are doing is codifying and clarifying an already existing constitutional right. To let the Catholic Church have an influence on this issue would be to do a disservice to the Irish people. We have overcome the Church assuming that they can dictate their morality to the nation, and we must continue to overcome it. We don’t allow them to dictate to legislators about contraception, Monty Python films, literature, clothing, music, or anything else anymore, and I would be thoroughly disgusted if we took their word on their supposed moral superiority on this issue.

H&M, you’re doing it right.

 

 

H&M

I did a strange thing today. I read a women’s fashion magazine. I never normally do this, but someone had left it on the train behind them, and the book I’m reading at the moment requires a lot of brain power and I wasn’t in the mood for brain power. I was in the mood for oreos and Star Trek, but you can’t stream Netflix on the train… So reading the magazine seemed logical. I say “read”, but really, I mean “flick”. It was so full of superfluous and vacuous shit that I couldn’t actually bear to “read” most of the “content”. As usual though, I was struck by the ubiquitous thinness of the models, and the over-sexualising of them.

Now, I’ve tried to be more careful recently about how I talk about the whole body-image-in-the-media issue. I think it’s been talked about pretty well to death, and I do think things are improving. I understand that fashion companies release their samples in tiny sizes, and that certain clothes will simply look and hang better on thinner women. But SURELY there’s a whole heap of clothes that HAVE to look better on bigger women? By bigger women, I’m not talking about any particular size, I just mean women who are bigger than the industry standard size 4 and 6 (UK). That’s not favouritism or anything, it’s just statistics.

I would hazard a guess that most of my close friends would be around the ten/twelve mark when it comes to dress size. There’s no particular reason for that, they just are. Now, I have friends who are certainly larger than that, and certainly smaller than that. If 7 of us were to go and try on the same dress in our own size, it’s likely that one of us is going to look better than the rest in that particular dress. Try the same experiment for 20 dresses and it’s likely that each of us will have a dress that fits us better and looks better than the others. It’s just simple math. So, industry, what is this horseshit of picking only one size to model and advertise your dresses? Ya’ll need to hire new statisticians.

I want to make it very clear that I don’t have any problem with women who are thin. They’re lovely. We’re all lovely. I collapse into fits of rage when I see photographs of size 14 and 16 women being referred to as “real women”. What in the name of Zeus makes them any more real than a woman who is a size 6? We’re all “real”, thanks very much.  I’m not saying that all ads should have women who are a size twelve or above. That seems to be the impression given by a lot of campaigns calling for magazines to address the size issue. In reality, it would be just as ridiculous for ads to feature bigger ladies only. All we want is a bit of variety. The same variety that we see when we look around at the women we’re friends with and related to. We’re all completely different shapes and sizes, and none of us deserve any less or more media space than the other.

This blog is prompted by a jezebel article I read about H&M. H&M have, on their homepage at the moment, an absolutely stunning model called Jennie Runk, modelling their beachwear range. Not in the plus size section, just beachwear. They haven’t made a big deal out of it, there was no ridiculous press-release announcing that they had decided to use a curvier model. That’s another thing that defeats the purpose of using a bigger model. If a magazine is going to use a model that looks different to the rest, and feels the need to say “LOOK! LOOK WHAT WE DID! WE DID WHAT YOU ASKED; TURN TO PAGE 42 TO SEE THE SIZE 16 MODEL IN THIS ISSUE!”, then they’re just making asses of themselves. She’s just there, on their homepage, modelling their clothes like the rest of the models, and looking ridiculously hot, as the rest of them do. And that’s what’s so brilliant about it; it’s just the way things should be. Mmmm, ladies….

Society vs women?

There is this inherent attitude in the pro-life argument, regardless of its precise content, that if we don’t legislate for abortion on demand, the problem will go away. I haven’t come across anyone naive enough to think it could ever go away by itself, but I have come across people who believe that there are other mechanisms with which we can deal with unwanted pregnancies. Even if a pro-life organization is willing to admit that part of the problem, regarding the way in which society treats women, is to blame for them considering or feeling pressurised to consider abortion, they still think that the answer is never ever for a woman to abort. I have quite a few issues with this.

Firstly, I commend the attitude that there is a problem with society and its view of pregnant women and women with crisis pregnancies. There is an attitude that makes an expectant mother feel guilty for even considering to have an abortion, an idea that women should never have an unwanted pregnancy, because they are a woman, and this is what women are built to do. A woman who does not want to have a child but finds herself pregnant is having unnatural thoughts, thoughts that some pro-lifers say come from societal pressures, and that it is society that needs to change in order for the problem to be dealt with. “We need to offer our women a better solution” they say. While I understand and commend this argument in so far as it admits that women are not to blame, I disagree with the core idea that if we change society’s attitude to pregnancy and women, abortions will not be sought. Unwanted pregnancies will always exist. There are a myriad of circumstances that can lead to a pregnancy being unwanted, none of which any woman should be expected to justify to anyone else.

Secondly, if the pro-lifers who believe society is to blame are really so very passionate about this grounding for being pro-life, why is it that they don’t set themselves up as organisations committed to sexual education for youth and providers of free contraceptives? I am perfectly willing to admit that in my own country, sexual education is wholly inadequate and that access to contraceptives is something that only became apparent and available to me in my very late teens. I would also like to point out that from a socio-economic point of view, I am, some might say, in a position of privilege and I see a direct correlation between this and my own sexual education and the aforementioned access to contraceptives. These things, though provided, are most certainly not provided equally. To my mind, if you believe that society needs to change its attitudes in order to avoid a problem, the way to go about being active about that is to make active changes, so, in this case, provide sexual education and free contraceptives. Instead, I’ve seen an “all talk” approach, and no difference in re-educating society to help women.

I mentioned in my last blog that I have yet to see an actual direct response from someone from a pro-life organisation explain exactly what they say to a rape victim who finds herself in the position of being expected to carry a child to term or raise anywhere between €500 and €2500 to travel abroad for an abortion. Carrying the child to term and raising it, or carrying the child to term and parting with it to give up for adoption. Raising money so that she can travel abroad, because in her own country to make this choice is a criminal act. To choose to terminate a pregnancy after such a horrific and unthinkable event in this country is to announce yourself as a law-breaker. Just what is it that the pro-life campaigners believe should be done here? What societal change could ever make a woman in this situation feel as though her pregnancy could somehow be wanted as opposed to unwanted? What authority is it that they grant themselves to feel that they can tell women in situations like this what they ought to think or ought to do? Has society really failed in a case like this because the woman considers abortion, or has society failed because it believes that she should want this child and is wrong to think otherwise?

Another case that is mentioned but not often directly addressed is the case of risk of the expectant mother committing suicide. Just recently I heard two gentlemen opposing legislation for abortions on demand argue against the case of threat of suicide. I have heard their argument from officials of pro-life organisations also. Both made exactly the same point and it is an argument that I have been hearing on replay for the last two months; “Abortion is not a treatment for suicidal depression”. Now, I will accept that as a statement. Abortion does not treat suicidal depression, there is no doubt about that. Treating suicidal depression is a very difficult and intricate process, which is different for each individual and can involve many steps including anti-psychotic medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, and just about anything in between. Suicidal depression can affect all people from all walks of life. Any amount of circumstances can cause it. If a case is presented of a homeless drug addict who is suffering from suicidal depression, it would be incorrect to say that if they stopped taking drugs, the depression would go away.

However, it would be correct to say that if they stopped taking drugs, they would find themselves in a frame of mind in which they were better able to cope with the depression. I am not for an instant comparing the life of an unborn child or any pregnancy to drugs or drug addiction, but what I am saying is that in cases of suicidal depression, changing a circumstance or set of circumstances in someone’s life can help a person get into a frame of mind in which they are able to deal with the depression. In the case of a woman carrying an unwanted pregnancy, I don’t think it is ever as simple as to say that if the pregnancy is terminated, the suicidal depression is or can be dealt with, but I do think that the correlation between the unwanted pregnancy and the depression should be investigated thoroughly and deeply before a judgement is made on it, and it should be recognised that each individual case is different.

Having reached this point, I’ve noticed something about my last two points. I’ve noticed this before of course, that whenever I find myself standing for the pro-choice side, I find myself addressing the issues of suicide and rape. I wonder why it is that we feel we have to wait for a woman to be in situations as dire as this before we will even consider allowing legislation that could help her. I wonder why it is that until a woman’s life is in danger, until her mental health has been pushed to its absolute limits and until she has suffered traumatic acts like rape or incestual rape that have resulted in her pregnancy, we think abortion is bad. Until a woman is in a situation where her circumstances are so dire that she feels wholly unable to nurture another human for at least nine months, we think that abortion is unacceptable. What is it that makes people think that this is ok? Is this what we want for our women, for them to be silenced until they are in danger of death or in such deep suffering that they cannot cope? I sincerely hope that it is not.

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that there are several points on the pro-life side that I find incredibly interesting and accurate. I think there is a societal problem, I think society needs to change the way it views women. Where I disagree is that that societal change entails us idealising pregnancy and behaving as though the response to pregnancies can be changed. I think as a society, we need to learn to trust a woman, within reason, when she says that her pregnancy is unwanted. We need to trust our women to make decisions about their bodies, their lives and their lifestyle choices. It’s unacceptable to me that we try to change a woman’s mind about her pregnancy as though her mind is ours to change. It’s simply not the case, and the mass delusion that that’s possible is what is keeping women shamed. In my country, abortion on demand is not legislated for, and yet thousands of nationals have abortions abroad every year. These women do not need to be silenced, these women need our support. These women need to know that whatever their circumstances, they have adequate care and support. These women are the women you and I know and love, and they deserve more than what the government is offering them now.

The big debate

I’ve been reading arguments from both sides of the abortion debate in newspapers, on Facebook, online and it even cropped up in a few books I read over Christmas. I’m seeing so much dribble, and I just can’t be silent about it anymore.

I keep hearing pro-lifers using the phrase “innocent life”. We must protect the “innocent life” of the unborn. It is as though this is the only focus. They are ignoring the quality of life, they are not giving due concern to the life of the mother, and they are not really thinking about how important life actually is, as far as I can see. If they really did care so much about life, they’d all be vegetarians who didn’t swat flies.  When I first started college, the bus I took had an ad plastered all over it about abortion tearing a woman’s life apart. I see posters in the bathrooms in university with the same message. I respect their point of view, but bullying women into thinking that they are evil for daring to even consider making a decision that they think is best for them is, in my mind, obnoxious.

I recently saw a pro-life page ask “Why are you pro-life?” and people commented in their hundreds. The two most common responses I saw were some form of religious reasoning and women simply saying “I have three kids, that’s all I need to think about or “I look at my beautiful daughters”. There is an obvious gaping hole in using that as an argument. It’s great that you love your children and adore them, that is what most women will feel about their children. But in using that as an argument against women who have abortions, you are in essence saying:
“I was pro-life about my pregnancy, so you should be pro-life about yours”
I can’t think of a more ridiculous argument, really. It is a total denial of the fact there there are countless women who are carrying unwanted pregnancies and that giving birth to them is either not the best option, or not an option at all. There is myriad of circumstances in which a woman could find herself unable to carry a pregnancy to term, and she shouldn’t have to justify a single one of them to someone who believes in denying her a termination just because they have children. This narrow-minded, judgmental view causes enough problems on a social level as it is, the last thing we need is for it to continue to allow much-needed legislation coming to pass. There’s surprisingly little research done on this topic, but this article deals with a massive study carried out in the US.

http://io9.com/5958187/what-happens-to-women-denied-abortions-this-is-the-first-scientific-study-to-find-out

The study outlines that even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.  I cannot wrap my head around any organisation that says it is ok for that to happen.  The emphasis from the pro-life side is entirely devoted to the unborn. They focus on making women feel guilty and emploring legislation that makes women feel like criminals in their own country for considering to have an abortion. I find that deplorable.

The fact of the matter is, too many people have died in this country, or have lived out their lives in misery because they do not have access to abortion clinics. Where were the pro-lifers when Anne Lovett died alone at the grotto? Do they think it’s better that she died alone and afraid? Would they have condemned her for having an abortion? What do they have to say about women who are physically unable to carry a pregnancy to full term? Where do they stand on rape victims? To me, they are so obsessed with the idea of life beginning at conception that they ignore the fact that women who are denied abortions are carrying an unwanted pregnancy and having an unwanted child. They fight for legislation to be kept to allow countless unwanted children  to be carried, and they don’t understand that women should not be obliged to carry a child simply because they have a womb. I find that unacceptable.

There is nothing said about the women who  have abortions and feel it was a good decision. I read Caitlin Moran’s “How To Be A Woman” over the holidays and she has an incredible, eye-opening chapter about her own experience with abortion. She had a miscarriage shortly before she was married and it was devastating. It was devastating because, as she puts herself, the baby was “so wanted”. She went on to have two daughters but had incredibly difficult births, the details of which are in the book. When she became pregnant again, she knew that she was simply unable to carry the pregnancy to full term. She was not in a position in life to have another child. Realistically, women shouldn’t need to give any more justification than that. She had an abortion, and she is still a perfectly good mother to her two daughters.

The idea that it is now 2013 and we still have to convince people that a woman being viewed as baby-making machine is wrong is just beyond me. The more dribble the pro-life side come out with, the angrier I get. I’ve seen videos that outright state “An abortion is never needed to save a woman’s life”. I know people who have received bigoted phone calls from pro-life organisations giving them the “facts” of abortions. This is absolute and utter nonsense. I don’t want to live in a country where I, or any other woman is made feel like a criminal or a bad person for making a decision about what happens in my body. Pro-choice is pro woman. Pro-choice makes a statement that we trust our women to be able to make decisions for themselves. Pro-choice is, as far as I am concerned, the only choice.

Angry people.

They say the best way to get to know someone is to argue with them. To a certain extent, I agree with this. It makes sense. In arguing with someone you learn a lot about their thought processes, their vocabulary, their ability to reason. Of course, you often learn that people are complete arse-bags with no concept of the need for evidence in an argument, and find that they possess an arogance you thought could only be found in characters played by Hugh Grant in the noughties. Either way, you are learning something.  

I am both hailed and ridiculed for being a rather argumentative person. It is my gift, my curse. Because of this, people often think of me as quite aggressive. I’m not really, I promise. Well, not physically. But I do enjoy engaging in battles of wit, and arguing about things that matter. I have no problem in defending myself, and I am never reserved when I feel something needs to be addressed. 

Through all of the years of arguments I have had, I have come across some fairly incredibly dull people. I’ve come across unreasonable arguments, and I’ve often been proven wrong, and let me clarify that that is an entirely different thing to arguing with someone who is truly thick. I’ve won debating finals, I’ve lost competitions, I’ve had fierce engagements with friends and enemies about religion, eating habits and feminism. And through all of this, I have heard some fairly infuriating arguments. But aside from any opinion or creed is something that makes me angrier than anything else in any debate, regardless of its subject matter. It is this.

Calm down. 

You can disagree with me. You can insult me, you can deconstruct my argument into tiny pieces and defeat me beyond all reasonable doubt. But nothing, NOTHING will make me as angry as telling me to “calm down” mid-argument. I have never heard anything more ridiculous in my life. I am going to speak to you about a topic I know you have an opinion on. I am going to disagree with this opinion, and we are going to argue. We are going to throw points back and forth, attempt to outwit each other using logic and language, approach the motion from every possible philosophical angle, and then, when you are at your fiercest, when your eyes are wide with disbelief at my ignorance, I’m going to tell you to “CALM DOWN. JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN, THERE’S NO NEED TO GET SO ANGRY”.

To you sir, I say this: