Uninvited Women

The Uninvited Women.png

Today – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – marked the publication of the first edition of the Uninvited Women Journal. I was thrilled to have a piece in it, which is reproduced below. The other contributions were written by inspiring women from diverse backgrounds and cultures. I encourage you to follow the link above, and read their stories.

VICTIM BLAMING, SHAME, AND MALE ENTITLEMENT: HOW THEY CONTRIBUTE TO A RAPE CULTURE IN IRELAND.

Like any culture, rape culture is a collection of elements. Three of these elements are victim blaming, male entitlement, and shame. The latter foisted on the shoulders of the victim, not the perpetrator. Victim blaming occurs when individuals blame elements of the victim’s behaviour to hold the victim at least partially responsible for their own assaults. It is often maintained by strong religious ideology. Shame, as an emotion, is socially constructed, and intertwined with disgust: The origins of disgust can be traced back to when our cave sisters and brothers rejected toxic foods because they triggered a sense of disgust. As human beings became more sophisticated, we projected our sense of disgust at certain actions and behaviours onto the actors of those actions and behaviours – creating shame within them.

Shame, then, has become linked to the idea of ‘normality’ and ‘acceptability’. I believe we need a cultural sea of change so that the disgust we feel at crimes of sexual violence is directed towards the perpetrators, rather than their victims.

Male Entitlement. Entitlement is an unhealthy personality trait that can lead to greed, aggression, a lack of forgiveness, hostility, and deceit. This sense of entitlement may lead individuals to believe that they deserve sex when they want it, without considering the wants and needs of the other person. When entitled individuals do not receive what they want, they may become hostile or violent: Higher rates of self-reported sexual aggression have been found among college males who also reported a higher sense of entitlement.

THE IRISH CONTEXT

I have three words that explain – to a large extent – how victim blaming, shame, and male entitlement manifest in an Irish context. Those three words are Roman, Catholic, and Church. The rise in religiosity in Ireland can be traced back to what the colonising English called ‘The Famine’, and the Irish refer to as An Gorta Mór 1 , when English parliamentary commissions indicated that the ‘civilising of Irish society depended on giving more power to the Catholic Church’.

1 ‘THE GREAT HUNGER’

The population of Ireland was thirded by starvation and emigration as a result of An Gorta Mór. Those who remained developed strategies to ward off similar catastrophes. These included religion, education, and culture, which the Roman Catholic Church took ownership of. I think it’s safe to say that there is a strong religious ideology in Ireland. Regular mass attendance is down, but people still do their hatching, matching, and dispatching in churches; and most children are still forced through three sacraments before they start secondary school.

Shame itself is constructed in Irish society with reference to Roman Catholicism. But there’s also a peculiar Irish complexion to shame that doesn’t cast equally on men and women. Women’s bodies are policed, their actions, educations, and possibilities, are mediated by peculiarly Irish social norms. Catholic notions of sexual morality proved to be especially oppressive for Irish women, who were told their bodies were shameful – but, apart from that, they were not discussed. It was not uncommon in 1950s Ireland for women to marry without basic reproductive knowledge.

Male entitlement in Irish culture is underpinned by our patriarchal, hierarchical, paternalistic norms, which favour men. Economics, social policy, and law, all reflect, and are reinforced by, dominant ideologies, constructed by men. The structures they underpin are patriarchal. Sometimes, these structures have with a paternal gloss to intimate a protection of women and children, but which undermines, and limits, women’s agency. Women are only considered in their proximity to, and relationships with, men; and our differences are seen as aberrations from a male norm.

 

A Thousand Germans

I learnt something tonight.
After WWII, there was fierce hardship all across Europe – including in Germany. People were starving.
Ireland, under Dev, made the humanitarian gesture to home 1,000 German children. They were welcome to stay indefinitely.
Many went home to their families when things in Germany improved.
Many more stayed here – because their families were dead, or couldn’t take them back, or couldn’t be found. This is right and proper. These children were not monsters. They had done nothing wrong. They were children.
Anyway, the Irish gov REFUSED to take Jewish children from Germany or anywhere else..
Eventually, under pressure (from the UK, I believe), they ‘gave in’ and said they would take 100 Jewish children. No, that’s not a typographical error. One thousand ‘Christian’ Germans. One hundred Jewish children.

But these children were only welcome for one year.
After that, they had to go back to Germany or wherever they had come from – never mind that their families might well have been exterminated by the families of the one thousand German children who were given succour. Never mind if they had nowhere to go.
I am so ashamed. I am so ashamed that this was how my country treated a people who had been tortured and belittled and shamed and stripped of everything they possessed and even their dignity. People who had been beaten and starved and abused in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.

Do you know who told me?

A Holocaust survivor.

He wasn’t bitter. Just hurt. It came up in conversation after dinner as we sat and chatted about what he and his beloved had been up to since the last time we’d seen each other. He didn’t go out of his way to tell me in order to make a point.
‘Ireland took 1,000 German children. That was good….humanitarian….the right thing to do.’
Then his voice dropped.
‘But they could have taken 1,000 Jewish children too.’

He is right, of course.

I am ashamed. We are not a decent people. We try to tell ourselves we are, but we’re not. This is how Ireland treats those who come to her desperate, frightened, weary, starving. Our attitude to vulnerable people has not changed. If you don’t believe me, take a trip out to Mosney some day.