Ireland, more than many of our European counterparts, has a distinct history of its blurring of boundaries between the church and the state. Our rich heritage comes at the cost of deeply ingrained archaic Catholic values that are still prevalent in the minds of a large number of our population, as well as our governing bodies and constitution. This has paved the way for state sanctioned misogyny to take place across many aspects of our lives, and hand in hand with that is the attitude of Irish people towards women in general. The past month has given us fresh instances of state sanctioned misogyny in the media, such as the Discord leaks, the debate on access to the mother and baby home records and even young schoolgirls in Carlow being told to not wear provocative clothing. Such recent events have recalled in many women a deep atavistic disappointment towards the government and a feeling of being let down yet again by our own country, as we have been for many years.
The Discord server, with 500 members, contained thousands photographs of women and minors, many of them Irish. This is an exploitation of our lack of any sort of legislation against sharing sexual images without the subject of the image’s consent. Now, a bill that could deal with such matters is due to be considered this month, but it is a disgrace that it has only come after such appalling and damaging instances of image-related sexual abuse has affected thousands of women from our country. At the end of March, the HSE Sexual Wellbeing Twitter account issued advice on how to curb the spread of Covid-19. The article instructed people to limit their sexual partners to people within their household, and replace sex with video chats or sexting. The fact that people were actively encouraged to engage in the sharing of intimate photos, yet dismissed when these were leaked without consent, is hypocritical and wrong.
“We must start holding the government accountable for its lack of protections in place for women, and its sponsoring of constitutional misogyny.”
The Irish government’s laissez-faire attitude to issues has been evidenced now more than ever in the face of the pandemic, but we must start holding it accountable for its lack of protections in place for women, and its sponsoring of constitutional misogyny. It is also a chilling reminder of all the women who had to suffer from alienation from Ireland and its constitution in light of the eighth amendment, which was only repealed in 2018. The damage and destruction the eighth amendment caused Irish people is immeasurable, and although it was ultimately repealed, it felt far too late for the many women who have struggled, suffered harm and even died as a result of the country’s condemnation of a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy.
Another reminder was last month, when the sealing of the records of the mother and baby homes evoked plenty of memories of the Irish government’s institutionalised misogyny, such as the mother and baby homes and the Magdalene laundries. These didn’t only exist, but were commonplace in Ireland from the 18th century to the final closure in the 1990s. The laundries enslaved many women that were considered unfit for society under the guise of rehabilitation of promiscuous or fallen women, and the mother and baby homes served to hide unmarried pregnant girls, in keeping with our country’s long standing culture of conservative sexual ideals. The sealing of records by the government is further evidence of Ireland yet again condoning the shrouding of its devastating misogynistic history, and further evidence that Ireland has a long way to go in respecting the human rights of our women. As it stands, survivors will be able to access the records, but only if their request is deemed to pass two legal “tests”.
“Singling out women and condemning them for what they wear fosters misogynistic attitudes from early on in life.”
Another manufacturer of toxically masculine and dangerous environments lies within our education system. Female students of Carlow secondary school Presentation College were allegedly separated from male students and told not to wear certain clothing for PE. The principal not only rejected such claims despite students expressing that they felt degraded, but also claimed that the girls were making their school uniforms “a bit of a fashion show,” exemplifying that even if the accusations were false, the attitudes towards young girls in school is abhorrent, condescending and unjust. This both flippantly dismissed young women for expressing how they felt in light of comments made against them, and perpetuated the age old idea that girls are shallow and looks-obsessed. This is all the more outrageous given young women grow up in a culture that, at times, can pressure them to be that way. It is situations like these, singling out women and condemning them for what they wear, that fosters misogynistic attitudes from early on in life.
“Intimate partner violence and psychological abuse in relationships is on the rise in Ireland, with one in four women experiencing it at some point in their life.”
In Trinity specifically, we have a huge culture of privately-educated students. There is a disproportionate number of private feeder schools, with many from the Dublin bubble. As a result of this, rugby lad culture is rife here in Trinity. The Belfast rape trial of rugby player Paddy Jackson and the overwhelming support for him was another high profile example that occupied discussion. The hashtag “I Believe Her,” was adopted and trending, but “I Believe Him,” was also a sentiment spouted on Twitter and other social media platforms, with an overwhelming and disgusting amount of support given the circumstances, seeing many rugby players, even at school level, jump to his defence. If these are the attitudes we are nursing in our men, it’s no wonder that according to a recent Women’s Aid study, intimate partner violence and psychological abuse in relationships is on the rise in Ireland, with one in four women experiencing it at some point in their life.
The end of this year’s media coverage of the prevalence of misogyny in this country has proven that we must hold the government and its institutions accountable for their failures in protecting the rights of women. Women should feel safe in the hands of their government, something the Irish government has failed to do time and time again. We must ensure that the exploitation and degradation of women is something that is illegal, so that devastating situations like this can not happen again.