Rise

She laughingly flexes her arm muscles as a sign of the shape of progress to come. It’s less than a week since she stretched her worrying thoughts alongside those of two of her compatriots on the shapelessness of their security and status. One child born in Northern Ireland, another in Poland. What will become of them? What if my parents are ill? Will I be able to visit them and return here to my own family? We are afraid. Everyone is afraid. We feel we will never be good enough. But what can we do?

Well, she can triumphantly flex her arm muscles in celebration of summoning fifty other women with the same question marks bearing down on them. To a two-bedroom terraced house on the fringes of affluence they gathered after bearing down hard on the like button to an invitation from one on behalf of three. They shine like the lighter versions of themselves they’ve been missing and smile at me. I trot home to miss my friends in ways that nothing will ease but a dose of sleep and sleeplessness.

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Edge of Seventeen

Next year will be different.

Next year I will combat the creeping suspicion that integrated  education is merely a subtle form of middle-class Unionist assimilation. I will do this with steadfast determination to tether it to my own terms. I will sheepishly deliver our girl to class after the Remembrance Assembly but this time armed with an unapologetic reason why, if asked. I will swerve to avoid collisions with groups of more than one parent in the yard and forbid myself the possibility of a re-run of Facebook-Gate 2016. I will suppress the pleasure of taking the piss out of myself at all costs for fear I will re-awaken the sensitivities and antipathy of other parents. I will defiantly goose-step over landmines of emoticons, smiles, thumbs up, likes, and all manner of paraphernalia of the passive aggressive and paranoid. I will restore some of my credibility by refusing to wear clown-feet red boots when striving to be taken seriously.

redboots

Could you wear these and stroke your chin at the same time?

Next year will be different

Next year there will be more women than Lynn Ruane single-handedly serving as a vital visible counter-point to prevailing mainstream middle-class feminism. Traveller women, working class women, and women for whom English is not their first language but for whom Ireland is their first shot at stable family life, will not be confined to the following:

  • 10 minutes of air-time on open-air trucks at annual marches
  • 10 hours of patronising twitter admiration following the above
  • 51 weeks of obscurity till the next time

There will be plain English to rival the paradigms and intersectionality and tone-police-policing of the custodians of public discussion on equality.

Next year will be different

Next year there will be more films, less vengeful fantasies involving neighbours hatched in response to the casual erection of their corrugated monstrosity impeding my view of sun-set. There will be more maybes, less yeses, and more emphatic nos.

Next year will be different

Next year I will no longer labour under the notion of reconciliation. As the final tranche of European Peace monies pour into the coffers of local government, I will confidently, and correctly, predict the successful squandering of same. At a ratio of three managers to every one community worker. The most successful reconciliation will be Sinn Fein with their insatiable sense of entitlement. Where I live, anyway. Aided and abetted by deference of weak-willed management with imagination institutionalised out of them. There will be fewer fucks given. Just a steely resolve to rise above the bullshit through the ancient scientific application of rolled eyes and a reasonable day’s work for a shit day’s pay at the end of it.

Next year will be different

Next year will be lined with coastlines. And coast-hangers. And ward robes with mountains of closed bags filled with skirt-arounds never worn and ill-fitting dressing-downs and scuffed shoo-ins.

Next year will be different

Next year I will go wherever the keyboard takes me. The words will take the wheel while I continue to enjoy the scenery.

Happy New Year.

Children of the revolution

“Participants in last week’s pro-choice march hang signs around children’s necks proclaiming, “I was a chosen child.” The implications are chilling. “Chosen” has surface connotations of being special, but also the cold wind whispering in your ear: you could have just as easily not been chosen. Your siblings, your flesh and blood, may not have been chosen and therefore are absent forever from your life. Such a slogan screams that adults are all-powerful. They have the right to exclude others from even being defined as human.”

Breda O’Brien, Irish Times Sat 1/10/16

I wondered when the subject of children on protest marches would arise. More specifically, the subjective value-judgements commentators inevitably attach to it. Breda might’ve been left cold by the perceived connotations of the gesture, as is her wont; I just thought it was extraordinarily naff. But I’m sure she’d expect nothing less from an irresponsible pro-choicer like myself who brought her own daughter on the march last year.

She continues…

“Children cannot rationalise abortion in the way adults can. They cannot rationalise taking away a life as a solution.”

As statements of fact, the first will likely be met with broad agreement by anyone who has ever spent a few minutes of their lifetime dabbling in logic. The second will prompt many to ask for clarifications on the meaning of life, whether that includes the life of a sentient woman, the solution to what exactly, and other plentiful well-worn question marks frequently posed by my 4 year-old and her mates over play-doh.

Breda’s contention is not that children shouldn’t be brought on marches  – she brought her own on pro-life rallies – it’s that pro-choice marches are essentially an exercise in compromising the emotional security of those children attending. Where the use of such slogans as ‘chosen child’ is an unequivocal demonstration of how their mother’s love is conditional, and there but for the almighty power of her (presumably) blithe judgement, their own lives might very well have been taken away before they began.

Tell me about it, Breda. Sure our wee one has been milking that one for years, and will continue to do so until it dawns on her around 13 that she didn’t actually ask to be born.

“No parent loves perfectly, but babies bring out a fierce protectiveness in us. The urge to protect the weakest and most helpless is primal. Or at least it used to be.” 

Or at least it is for us pro-life parents, in short. As a pro-life protesting parent, Breda is satisfied with the phased exposure to the principles of the pro-life movement undertaken with her own children. Pro-life protestors, it would seem, have a monopoly on ensuring responsible engagement of children in forms of protest.

“I told them that abortion was a word that they had to trust me to worry about and not to explain until they were much older. “

I’m not sure I feel so confident. When it comes to protecting the innocence of my own girl, and balancing that with the cultivation of a sense of justice and an incremental introduction the complexities and messiness of life, there is much I won’t be able to guard her from. But such is life.

In time, she will come to learn there are few areas in life that can be unequivocally defined by a single moral perspective. That those holding competing views will always be the last to see their own hypocrisy. And, just as Breda marches alongside children brandishing placards showing foetal remains; the rest of us take our place next to our own diversity of bedfellows and march onward in the hope of reaching a fair destination.

For now, I’m reasonably certain that instilling an awareness of the existence of public disgruntlement, unhappiness among women about the rules that govern them, and their corresponding entitlement to use the public highway to highlight that, will not compromise our girl’s sense of security. She’s been doing it effectively in the hallway since the time she could walk.

children-marching

What do we want?

Our mothers to be trusted

When do we want it?

Er can we have our crisps now?

Rose of Tralee: Are we missing the point?

“The annual Rose of Tralee brings with it a slew of disdainful articles, all predictable and totally missing the point! ”

Well, there you have it. A comment in response to today’s Journal.ie’s opinion piece on that most divisive of pageants: The Rose of Tralee. Joining Lorraine Courtney in the condemnation corner is Louise O’Neill in The Examiner. Both allude to the anachronistic nature of the event: the casual objectification of women (albeit without the bikini round); the ethnically homogenous participants; and the less-than-subtle assumptions on sexuality with the safeguarding of an exclusively male line-up of chaperones. Because, in the case of the latter, where would the ladies be without one? Getting sick sideways out the tour-bus window no doubt. If only.

Like any cultural phenomenon, the spectacle shouldn’t be spared a periodic good kicking to see how it stands up. Courtney is concerned with the perceived dumbing down of personalities through the banal interview that forces participants to temper their individuality via self-censorship and insipid responses. O’Neill, meanwhile, despairs that regardless of the purported elevation of brains above beauty to ensure a more respectable affair, it is the sparkly dresses and winning smiles that little girls looking on remember. The impact of the resulting absorption of such messages on female success should not be underestimated.

Like any article written on women by women, neither writer is spared the reciprocated on-line kicking. The substantive points both make are frequently overlooked by readers more concerned with pointing out their apparent uptightness and compulsion to peddle a pro-feminist message. Imagine that. The particularly enlightened commentators cite several points missed: the choice women have to participate (or not), the ‘harmlessness’ of the revenue-generating bit of fun local communities depend on, and not least the professional and educational status of the wimmin. What’s all the whinging for?

“Some of the most accomplished women have taken part in the Rose of the Tralee and last years winner is a medical student and as a cancer survivor will I believe, go on to be a fine doctor.” (sic)

Indeed. And this is perhaps what makes it a uniquely Irish Festival of Respectability: the degree and the big job. The ultimate status symbols. That most beloved of combos after low-esteem and big ego. Which to this reluctant spectator, is what has helped contributed to the event’s durability.

Louise O’Neill asks when the last time a woman of colour entered? While this is a fair question, so dominated has identity politics become by issues of gender and sexuality that the most glaring issue of inequality that encompasses many women irrespective of ethnicity appears to go unchallenged: that of class. When is the last time a woman without the mandatory third level education and impenetrable job title entered?

“Of course no mention that the majority of these women are all ready successful in there lives much more successful then the women that complain and want to stop them from doing this.”

Another Journal commentator roundly telling the critics off.

There is just one thorny problem with that analysis however: people are born with conventional beauty (or pay for it), but it is privilege that awards them ‘brains’.  In the common Irish sense. The Rose of Tralee sense. The status and respectability sense. The national middle-class definition of success sense.

The centrality of women’s education in combating global inequality and access to the labour market is a given. Ambition and determination are not to be sniffed at either. But they are not the preserve of the formally educated who have benefitted from the opportunity to have their ‘brains’ nurtured. A degree and companion ‘profession’ isn’t a pre-requisite for contributing to keeping society successfully on its axis, nor an accurate measure of ‘intelligence’; and the meaning of ‘success’ goes beyond what’s reflected back at us from our job titles and pay-cheques.

When I watch the conga of lovely girls sashaying on to the stage, it is not exposure to identikit glamour and bad jokes I fear most for my own girl. It is the stark class divisions and national obsession with defining success according to a system of inequality that leaves the bitterest after-taste. The narrow definition of success. The one-track route to worthiness. Will the unconscious absorption of the message on ‘success’ stalk her throughout her life? In choosing to go to college or not. In adjusting aspirations and priorities if children enter the fray (if she wants them, and lucky to have them). If they don’t, will she be shunted into that limiting corner where her worth must proved by workplace success? Will jettisoning the big job and opportunities result in itchy feelings of failure? Will having the benefit of a formal education (if lucky to receive it) for life and knowledge be sufficient?

Modern mainstream musings on women are freighted with these anxieties, and written mostly by ‘successful’ women. Valid though they be, they have, in the main, become an issue of entitlement for the already entitled. With scant attention given to equality of access to education, and the merits of it remaining the chief determinant for just about every ‘respectable’ job going. And we don’t need to re-open any discussion here on the lack of respect afforded to predominantly female areas of work.

Even if it were to leave out ‘beauty’, The Rose of Tralee would still be left with the worrying problem of ‘brains’. So why bother with either?

rose of tralee

You’ve No degree? What kind of degree is that? Begorrah

Lorraine Courtney’s article: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/rose-of-tralee-outdated-lorraine-courtney-2935105-Aug2016/

Louise O’Neill’s article: http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/columnists/louise-oneill/to-be-a-rose-was-to-have-made-it-in-life-416879.html

Northern exposure

Part of the ritual of a trip to the flicks is a gawk at departing viewers as the lights come up and the credits roll.  It used to be an unconscious reflex, curiosity to see who else the film appealed to without processing it too finely. But this evening, the descent of young lads two by two-steps at a time is impossible to ignore. They’re of the generation that wasn’t born during The Conflict. Yet here they are, quietly absorbing a documentary on Hunger Striker, Bobby Sands. Like Sands needs any introduction….

The film’s appeal is proof positive that his place in the enduring mystique of Republicanism is safe. Where he continues to be romanticised in a way those from the armed movement’s ‘legitimate targets’ are not.

The newly released documentary 66 Days is compelling viewing chronicling the turbulent period of Sands’s physical demise and corresponding rise of his political determination. It does so while unpicking the competing perspectives of those who considered him a freedom fighter with unflinching conviction against others who categorised him and his comrades as terrorists. All the while transcending firm conclusions by illuminating the contradictions and hypocrisies of violence directed towards others alongside feats of self-sacrifice (something the IRA were not generally known for). Contractions that propel a handful of individuals into the universally recognised iconography of the oppressed. An enigmatic few with an ability to attract derision and admiration, often simultaneously.

For all its success at even-handedness, and impressive line-up of talking heads, it is a struggle to ignore the film’s lack of female voices. According to director, Brendan J Byrne, the women he ‘wanted’ (Sands’s sisters, Bernadette McAliskey) declined to participate. When pressed for a comment on Twitter, Byrne responded:

“..I know but it was mainly a war fought by men… Inserting a female voice for the sake of it felt tokenistic to me”

To this viewer, the inclusion of women wouldn’t have been any more tokenistic than having Fintan O’Toole as the main analyst could be seen as a tactical effort to give the film broader respectability. Instead there is an entire male cast of historians, commentators, former politicians, and political analysts.

More critically, Byrne appears to ignore the finer aspects of his own film. For there are women everywhere throughout it, if silenced by the sound of men talking. So we do not hear the bin-lids they bang, nor their cries of grief at funerals, nor the stomp of their feet as they march in mandatory black berets and matching shades, nor their tearing down of corrugated iron surrounding the H-Blocks that contributed significantly to the eventual end of the Hunger Strikes seven months and 10 dead men after they started. Backroom strategists remain out of view.

As Bernadette McAliskey remarked only last week during a discussion on women in history: “history is what it says it is”.

An examination of war doesn’t require the insertion of female voices into the story. They have always been in the middle of it. Feeling the impact of it more keenly than most.

sands_funeral24

Bobby Sands’s Mother & Sister at his funeral

And where were the women when history was made? (part 1)

Another summer, another festival of chin-stroking underway in a municipal building near you. Or summer school, as they’re more loftily known. Or loada shite, as they’re more colloquially known. I’m all for rubbing the worrying proliferation of hairs beneath my lips whenever the opportunity arises. Why, I’ve even been known to unwittingly stroke my imaginary beard at a sandwich counter; back when it was imaginary. But enough of this labouring the introduction to a post I haven’t quite decided what it is to be about yet.

Just once, I’d love to look around at one of the terriblay seriarse panel discussions on offer to see a mix of locals among the audience. To my relief, but mostly my insatiable need to complain, they’re a no-show. For now, I’ll just have to make do with the travelling sisterhood of retired teachers. Cultra-accented bespectacled women clutching programmes as proof of their impeccable cultural credentials. And me. And a troupe from the local historical society. And the over-eager post-grad student high on a worrying lack of cynicism. And the town eccentric who looks like the eccentric of every Northern Town, what with the Doc Martens at 60 and an androgynous look that has others wondering with a mixture of awe and horror how she has the balls to wear them with such a severe haircut. And then there’s the obligatory American chair who has been making an academic living from The Troubles (“that unfortunate euphemism” nervous middle-class titter) longer than European funding has been single-handedly keeping the peace industry that followed afloat. And shining not so much as a match-stick of light on them.

So the narrowtive of these things goes.

I only came on here to tell you about Alice Milligan. But, anything can happen when it comes to summer schools.

I  do hope I’m not going to continue with this semi-italic business. It’s so annoying.