‘Shared motherhood’

“While shared motherhood can be a richly bonding female experience, it’s important not to run too far with this idea – and remember that there are big differences, too. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, money or, more precisely, the lack of it, gives individual women completely different experiences of motherhood. Among other pressures, too little money can lead to such mental health issues as extreme stress and anxiety from not being able to afford help, pay bills or even take your allotted maternity leave.” 

Barbara Ellen

Every now and again, someone comes along with a few succinct lines to cut through the bullshit. Mothers: they don’t even always share similar genitalia, so much of it is individual. It would be a relief if everyone stopped homogenising them. Sadly, that seems unlikely.  But it would be progress if women remembered that when talking to other women like them, the chats doth not a valid generalisation make.

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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.

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.

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

Mother inferior

So, wannabe Conservative Party leader, Andrea Leadsom, reckons having children gives her the edge on rival, Theresa May. Apparently, it elevates the status of her stake in the future of Britain to higher worth. It worked for Thatcher, remember?

It’s hardly a surprising assertion given the only comparative differentiation between one candidate and the other is anxiety about getting children into the best private schools. A low point for meaty mud-slinging, but a possible Mexican eye-roll opportunity for women across the Northern Hemisphere who do not have children.

While commentators are foaming at the keyboard, many women will be reminded of how they are regular receptacles for the same assertion made more matter-of-factly along with a number of other assumptions far too frequently strewn around.

If you’re a woman who doesn’t have children, it’s likely you’ll be unsurprised to learn the following:

  • Your capacity to be affected by horrific news stories of children dying isn’t as great as women who do.
  • Sexism and discrimination in the workplace don’t affect you as negatively.
  • Your work ethic is not under the same scrutiny or pressure for reform so you don’t work as hard either. No need for you to prove yourself.
  • It’s your choice to work 80 hours in a top corporate job at the expense of your fertility. Because life’s that simple, and worthy work, or ‘careers’ are only ever to be found in those sectors that require grooming and a third level alma mater.
  • Consequently, you probably haven’t suffered the indignity of participating in ‘low-skilled’ work.
  • If, or when, you ever do have children, it’s only then you’ll realise the need for feminism.
  • You’re constantly hung-over. You lucky sod.
  • You smell of cat wee. Probably.

People before prophet

rally

Socialists Worked in solidarity with

Queen’s in communion with

Green Partiers flanked by Kerry

Pro-Choicers who marched alongside

Belfast Feminists that banged to the beat of

hearts of Anarchists who roared over

soaring voices of Parents chanting

‘Hey, Hey, Mister, Mister,

Get your laws off our sister’

Belfast, Saturday 2nd July 2016

belfast 3