Category Archives: Politics

ULTRA FEMMO (A response to Jemma O’Leary of the University Times)

In the wake of Jemma O’Leary’s interesting column  ‘Ultra-Feminism is Eroding Our Values’ on the university times website, a lot of people asked the question just what is an Ultra-feminist?  Well I’d like to take up this mantel and proudly declare myself an ultra feminist.  I claim it not because I think all the lowly men-folk in this world ought to be made slaves that carry me around like Cleopatra and feed me grapes for the rest of my life, but because I am a screaming, raving, hardcore fan of feminist theory.  I’d just like in the spirit of sisterly debate to rebut a few points Ms. O’Leary made in her piece.  I promise that I’ll try not to oppress anyone too hard under the hard sole of my Doc Martens and sexual liberation.

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I just really like critical theories that point at the world we live in and go ‘hey, here’s some stuff that seems RIDDLED with problems. Can we get some maintenance guys in to look at this? There’s a light bulb gone in the gender relations department.’ Feminism is essentially a strand of critical theory- It was created, generally, by people looking around, seeing that there is a whole world of stuff to examine through the prism of gender (or class, or race, or whatever) and went with it.  That’s all.  Much as I would love to think that feminism has become so influential in the corridors of power that it could even approach being an oppressive force, I don’t think that’s true sadly. In a country that doesn’t even have free right to choice for it’s citizens and less than 10% of the parliament is represented by women, I don’t think Ms O’Leary has a strong case.

Ms O’Leary also talks about how she, in her personal opinion, thinks feminism has gone ‘far enough.’ Well, I think I can agree with her in so far as it’s done wonders for women like us- both university students, both from presumably comfortable backgrounds.  She’s right that generally speaking, we’re doing okay.  We get to sit around in seminar rooms and read about all this stuff and decide for ourselves what we’d like. We have protection in employment, pretty good maternity leave ahead of us and anything that we need that our country doesn’t offer to us, we can pay to travel out of Ireland to get it (we also have the freedom to travel wherever we like without suspicion, as western ladies) Yeah, We white middle class western ladies have it pretty sweet.

It’s like Lucinda Creighton when she spoke of how proud she was to be an Irish woman, and how she thinks it’s a grand county to be a lady in. Well, it’s great if you’re university educated, middle class, in a well paying job and don’t have to look beyond your own experiences for things.  If my and Jemma’s experiences  were the sole barometer by which we measured how all 3.5 billion odd women in the world were getting on, I might agree that we ought to tone the feminism down a tad. Perhaps.

But it’s not. We live in a world where class, gender, sexuality and race all intersect in fascinating ways to create the accepted structures of power. That’s how you get cases like Slanegirl- Variously described by the delightfuls on twitter as a ‘skanger’, a ‘knacker’, a ‘dirtbird’ and a good old fashioned slut.  It’s not that all the feminists were crowding around to defend this girl to the hilt; it’s that in the face of a torrent of online abuse and mirth at the picture of a public sex act, it was the girl getting all these names thrown at her.  The man in this story was ‘a pure lad’ a ‘lucky bastard’ or a ‘dirty fucker’- but there was still a sort of shrugging ‘eh… fair play’ reaction to his part in the act.  The girl was the dirt bird.  It goes back to all these double standards we have about sexuality, and the roles we give people in sex.  Which while we’re at it, sucks for everyone.

Women are told by society that sex is a chore and something that needs to be endured to please men. Men are also told this and that reinforces the idea that women need to be sort of coaxed into the act.  Like they’re an easily spooked pony, you must always approach a lady from the side.  I’ll also point out that the entire field of masculinities is a feminist critique of the expectations placed on men by a gender binary and how deeply screwed up it is.  Just look at the absolute goldmine of essays on breaking bad and masculinities recently.  The expectations placed on dude by the patriarchy are crushing for the men who don’t easily fit into them.  Personally, I strive for a feminism that allows us all to shag without shame and with respect for each other.

I just question what ‘values’ Ultra Feminism is eroding and why they’re such a great idea anyway.  Why is that value that sex is basically dirty and gross and people are gross for doing it something that needs to be protected from erosion by the sea walls of patriarchy?  Why does the value that women ought not to criticise or speak up but rather elegantly and gracefully take it on the chin something that ought to be preserved?  Ms. O’Leary doesn’t make a decent case for this at all.  The entire idea of Critical theory is that it challenges these norms and forces us to examine them.  It’s the similar to Marxist critique of capitalism- just because you have a few problems with the way the world works doesn’t mean every single Marxist is out there tearing it down.  Feminists simply point out inconsistencies in our social world. That can be uncomfortable for us all- being forced to acknowledge our own privileges and biases- but it’s important work and it certainly doesn’t need to tone it down.

Let’s call a spade a spade here- O’Leary isn’t talking about the erosion of ‘values.’ She’s talking about the erosion of norms, and not making such a hot case for why they’re so great in the first place.

Really at the end of the day, Ms. O’Leary is saying people are ‘ultra fems’ (I do love this term, and hope that she won’t mind me nicking it for my own purposes in future) are out of control because they dare to criticise. ‘Critical’ is a very loaded word when it comes to women.  All their lives women are cautioned against being a shrew or a nag, or being too loud.  Being ‘Critical’ is kind of code for ‘being a bitch’ or ‘thinking too much into these things.’ But when you really examine feminist theory- And I mean get a cup of tea, a pack of biscuits and really sit down to get to grips with it- you’ll find a multitude of voices.

It’s not a monolithic structure with ONE opinion, that opinion being CRUSH THE MEN.  There are actually lots of ideas and opinions about lots of things- about body image and policing, about gender roles, about Trans women, about race, about class- and yes, some of these theses don’t include a disclaimer that says ‘by the way we recognise that men aren’t all pigs, some of them are rad.’ That goes without saying. You’re not going to get much out of feminism if you just read The Second Sex and How to be a woman then dust off your hands and declare it all a bit of a faff (although I do recommend reading both as an excellent articulation of basic theory and a silly but enjoyable memoir respectively). If you look at the wealth of feminist literature out there- From the big guns of the 70s like Greer and Dworkin right through to the bloggers and activists of today, you’ll see a lot of variety and lot of discussion.

So yeah, I don’t think Ms O’Leary is, as she so elegantly put it ‘a cold-hearted bitch.’ I think she’s a little blinkered, possibly a bit sheltered to the wider field of feminist theory and activism. I think she probably forgets that she, like me, grew up in the age immediately prior to camera phones being carried by every person in Ireland connected constantly to twitter and Facebook.  We both had our teens played out in relative, blissful privacy and all our moments of ill judgement or drunken revelry were carried out away from social media and only the stuff of mere rumour.  I think in short that she’s being a little judgemental in writing a piece that writes off an entire field of critical thought as going ‘a bit too far’.

Sorry if you were expecting me to smash a table or scream ‘INTERNALIZED MISOGYNY’ at you for a few paragraphs.  That’s not how the Ultra Femmo rolls.

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Niamh ‘Battle cry of the Ultra Femmo’ Keoghan

Pope Bootillicious I is still the pope of my heart.

Pope Bootlicious

-Elected on the fifth vote of the conclave, one more than was needed to elect her predesessor Pope Benedict XIV

-Benedict, now Pope Emeritus, will take up residence in the granny flat at the end of Pope Bey’s garden and shout at her how he’d do everything better.  His duties will now included cutting the grass, wearing sandals with socks and being grumpy about retirement.

-will adopt the Papal name Pope Bootilicous I, after her classic pop hit, ‘Bootlicious.’ Speaking from the Balcony of St Peters she informed adoring and jubilant crowds that her body ‘too bootilicious for ya babe’ and that the crowd was ‘not ready for this jelly.’ she then led the crowd in song and prayer before delighting them with her patented ‘single ladies’ move.

-First American, black, married and second female  pope.  Also first grammy winner and oscar nominee to win the papacy in a move that media outlets speculate is an attempt to modernize the church.

-A native of Houston Texas, Bootlicious was a surprise choice, not being a cardinal, ordained in the church, baptized Catholic or present in the Vatican during the vote.  However through copious viewing of MTV bases’ countdown of Beyonce’s 47 best dance move, Cardinals unanimously agreed to make the shock appointment.

-Of of course, none of this happened and instead they elected a conservative elderly man who hates gays and democracy. But close enough!

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Niamh ‘The Pope can’t handle me’ Keoghan

Please don’t be alarmed- I’m not trying to oppress you

Lately, on my wanders through this world, I’ve encountered a strange phenomenon in Ireland and the discussion around feminism.  This is when I throw up one of my feminist cards- like talking about rape culture, or casual misogyny, or consent- I’m usually rebuffed with ‘well what about the MEN? Men get oppressed by sexism TOO, you know?’ And this makes me sad.  Because most of the people who say this are very cool, groovy, right on people who are concerned with justice and fairness.  We’re on the same page, guys.  We shouldn’t be fighting!  But most alarming to me in the ‘mens rights’ camp is one John Waters, who has been on my radar for a long time.  Oh Mister Waters.  I used to read you column in the Irish Daily Mail back when I was a baby writer.  You taught me more about writing than anyone else- I just didn’t do whatever you did.  Lately he’s got a gig trotting onto various radio shows and wailing against feminism and women’s rights as infringing on the rights of men.

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Now, Mister Waters is absolutely, 100% right in saying that men are oppressed.  Try getting married to your male partner or adopting a child to raise together or indeed, even try walking around town at night holding hands.  You’re pretty certain to get a shit storm of abuse.  Also rather oppressed is the Trans man, who some feminists have said very mean things about and who a lot of people will still be really resistant to accepting.  Oh, if you’re a working class man or a man with a mental illness, you’re likely to get shit too.  If you’re a man from the travelling community you’re probably getting a fair bit of ‘we have the right to refuse admission’ off bouncers and dying about 10 years earlier than your settled peers.  So yes, men are oppressed.

But the men that are decidedly NOT oppressed are ones like John Waters and David Quinn.  Middle class, comfortably employed, conservative, catholic broadsheet columnists are doing pretty okay in this country.  You’re not being oppressed on the basis of your religion or your gender.  If you’ve been interned without trial for simply being a catholic well then you’re totally being oppressed, but somebody talking about the massive industrial scale slavery that religious orders ran or the institutional rape that was covered and perpetrated by the Catholic church  isn’t.  If I have to as a feminist deal with the stupid shit Caitlin Moran has said on twitter then you guys have to deal with the criticism of your religion’s hierarchy.

I should probably point out here that I have heaps of what is now fashionably called ‘privilege’.  I’m white, straight, comfortably supported financially by my parents and studying at university.  I get misogynistic comments and sexist bullshit but it’s usually of a sort that doesn’t ruin my life or severely impede my liberty.  I get a little bit more bother for being outspokenly atheist and left wing than I do about being a woman, generally.

That being said, I do get some strange comments.  When I’m told to cover up and not get drunk in order to avoid getting raped- guys, why doesn’t this attitude to rape bother you more?  I give out about rape culture and a lot of guys take offence to the idea that women are always victims and men are always the rapists.  But this ‘look after yourself and avoid dressing a certain way’ is so insulting.  It basically says the men can’t control themselves- that if given the slightest chance, they would rape a woman for showing skin or being vulnerable.  It reduces men to animals unable of control or restraint or respect for bodily autonomy.  I think about the men I know- the kindest and most polite gentlemen you’d ever meet- and I know that’s wrong.

But yknow, women do get oppressed and in Ireland, we were fucking chronic for it.  In my lifetime, there were Magdalene women imprisoned in laundries.  Women had to sneak over the border to get contraception and sneak it back.  The original premises of the Irish family planning association had a back exit just in case they were raided.  Information about abortion- not even the procedure itself but information about it- was banned from distribution.  Women weren’t even trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies with all the relevant information and options.  Symphesiotomies happened until 1986.  In the same year a fifteen year old girl gave birth and died in a grotto in Longford.  People see Nell McCafferty on telly and roll their eyes.  I get hounded for expressing the apparently radical opinion that I should have a voice.

Really what John Waters and David Quinn are afraid of isn’t being oppressed.  They’re afraid of losing the position of power and privilege that the Irish catholic male has held since 1922.  They don’t like women speaking out because they then lose the ‘right’ to speak for them, act for them and make decisions for them.  They wail oppression when the old taboos are broken- when we criticize the church openly and bitterly, as it should be criticized as an institution.  You can’t claim to speak for ALMIGHTY GOD and ask us to lay off when your massive rape ring is uncovered.  That’s insulting to your members, your followers and insulting to everyone else.

Women don’t always just get oppressed for being ‘the women.’ Often it’s influenced by race, by ethnic background, by social or economic status.  One of the challenges of feminism now is how we collate all these different little bullshit things and kick them down.  But whatever the complications and challenges of the movement, You simply can’t ask women to get back in the box.  It’s arrogant.  Please stop politely and reasonably asking to be treated as something more than a baby and cake dispenser, because you’re oppressing John Waters.  Stop politely and reasonably asking for reform so that childcare and custody are equally shared between parents.  Stop politely and reasonably asking for equal marriage and gay rights.  Stop politely and reasonably asking to change things, because it’s making John Waters feel challenged.  Yeah.

I’ll get right on that.

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Niamh ‘crushing you with the boot of my polite requests for fairness’ Keoghan

I am scarlet for marriage equality opponents

Okay.

Let me marshal my thoughts as best I can; I’ve just finished watching the Late Late Show debate on marriage equality, which I experienced first via the so called ‘river of bile’ on Twitter- a surprisingly moderate, inoffensive river all things considered although I do think calling Wendy a cunt and telling her to stick things up her fanny was unhelpful and immature- on the whole, twitter was being it’s usual twittery self.  I think it says an awful lot of David Quinn blacklist of bile-y tweets mostly consisted of balanced, moderate comments and a kind of eye rolling disdain for the usual weak arguments against marriage equality.  A few things did strike me about the debate hat I think I, as something of a feminist and general know it all, ought to clear up.

1. The ‘gender equality’ point

Both Darren and Wendy set forth this point; that in every other area of society be it in politics or business, we’re always striving for an equal number of men and women representing on boards and in government.  The argument seemed to be that in these areas, there was a recognition that you needed both men and women for there to be fairness and equality, so why is it different when children are being raised?  It was said that this notion of gender equality recognizes that men and women have different skills and approaches that are both valuable.

The thing is, that’s not what gender equality really stands for, or at least my conception of it.  The idea is, quite radically, that gender doesn’t actually matter in these cases- that men and women can both do the same job equally well without difficulty.  The problem emerges when there’s such a massive disparity in the gender balance of a company board or parliament- because if gender really, honestly wasn’t the issue, we’d have a 50/50 balance of men Vs Women.  The whole basis of this is that like race, gender doesn’t actually tell you anything about the person.  Women can be just as aggressive, stoic or tough as men, and men can be just as passive, emotional or sensitive as women.  There’s nothing wrong with being whatever- people are simply people, their gender can inform their identity but it doesn’t define them.

2. Biological mammies and daddies are best

The first thing that strikes me about this entire argument is how insulting it is.  To reduce the love I have for my parents- who have cared for me, protected me and given me a stable home for 20 years, loved me no matter what my difficulties have been- to reduce a relationship so complex and fulfilling to biology is woefully simplistic.  I have a mother and father, but to reduce their roles in my life to simple cardboard cutouts of ”MAM’ and ‘DAD’ fitting into this narrow gender binary is ridiculous.

When I was a child, my father worked nights and my mother worked during the day in town.  At the time I was sure that she basically owned a company and so was very happy mammy went to work in the day.  Because my dad worked nights, I spent most of my day with him- we’d get up and watch sesame street, then we’d go in the buggy to town, or to the park, or to any number of places.  My dad changed my nappy everywhere because there were no changing facilities outside of the ladies toilets in an era before parenting rooms, so he improvised, most famously on the grave of an archbishop.

My Dad is very stoic.  He’s not a very touchy feely guy.  He’s told me he loves me exactly once in his life- on the phone, after my mum had gently informed me that my grandmother, his mother, had passed away while I was on Holiday in Galway.  He’s an old fashioned, Colm Meany in the commitments sort of Dad.  He doesn’t say he loves me, but he certainly shows it- everything I’ve ever needed is provided for.  I’ve never gone hungry or been cold or scared.  He’s worked hours of overtime to pay for my education and my school trips.  He was a very hands on father when I was a kid, sharing the parenting duties with my mother.  As well as my mum and dad, I was cared for by two grandmothers who without fail babysat us four days a week when dad started working in the mornings again.

My mother worked in town full time for most of my childhood.  When I was a little kid, she’d ring from her office in town once during the day, and then arrive home in a big beige 90s style rain mac, usually holding an umbrella and her handbag.  On the weekends, she’d cook a spaghetti bolognese on Saturday and a roast on Sunday.  We’d all go on outings- my mum, dad, brothers and usually my grandparents- together as a family.

Bottom line- my parents both mucked in and got on with it.  I wasn’t particularly aware of gender roles when I was a kid- if I cut my knee, I ran crying to either parent.  As I got older and needed help with other problems, I gravitated towards two people- My mother, and my uncle Fran.  My uncle is like me in personality, articulate and great at conversation.  I don’t gravitate towards my mother because women are just naturally better at dealing with their daughter’s problems, I do it because my dad just happens to not be as easy to talk to.  My brothers go to my mum with problems too, the same way if we have a wobbly desk we go to dad.

It’s not to say that they have set roles that are defined by their gender- they’re just two people primarily, who raised a family together.  The really important thing that they gave us was stability- I never had any doubt that my parents were a team, and working together.  It’s stability, not gender, that’s really important to a kid.

3.Marriage is only for makin’ babies

This obsession with kids being the only outcome of marriage kind of irks me.  No it bloody isn’t.  The primary function of marriage as a social institution?  I would have imagined it had something to do with the people actually getting married and not just their potential offspring.  This also discounts people unable to have children, or who just plain don’t want them.  Again, reducing marriage to just being about biological reproduction is ridiculous.  There’s also the question of adoption- Sometimes the sad fact is that biological parents aren’t capable of raising children alone or together, and that’s okay- kids get adopted all the time, and it doesn’t fundamentally distort them.  I suppose it’s okay for them to be adopted by straight couples because then there can be a pretend biological bond, by Darren and Wendy’s logic.

To me, the biological argument is bullshit.  It insults adoptees and children raised diligently and happily by step parents, grandparents and any of the other million grey areas there are in the world.  The ‘protecting the children’ rhetoric also completely ignores the legal limbo that the children of gay parents now exist in, with only one official parent.  It doesn’t make sense to me.

4. George Hook is kind of the man.

Has to be said because I have done mean impressions of him on many occasions and he was a total dude up on that podium.

5.They’re gonna ruin marriage for everyone

God you know, as a straight, cis female who wants to someday have children, I know exactly what will put me off marriage forever- two chicks being able to do it, amirite?  I mean, what would be the actual point of getting marriage and having babies if the gays are going to come in and RUIN MY MARRIAGE?  It’s just not bloody fair.  An entire generation of straight women and men would be discouraged from getting legal protection and starting families because sure now EVERYONE can do it, it won’t be cool anymore.  Or something.  The opponents to marriage equality are never very clear about how that bit works…

The idea that my relationships are cheapened by somebody else’s just confuses me.  I don’t care if gay people can marry- my ability to produce more of me doesn’t somehow make me a magical, sacred person capable of deep sorcery that my gay friends don’t have- it just makes me fertile, and I’m a lot more than that.  My relationships, both romantic, platonic, meaningful and shallow, are all based on more than that.

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In the end, marriage equality isn’t really just about kids, though that seems to be the way the debate is always framed.  it’s also about legal protection, clarity and the reinforcement of the principle that it actually doesn’t matter what you choose to do with another consenting adult.  The re appropriation of ‘gender equality’ for something that’s just reinforcing the very divisions we’re trying to remove is laughable, and David Quinn’s river of bile is probably the most rational, balanced thing ever posted to the Iona institutes website.

SO THERE.

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Niamh ‘did not get onto the rivers of bile list. devastated’ Keoghan

Bank Holiday Tuesday’s 2012

Okay, here is part 1 of all the things that I am able to remember from 2012.  Either I remembered it, or was reminded of it by reading my old tweets.  I tried to pick things that had a deeper cultural relevance that I noticed, rather than just being a list of stuff that came out or happened.  Also a lot of shit happened so I’m not going to get everything in.  But here is what Bank Holiday Tuesday remembers

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Everyone dressed as Slenderman for Halloween.  2012 will go down in history as a very difficult year and you could see echoes of this all through pop culture.  Our collective consciousness was fixated on the approaching Mayan Apocalypse date with a kind of gallows humour.   Slenderman became a widely known character in 2012, after spending time building up steam on message boards, youtube and in general internet counter culture.

The original Slender man photo, and the one that started the mythos

I think this surge in popularity can be attributed to two things- our approaching sense of dread, uncertainty and doom, and THAT FUCKING GAME.  I don’t think there is a university aged person in Ireland now who hasn’t played that game while wankered at a house party with all your friends around you screaming DON’T GO IN THE BUILDING! He’ll sneak up behind you OH MY GOD THE CHAIR’S BEEN MOVED.

In all seriousness, I do think the Slender man’s popularity as the horror mascot of the 2010s is telling of our anxieties and fears as a generation, and perhaps also of the stagnation of the horror film industry.  The next iconic horror character after Samara from the Ring movies (remember when Samara from the ring movies was a ‘thing?’ remember throwing all your hair in front of your face and whispering ‘seven daaaaays’? good times) Doesn’t come from a schlock slasher horror or a remake of Japanese suspense- Slenderman didn’t come from any work at all; he originated on a horror message board (Slendy is page 3,hilariously)  and was then adopted into various works such a Marble Hornets and… that fucking game.  It’s a public domain, open source free shared horror template!

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

So with all this in mind, a million tall skinny guys went as Slendy for Halloween, with mixed results.  My top award goes to Danny who honestly scared the bejesus out of me with his costume.  Everyone else, I will offer the wisdom; a morph suit does not a cosmic horror make.

Barrack Obama was re-elected but do I really need to include it on my review in detail?  It all played out like a really forced media game, with people insisting ‘ooooh no it’s gonna be really close, seriously!!!’ when the stats really showed otherwise.  Bouncing back from what I personally think was a voodoo magic sabotaged performance in the first debate, Obama pretty much stormed it beyond Fox News and conservative talk radio in the states, mostly because Paul Ryan and Mittens are just so.  fucking.  WEIRD.  No really, Paul Ryan is really scary looking and I would not have wanted him to be the vice Prez. Now with a looming debt crisis and without the idealism of change behind him, Obama has a very rough second term to ride out.

It was a good year for feminism in a strange way, considering we had so much complete and utter fucking bullshit to contend with.  The GOP candidate Todd Akin started off with some incredibly bone headed comments about rape and how rape victims rarely get pregnant because the body has magic rape detection powers that repel the evil sperm- if only this were true.  Cue more comments from other GOP candidates about how ‘some girls rape easy’ and the shitstorm caused by health insurance providers possibly being made to include birth control as part of their healthcare plans.  Apparently sex is now a lifestyle choice, and avoiding pregnancy for medical reasons can ONLY be done via no sex.  Weird.  Also weird is the idea that the pill is solely birth control when often it’s used for regulation of hormones.

Chris Brown Left twitter, leaving in his wake the need for another terrible celebrity to lol at, and a shitload of misogynistic abuse leveled at the female comic whose sparring with Brown seemed to be what fucked him off Twitter.  I will confess to never wading into the Chris Brown pool because I’d feel like a hypocrite and an elitist, because I listen to Ike turner, John lennon, Phil Spektor and many others who have done terrible, terrible things to women without much sign of remorse.  I would say I don’t take much stock in Chris Brown as an artist and in his music, he is absolutely hideous both with general misogynistic bullshit and with constant backhanded references to his violence and all it paints for me is the picture of an entirely unapologetic guy.  I will never ever like Chris brown.  What a jerk.

Online bullying is the sad new way people are terrible to one another now, with several heavily reported young deaths by suicide linked to online harassment.  To throw my hat into the ring on what is a very sad and controversial topic, I have to say that I’ve always argued it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the attitudes prevailing in society.  The big problem people have with the internet is that it is essentially anonymous, and it is claimed that this encourages downright sadistic and unpleasant things to be said and done to people.  I have to argue that people talked shit and said horrible things to me when I was 12, before facebook and even before bebo.  back then, they got to me by sending text messages and making phone calls- teenagers will always utilize technology to be brutal to one another, and in the adult word we seem to have entirely forgotten harassing phone calls and letters.  This isn’t a new thing, and it isn’t going to be solved by censorship or legislation.

In a broader sense, I’m kind of disturbed by this obsession we all have with understanding why someone took their life- the media seems determined to connect it with one single influence when in reality the victims of suicide have many different reasons and factors effecting their ability to think straight and seek help.  It’s a terrible complicated mental health crisis and we can’t keep catching our heels on scapegoats.

The Olympics and Paralympics blew everybody’s minds mostly because I don’t think people were expecting much.  It had some pretty bad pre talk, but the thunderous opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle let you know this was the real fucking deal.  Mostly due to Tom Daley representing team GB the diving events had a lot of popularity (and now there’s a celebrity diving competition on ITV1 next year!).  I took great personal pleasure from the extensive coverage of the men’s gymnastics.  (Team GB Gymnastics squad, I’ll see you in my dreams)

Katie Taylor inspiration-bombed all of Ireland with her amazing Gold Medal performance (I watched her final fight through my fingers) and the rest of the Irish team put in a fucking fantastic Olympics, our best performance since 1956.  Cian O’Connor redeemed himself after the stripping of his 2004 gold by claiming bronze here and Rob Heffernan came agonizingly close to a bronze for Ireland in the bafflingly intense and amusing spot of race walking.  Ireland’s Paralympians continued the inspiration-parade, being fucking fantastic setting world records and the like.  I’m still a bit sad that it’s gone, tbh.

The question ‘You don’t agree with abortion, do you?’ Made dinners in older relatives homes excruciatingly awkward for many this year, as the mother of all throw downs sparked off again.  led most visibly by Clare Daly of the ULA and Sinead Redmond, a righteously pissed off pregnant woman the campaign for action on the X case was launched this year.  Youth Defence reared their charming heads again with a billboard campaign around Irish cities that showed torn stolen istock photos and 18 week scans reading ‘Abortion tears her life apart.’ Following this, the posters were vandalized, criticized and generally just written off as the sort of bullshit YD like to go on with.

When Savita Halappanavar died the game seemed to change.  Previously on the fence onlookers marched on government buildings, the Catholic church made statements, people squabbled over the numbers attending rallies and in the midst of all this the media had no idea where to turn.

Interesting to me was the reaction to the story that asked people to give Praveem Halappanavar, Savita’s widower, his privacy.  Enda Kenny was quoted as saying ‘we must remember that a man’s wife has died.’ The political set seemed confounded by what to do when Mr. Halappanavar made it clear he wasn’t going away and doesn’t want a respectful silence over this issue.   They got really confused when Mr. Halappanavar Insisted he wouldn’t co-operate with a HSE led investigation that included several Galway based doctors on it’s panel.

Pro Choice groups called for the X case to finally be legislated for, while Pro Life groups wrung their hands over things like the ‘suicide clause’ not being included in any legislation (Although I do wonder why any woman would fake being suicidal to get an abortion as opposed to the much easier option of, oh I don’t know, GETTING THE BOAT TO ENGLAND).  Now as the year closes it does so with the news that legislation for abortion in line with the X case ruling will be introduced, governed by regulations.

The age of X Factor seems to be ending, as James Arthur only managed to squeak number 2 for Christmas.  Overall it seems we’re getting a bit tired of the polished pop reality star- even X Factor USA was won by a 40 year old country singer, and Britain’s Got Talent by a teenage girl with a dancing dog.  Glee popularized ‘Somebody that I used to know’ to the point where it became the smash indie hit of the summer, along with fun’s ‘we are young’ and Adele continuing her charts dominance.  Glee has slipped from cultural juggernaunt with some modicum of critical acclaim into the realm of the cheesy melodrama it used to parody.

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Whew, way too much happened this year, fucking hell.  I’ll see you in part 2

Niamh ‘There will be awards at the end of all this’ Keoghan

 

An Interview with Sínead Kennedy- Pro Choice activist

Vigil for Savita

 

This the first interview I ever conducted.  Sínead Kennedy is a lecturer in NUI Maynooth and a spokesperson for the pro choice campaign.  She’s a member of the United Left Alliance and, as I told her TO HER FACE, is a bit of a badass.  I am still scarlet that I managed  to call my interviewee a ‘badass’ within the first ten seconds of the interview. I’d put my serious journalist face on for nothing!

The interview was written for the Student Standard, which is Maynooth’s only independant news source.  I am a massive hack for the Standard, do check it out!  It’s made with love. <3

I would like to thank Sínead, who was very friendly, reasonable and generous with her time in giving me this interview.  

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It’s been 20 years since the X case ruling and in that time seven successive governments have not introduced legislation clarifying the legal position of abortion.  At the start of this year, the United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly introduced a bill that would provide for the ruling in the X case.  That bill has now been voted down twice, and people are getting angry, none more so than the Pro Choice movement which has recently seen a huge surge in public support.  From a small march of under 5,000 people just a few months ago to the massive march of 15,000 after the death of Savita Halappanavar, the debate has shifted up a gear.  With accusations of cowardice on the part of Fine Gael and particularly the Labour Party, mysterious automated anti abortion phone calls, Praveem Hallapanavar sticking it to a HSE led enquiry (and at time of writing, preparing to bring his case to the European court of human rights) a spasming media old and new following the story day by day there is a wick of change that has been ignited.  In the midst of all of this, a few speakers keep re-appearing – Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute, William Binchy, David Quinn and Íde Nic Mhathúna (who was chastised on Indian Television) on the pro life side and Clare Daly, Ruth Coppinger, Sínead Redmond and Sínead Kennedy on the pro choice side.  Sínead Kennedy is a lecturer in Maynooth’s English Department and agreed to an interview with me.

I suppose I should begin by asking what you made of last night’s verdict [Clare Daly’s second attempt at passing legislation for the X case on Wednesday the 28th of November]?

“It was very disappointing – that was the first thing about it. It wasn’t maybe entirely unexpected as it became clear during the course of the day that Labour were not prepared to vote for it. But the fact is that this is the second time that it has gone before the Dail and it’s the second time it’s been voted down and literally 30 days earlier a woman had died. It seemed it should have been treated as a matter of some urgency and the fact that it wasn’t just shows what these politicians are.  Because being realistic, we are talking about another six months before we see legislation. And given the fact that a woman has died because of the lack of legal clarity, it just seemed disgraceful.”

I’ve been keeping up with the Labour Party and what they’ve had to say.  From what I’ve read, they’re saying that without the support of Fine Gael, the bill was going to be defeated anyway and if they had voted yes, the government would have collapsed and the wait would be even longer.  What would you say to that? Labour have also claimed that they are the only party to have included legislation for X in their manifestos in 2011.

“This is always the excuse for not doing anything: we can’t make it too radical or push too hard. I’m putting the emphasis on the Labour Party but there is an onus on Fine Gael too to vote for this. This government has a responsibility to act. But my fear would be that in the attempt to pacify the pro-choice elements of Labour and the anti-choice elements of Fine Gael you’d end up with some sort of compromise that means you have a very weak piece of legislation that would not provide an effective legal protection for women.”

We then moved to discussing Sínead’s involvement with choice advocacy through the years, starting with her memories of the original X Case in 1992.

“Well, I remember the X case. I was about 12 or so and I remember it really had an impact on me.  The fact that she was 14 seemed so close to my age and my sisters.  It was one of those things that had an impact on everyone our age. It was a huge story at the time, I suppose now many people don’t remember it. So when I was in college, the C case came about and I didn’t want to see this again and got involved in the campaign. Ever since then I’ve been campaigning on the issue. We campaigned for action on the C case and nothing happened and there was a referendum in 2002 to reverse the X decision which we campaigned against.  This year, the twentieth anniversary of X, we decided this couldn’t be allowed to continue, so we started up a campaign called Action on X.  Clare Daly in the United Left Alliance (and I am also a member of the United Left Alliance) brought forward a bill in April so we began to work on that.  And then there were those horrific Youth Defence posters over the summer to shame women and I was so inspired by the response of mainly young women who spontaneously organised.  Sínead Redmond organised a Facebook page entitled ‘Unlike Youth Defence I trust women to decide”, this amazing thing; and they had this protest outside the dail, it was all these young angry women saying who said we will not be shamed, we are proud and we are feminist, we believe in choice and our rights and we won’t be shamed by conservative elements like youth defence. That led to the March for Choice and we had begun to set up a campaign when sadly, Savita Halappanavar died.

The posters over the summer, showing torn pictures of both a sonogram picture and of a woman’s face came with the slogan ‘There is always a better option.’ Youth Defence, formed in 1992, are a controversial pro-life organisation operating in Ireland.  The posters over the summer were for many younger people their first encounter with Youth Defence.  I asked Sínead if she thought the story of Savita Halappanavar has become a game changer in this debate, like the X case was in 1992.

“That’s exactly how I’d put it. I think it has connected with people.  Too long and too often the debates on abortion get caught up in these legal arguments and medical arguments; abstract theoretical arguments.  I’m always struck that in these discussions women themselves are virtually absent; it’s like they’re just these disembodied wombs. So it’s like the women just become completely invisible. I think with the X case and Savita you’re presented with a case in all it’s complexity and all it’s human pain and tragedy and people respond in  a human way. Because then they realise that these things are not abstract moral decisions; they’re made by real people. Obviously these are extreme cases; in terms of rape or in terms of risk to a woman’s life. But I also think it just shines a light on the struggle that ordinary women go through every day in making these decisions. Sometimes they are difficult decisions and sometimes they’re not but they are always a valid decision.”

The question of validity recurred in the course of our interview, when I asked for Sínead’s thoughts on the comments of Breda O’Brien, who was featured on the main evening news on the 18th of November stating that many pro-life activists felt ‘excluded’ from the marches and vigils held in the wake of Savita’s death.  I asked Sínead to comment on the implicit statement here, and one that has been circulating around since the story broke; that the pro-choice lobby are exploiting the death of Savita Halappanavar for their campaign.

“Should the anti-abortionists be excluded? Absolutely they should be excluded. I mean it’s their campaigns that have put women’s lives like Savita at risk and I certainly reject any claim that we’ve exploited this. I think we need to look at the facts here.  Praveem, Savita’s husband, contacted the pro choice group in Galway.  He told her story- He decided to tell her story, and the first people he told her story to was not to newspapers, but to Galway Pro choice- why?  Because he wanted to make sure that what happened to his wife would never happen again.  I think that we have to salute his courage and determination- it’s a very brave thing to do to not only have the Irish media but in many ways the entire world media spotlight shone on you at a time of grief- I mean the man has lost his wife, and he’s been this incredibly powerful and articulate advocate for her, determined that she will receive justice.  So I completely reject that. It’s just not true.”

I was curious to know what were some of the crazier things that Sínead has heard in nearly 20 years of involvement in pro-choice advocacy, and some of the stranger arguments against abortion.  We ended up discussing the philosophical nightmare of contemplating non-existence.  Sínead goes on to comment on the language used in debates about abortion.  The question of ‘valid decisions’ returns here.

“Sometimes I get quite nasty misogynistic comments. But the best one is ‘what if your mother had aborted you?’ I always think that that is the most stupid.  They always ask you this question and I find it slightly bizarre that the non-existent go around contemplating their own non-existence.  I find this bizarre.

I think you have to not expect everybody starts from ‘I believe and support free safe legal abortion’ but most people if you ask them ‘well if a woman’s life is at risk, then can she have an abortion?  Okay well what about her health?  What about if she’s been raped or in the case of fetal abnormalities?’ Once you break down these absolutes you start asking the question ‘what is a valid decision?’ One thing that really irritates me is the language that is used. This idea of women demanding abortions and abortion on demand – this word, ‘on demand’.  We never use this word for other medical procedures.  We never talk abou people demanding to have their tonsils out, but somehow it’s appropriate to use here.  The other thing I’ve heard about is the idea of the floodgates.  This is the other term I keep hearing. It’s interesting that this is the same term you often hear used in Racist discourse when they’re talking about immigrants and talking about floods of immigrants- There’s a correlation between sexist and racist discourses as well.  It’s important to pay attention to these kinds of questions as well.

When asked about the recent statements made by the council of Bishops and Archbishop of Dublin Diamuird Martin on the ethics of abortion, Sínead was critical of the church’s continued patronage of health and education.  We compared our experiences of catholic education- Separated by approximately 10 years, but both coloured by the church.

“Well, the idea that the Catholic church in Ireland can pontificate on any aspect of morality or can lecture anybody when we know the sort of horrific crimes they have been guilty of… If the church wants to make comments nobody can stop them, but what I object to is when the church begins to interfere in medical decisions and in the state.  I think that’s a problem.  I have no problem with what people choose to believe privately; I respect people who don’t agree with abortion – that’s their view and they’re entitled to it.  Where I have a problem is when they try to impose their view on me and on other people.  That’s the difficulty I have.  I mean, if the church wants to, within it’s own religion say these things that’s fine, but when it begins to impact on other people who don’t share these beliefs then there’s a problem. I think there’s also a failure within Ireland to separate church and state.  The fact that the church continue to play significant roles within health and education is a huge problem.  I think until we get the church out of our hospitals and out of our schools we are going to continue to be contaminated by their influence.

In reponse to comments I made about being taught a very pro-life favouring religious syllabus at school:

“We got the ones on contraception; all the things that were wrong with condoms and the pill.  And then you’d get the rythmn method- which was suitable only in marriage but it was apparently very very safe and [we were told] all these awful things that were going to happen if you used a condom or the pill.”

Finally, I asked Sínead two questions: did she think this government would legislate for the X case, and will there be access to free, safe, legal abortion in Ireland within the next ten years.

“I’d answer yes to both questions.  I think this government will legislate because we’re going to make them, and if we don’t, we’re going to bring them down.  If they do not act.  There’s a huge campaign building and I think they’re going to come under enormous pressure to act. bI would also answer yes to the second question because I do think things are changing.I think the anti abortionists realise that.  We need a twofold strategy; one is legislation for the X case.  Not that I think [legislation for the X case alone] is enough, but because once you have legislation for X, for the first time in the history of the irish state, the terms under which abortion is legal in this country will be laid out in law and that is highly significant.  I think that anti-abortionists realise that.  I don’t think that they’re wrong in saying that it will bring abortion to Ireland, but obviously it only brings abortion for highly restricted circumstances and obviously there’s a lot of things it won’t address.

I think that there is momentum building to have a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and I think that it is going to become a major political issue within the next year.”

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Niamh ‘Serious journalist face’ Keoghan

Bank Holiday Tuesday- 20th November ‘Being a hairy woman’

Bank Holiday Tuesday, originally published on The Student Standard.  In it, I try to get people to stop discussing body hair, ironically by discussing body hair.  

The Student Standard is NUI Maynooth’s independent News site

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Much has been said about hair and women.  Much of it, my friends, is bullshit.  Even my icon and all around hilarious person Caitlin Moran gets a bit… weird about the subject of hair and what you do with it.  It’s a debate up there with ‘what do you do when a man holds open the door’ in terms of silly things us white middle class feminists have to worry about.  So what’s the deal with hair?  Women shave, wax, veet, bleach and outright burn that shit off with electrolysis. What’s the right standpoint to take on all this grooming and pruning? What am I as a strident young feminist and empowered lady to do about leg, underarm, and facial hair?  In honour of Movember, a month-long love letter to dodgy facial hair, I examine this topic.

Some will tell you you must exorcise ALL HAIR from any place it might crop up that is not held exclusively on your scalp.  These are, to use the polite term, complete nutters.  They are your lasering-the-nethers, bleaching-the-upper-lip, red-rash-of-death people that police their bodily hair vigilantly.  They’ here meaning women’s magazines, beauty tips websites and that monolith of neurotic ironic feminist porn, COSMO.  This is one end of the extreme and yeah, it’s pretty bizarre to me.  That anyone could expect me to maintain that level of grooming all over my body is a bit… nuts.  I mean, The height of ‘making an effort’ for me is putting on a bit of eyeshadow and maybe painting my nails.  I’m just not bothered doing it.  I personally feel more comfortable with a curl of arm hair here, a shock of fur there.  That’s just me though.

On the other end of the scale, you get people who say never get rid of hair ANYWHERE.  DON’T TOUCH THOSE ARMPITS.  LEAVE YOUR LEGS ALONE.  I can see the validity of this.  I like the defiant middle finger getting stuck to normative ideas of what a woman should look like.  I myself mightily enjoy not having to spend money waxing my vagina and I’m perfectly happy to let a forest cultivate there.  But in the end is telling a woman ‘don’t do this to your body’ liberating her in any way?  This is the difficulty I have with it.  I think piercings are weird and freaky, I wouldn’t get one myself.  But am I really going to approach another woman and tell her ‘do not do this thing you have decided as an adult to do’?  No!

When I asked Facebook the question of body hair, a friend commented that body hair and what she does with it is an area ‘I most wish popular culture would keep out of.’ that’s the bottom line here, I think.  Magazines, stop shaming ladies for being hairy.  Hairy ladies, don’t shame your sisters if they want to be not hairy.  Do men have to worry about this shit?  Certainly not- they just shave every morning and be done with it.  It’s cool if they want to have a beard or be clean shaven.  I wax my facial hair – a layer of white blond bristly hairs that cover my chin and get itchy and annoying.  So I get rid of them because I want to and they annoy me.  Nobody in the last 8 or so years has commented on my facial hair; it is entirely for me and my grooming.  I don’t shave my legs because black tights hide all sins and who is honestly bothered but on the other paw, my other friend said of waxing her downstairs ‘sometimes it’s nice to have a breeze down there.’

I once got word of a woman who, in solidarity with her partner’s Movember ‘stache, stopped shaving altogether for the duration of the month.  After posting this on Facebook, a man commented that he’d rather get testicular cancer than sleep with a hairy woman.  That’s bullshit.  It is also bullshit for Caitlin Moran to call out women for waxing their nethers.  Much as I admire CatMo, you can’t tell women waxing down there is ‘wrong’ somehow.  All that’s ‘wrong’ is someone telling a woman how what she has to do to herself to feel ‘normal.’ Caitlin Moran (if you happen to be reading this CatMo, I love you, I respect you as a writer) slagging off women for waxing down there is as bad as a jerk slagging off women for being hairy.  In both cases it’s imposing what you think is right on someone’s body.  That don’t fly with me.

This is totally one of those issues we just need not talk about.  It’s nobody’s business what you do with your body.  A mean boyfriend shouldn’t tell you to wax yourself when you don’t want to and a friend shouldn’t feel entitled to shame you when you want to get waxed.  It’s all what you want to do.  There are plenty of places I love having hair- I am immensely proud of my magnificent sideburns.  They are a better effort than most men could muster.  When I tie back my hair they are a sight to behold.  I like have bushy eyebrows, and hairy legs.  I don’t like having hair under my arms or on my chin.  It’s my decision to remove the hair from these places.  Having autonomy over your own body works both ways.  Nobody tells you what to do.  It’s the bias seems to tip in favour of non-hairy ladies in pop culture, but women, take solace in this.  Do whatever you like.  Pierce your ear and ring a charm bracelet through that sucker, shave your hair off and get ‘CUNT LIFE’ tattooed on your scalp, be skinny, be curvy, have hair, don’t have hair – do what YOU want to do to feel comfortable and good looking.  And everyone else can just get out of your pants about it.

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Niamh ‘Everyone shut up now please’ Keoghan

Never Again. Things I learned at the vigil

6 Things I learned marching to the Vigil for Savita Hallapanavar.

Savita died of septicemia in Galway University hospital after suffering a prolonged miscarriage over 3 days.  After 1 day she requested the pregnancy be terminated but as a fetal heartbeat was detected, this request was refused.  This reflects Ireland’s legal limbo over what to do in a case such as this- Doctors are reported to have told Savita and her husband that nothing could be done while the fetus still had a heartbeat and that ‘this is a catholic country.’ about 10-15,000 people marched and held a vigil today in Dublin to express outrage at her needless death, and to pressure the government into legislating for the X case.  The X case was a supreme court ruling that entitles a woman to a termination if there is a real and substantial risk to her life.  Here are some things I learned today

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Continue reading →

The silence of two thousand people together not saying a word

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‘I’m sorry- I’m just so fucking pissed off.’ These were the words of an emotional speaker at the candlelit vigil held on Kildare street last night. I arrived at the last minute to witness what turned out to be a massive spontaneous gathering- Nearly 2000 people united in anger. I walked up nassau street and soon encountered a group of banner holders, being led along the street by a Garda outrider. Traffic had not been diverted and so a 46A was left abandoned beside the National Library, it’s lights switched off. The Garda outrider told us he was going to lead us around to Merrion Square because ‘there’s another protest on outside Kildare street, and I don’t want there to be trouble.’ Someone holding a banner asked ‘Is it because we’re pro choice and they’re pro life?’ Confusion erupted. the Garda didn’t know who was at Kildare street and was plainly attempting to avoid any sort of riot. A girl called her friends to ask where they were and proclaimed ‘Lads, they’re up here!’ and so we marched up Kildare street.

The Garda outrider was worried about violence, but this was the most quiet crowd I’d ever squeezed through- the kind of quiet, dignified outrage you only see once in a generation. The joyful, bright atmosphere of the march for Choice last month was well gone- this was silent, unending fury. People were holding candles- I happened upon a friend of mine who spoke of how shocking the case was, and I expressed my surprise at the turnout on such short notice. At a glance, there were more people here at this spur of the moment event than were at the March for choice. The shock at Wednesday’s news had brought people to their feet.

People stood on and listened as Clare Daly, Sinead Kennedy and others spoke but what was most striking were the moments of quiet that were only punctuated by cheers during speeches. When Sinead kennedy called for a sit in and for silence, a crowd of 2000 people sat in the middle of a main road and were silent. The only people left standing were press photographers and increasingly alarmed Gardai. 2000 people sat in silence. I will never forget it. I will never forget that silence, the kind you only experience when you are surrounded by two thousand people and nobody is speaking. I’ll never forget the candles and the deep, deep anger I could see in every face. Nobody was weeping or screaming but the scab had been cracked on this open wound in Irish society.

It’s not just Ireland that is reacting to this story. The Young Turks, Fox News, The Huffington Post, Reddit, The Guardian; Sky news was leading with the story of a young woman denied vital medical attention at a Galway hospital for a period yesterday. We’ve been called Medieval but this is a sadly modern form of cruelty. Before 1821 in fact the Catholic church allowed abortion up until ‘Quickening’- when the foetus’ movement was visible. The pro life movement has grown since the advent of sonography and ultrasound gave us more and more detailed images of the foetus developing. We can’t just call this an ancient problem. This is a legal and moral debate taken solely from our modern world.

The microphone was offered to anyone who wanted to speak- A young woman named Elle gave the quote that begins this column, after her voice cracked and she lost her breath. She called, as everyone else speaking did, on the people of Ireland to return on Saturday to another vigil at the Garden of remembrance. The meeting was dispersed quickly and traffic began to move along Kildare street again as if nothing had happened. The empty thin metal tins of spent tea lights littered the ground, and lit candles lined the railings of Leinster House.

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Niamh ‘Just fucking legislate already’ Keoghan

 

Sex and the Campus

Bank Holiday Tuesday is now a weekly opinion column on the Student Standard, a news website based in NUI Maynooth. This post is the debut column, entitled ‘Sex and the Campus’ and originally published on the 6th of November. Bank holiday Tuesday is published every (when else) Tuesday and can be found here along with my other writing for the Standard.

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University campuses: where quite a lot of us are in and around when we take our first steps into the big bad world of taking all our clothes off and touching each other. The assumption is that everyone is ridin’, everyone will ride and everyone who isn’t ridin’ wants to ride. Ireland has had a pretty staggering jolt in sexual liberty, considering it’s only been twenty years since we de criminalised homosexuality and even more recently really begun to question the role that the church plays in our lives. Maynooth is a great place to witness the fault line running through Irish society right now; two different times and spaces separated neatly by the Kilcock Road.

On the South Campus we have an old Ireland that I would argue is struggling to remain relevant in the rapid secularization and liberalization of the outside world; a conservative island set against an increasingly hostile society. Moving past the library, the difference is almost farcical. To me, happiness is the simple fact that such a vibrant and cheerful LGBT community can exist in such close proximity to a Catholic seminary. On the North campus we have the fruits of a new Ireland – cautiously patting itself down and realizing it has limbs, and eyes and ears and a body it can move around in. Shrugging off the old cloistered shames of the past there is a real optimism about where we’re going as a people. Well okay, we’re all going to Australia after graduation… BUT we will be going with a good working knowledge of our own bodies and sexualities. The contrast is magnificent and something I take great joy in: Maynooth is now is as interesting as Trinity was in 1891 or UCD was in the 1960s. Maynooth is where you can see change blooming under your feet.

This contrast of values brings me to my current thought. Recently, I heard that during last year’s sexual health week (called KISS Week that year) there were some complaints about how the Students’ Union tackles sexual health. The complaint was namely that the Union does nothing to promote abstaining from sex as a viable option for students and instead pushes condoms into our hands and promotes safe sex as the only way to avoid STIs and pregnancy. As I surveyed my own haul of free condoms (a grand total of five from the SU and one from LGBTQ’s ‘Fab Pack’), this question played on my mind: are we too in your face about this whole ridin’ business?

I decided to put on my “serious journalist face” and conduct some research. Yup – I put up a status on Facebook, asking what they thought about the college’s approach and its effectiveness. ”(There is a) SERIOUS lack of information for women who have sex with women – it’s a real problem and has only been addressed through the LGBTQ society” said Christina Murphy, who graduated from NUIM last year and is former President of the LGBTQ society. ”The only criticism I would have would be regarding the staff in the Medical Centre, who I have always felt to be quite judgemental and intimidating regarding sexual health,” said Dean MacCearaín, who had praised the SU for the free availability of condoms and easy access to sexual health advice (and is current President of LGBTQ Society… My Facebook keeps amazing company!)

An interesting point came, as such points often do, from my friend Ruth who asked for the current situation to be considered in its context. We’re moving from a time where sex was absolutely taboo and not discussed at all to a time where choice and safety are absolutely vital. We’re also living a world where AIDS is still a reality. Ruth finished by saying she “would like to see more acknowledgement of the fact that people’s level of interest in sex is so varied.” And this is where my personal experience comes in.

I’m not sexually active. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been? Does someone just come around and “switch you on” like they do the electric or gas? I’m not having sex mostly because I’m very lazy. I honestly just could not be arsed finding a person, getting my clothes off, buying condoms, putting music on and shaving my legs for a few jollies and a cuddle. As it is, I’m pretty happy with not going out of my way to do all that. It’d be just another thing to add to my list of things I need to do in a week. It’s not for any religious or spiritual reason that I refrain, nor is it from any desire to remain “pure”. I just haven’t got around to it yet. So what has my experience as an ostensibly abstinent person been?

I must say, the sexual health campaign week was a bit isolating. It just had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Condom magicians and STI information just has no use for someone who’s only major sexual relationship is with her right hand. It did play on my mind slightly, though. I did for a moment contemplate perhaps it was a bit odd that I wasn’t as interested in sex as perhaps I should be. This of course was me being, if I may use a refined phrase, a bit bullshitty about everything. It’s something that has no relevance for me right now… But just like Mass being held on South Campus in the Oratory is it having no relevance to me any reason for it not to take place?

This is my take on it. If I am ill-informed about abstinence – for instance if I don’t know oral sex “counts” as sex or whatever – I am far less likely to suffer dire consequences for my ignorance. Abstinence is refraining from an activity. You don’t need much more information or support other than “Oh, that’s grand. Well done, I guess.” However if I’m ill-informed about safe sex while practising it I could end up a) pregnant or b) very sore, itchy and potentially infertile, which I wouldn’t like. Promoting safe sex is so important because it has real, life-long implications for people’s health. Ruth made the point that ”[it] makes it clear that the educators/campaigners are sex positive and not using ‘be safe’ as a veiled ‘don’t do it’, which can’t be taken for granted in the context of sex education in schools.”

I don’t really know how you could offer abstinence as a viable option for someone. I mean fair enough if the person has decided that’s what they want but at a point in most people’s lives when their libido is peaking and they’re away from home for the first time I doubt it’s a very realistic one. I think the current Students’ Union strategy of promoting safe sex to the point of slight overkill is a far better one than the old ways of shame and secrecy. Openness and honesty about our most basic needs is what we really need to promote.

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Niamh ‘Serious journalist face’ Keoghan

The Student Standard is Maynooth’s independent news source set up in 2012 by Keith Broni, current editor in chief.