Who wore it better? A look at how minority voices are overshadowed online

Who wore it better? A look at how minority voices are overshadowed online

DIVERSITY + INCLUSION

Who wore it better? A look at how minority voices are overshadowed online

light up sign saying hashtag tweet tweet
Grace Donnellan

14th April 2021

 

Producer and singer, Sophie (often presented as SOPHIE) died on 30th January of this year from a tragic accident in Greece. The singer was only 34 and unfortunately, her life was taken too soon. As a producer, SOPHIE worked with artists such as Charli XCX, Madonna and Kim Petras. Throughout most of their career, Sophie was a private person but in 2017, they announced that they identified as transgender. During an interview with Paper magazine, Sophie said that their trans identity was defined as “transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul”.

 

As the world mourned over Sophie’s death, a mishap occurred with another two celebrities. Charli XCX, an English singer-songwriter, and a close friend of Sophie.

 

Many fans tweeted #HereForCharli in support of the English singer-songwriter Charli XCX who was mourning for her close friend. Yet, Charli D’Amelio, a cisgender Tiktoker, took to the platform and thanked her fans for their support, not realising the hashtag was for Charli XCX, not her. The tweet was deleted shortly after. As the news spread and some people may have found humour in the incident, it is not a laughing matter. An occurrence like this, along with many others, shows us how easy it is for the voice of minorities to be suppressed, especially online. Even though it may have been a mistake on D’Amelio’s part, there are plenty of other incidences where the voices of minorities have been diminished and it’s usually from those that don’t want them to be heard.

 

A prime example is the current Black Lives Matter movement, which many ignorantly believe to be a protest that has only evolved because of recent events such as the death of George Floyd when in reality racism is an ongoing issue which some members of society have had the privilege to ignore until it stares right back at them in the face. Let us provide another example, such as the event that involved the English singer, Harry Styles. Styles took part in a photoshoot for Vogue Magazine where he was wearing a dress, and as Styles is a heavily influential and popular celebrity who in some people’s eyes would never do such a thing, it appeared to be somewhat unusual. Yet it opened up a can of worms, as the media started to discuss gender dressing and masculinity. This isn’t a bad thing and actually welcomed a well-needed conversation around gender appropriation, however was Harry Styles the first to do so? Definitely not. Celebrities such as Billy Porter have done so for years, and did his actions spark up the same conversation? Perhaps, but it was far from anything that Styles created. The Styles situation can be seen as a mirror image of the #HereForCharli mistake, where minority voices, culture and history are ignored when a white celebrity takes centre stage.

 

“In the world of fame, you can see how easily the “majority” overtake the throne and bask in the limelight, without any intentional or even unintentional acknowledgement of the minorities, the people of colour, and the LGBTQIA+ community, who have paved the road for justice of these issues. In other words, the majority always seem to win.”

Whether it’s race, gender or religion, anything that doesn’t fit the puzzle will always be given less attention, and if there is a spark of interest it is never permanent enough for people to actually make a change. In today’s modern world, we have infinite access to many different social platforms in which our voices can be heard. But sometimes these platforms provide space for opinions, that we don’t want to hear, to flourish.

 

Both online and in the real world, minorities have always faced severed oppression from the majority population, taking for example sexual minorities, disabled persons, indigenous people, the list is infinite. Online platforms give people the power to say what they want and not usually something they would say in person, allowing them to create an alternative persona where they can be the “bad guy” without receiving much backlash. There are plenty of keyboard warriors but not enough keyboard knights. What we need are more voices from the minorities and less from the majority.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Chris J. Davis on Unsplash

An interview with OUTLaw Student Committee co-chairs Bailey Lane + Harrison Moloney

An interview with OUTLaw Student Committee co-chairs Bailey Lane + Harrison Moloney

DIVERSITY + INCLUSION

An interview with OUTLaw Student Committee Co-Chairs Bailey Lane + Harrison Moloney

Co-Chairs Bailey Lane + Harrison Moloney
Conor Courtney

Conor Courtney

7th April 2021

LeftBailey (he/him) is a 2nd year Law and Business student in UCC and the current Co- Chair and co- founder of the OUTLaw Network Student Committee. Bailey is also the Auditor of the UCC Law Society for the 2021/22 academic year and is enthusiastic and committed to making the legal profession more LGBTQ+ friendly and inclusive at a student level and with the aim to bring a real and valuable change to both attitudes and policy. 

RightHarrison is a Law and Society student in DCU and the current Co-Chair and co-founder of the OUTLaw Network Student Committee. He has been heavily involved in the DCU FLAC Society and Volunteer Working Group at university and is passionate about improving access to third-level education. Harrison is committed to increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in the Irish legal sector through collaborative work and engagement with the entire legal sector. 

 

  1. So can you start by giving us a brief overview of what theOUTLawNetwork is? 

 

The OUTLaw Network is an organisation that aims to promote and drive the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people across the Irish legal community. The main objectives of OUTLaw include sharing network best practices, insights and initiatives specific to the sector and enabling LGBTQ+ colleagues to build their professional networks. Outlaw also provides career and leadership development opportunities and aims to harness the impact and influence of our collective institutions to better Ireland’s LGBTQ+ communities where we live and work. It is composed of a main committee from a variety of legal backgrounds which work with the legal firms and institutions and then a student committee which aims to continue this work at a student level.  

 

  1. How would you describe the role of the StudentCommittee?

 

While senior representation is crucial, the Student Committee encourages students and junior colleagues across third-level institutions, PPC and Kings Inn to work with OUTLaw and share their unique perspectives. The role of the Student Committee is to provide knowledge through various social and educational events and to create a safe and supportive space for students to build their professional networks and share insights and initiatives specific to student education. The committee also aims to assist with and promote research and change of policy in education and LGBTQ+ teaching in Ireland. The Student Committee is also responsible for liaising with other LGBTQ+ networks and working with other third-party organisations to promote and support the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland.   

 

  1. Do you think there are any steps the legal profession could take to be more inclusive? 

 

A great question and the real core of the work OUTLaw are doing at the moment. While the legal profession has progressed in a big way over the last few years there are still many areas that need work. To name a few, many firms, organisations and practices require policy changes and a real and tangible commitment to increasing visibility of inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ in the legal sphere.  

 

There needs to be greater support for and cooperation with those grassroots organisations such as OUTLaw in order to help firms and organisations improve visibility and reform their policy, for example in terms of recruitment applications or other documents the profession need to recognise and respect each individual’s different pronouns and the diverse society we live in at the moment. Cooperation is needed across the industry as a whole. We have seen recent success from the Law Society who invited solicitor firms, in-house and public sector legal teams to sign the Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Charter whereby those groups publicly commit to taking the necessary steps to promote diversity and inclusion in their workplace and in the solicitor profession. This is a really welcome development, but we would love to see more training to support this Charter, an example being the issue of unconscious bias and what steps can be taken in the recruitment process to guard against it. 

 

It is important to ensure that this work and cooperation continues across the whole industry from the bar, solicitor practices, student bodies and educational institutions such as King’s Inn, Blackhall and the various Chartered Accounting Organisations. There also needs to be a lot of work done in the legal profession in terms of improving the rights and inclusivity of those within the transgender community in particular. 

 

  1. Why do you think it’s important to promote the voices of the LGBTQ+ legal community? 

 

While there have been significant gains in LGBTQ+ representation, many people, especially students, are still concerned that being “out” in the workplace could negatively impact their career progression and work relations. At OUTLaw, we aim to highlight the support we have received from industry leaders and institutions in respect of LGBTQ+ inclusivity, which is not only great for identifying members, but also for everyone working in law. By extending OUTLaw’s reach to students, we hope to amplify the voice of our community to improve visibility and remove any barriers preventing people from receiving the representation they deserve.  

 

“It is important to stop a “one-size-fits-all” approach from being adopted when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. The best way we can avoid this from happening is by actively collaborating with other communities and organisations to promote and support the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland. We must keep the conversation alive in order to improve accessibility across the legal sector.”

  1. How do you think allies can support inclusivity in Law?

 

Allies play a vital role in improving inclusivity in the legal profession for the LGBTQ+ community in terms of offering support and calling for change. It won’t always be appropriate or possible to call out homophobic or transphobic behaviour or language, particularly in the workplace, but if they can, our allies should do so. You won’t change everyone’s mind, but you never know who or how your words might impact.  

 

As an ally, the best thing you can do is support those in the LGBTQ+ community and help make everyone feel welcome, respected and equal. We try to encourage people to educate themselves on the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community by attending educational talks or events, researching issues and generally being open to learning.  One very simple step is to follow one or all of Gay Community News, BeLonGTo or TENI (or other LGBTQ+ interest accounts) on social media.  

 

Put simply, if you respect everyone, regardless of their gender or orientation, you can be a true ally.   

 

  1. Do you have any advice for current students or legal professionals who might want to get involved with your network?

 

Our advice to students or those wishing to get involved is to follow us on our social media and sign up  for our newsletter to keep up to date with any upcoming events we have and to try to come along to as many events as you can! This will help you get more of an understanding of the work we do here at OUTLaw. We would also encourage people to reach out to us if you have any proposals for events or initiatives that you would like to see from us. We greatly value our members’ input and would love to further collaborate with our network.  Finally, if you would like to get involved in the student committeecommittee, we advertise new positions before January of the New Year so do keep an eye out on social media for when these positions are advertised.  

 

  1. TheOUTLaw Network is clearly a space to watch, do you have any exciting opportunities planned for the future? 

 

We are always looking towards the future! Our next project is a host of educational and social Pride-themed events focused on celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. One long-term goal is to improve our outreach across all educational institutions so keep an eye out for any opportunities to share your unique student experience. The best way to do this is by following our social accounts and signing up for the OUTLaw Network newsletter! 

 

 

 

Featured photo is interviewees’ own.

 

Did transphobia win JK Rowling the Russel Prize 2020?

Did transphobia win JK Rowling the Russel Prize 2020?

 

DIVERSITY + INCLUSION

Did transphobia win JK Rowling the Russel Prize 2020?

jk Rowling accepting honorary degree
Elizabeth Quinn

24th March 2021

 

Last December, JK Rowling was announced as a winning recipient of the annual Russel Prize for 2020, for her controversial essay on sex and gender, which, when first released, triggered public outcry due to the transphobic nature of the piece. The Harry Potter author uses the piece to open up about her experiences of domestic abuse and sexual assault, appearing to use these experiences to back up claims that the rise of trans activism is having an adverse effect on the protections for women in similar circumstances. The piece focus on the idea that without the need for surgery or hormone treatment to obtain a gender recognition certificate, the door is open for more men to come through and perpetrate further crimes against these women and others.

 

The Russell Prize, established in 2017 and named after Bertrand Russell, is awarded annually to celebrate journalism and writing that honours the three main virtues associated with Russell’s work; plain language, pertinent erudition, and finally, moral force. BBC media editor Amol Rajan, while reviewing the works of the prize winners, claimed the reasoning behind the inclusion of JK Rowling as a recipient of the award, despite the claims of transphobia, was for her use of plain language, which made the essay clear, concise, and easily understood by the reader. However, with moral force being the third virtue behind the criteria for the award, and with the piece very clearly appearing to lack much of the required ethical energy which is considered so important for the award, it becomes apparent that those awarding the prize must believe Rowling’s reasonings behind this attack on trans women, to be ethical, viewing it as a justified piece.

 

“While looking deeper into Rowling’s wording and language use, it is clear that despite her use of plain and simple language to make her points, she still words her sentences in a way that shields what can be read as deeply rooted transphobia”

 

While there are claims that the prize is being awarded on the base that it makes use of simple and plain English, a valued virtue of Russell, it contradicts the third virtue due to its poor ethical stance towards the classification of trans women as women. Claims can be made that the piece clearly and concisely states a hope for the safety of trans women through the line “So I want trans women to be safe.” however, the ending of this sentence “At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe”, differentiates what she considers as ‘natal’ women from trans women. In doing so, the piece gives the impression that there is a separation between both groups, and suggests that Rowling does not view trans women as women, or as vulnerable to the same experiences had by ‘natal’ women.

 

While looking deeper into Rowling’s wording and language use, it is clear that despite her use of plain and simple language to make her points, she still words her sentences in a way that shields what can be read as deeply rooted transphobia, as the differentiating of trans women from ‘natal’ women is a long running transphobic ideology, and the hidden suggestion that trans women are simply men angling to perpetrate crimes against women through accessing women’s bathrooms is in itself transphobic.

 

As such, by ignoring both the lack of morality or ethical writing throughout the essay, as well as the deeper meanings behind the supposed plain and simple language, it can become evident to many readers that Rowling’s piece cannot simply be awarded such a prize while clearly lacking the necessary virtues associated with it. Although we cannot claim that Rowling was awarded the Russel Prize as a result of transphobia, we must recognise that her nomination for an award involving ‘moral force’ was done with full knowledge of the transphobic ideology contained within her piece.

 

 

 

Photo by Ken Schwartz on Flickr

 

America isn’t the only one in trouble, we all are

America isn’t the only one in trouble, we all are

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

America isn’t the only one in trouble, we all are

fka twigs in concert
deepthi suresh stand news

9th March 2021

 

We’ve gotten accustomed over the years to placing exceptional attention on America. For better or for worse, this exceptionalism has evolved beyond the point of just exaggerating the ‘good’ of America and it now also exaggerates the ‘bad’. This distortion of reality has led to a disconnect that tends to distance the rest of the world from America itself. But what’s happening in America, doesn’t only stay in America. Take for example the Capitol riots: similar riots took place at the Reichstag in Germany a couple of months prior to the riots in America. In comparison to the coverage that the Capitol riots have received, one could be forgiven for thinking that the incident in Berlin was a minor affair. One could argue that the Reichstag storming in Berlin ended up being less violent than the storming of the Capitol, yet there are cultural implications surrounding the Reichstag storming that deem it equally as newsworthy. In addition, more coverage of incidents similar to the Capitol riots could further awareness of the fact that the far-right isn’t only a growing problem in America, but also in Europe.

 

On the 29th of August 2020, 38000 people took to the streets to protest outside the Reichstag. Among those people, members of the following groups could be found: anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, anti-lockdown supporters which were surprisingly side-by-side with LGBTQ+ protesters. The incident began as a non-violent protest against the German government’s handling of the pandemic which then quickly devolved into a tense march on the Reichstag as members of Reichsbuerger, the Identitarian movement and other sub-groups of the far-right joined the fray, flying imperialist flags and other such symbols (the fact that the far-right has infiltrated the protests later explains how their flags happened to fly side by side with LGBTQ+ ones). Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the president of Germany, stated on Instagram that: “Flags from the Reich and far-right profanity in front of the German parliament are an unacceptable attack on the heart of our democracy. We will never accept this.”

 

With regard to the Reichstag, there are significant cultural and historical implications that can explain, to someone that sees the remark as an over-exaggeration, the German president’s stance on this incident. In 1933, four weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, there was an arson attack on the Reichstag building. Even though opinions over who, or what caused the fire are mixed, the general consensus seems to incline towards the idea that the Nazis themselves wanted to thwart anything that was left of German democracy; the ideal institution to attack being the building that houses the German government. Only after World War II and the unification of East and West Germany was the Reichstag reclaimed as a symbol of German democracy. From this, it can be ascertained the Reichstag itself has quite the history surrounding it and it is inherently tied to the far-right.

 

Romania is another perfect example of the rise of far-right ideology. Recently, a far-right party (AUR) has unexpectedly gained some power in parliament due to, as Claudiu Tufis, an associate professor of political science at the University of Bucharest, put it: “AUR played the anti-medicine, anti-vaccination, and anti-restrictions card to a population that is not truly educated in health issues.” Before the pandemic, AUR barely had any following, as the pandemic worsened and the people of Romania grew tense around the extended lock-down, protests against COVID regulations rose in number and AUR swooped these people under their wing. AUR themselves don’t like to be labelled as a far-right party, yet their core party’s beliefs are centred around strict-nationalism. AUR’s co-founder himself has stated in an interview that: “We are part of the Coalition for Family, and we defended the family, and we promoted the family, and we plan to do this in parliament.” The Coalition for Family refers to an association in Romania that aims to hinder the ability of LGBTQ+ families to have equal rights with traditional families. Later in the interview, he added that AUR is the only [Romanian] party that supported Donald Trump.

 

The elections that gained AUR a place in parliament took place in December, already more than half a year into a poorly-handled and poorly-received pandemic which had Romanians increasingly frustrated and sceptical towards their government. Aside from the extreme nationalist views that AUR holds, their views against LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, masks and quarantine resonated with the Romanians that already lost faith in the Romanian government and gave AUR the numbers it needed to gain power. Their distaste for ethnic minorities, their distrust of the media, and the inevitable claims about ballots being rigged appears to be largely inspired by Trumpism.

 

Romania isn’t yet in the same scenario that Germany and America found themselves in recently. Looking back at the build-up that led to the Reichstag and Capitol riots, there are clear and problematic signs foretelling a similar revolt taking place in Romania too. Romania isn’t alone in this scenario either, just because these incidents are in the past that does not mean a domino-effect hasn’t been set in motion or that the far-right will be satisfied with what they already achieved.

 

Ireland itself must also pay close attention to the far-right. Just recently, violent protests broke out in Dublin over the ongrowing stress of lockdown. Evidence is still being examined as to what extent far-right groups may have managed to infiltrate and influence these protests, yet there is no doubt that there has been an increase in far-right activity in recent years. As seen in Germany with the Reichstag protests, it doesn’t take long for the far-right to capitalise on general public distress in order to turn the tides in their favour.

 

“To prevent the further spread of far-right ideology, we must first acknowledge that they pose a threat to everyone around the globe; not only to certain distant countries.”

 

What exactly, though, is causing this increase in the presence of far-right members and leaders popping up in the last year or so? The pandemic, as we’ve grown to learn, caused an increase in the number of people showing distrust towards their governments and the way countries are run and kept safe. We’ve also seen an insurgence of people claiming that it isn’t constitutional to have to wear a mask or to be forced into quarantine in order to protect each other’s lives. Those already discontent, in arm with conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers, took to the streets to protest against their government. What these people have in common with the far-right is that they distrust the current government and that they do not like being restricted. I’m not calling anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists far-right supporters, it’s just that with these fundamental traits in common, it is easy as a far-right ideologist to infiltrate these masses and blend in.

 

It is also easy to radicalise any one person that is on the brink of losing all faith in their government in order to add to the ranks of the far-right. Essentially, the far-right is playing the anti-restriction (only against the restrictions of those sharing their ideology), anti-science, anti-mask cards in order to gain the following of those no longer believing in the government. Turning a blind eye towards history (as recent as it may be) is exactly what the far-right wants and how they will gain power, and it’s exactly how they managed to accomplish the things they did in America and Germany. Allowing the far-right to make a mockery out of more countries’ democracy will, in my opinion, definitely make more people aware of the damaging consequences. Even so, we mustn’t wait for more acts of violence to take place before we try to find a solution. As disconnected as we are from one another during these times, it is easy to believe that these issues cannot reach us, that these are problems for the Americans, Germans, Romanians and the Irish to deal with, when in fact, they are a matter for everyone to be involved in.

 

To prevent the further spread of far-right ideology, we must first acknowledge that they pose a threat to everyone around the globe; not only to certain distant countries. In addition, country leaders themselves have to identify far-right movements as immediate threats to society; if leaders shove these problems under the rug, fewer people will take them seriously and awareness will remain low. Some steps have already been made in the correct direction (far-right supporters being de-platformed with the take-down of the Parler app), yet these steps are nowhere near enough to prevent any serious damage. The problem is deeply rooted in society, and I am of the opinion that a significant number of far-right supporters are merely misguided and manipulated. Information from the government related to research and actions made with the intention of improving the life of a country’s citizens should be made more accessible to the people (in a way that doesn’t read as propaganda). The far-right has a better grasp and understanding of how to use the internet to their advantage and appeal to the people. They know how to draw out empathy and use it to their needs, they know how to write their manifestos in order for everyone to understand, whereas most scientific research that (good-intentioned) people point at when anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers spout their usual nonsense are filled with so much scientific jargon that it’s hard to take in and process. This way of communicating will never reach the same amount of people with the same effect as simple, to-the-point, and heartfelt texts that the far-right make use of in order to manipulate its followers and to convert those that simply are in search of clearing their doubts about the government.

 

Featured Photo from Truthout.org on Flickr

Mother and Baby Home survivors failed by our state once again

Mother and Baby Home survivors failed by our state once again

 

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Mother and Baby Home survivors failed by our state once again

fka twigs in concert
deepthi suresh stand news

9th March 2021

 

The release of the long awaited mother and baby report earlier this year has been utterly harrowing. 9,000 babies died in the 18 institutions investigated, which is 1 in 7 of all children born. Roughly 56,000 mothers gave birth in these institutions up until they closed in 1998. The report, while informative, has been laced with controversies and miscommunication. Having autonomy over one’s body and one’s choices is a personal freedom we may take for granted. Yet in the not so distant past women were degraded, abused and shamed in institutions that sought to conceal them and separate them from society.

 

Arch Bishop Gillmartin of Tuam quoted in the Sunday Independent 1925 stated that ‘The future of the country is bound up with the dignity and the purity of Irish women.’ Women’s potential impurity formed a threat to the formation of Ireland’s identity. Women’s bodies and their sexuality were scrutinised and shamed by a patriotic, pure, catholic nation. The Commission’s report into the Mother and Baby Homes is a blatant concealment of the fact that women were under the thumb of the Church and the State. As Fergus Finlay stated in his piece for the examiner on the report, ‘The Catholic Church ruled us — formed our attitudes, told us what we were allowed to think. And politics was supine in front of the Church — not on its knees but on its belly.’

 

The findings the commission have drawn from the report are utterly abhorrent. It is stated that women were not ‘incarcerated’ and were ‘always free to leave’. However in the same paragraph the commission states that ‘most had no money and nowhere to go’. The contradictory nature of these statements are discrediting the suffering of the women who had no choice and no voices at this time. The belittlement and misogyny these women faced is repugnant. For the commission to state that they had to carry out work which they ‘would have had to do at home’ is presumptuous and degrading. Furthermore, it is found that women in some institutions such as Sean Ross had to carry out work ‘that would be considered unsuitable to women’. Again the language here is sexist and discriminatory. It leaves one to wonder whether we have really changed our attitudes towards the place of women in society. There is blatant disregard for the abuse of residents which has been described as ‘minor in comparison to the evidence of physical abuse documented in the Ryan Report’ [source]. The commission finds no evidence of abuse of children in county homes yet proceeds to describe unsafe sleeping arrangements where infants shared wards or even beds with adults.

 

There was very little evidence found in the report that children were forcibly taken for adoption. Yet the commission states in the same sentence that ‘mothers did not have much choice.’ 97 % of ‘illegitimate’ babies born were sent for adoption in 1967 alone, the highest rate in the world at this time. If we were to look at a 1920s departmental inspector report into Pelletstown in Dublin it is stated that there was a ‘system of baby farming indulged’ for ‘an immediate monetary consideration.’ This report is included in the commission alongside evidence that one of the main complaints from mothers in this institution was having had ‘no choice but to place their children for adoption’. Legal adoption was not introduced in Ireland until 1953 and even after that women had little choice in the matter.

 

There are numerous heart-rendering examples of this is from the video dramatization of some of the survivors’ stories from the report. A 14 year old girl, Peggy, who became pregnant in 1956, did not know what sex was or what conception involved. She was told she had had her fun and this was her payment. She never gave permission for her child to be adopted. Her child was taken to America. An 18-year-old girl in the 1970’s describes being told by a priest that she should go to a mother and baby home and give her baby up for adoption to ‘avoid causing embarrassment to her family’. When she arrived at the mother and baby home, she was examined by two members of staff who told her that girls like her ‘could have anything’. One witness in the 1960’s describes being harassed by a priest who ordered her and her daughter into his car and drove them to a mother and baby home where she was locked in a room and was threatened to sign adoption papers. With the intervention of her father, she was eventually released but the priest continued to harass the family, threatening guardianship procedures against them. ‘Part of me died the day my son was taken. I became a sad, empty shell of a girl’, said another witness. PJ Haverty was a resident of Tuam mother and baby home for seven years before being fostered. In his interview for The Irish Times in 2018 he described the cruel mistreatment of his mother, how they made her leave the home a few days after giving birth and denied her access to her child. He describes how she returned to the home every day for five and a half years in an attempt to reclaim him, only to be told that he was to be fostered out. For the commission to conclude that there was no evidence of women being forced to give their children up for adoption is a travesty of justice. To quote Catherine Connolly TD, ‘we either believe the women or we don’t.’

 

Another finding the commission drew from their research is that there was ‘no evidence of discrimination’ in relation to decisions made about adoption or fostering of mixed-race children and children with disabilities. However, the commission uses the terms ‘casual and unthinking racism’ as well as ‘negative bias’ to describe the treatment of mixed-race children. Terminology used in the documentation of 237 mixed raced residents of Pelletstown institution is unacceptable, with phrases such as ‘half caste’, ‘coloured’ and ‘sallow’ being used. Doctors who certified children for adoption often also used derogatory statements to describe such children. Examples include ‘Unfit for adoption on account of colour only.’ And ‘Healthy. Half caste child. On account of above will be unfit for adoption.’ The records of St Anne’s Adoption society, Cork in 1956 state that ‘where the child is coloured, adoption is practically impossible.’

 

In the earlier decades of the investigation it is found that degrees of intellectual disabilities were classified as ‘idiot’, ‘imbeciles’ and ‘feeble minded’. The Commission identified 941 institutional records of women in Pelletstown and Bessborough where it is noted that they had a mental illness or intellectual disability. Dr. Meaghar, master of Holles Street maternity hospital in the 1970’s wrote about being often asked about whether psychiatric conditions were ‘transmissible’. He also noted that the general consensus was that children with a physical or mental disability should not be adopted even though in his words, ‘these are the children that clearly need the best adoptive home’. A 1968 Sunday Independent report stated that ‘only coloured children’ were ‘available’ for adoption as almost every ‘eligible’ child found a home in 1967. The fact that the commission concluded that racism and disability did not lead to discrimination in the placement of children for adoption or fostering is contradictory to the evidence published in their report. Spokesperson for a group representing mix-raced children in Ireland, Conrad Bryan has spoken up about the inaccuracy of this finding stating ‘the testimony we’ve given has basically not been believed’. The victims of such discriminatory abuse have been invalidated and insulted by a report which was meant to enlighten and empower them.

 

“The commission found that where babies died in the mother and baby homes while their mother was in the institution, ‘it is possible that she knew the burial arrangements or would have been told if she had asked and that no other family member is entitled to this information.’ This is a disgusting attempt to continue concealing information.”

 

The lack of information surrounding the burials of the 9,000 children who died in these institutions is reprehensible. In the early to mid-19th Century many deceased infants were sent to be dissected for medical research. It was legal for ‘unclaimed bodies’ to be used in medical research under the Anatomy Act 1832. The medical colleges who took the deceased from workhouses, mother and baby homes and so on had to inform the Department of Health each time they took a body. Sally Mulready spoke on Prime Time in 2014 about her brother John who died at 2 months old in St. Patricks, Navan Road in 1948 of ‘inanition’ or ‘failure to thrive’. John was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1950, 2 years after his death. He had been taken for medical research as an anatomic subject to Trinity Anatomy House. Sally says that her mother Sheila was more than likely unaware of this and did not give consent. From 1940-1965 in Dublin alone 460 infants who died in mother and baby homes were dissected for medical research.

 

The commission found that where babies died in the mother and baby homes while their mother was in the institution, ‘it is possible that she knew the burial arrangements or would have been told if she had asked and that no other family member is entitled to this information.’ This is a disgusting attempt to continue concealing information, dismissing the rights of the survivors and their families to information that will help them to piece together parts of their lives that have been missing for decades. The case of Tuam is particularly horrific. In 1975 historian Catherine Corless sought to find out more about the burials of children who died in the home from 1925-1961. No records were available in the public library. Upon questioning some locals she was told a story about skeletal remains being uncovered by children in the 1970s in a disused septic tank in a nearby housing estate, marked only by stones. Nearly 800 infants died in Tuam and there is no burial records for them. Only two were buried in their family plots and a significant amount of the remaining children were buried in a mass grave. Others born in the Tuam home were also potentially illegally trafficked. Peter Mulryan, who lived in Tuam until he was four and a half is still awaiting answers about his sister Marian who ‘died from convulsions’ in 1954. There were no records to prove that a doctor confirmed her death and there is no burial information. There is still so much information missing and still so much accountability lacking. The survivors need to be heard, recognised and vindicated by all culpable parties.

 

Possibly the most disgraceful finding of the report is the preposterous notion that ‘the institutions provided a refuge.’ The Irish Free State was born in 1921 and aimed to adopt a new, unique culture of conservatism and ‘purity’. The church preached about the importance of pre-marital virginity and warned of the ‘sexual dangers’ of dance halls, immodest dress, mixed bathing and other sources of perceived ‘temptation’. There was a contraceptive ban which was not fully lifted until 1985, when people could finally purchase condoms and spermicides without a prescription which had previously been required under The Family Planning Act 1979. Divorce was illegal in Ireland until 1996. There was a heavy catholic influence in politics and there was strict censorship including the prohibition of discussions about abortion, birth control and blasphemy. The Kilkenny Conference of the 1970’s poignantly conveys the control the church. The conference aimed to establish an Irish equivalent to the New Covenant United Methodist Church (NCUMC); a single organisation with representation from all parties involved in providing for single mothers and their children. Fr John Charles McQuaid, who had a heavy influence over the State at the time highly opposed the formation of a nondenominational organisation. Fr Barrett alleged that the Kilkenny conference was conceived by people who ‘lacked experience’ and whose views differed substantially from the ideas of the Catholic Church. His accusations were wrong; they were trained social workers, many of whom had worked with unmarried mothers. They aimed for co-operation and expansion of resources, not to overrule the authority of the Church.

 

The ideology behind mother and baby homes glorified religious salvation, domesticated training and prayer and penance for mothers ‘sins’. For instance Galway County Council excluded unmarried mothers from the central hospital as they apparently deterred ‘respectable’ women. Kilkenny, in the same fashion sent unmarried mothers to Thomastown hospital, clearly discriminating against them [explain discrimination]. Mother and Baby Homes were not mentioned in cabinet during the first 50 years of The Irish Free State. The institutions had no qualified social workers or counsellors until the 1970s. In the earlier years in particular the Department of Health favoured persuasion over compulsion with regards to improving the shocking living conditions of mother and baby homes. They had the power to inspect the places where children were born and cared for after birth, under the 1934 Maternity Homes Act. The power to prosecute lay with the local authorities and no home was ever prosecuted for their negligence and abuse. Up until the 1960’s these homes survival rates did not increase, they reduced. This was known to both national and local authorities and was recorded in official publications. Major shortcomings were revealed by DLGPH (Who?) in the 1940s in Bessborough and yet closing the home was never considered.

 

Societal attitudes stem from the Government of the time. The economy was run with conservatism, there was slow economic development meaning people, particularly women, were more dependent on their parents as jobs were scarce in the 1940’s. Crude laws around the use of contraception meant that families were large, the largest in the developed world at this time. The men who impregnated these women contributed nothing to their livelihoods and failed to respect stand up for them. Yet society, shaped by the state and the church, both governed by men, never put the blame on the fathers. They were guarded and protected and told that the women were the ones who had committed the ‘crimes’. In 1972 a mother and baby home survivor, Bridget, was raped by her father. She relays her horrendous experience of labour and how the nun’s mistreated her cruelly, remarking, ‘if you lay down with dogs you’ll get flees.’

 

Societal attitudes shifted in the 1980’s. Most Mother and Baby Homes had closed by the 1970’s internationally. There was a shift towards modernism and acceptance of new attitudes (towards illegitimate births?) with the introduction of TV in the 1960’s. This continued to evolve in Ireland with the broadcasting of seemingly controversial Late Late Show interviews and programmes such as ‘Women Today’ airing in the late 1970’s. Society was changing and the level of control the church had was dwindling. Cherish was formed in 1973 by a group of single mothers, led by Maura O’Dea Richards, to help other mothers in the same situation. Tragedies such as fifteen year old Ann Lovet’s death while giving birth next to a grotto in 1984, forced the issues of the Mother and Baby Homes to be brought to light. In 1973 an unmarried mothers allowance was introduced. The status of illegitimacy was removed in 1987. The Last Mother and Baby Homes closed in 1998.

 

The commission’s report has failed these women. They were utterly neglected by the State, by the Church and by the institutions that purported to protect them while abusing them, concealing them and shaming them. The way in which unmarried mothers and their children were treated in the last century is unscrupulous. They deserve justice, sincerity and a commitment to giving them the answers about their past which they should rightfully know. 550 survivors bravely told their stories on video for the report, these reports have now been deleted by the commission. This is unjust, unfair and unacceptable. Specific groups decided by an interdepartmental group will receive compensation. A form of enhanced medical card will be provided to residents who stayed in the homes for 6 months or more. The Heads of a bill for the advancement of information and tracing legislation are being worked on. New laws will be drafted to provide access to birth and early life information for all survivors including those adopted. There are plans for original files and documents to be publicly accessible in a national memorial and in record centres as well as a number of scholarships in memory of all the children who died in the institutions. Draft legislation is currently being considered by the Oireachtas Children’s Committee around the excavation of burial sites, such as Tuam in order to identify every child and rebury them respectfully. These changes are welcome and necessary, but they need to come into effect sooner rather than later, to avoid extending the pain of the survivors any longer. ‘The conditions we were in were worse than prisoners. Prisoners have rights but we had no rights at all.’ Resident A.

 

Art by Eimear O’Dwyer

FKA Twigs and believing women

FKA Twigs and believing women

 

ARTS + CULTURE

FKA Twigs and believing women

fka twigs in concert
deepthi suresh stand news

5th March 2021

 

“No one is gonna believe me” were the painful words FKA Twigs uttered in an interview with Louis Theroux, where she detailed the harrowing abuse she endured at the hands of actor Shia LaBeouf. The famous avant-pop singer-songwriter, born Tahliah Barnett, filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf last December, alleging sexual battery, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence. This sent shockwaves through social media despite his very public displays of violence and recklessness in the past.

 

Twigs made the courageous decision to go public with her story in order to help others recognise the warning signs of domestic abuse that she experienced with LaBeouf. These red-flags arose at the very beginning of their relationship during a so-called honeymoon phase where she describes “intense love bombing [and] big displays of affection”. This is a tactic used by many abusers to gain trust, love, and admiration from their victims. When the abuse started, it was gradual, chipping away at her self-esteem and testing her physical and emotional boundaries. Then his anger escalated and anything as innocent as eye contact with another man sent LaBeouf into a fit of rage that could last days. For Twigs, this was a nightmare with no escape, not even in her sleep, where he would regularly wake her up accusing her of masturbating or lusting over other men. This emotional and physical abuse escalated on Valentine’s Day 2019 when LaBeouf drove erratically through the desert, threatening to crash the car unless she professed her love to him. Fearing for her life, she tried to escape at a gas station but he “threw [her] against the car and attempted to strangle her violently”. Twigs endured abuse like this for months on end till she eventually escaped with the support of her therapist, friends, and family.

 

These revelations shocked the public and led to an outpouring of support from fans and other celebrities such as Sia, Margaret Qualley, and Olivia Wilde. Yet, unsurprisingly, the excuses for LaBeouf’s behaviour began flooding in, along with the stench of misogyny. Many, including Shia himself, pointed to his history of addiction as an excuse for his violent behaviour. However, Women’s Aid has taken a strong stand against this rationalisation of abuse, saying it is the perpetrator alone who is responsible for their actions, highlighting that there are many struggling with addiction who are not violent. The actor’s poor mental health has also been used to justify the insidious abuse he inflicted on Twigs. However, no research actually finds a connection between mental health problems and becoming an abuser. So, why are these text-book excuses still being used to absolve abusers of guilt? Why do we not afford the same empathy to their victims? Then there are some who simply believe him because he is Shia LaBeouf. They believe him because he is a man and he is a powerful one. This phenomenon is dubbed “himpathy” because we are inclined to believe men while vilifying women and labelling them untrustworthy.

 

“As a society, we often place the blame on female victims of abuse, asking them insensitive questions such as “Why didn’t you leave?” as if they had a choice.”

 

The actor’s violent past against women seems to be conveniently overlooked by the people who have chosen to discredit Twigs’ statement. It doesn’t seem to matter that his former girlfriend Karolyn Pho filed a lawsuit against him alleging abuse. It seems irrelevant that he was caught on a video saying “I would have killed her” about his ex-wife during a violent altercation. Like so many other powerful men, his successful career is enough to absolve him of any guilt in these situations. People often choose to defend the behaviour of their favourite celebrities because it’s easier than confronting the fact that their hero is a monster. The same response occurs every time allegations are made against a big star in Hollywood. Ignoring the violent pasts of figures like Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski means that we can keep the happy memories of our favourite TV shows and movies at the expense of countless women who are victims of their crimes. This is why so many fans of the accused’s films have come to his defence. But Shia LaBeouf’s resume is not evidence of his innocence.

 

As a society, we often place the blame on female victims of abuse, asking them insensitive questions such as “Why didn’t you leave?” as if they had a choice. FKA Twigs shut down this question from multiple interviewers including Louis Theroux and Gayle King. She rightfully asserts that this pushes a narrative that women are responsible for the abuse inflicted upon them. Instead, she reframes the question, imploring interviewers to ask abusers “Why are you holding someone hostage?”. People who have no first-hand experience of abuse may not understand how difficult it is for victims to escape. Leaving is often the most dangerous part of an abusive relationship with more than 70% of domestic violence murders happening after the victim has gotten out. Black women like Twigs are even more vulnerable with 51.3% of all Black adult female murders being related to intimate partner violence. It is not as easy as walking out the front door when you have a figurative gun pointed at your head. The process of leaving LaBeouf was a gruelling one, where she had to “gather enough of [herself] together” to successfully get out. She did this by going to therapy twice a week, receiving help from her close friends, and moving back to London. Thankfully, Twigs could afford the financial costs of these steps, which is a privilege she recognises many other women are deprived of.

 

Twigs’ story is shifting the conversation around domestic abuse. She is using her traumatic experience to eliminate the stigma surrounding victims and shut down language which blames them. It is time we start listening to women like FKA Twigs and stop protecting men who have already shown us their true character.

 

 

Featured Photo by Andreas Meixensperger on Flickr