(Re)Visiting Miss Potter

(Re)Visiting Miss Potter

(Re)Visiting Miss Potter
Woman carrying a butterfly net with a bouquet in it
Parisa Zangeneh initials
31st of January 2022

Today, I visited with Miss Potter, the Miss Potter of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Jemima Puddleduck fame. This visit took place over the internet, via the medium of the 2006, film, a film entitled “Miss Potter” starring Renee Zellweger of Bridget Jones fame. This visit was a bit unexpected and came about because I needed some inspiration to work on my thesis, and stories about female writers struggling and prevailing always serve as a source of inspiration for me. Thinking back to the impeccable Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and the more recent 2019 adaptation, these stories have mirrored the lived experiences of those who created them: Louisa May Alcott and Miss Beatrix Potter herself. 

 

Miss Potter is not about a fictionalized depiction of the struggles of a heroine, as was the case of Little Women, but it portrays the story of an actual living being, Miss Potter herself. The stories in both focus on the lives of educated, imaginative, talented, and ambitious young women who do not neatly conform to the gender expectations imposed on their sex. The film makes a point of portraying Miss Potter as somewhat different, unusual even, from other women and girls over the different stages of her life. She went from an imaginative young girl with great literary and artistic talent to a young woman who had few social contacts, possibly due to an overbearing mother and overly watchful (unusually present) minder. As a young woman, she envisions that the characters are her friends. As an adult, her behavior does not fit into the social constructs of the day, which is reflected in the slights and comments she receives at various junctures, such as when she visits publishers, hoping to convince them to publish her book.

 

Miss Potter also automatically conjured memories of the 1994 and 2019 versions of Little Women, in which the main character, Jo March, visits a publisher and is treated less than she is worth and with great condescension due to being a female. These moments in film make my blood boil when I think of comments and constrains women and girls have faced throughout history and still face every second of every day. The publishers also treat Jo March and Miss Potter with dripping misogyny due to their status as unmarried women. 

 

Today, women are not forced, or encouraged, to marry as a means of securing a stable, comfortable material existence, as they are allowed to enter the workforce and to participate in public life. But there are clear social remnants of these expectations that plague many of our behaviors and perceptions of unmarried women, even those who choose to remain single or childless, such as unmarried working women being afforded less respect and fewer social and professional opportunities than married women. I reflect on this with dismay.

 

The great value is revisiting old friends like Miss Potter lies is part is reminding us how we have evolved in the way we regard women, and how far we have to go.

 

 

​Featured photo by Cottonbro on Pexels.

 

This article was supported by: Arts and Culture Editor Deepthi and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

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Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

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Wanderlusting in Lockdown: How Covid-19 Gave me the travel bug

Wanderlusting in Lockdown: How Covid-19 Gave me the travel bug

Wanderlusting in Lockdown: How COVID-19 Gave Me the Travel Bug

Waterfall
Ciara Phelan

Ciara Phelan

27th of January 2022

Emigration has become an intrinsic element of Irish culture, with an estimated 10 million Irish natives emigrating since the 1700s. When the going gets tough here, it’s commonplace for the Irish to “get up and go”. Throughout the recession and post-recession periods, we all grew used to emigration being a viable safety valve, with many unemployed Irish whisked away to other countries dreaming of better jobs and a higher standard of living.

Even as a child, I grew so accustomed to relatives moving and neighbours leaving that I simply assumed that it was a step that everyone had to take. Post-pandemic, however, this norm was totally flipped on its head, with unemployment at an all-time high – even higher than the post-recession peaks – but with international borders shut. For the first time in a long time in Irish society, emigration could not be the default option.

However, I feel our hereditary travel bug is still alive and well, perhaps more so than ever. With restrictions easing, the Irish are making up for the lost time by travelling now. As borders reopened, I had the opportunity to move to Canada and complete some of my studies here. This opportunity has made my travel bug grow exponentially, and I have learned to appreciate the short trips as much as the longer ones.

Without COVID, I feel as though I would have taken this opportunity for granted – but now I have grabbed the bull by the horns, and I am so ready to throw myself into everything I can. Trips to Toronto and Niagara Falls have somehow become a norm for me, but after being cooped up in my bedroom for a year and a half, I have learned to appreciate every little thing.

During COVID, I wasted my time online shopping for clothes I didn’t have an excuse to wear, and I know I wasn’t the only one who used this as an unhealthy coping mechanism. With the opening of the world once again, we no longer feel guilty spending money on experiences. I learned that there is no living in existing. As someone in her early 20s with the world at her feet, I want to see, do, experience, explore and make the most of life that I have.

Travel has become such a fundamental part of the human experience. With the continued global lockdowns and restrictions, even the most straightforward interactions feel monumental – visiting a neighbour, going to the cinema, catching the bus to work, driving to see family. There is no life in just living, and I think that be it a short trip next store, or long-term emigration, the best way to explore is to travel.

 

This article was supported by: Opinion Editor Olivia and STAND News and Communications Intern Elaine

 

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Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

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Gender-based terrorism: Inside the secrecy and violence of incel culture

Gender-based terrorism: Inside the secrecy and violence of incel culture

Gender-based terrorism: Inside the secrecy and violence of incel culture 

Cartoon men surrounded by red virus cells
Sibéal Devilly initials

17th of December 2021

 

This article is the first in a series that explores some of the lesser known forms of violence against women and the contexts in which they emerged.

 

From Toronto to Plymouth to Hanau, a new type of crime is being seen around the world, one that devastates communities and leaves people feeling unsafe. When I sat down to write this article, there were a number of soft approaches I considered taking. It’s something I have seen spoken about on social media from accounts based in Britain, but it feels like the subject hasn’t quite filtered into Irish conversations regarding gender-based violence. A sensitive topic and not one to be taken lightly, it’s hard to know how to broach the world of incels appropriately. In truth, the more I researched for this article, the less I wanted to know – and I think that’s part of the problem. Incels thrive in secrecy. In order to counteract the movement, understanding incels is the first step.

Incel is an abbreviated term for “involuntary celibate”. The term (and movement) began as a support website started by a woman who was struggling in the dating world, but after she found love and left the community, it became co-opted – and the meaning (and purpose) of the community changed. It became a place where men went in search of support and compassion for their loneliness and anger at being involuntarily celibate. These men allow themselves to be defined by their virginities and place the blame on society around them. 

Part of a larger culture, the ‘manosphere’ (a collection of websites dedicated to men’s rights) includes Pick Up Artists and Men’s Rights Activists, less extreme symptoms of the same disease. 

 

Within incel culture there are certain phrases used, some of these include: 

  • Normies – people who are not members of the incel community 
  • Foid – abbreviated from the term ‘female humanoid’, this refers to women generally; however, incels use it in order to remove the humanity from those they are discussing
  • Chads – men who are conventionally attractive and with whom women have sex 
  • Stacys – women who are conventionally attractive and who have sex (with Chads) 
  • Lookism – the discrimination that incels believe leads to their lack of sexual experience with women, whereby a genetic lottery allows women and attractive men hold the power to decide who gets to have sex and who doesn’t 

It should be noted that many of the theories incels believe, such as “lookism”, are co-opted from real theories in sociology. An example of this is the 80:20 rule (also known as the Pareto rule), which in layman’s turns predicts that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. Thus, incel culture dictates that 80% of women sleep with only the ‘top’ 20% of men, leaving the odds stacked heavily against the non-Chads of the world. 

The incel community, according to Laura Bates, author of Men Who Hate Women is “devoted to violent hatred of women”. This hatred is more than the everyday sexism women already tolerate. It is, as Bates says, violent. These men are not simply looking for compassion and understanding; many of them are looking for what they believe is retribution for the unfair hand they have been dealt. 

Bates, in her book, investigates the forums and Subreddits* on which these conversations take place. Incels are often indoctrinated at a young age, mere teenagers on the internet coming across forums within the “Manosphere”. These young men are left vulnerable to feelings of insufficiency and unworthiness in a society that champions traditional masculinity in males. Many members are lonely and often isolated from those around them in the offline world, seeking understanding online.  

The violent aspect of the incel community leads men from feeling dejected and lonely to reclaiming their sense of self through rage. Through encouragement by fellow members and examples set by other members of the movement before them, this rage becomes directed at “Chads” to some extent, but largely at women – and not just the “Stacys” of the world, but all women – for existing, for emasculating men, for having the audacity to choose who they sleep with. This comes out on incel forums in terrifying tyrannies of rage. Men talking about reclaiming their power through acts of rape or violence against women to induce shame and fear, “teaching women lessons”: Bates finds, is a common topic too.  

This violence doesn’t just exist in online platforms within the manosphere. It is filtering through to the rest of the internet too. For example, I myself had heard the term “Chad” before researching incels. Bates points out that this infiltration is not incels co-opting these words from common language, but rather the use of these terms being seen by so many that they filter into our rhetoric outside the manosphere. And before you think these people exist in the fringe part of the internet, it is worth noting that there are incel groups, pages and forums online with over 200,000 members. This is not a fringe issue. This is not a few angsty teenagers. This is a large movement of men, who believe enacting violence over women is a rational and honourable thing to do. 

A connection has been made between incels and the Alt Right movement. The Alt Right, defined by white supremacist ideology, nourishes the idea that modern society offers little to white men. This ideology coincides with that of the Manosphere, allowing the contents of its dark crevices to trickle into political rhetoric, normalising the concept.  

The connection between the Alt Right movement and the manosphere also operates as a racial issue. Although Bates found a few platforms “friendly” (for lack of a better word) to ethnic minority incels throughout her research for Men Who Hate Women, for the most part, even within these spheres, racism goes unchecked. White incels often use reductive terminology for ethnic minorities, blaming the race of fellow incels for their failure with women, rather than the attributes that white incels relate to. 

After a deadly attack in Toronto in which an incel killed 10 people and them himself, the perpetrator’s actions were glorified and even revered in online communities. His initials turned into an abbreviation with positive connotations, and was described as a “warrior” by fellow incels. In the media, the coverage of these killing sprees is often vague, or chalked up to other factors, such as race, or an assumption that the murders were mentally deranged. Until recently, there has been little thought put into how the murders came about, and what inspired or encouraged these young men to take the lives of others and in some cases themselves. 

A 2018 attack which took place in a Toronto erotic massage parlour, fatally stabbing one woman and injuring others, was updated from a murder charge to one of incel terrorism, marking the first charge of its kind in the world. The precedent has been set: incel terrorism has been recognised by law enforcement in Canada. This begs the question – why are the media still so slow to call other attacks incel terrorism? Or to identify incels as terrorists at all? Incels thrive in secrecy. They have created their own vocabulary to avoid being revealed, so comfortable are incels in their online privacy, manifestos have been found published online preceding attacks containing plans for the tragic events before they happen. 

We need to stop letting this community fester and grow in darkness. Not only do we need judicial and media-based recognition of the danger posed by incels, but we also need to dismantle a society which places so much pressure on boys and men to be masculine that failure feels worthy of rape and murder. We need to talk to the boys and men around us and let them know that they are seen and heard, and that how many women they “succeed” with is no metric of their identity. We need to rethink masculinity, femininity and what it means to be a success in our society. And we need to do it now, before even more lives are lost to the lonely, violent manosphere. 

 

* Reddit has since moved to ban incels from the platform  

 

Additional Resources: 

‘Men Who Hate Women’ by Laura Bates 

@vulgadrawings on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CSuVizIU_q/?utm_medium=share_sheet 

Podcasts:  

Glow West Episode 104: https://tortoiseshack.ie/incels-and-the-internet-ep-104/ 

Close Friends The Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4X0jgyd8wpby9dSJI8vEu1?si=57281d7eec4449cb 

 

This article was supported by: Opinion Editor Olivia and STAND Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Earth Overshoot Day and Our Right to a Healthy Environment

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Criomhthann writes about Earth Overshoot Day and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly. Criomhthann also shares some groups who post about progress made in climate justice and opportunities to learn more and meet people interested in these topics in Ireland.

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Irish housing: homes for people not for profit

Irish housing: homes for people not for profit

Irish housing: homes for people not for profit 

housing estate at sunset
sibeal devilly

30th August 2021

 

What is one accessory from childhood or your preteen-era that you would still wear today? This is a question that often has people reminiscing over plastic beaded bracelets, Heelys, and tattoo chokers. For myself, the answer is easy: a red badge inscribed with six little words: “Bollocks to Austerity. Tax the Rich.”  

 

Thanks to the Irish voters’ remarkable ability to have faith in political parties who have succumbed to drinking the neoliberal Kool-Aid of low governmental intervention in markets, eleven years later the badge is as relevant, the situation worse, the fight harder, and the representation remarkably similar. Today as in 2010 we see a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach backed by the Greens in power, although in 2021 the blame is no longer conveniently escaped by Fine Gael. 

 

The badge sits today, as anti-establishment as ever, on my desk in my over-priced Dublin rental. Were it not a grim sign that things don’t seem to change for the better economically in this country, the placement might just seem poetic. Sadly, it serves more as a reminder of a fight that never quite seems to be over. 

 

So, how did we get here? From the declaration of independence to the establishment of the Irish state, we vowed this country would serve her people better than the exploitation of colonialism. We would eradicate tenements, remove a foreign source of power, and be a country returned to her people. Yet today, we see public housing riddled with rats, a build-to-rent heavy rental market that has been proclaimed a “government sponsored cartel,an average single first time buyer age of 42, and an asylum system described as “devastating” by its residents. 

 

This is all before we even look to rising levels of homelessness, a crisis with levels dubbed “not high” by our then (and current) Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar in 2017. Is this symbolic of the governing parties of Ireland? That old tactic of insisting that an issue is not yet at crisis level while burying heads in the sand until such point as a crisis occurs? 

  

And of course, while talking about housing it would be remiss not to mention Direct Provision (DP): a horrifying and inhumane situation arising in the modern era in the same state which writes off mother and baby homes as a shameful thing of the past – a state which does its utmost to avoid the necessary conversations around them both. These serve as two features of Irish accommodation that you would be hard-pressed to justify, and so the government simply doesn’t even try; it just seems to hope people will forget about DP. It isn’t supposed to be a home anyway, more of a (never-ending) stop-gap, so why would the conditions need to be any good? Can’t we let the market fix that too? Furthermore, the state of accommodation and halting sites for members of the Travelling community in Ireland makes a mockery of modern anti-racist sentiments in the country. 

 

Part V of The Planning and Development Bill (1999) called for developers to have to include a proportion (up to 20 per cent) of properties or land in a development sold to the state (the local authority) as social housing, in developments of nine houses or more. These developments are known as mixed tenure estates,” whereby private property owners and social or affordable housing residents live in the same development.  

 

A revision to the Act in 2002 (by a Progressive Democrat/Fianna Fáil government) allowed for a financial payment of the equivalent value of the land to be paid to the local authority, much to the delight of building associations and developers around the country who had opposed Part V since its inception. This revision meant that while the housing supply was increasing, social housing was not being contributed to the stock, allowing for an increase in private ownership in the market. While it was found that Part V had a relatively limited contribution to social housing output, the revision meant that, in many cases, no developmental contribution was made at all.  In 2015 this proportion was further reduced from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. 

 

Additionally, with a renewed property bubble spiking housing prices, often local authorities could not afford to purchase land or properties from developers, resulting in no addition being made to social or affordable housing stock whatsoever. 

 

Part V is symbolic of the shambolic planning that is a legacy of the Irish state. The long-term consequences of the revision (which is once again up for amendment in 2021) meant that public and affordable housing stock was not boosted. Lack of intervention by the government ensured housing prices were not capped, and so the unaffordable inflation of both house prices and rent continued. 

 

The right of a private landlord to make money is protected in our Constitution – but the right to housing is not.”

While the state could not afford 20 per cent or 10 per cent of developments, the ESRI this year estimates that by the end of 2021, the state will have spent €1.4 billion on the payment of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) to private landlords, subsidising a lack of state infrastructure with social welfare which perpetuates inflation of rents, which the government also refuses to cap.  

 

The right of a private landlord to make money is protected in our Constitution – but the right to housing is not. So, while rents have been allowed to increase by 4 per cent per annum, a figure which is not matched by salary increases or indeed by increases to minimum wage, the taxpayer is not just footing the bill for their own unaffordable rent, they’re footing the bill for HAP too: even the government can’t afford the rental market in this state. 

 

And really, none of this should be surprising. The Irish property market is not advertised as forever homes, but as investments, whether at a small-scale to individuals with money to invest in the build to rent market, or to vulture and cuckoo funds looking for the investment of their neoliberal dreams. 

 

The state’s solution to the problem of the Irish housing market seems not to be much different in the Irish modern state than it was during the era of British landlords: emigration of our (domestic) young. Admittedly today, the solution of emigration is paired with an assumption that inheritance will balance the disadvantage of our generation, not exactly the method of redistribution of wealth the leads to a successful welfare state – I come back to the solution of my favourite accessory: tax the rich. 

 

The legacy seems to remain of a land that does not provide viable opportunity or quality of tenure to its people, and so watches them set sail for countries happy to welcome the hard-working Irish with open arms. Trendy as world travel may be, our government doesn’t seem to recognise that it is no coincidence that those who stay are of either considerable means or those for whom leaving is not an option. For those in the middle, when faced with the prospect of rental inflation which exceeds salary, and with home ownership being a prospect only when paired with inheritance tax, if you’re lucky enough to have something to be taxed on, leaving is logical.  

 

A post-colonial society, successive Irish governments have behaved like anxious school children, scared  that the headteacher (the market) will chastise their adult choices. To save themselves the anxiety of taking the reins on the Irish economy, politicians have distracted themselves by blowing bubbles and crying to supranational supervisors when inevitably the bubbles of fantasy burst. For all the criticisms of Irish people throwing the baby out with the bath water during political scandals (with Phil Hogan still licking his wounds over this tendency), in election after election, we never seem to learn that no matter how shiny a bubble may seem when it’s growing, it really does always burst. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Tom Thain

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

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Simone Biles: the mental health conversation that needed to be had

Simone Biles: the mental health conversation that needed to be had

Simone Biles: the mental health conversation that needed to be had

gymnast jumps backwards
Ellen Coburn

11th August 2021

 

Imagine this: you are the reigning Olympic champion. You are the most decorated athlete in your sport. You are considered the greatest gymnast of all time. You have the world watching your every move with inconceivably high expectations. You enter Tokyo 2020 as the favourite to sweep up five gold medals. Now, imagine that under that kind of scrutiny, your body starts to fail you in one of the biggest moments of your career. 

 

Very few people in the world can relate to this crippling pressure and these enervating expectations. Very few, that is, except for Simone Biles. The five-time Olympic medallist and 25-time world medallist pulled out of the Olympic Women’s gymnastics team-final on July 27 and subsequently the individual all-around final that took place on July 29. It was a decision that sent the world into disbelief. 

 

The vault that Biles competed in the team final before her withdrawal was so off that former Olympic gymnasts stated that Simone was incredibly lucky to land on her feet and that it was remarkable she emerged without a career-ending injury. After the announcement that Biles would not compete in the remainder of the team finals, there was wide speculation that the gymnastic sensation had sustained a physical injury. What later emerged, however, was that Biles stepped away in order to protect her mental health.   

 

Simone Biles is a person. Not a superhuman, not a robot, and most certainly not a screen for us to project onto. As America’s golden girl and as a global superstar entering these Olympic games, being able to stand up and say “enough” is nothing short of courageous and admirable.”

Biles said that the dangerous vault was the result of the “twisties” – when a gymnast’s mind and body are no longer in dialogue while twisting in the air. The gymnast feels disassociated and completely out of control while trying to complete a skill. The twisties can be life-threatening and are usually the result of high levels of stress and pressure. Simone Biles is a person. Not a superhuman, not a robot, and most certainly not a screen for us to project onto. As America’s golden girl and as a global superstar entering these Olympic games, being able to stand up and say “enough” is nothing short of courageous and admirable. It takes most people years of working in their profession to be able to speak up when they feel their mental or physical health is threatened. But at just 24 years old, Biles – who is a woman of colour in a notoriously white field, and who is a survivor of sexual abuse suffered while training in the very sport in which she excels – was able to do so on the world’s biggest stage. Biles is showing that no matter what age you are, no matter what profession you’re in, no matter what stage you’re on, if you do not feel okay you can walk away. If the greatest of all time can do it, we can too.  

 

Biles’s decision is part of a wider cultural movement working to destigmatize mental illness which has become particularly prominent during the Covid-19 pandemic. Slowly, young people are emerging at the forefront of a mental health revolution where we are becoming more familiar with recognising the signs of mental illness. We are becoming more comfortable with confiding in one another and more aware when our friends are not themselves. Prominent figures stepping forward and shedding light on the subject just serves to further eliminate any taboo left surrounding the subject. This is particularly significant for Simone Biles as a Black woman, as it is estimated that only one in three Black people experiencing mental health issues with reach out and get appropriate help.  

 

Simone is not the only young athlete to come forward about the reality of mental health. The 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka, bowed out of the French Open in June. Osaka explained how she had been suffering with anxiety and depression beginning after beating tennis legend Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open. After Grand Slam officials threatened to expel Osaka from the French open for refusing to participate in news conferences, she decided to withdraw. Black female athletes have been amongst the first to stand up and say that enough is enough. Historically, Black female athletes like Serena Williams and Biles herself have been subjected to relentless body-shaming racism and prejudiced treatment by their sports’ governing bodies. Such conditions make it all the more remarkable that these women are abolishing the “play-through-the-pain” burnout mentality that so many young people today have grown accustomed to.  

 

On  August 1, Biles made the decision to step onto the Olympic floor once again to compete in the balance beam final. She returned to competition on her own terms and in her own time. She made the decision, not for her millions of fans or spectators, for herself and by doing so, Simone Biles has forever distinguished herself not for what she has accomplished but for who she is. 

 

These athletes endure constant pressure to win and constant scrutiny when they falter. We put them on pedestals and expect them to deliver time and time again as we hide behind the protection of a screen that shields us from pressure, criticism and strain that we will never understand.  However, by prioritizing self-care over self-denial, by sending the message that even the best in the world needs time out, by being brave enough to be true to herself at the very moment the world was watching, Simone Biles wins all of my medals. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Andre Quellet

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Internships in the era of Covid-19

Internships in the era of Covid-19

Internships in the era of Covid-19

woman taking a video call from her bed
sibeal devilly

9th August 2021

 

An academic internship can be a very positive experience, yet when you are applying, it can be difficult to know what opportunities will suit your own interests. The experience may vary from learning what you don’t like in a working environment, to being introduced to the nine-to-five world, which is often so alien to students who are used to working part-time or odd hours in industries such as hospitality and service. In deciding which organisations to apply for during the pandemic, options have become somewhat limited, with many companies understandably deciding that virtual internships were not desirable or viable for their organisation with the year that was in it. Applications were therefore quite restricted, but the process itself wasn’t changed much by the pandemic: a cover letter introducing yourself and a CV peppered with part-time work experience, adorned with college modules relevant to the work of the organisation. 

 

Securing a placement can be a process of trial and error – and error may often feel like the operative word. An interview I sat last March, for instance, did not go my way. When nervous, I stumble over words and forget the points I have mastered at home; the “pitch of the person” that’s down to a tee all but disappears when faced with a conference room table and professionals in suits.  

 

My interview for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resembled much of the “from-my-bedroom” rhetoric students have cited in the last sixteen months: trying to find the most “professional” looking background in a college house, adjusting angles to make sure your bed frame isn’t popping up behind you, maybe removing a Guinness poster stolen from your part-time job from the wall behind you. I at least had the good sense to put sticky notes around my laptop, with the most important things to say staring back at me, and a camera green light as a reminder to make virtual eye contact with my interviewers. 

 

The beginning of my interview was a surprise as I discovered my interviewers don’t use a waiting room function, and I was thrown into virtual small talk with the office director three minutes early while waiting for the second interviewer to join the call. Mutually disinterested in the well-rehearsed one-liners about the “strange times” we’re living in, I found myself watching the minutes pass on the clock, quietly questioning my belief that early means on-time and that on-time means late. 

 

To my surprise, a week later I received a call offering me a six-month contract starting in January, and in the week of the 18th of January, as lockdown dragged on, I wanted nothing more than a job to fill my time with. Once set up in the remote ether of the EPA, HR provided an induction through MS Teams with other interns based around the country. We were given about 18 hours of Microsoft software training, going through applications like Word, Excel, and Outlook. While in more normal times one might expect a few cups of tea and coffee and a bit of chat in a meeting room throughout IT induction, sitting in your bedroom while being run through how to operate a spreadsheet, unfortunately, is not the path to falling in love with Excel.  

 

“While working online certainly has its disadvantages, the experience provides a broader perspective within the college experience.”

College told us that we would likely have slow starts to our placements, based on the experiences of the students in the first semester. It’s hard for organisations to know how much work to assign an intern, or how to show them the ropes remotely, while trying to manage their own daily operations online too. I began reading journal articles on the project I’d been assigned, absorbing as much knowledge as I could on the process of professionalising regulation in the public sector (something I could barely define a month previously at my interview). While feeling unsure of my footing, and battling imposter syndrome over being a student getting paid to do professional research, I turned to my unlikely new friend Excel. Although equations and formulae didn’t factor into my work, I began creating a spreadsheet of all the sources of the knowledge I had consumed so far, colour coding boxes to fill time between tea and crossword breaks with my housemates (our collective lockdown hobby-come-obsession). 

 

While learning to navigate the virtual workspace, I discovered that the benefits of remote work environments extend well beyond the ability to roll out of bed at five-to-nine or constant access to hot water bottles when suffering through the monthly onslaught of cramps: it extends to networking too. Throughout my research it became clear that the experts in my field of study were based in Australia and New Zealand. They are years ahead of Europe and serve as the exemplar to academic writing on the subject globally. And while they may have managed to avoid the severe lockdowns that much of the rest of the world have suffered, they have still had cause to learn to navigate remote working. So, while restricted from travelling more than 5 kilometres from my house, I held a meeting with global experts based on the other side of the world. The only difference between speaking with them and speaking with my manager based in Wexford, was a visit to worldtimebuddy.com and 7am call rather than an elevenses chat. 

 

One of the things the EPA do for their interns every year is hold a day where they present on the work they’ve done during their contract. It’s an opportunity for interns to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and to practice the much-dreaded skill of presentation. This year as with all else, it came about a little differently. A message from the Ddirector asking if I would like to present at the office Town Hall: I wouldn’t be one in a list of interns, I would be one in a list of interesting projects being undertaken within the office, presented to around one hundred colleagues. Never one to shy away from an immensely stressful challenge, I replied that it sounded cool and that I’d love to present (a questionable degree of truth to that). In fact, the presentation mirrored much of my interview in December. The comfort of my own house, the ease of post-it notes on my wall and ignorance to people’s concentration levels created the perfect storm to present without fear of memory lapse, unexpected interruptions or the dreaded dry mouth. All of these benefits contribute not only to a positive personal development experience, but also to the opportunity for a humble brag in future interviews, and indeed, in online articles. 

 

While meeting colleagues and trying to make an impression online is difficult, you might be surprised to have your first introduction in your local pub on a Saturday night. Doing your best to be discrete while you stare at the face of someone who might be in your team meetings every week, or who might just be a non-webcam dead ringer for them. You might have the bright idea to initiate your first encounter with this colleague with the help of some liquid courage, wishing the next day it had been a cafe you’d been at rather than the local after a [redacted] number of pints. 

 

While working online certainly has its disadvantages, the experience provides a broader perspective within the college experience. All in all, an academic internship is always a great thing to have on a CV coming out of college. It shows employers that you’ve managed to get experience while being a student, and that you’ve thought in broader terms than classroom learning. During COVID, it shows that you’re adaptable and that, to some degree, you can manage your own time well. It also helps students to get a relevant work reference and meet people working in fields in which they might be interested.  

 

 

 

Featured photo by Surface

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Will global tax reform make the world a fairer place?

Will global tax reform make the world a fairer place?

Will global tax reform make the world a fairer place?

crowd holding a biden 2020 banner
Aoife McDonald

5th August 2021

 

In April of this year, US President Joe Biden proposed a reform of the global tax system that would set a minimum global corporate tax of 15 per cent.  

 

Agreed upon by the Group of Seven (G7) nations in June, the G20 in July, and now backed by 131 countries worldwide, the potential agreement will be the biggest overhaul of the international tax system in decades. All going well, the new tax rules will be legally binding worldwide by the end of 2023.  

 

The idea of a global taxation system, however, is not new. Some of the early ideas, which surfaced following World War II, were aimed at funding the United Nations or repairing war-torn economies. By the 1960s, the discussion had shifted toward international taxation as a form of multilateral aid for developing nations. 

 

In 1980, the discussion surrounding global taxation came to a head due to a report published by the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, known as the Brandt Commission. The report, entitled ‘North-South: A Program for Survival’, called for “universal taxation” – the collection of revenue from rich countries which would be redistributed to poor countries.  

 

Unfortunately, the timing was not right. Soon after the release of the report, President Ronald Reagan came into power in the US. His tax-cutting agenda quickly shut down the possibility of a global tax regime, and since then, tax regimes have been caught in a race to the bottom.

 

“Today, fewer than 20 countries have corporate tax rates over 30 percent, in comparison to more than double that number at the turn of the century.”

Between 2000 and 2018, 76 countries cut corporate taxes, while only 18 kept them the same or increased them. Today, fewer than 20 countries have corporate tax rates over 30 percent, in comparison to more than double that number at the turn of the century.

 

Now, in the wake of a global pandemic, President Biden has seized the opportunity for serious reform. Following the G7 negotiations, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, announced that “The G-7 economies came together to agree the post-pandemic world must be fairer, especially with regard to international taxation.”

 

But will it really be fairer?

 

The proposed global tax reform asks nations to agree to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent, with an aim to reduce the incentive for large multinational companies to shift their profits to the so-called ‘tax havens’ – Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, and, of course, Ireland.

 

These countries all have one thing in common – they are small. And because they are so small, these countries have to use competitive tax rates to survive in the globalised economy, because they are too tiny for competitive, large-scale production of goods. On top of this, they do not have many natural resources.

 

The natural course of action, in this case, is to prioritise attracting investment over collecting tax. So, while on the face of it, it seems unfair that huge multinationals can declare their profits offshore to avoid paying taxes, for Ireland and the other tax havens, this strategy is a means of survival in a globalised system not designed in their favour.

 

In fact, the term ‘tax haven’ may not be an entirely accurate description.

 

According to popular Irish economist and broadcaster, David McWilliams, at least, this label is misleading. It implies “a place where companies have a fictitious presence with little or no real impact in the greater society,” he writes.

 

That is certainly not the case here in Ireland, where last year alone, €15.1 billion in wages was generated by the multinational sector, and 20,000 new jobs were created, thanks to a low corporate tax of 12.5 per cent.

 

As a result, Ireland has refused to join the G7 and G20 in backing proposals for a restructuring of corporate taxation, warning that it may cost the exchequer over €2 billion a year.

 

“Whatever the effect of global tax reform on Ireland, it pales in comparison to the possible implications for the developing world.”

However, it may not all be bad news, as some commentators highlight the possible opportunities of increased taxes in Ireland – the ability to invest in housing, health and education.  

 

Whatever the effect of global tax reform on Ireland, it pales in comparison to the possible implications for the developing world. Even if the implications for Ireland are as bad as we expect, the country has the support of the EU and a highly educated workforce to cushion the blow.

 

In contrast, the plan offers little for countries with few corporate headquarters and lesser purchasing power.

 

The ongoing pandemic is deepening global inequalities, as the health systems and economies of developing countries struggle to keep their citizens safe, while rich countries keep vaccine production secrets to themselves. While we in the West begin our recovery, pandemic-related poverty is on the rise in the rest of the world.

 

In response to the proposed reform, Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International said in a statement:

 

“Rich countries are forcing developing countries to choose between a raw deal or no deal. It is just another form of economic colonialism. This is not an ‘historic’ deal ―it is history repeating itself. Those who shamelessly rigged the global tax system to their benefit over a century ago have again ring-fenced the game for themselves.”

 

Only a redistributive global tax could attempt to tackle the public health emergency, climate crisis and widespread poverty of today.

 

A tax reform that would actually benefit the world’s poor would recover billions in underpaid corporate tax for all countries – but the rate of 15 per cent does little to end tax competition. Only 3 per cent of taxes recovered will go to the world’s poorest countries, while over two-thirds will go to the G7 and EU.

 

Instead, the proposed reform targets small rich countries (like Ireland) for the benefit of big rich countries (like the US).

 

As Bucher concluded: “It is bad news for tax havens, but will fail to levy funds developing countries desperately need to save lives and propel sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19.”

 

 

 

Featured photo by Gayatri Malhotra

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

We need to do better if we are to protect girls

We need to do better if we are to protect girls

We need to do better if we are to protect girls

two girls with arms around each others waists
alex mulhare

22nd July 2021

 

There’s no simple way to put this: I fear for the current generation of girls, teenagers, and young women who are growing up in an always-online world.  

 

As I scroll through social media, advertisements for cosmetic surgery pop up on my feed, and a heavily-edited selfie is posted with a casual caption; at first glance, I don’t even recognise it as someone whom I have known for years. When did this become normal?  

 

The era of uploading unflattering albums to our Facebook accounts feels very distant these days, even though it was only ten years ago. Backcombed hair and questionable fashion choices ruled the roost – the idea of lip fillers and contouring your face would likely be laughed at. There was no pressure to be picture-perfect – because let’s be honest, digital cameras in the hands of teenagers take terrible pictures. 

 

The real conversation lies in asking ourselves why altering our appearance has become so normalised and readily-available as a cosmetic service.”

I think that, in most cases, it’s counterproductive to shame anyone who has decided to undergo cosmetic treatments or who enjoys using Facetune. It’s their body, and their choice to do what they like with it. The real conversation lies in asking ourselves why altering our appearance has become so normalised and readily-available as a cosmetic service. When and why did our natural faces with textured skin and varied features become undesirable and “ugly”? Our Patriarchal society is probably the fastest and most simple answer (even though it isn’t simple at all, really). Essentially, a patriarchy is a system in which men are the dominant figures in all areas of power within society.  

 

Already, within the short period of time from 2008 to 2021, our online landscape has changed rapidly. Social media used to mean booting up your family’s personal computer and checking your Facebook notifications – a far cry from tapping an application on your phone and receiving instant validation from friends and strangers alike at any and all stages throughout the day. The Myspace and early Facebook era of the internet may not have been an inherently better place, but it was certainly more innocent.  

 

As many researchers have pointed out, the “always-on” mentality is where the current danger of being online lies, and this is especially true for young people. Let’s say you have Instagram notifications turned on and each time you open the app, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a quick look through your timeline. There’s another good chance that altered photos will appear on your newsfeed, either from friends or as suggested posts. It is inevitable that regular consumption of edited photographs will result in a detachment from what real people look like, eventually taking a toll upon how you view yourself and others. This process is so subtle though, that teenagers in particular may not even notice their own perception of beauty standards shifting.  

 

The reality-television series, Love Island, provided food (or rather, a large meal) for thought in this vein during an episode of the seventh season which aired last week. The show’s contestants were challenged to answer sensitive questions about each other, and one particular question asked the men to guess which types of cosmetic surgery that all of the women on the show had undergone. This immediately provoked an online discussion about how commonplace surgically altering your appearance has become, if it can just be assumed that each female contestant has opted for at least one cosmetic treatment. Nonetheless, almost all of the men guessed correctly, with each one writing down some variation of “lips, boobs, botox.” All except one woman on the show could admit to having gone under the knife for some reason or another. Interestingly though, in another round of the same challenge, the contestants were asked to list their turn-offs. Most of the male contestants listed personality traits but one said that “hairy arms” were his biggest turn-off. Unlike bad manners or being too loud, hairy arms are a completely natural trait that many girls and women have no control over. Not to mention the fact that women are naturally hairy; we’re just told that hair is dirty or unhygienic because it’s a convenient excuse for the patriarchy to get the hairless women that it desires (let’s not forget that a core aim of a patriarchal society is to exert control over women as much as is possible).  

 

As the show cut to an ad break, it was difficult to think about anything other than how a girl or teenager might have consumed this content. Would she feel pressured to look in the mirror and re-evaluate her own appearance? Would she question the fullness of her natural lips, or the natural movement of a forehead wrinkle when she raises her eyebrows? Would she feel self-conscious about the hair on her arms, and find a new insecurity to wax away on a regular basis? I left the television that night with a sense of dread and frankly, fear, about how a person younger than myself might fall victim to the ever-expanding trap of surgeries to fix each “‘insecurity”’ that the beauty industry and patriarchy both profit from.  

 

TikTok trends have begun to evoke the same anxiety from me in recent months – why do they so often focus upon creating imagined flaws in the predominantly young female audience who partake in these challenges? The trend which struck me the most was a filter that mirrors each side of your face to create two new faces. The idea was that one side of your face would be “ugly” and the other one “pretty” – unless of course, you were so symmetrical that both faces looked very similar. Showing off your symmetrical face or laughing at the expense of others who looked “ugly” with this filter was the primary goal of this challenge. Immature as it was, I can’t help but wonder how many girls tried the challenge for themselves and were too afraid to even upload the end result because they felt that they looked “ugly.” Many of us can attest to the fact that if our teenage peers perceive us as bad looking in any way, shape, or form, it has a long-lasting effect upon our self-esteem and overall confidence. 

 

There are many places to point an accusatory finger as the source of these problems: the make-up and beauty industries, social media apps, a general disregard for the safety of children online or the content that they consume – the list could truly be endless. The internet and its culture as a whole is a good place to begin looking for answers. Gone are the days of pre-teen girls watching actors their own age dressed like the kids that they are on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Now, this same age group has instant access to social media where they are encouraged to wear make-up and dress with sex appeal, despite the fact that they are literal children. If this is hard to believe, then why has Millie Bobby Brown, the star of Stranger Things, been rolled out onto red carpet events dressed like a fully-grown woman for years? Why was Billie Eilish harassed for refusing to wear revealing clothing as a teenager – why was she expected to show off her body, and why did it become offensive to grown men online when she didn’t play into this expectation?  

 

“They were guinea pigs. They are the first group of young people to grow up with the world at their fingertips, and the first to go through our school systems under the shadow of social media.”

The deeper you delve into this subject, the more it feels as though we have let the upcoming generation of girls down. To be frank, they were guinea pigs. They are the first group of young people to grow up with the world at their fingertips, and the first to go through our school systems under the shadow of social media. As someone who went to secondary school during the more innocent, pre-influencer age of social media, I still feel like having access to a smart phone at the age of sixteen fundamentally altered the school experience for me. It’s difficult to even imagine the vastly different adolescent landscape that would be created by handing a child a smartphone while they are still in primary school – their lives have never existed offline, or without Snapchat stories, or without YouTube celebrities.  

 

The internet itself is not to blame, however; the problem lies in the unrestricted access to online content that young people with malleable minds and opinions have been given. We, as adults, and especially Millennial adults with a deep understanding of social media and the darker facets of the internet, could have prevented the mentally-damaging rise of beauty filters and influencers who aggressively peddle dangerous, “weight-loss” teas. While society in the 1990s was actively telling girls who weren’t malnourished that they were ‘fat’, post-Noughties society revels in forcing girls to believe that their natural faces can be ‘fixed’ with plastic surgery, Botox, or filler injections. While Norway’s new law which will forbid influencers from posting photos without labelling the edits, filters, or alterations contained within is not a solution to this vast problem, it would appear to be a good start at tackling it.  

 

As a general takeaway from this surface-level discussion, it would appear that there exists a pattern that needs to be broken. Consistently, each generation of girls and young women have been led to believe that some aspect of their physical appearance is inherently flawed. Why are we, as a society, so obsessed with convincing girls that they are broken and that they must drastically alter their body in order to be considered beautiful, or even just pretty? Why do they even need to be objectified and considered good-looking in the first place? The short answer, of course, is patriarchy – there’s a reason why those with the most privilege in society (men) don’t feel the need to view themselves as objects and alter their personhood accordingly. There are always exceptions to rules though, such as men who endanger their health to achieve the perfect, toned body, but this doesn’t discount the fact that it is other men who make them feel pressured to physically appear a certain way. They are victims of the same system.  

 

From the onset of pre-teen years, we are teaching girls to objectify themselves, and social media appears to have intensified this process by flooding each app with ads and beauty filters. There is nothing wrong with filters as a concept but they quickly evolved from giving users cute dog ears into a more sinister feature that completely changes the shape of your face, usually granting the appearance of an altered jaw, blue eyes, and a smaller nose. For obvious reasons, this has sparked conversations about beauty filters and race. What if a girl of colour was playing with these filters on Snapchat or Instagram and in each one, saw her skin and eyes lightened, along with a new, Eurocentric nose. Research has already shown that when used consistently, beauty filters alter our perception of our own appearance over time.  

 

The question that I consistently walk away from this train of thought with is, why are some features seen as undesirable? Our features carry family history, ethnic history, and the beauty of individuality all in one package, but then society turns around and tells us that unless we all look uniform, we are flawed. Perhaps most sickeningly is that what is deemed to be “desirable” changes at the flick of a switch – think of beauty standards shifting from Marilyn Monroe, to Kate Moss, to Kim Kardashian. All of these women possess vastly different physical appearances but at one point or another, everyday women were told that these body types were the most desirable: “you should look like this too.”

 

Perhaps older women find these societal pressures easier to deal with, as they have watched uncontrollable body ‘trends’ come and go with the decades. Needless to say, the pressure for women to look perfect is not confined to any age group, although the youngest girls and women among us are inevitably the most fragile and at risk of being mentally-impacted by society’s harmful messaging. Rather than the fixation upon weight and being “fat” that was prevalent in the 1990s, the current generation are made to feel as though they must always be social media ready. What if you’re out with a friend who wants to post a story on Instagram or Snapchat, but you don’t look your best because your face is bare (see: “natural”) and filters are too obvious? This situation is a nightmare scenario for anyone who feels pressured into curating a perfect image of themselves online. The solution to this, apparently, is to ensure that your appearance is always ready to be posted online, usually by means of seeking cosmetic procedures or semi-permanent treatments.  

 

It may sound like there’s no real escape from the pressure to look a specific way and to have a “trendy” body feature or type. The truth is that women’s bodies are individual and unique, and for most of us, it’s entirely impossible to achieve the coveted “snatched waist.” Oh, and girls aren’t women, they are children. Children who are being institutionalised into viewing themselves as women so that adult beauty standards can be imposed upon them and enforced throughout their lifetime. In the words of Kate Winslet, referring to her own acclaimed role in Mare of Easttown, “There are clearly no filters. She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.”

 

 

Featured photo by Priscilla Du Preez

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Death at a funeral: grief and burial rituals during a pandemic

Death at a funeral: grief and burial rituals during a pandemic

Death at a funeral: grief and burial rituals during a pandemic

man wearing black hood with head down
lydia howard Chevalier

13th July 2021

 

Throughout human history, the rituals and ceremonies surrounding death have always formed a crucial part of the grieving process. Anthropological studies have revealed a wide range of traditional funeral practices around the world that encompass an array of religions and cultures. These practices usually relate to the treatment of the body after death and how it is displayed before burial, as well as the ceremonies involved at each stage. The COVID-19 pandemic has put an abrupt, albeit temporary, stop to the processes that we are familiar with surrounding the deaths of loved ones; the grieving process and adapting to the ‘new normal’ in the absence of a loved one. The 2013-16 Ebola epidemic provided a good example of how a deadly contagious disease can wreak havoc on our very basic human rituals and traditions. However, the widespread, global (and airborne) nature of COVID-19 has meant that far larger numbers of lives have been lost in a short space of time, leaving many millions suddenly and unexpectedly bereaved. These individuals may struggle long-term with the impact of lockdown restrictions on the grieving process; many will be left to cope with ‘prolonged grief disorder’ which often impacts the bereaved person’s ability to function in everyday life. Coupled with a completely overwhelmed mental health service (in some places, this service is absent altogether), this could prove to be a very delicate and serious problem for the post-pandemic world.

 

Grief can be a very isolating experience and the pandemic has only served to magnify this. Due to the risk of viral transmission, funerals and burials around the world are subject to severe restrictions. The numbers permitted to attend are very small and the relatives of COVID victims may not even be able to view the body of their loved one, or  be at their bedside when they pass away. This can lead to feelings of guilt as well as a sense of unreality– that the person isn’t truly gone and may still be alive somewhere. Healthcare workers often share these feelings of distress; they are forced to watch victims die alone, struggling for breath in a situation where the usual palliative care resources are unavailable or forbidden due to the risk of transmission. The funeral and burial may have to take place virtually, forcing people to become more creative in finding ways to connect and offer support to each other. This can be very difficult for some as they may crave the comforting touch and physical presence of family and friends in their hour of need.The shifting of bereavement to the virtual realm may actually put the grieving process on-hold for many.

 

The inability to physically return to the workplace, travel or socialise in-person may relieve the bereaved person of the burden of putting on a brave face and pretending to be happy. Lockdown can provide space for people to come to terms with their loss at a pace that feels right for them.”

This effect may be even stronger for the immigrant community who are coping with a double loss – they have already lost their own culture and support system back home, which only amplifies the feelings of isolation, separation and grief. Their vulnerable status within their adopted country may make it difficult for them to access or afford grief counselling and other supports. They also face the added pressures of food, financial and housing insecurity which only serves to add to their emotional burden. The constant exposure to statistics regarding deaths via radio, television and newspapers can also serve to re-traumatise the bereaved person and lead to a disorder called ‘prolonged grief.’ This interferes with a person’s ability to adapt to their loss, integrate it into their life and return to normal daily activities and work. Others may feel differently about the restrictions, seeing them as a way to allow for the grieving process to take place without any external pressure or artificially imposed deadlines. For example, the inability to physically return to the workplace, travel or socialise in-person may relieve the bereaved person of the burden of putting on a brave face and pretending to be happy. Lockdown can provide space for people to come to terms with their loss at a pace that feels right for them. The global nature of this pandemic complicates things too; as with 9/11, when a death occurs against the backdrop of a historical event, this can shape the grief response. The bereaved may feel that their loss has been overshadowed, especially for those whose loved ones died from non-COVID causes, who risk being erased from the collective memory altogether.

 

Many different cultures and religions are being impacted by the pandemic restrictions, each in their own unique way ( it must be acknowledged that they share many similar ideas and rituals, even though the practices may look different). No matter how mundane or significant our rituals are, routines help to define our sense of self in the world, according to Terry Daniel, an interfaith chaplain and trauma counsellor. COVID has, for many, shattered our sense of security and the belief that we will all wake up the next morning and our loved ones will be alive and well. Our trust in our systems, let it be religious bodies, government leaders and agencies, healthcare and economic systems has suffered every time one or all of them has failed to meet our expectations, leaving us with feelings of betrayal and insecurity. Therefore, understandably, people tend to cling on to the familiar rituals which make them feel ‘safe’ and fulfill their religious and cultural obligations in a satisfactory way. We witnessed this strong need in West Africa during the Ebola crisis when violence broke out over burial restrictions for victims of the disease. Healthcare workers became targets and treatment centres were destroyed as anger grew over locals’ belief that safety measures preventing loved ones from touching the body were disrespectful towards the dead.

 

The small number of attendees at the funeral were forbidden from passing around a shovel to heap dirt on the body, but some insisted on keeping the ritual and used their hands instead in order to prevent handling the same contaminated shovel.”

Many countries have faced backlash from their populations as a result of restrictions on funeral and burial rites; however, many are now providing creative alternatives to allow for  continuity in the practising of important religious rites. For example, in Israel, Sheba Medical Center built a glass booth in which to place the body of the deceased so that family members can have one last glimpse of their loved ones before they are wrapped in two plastic body bags and lowered into the grave wrapped in shrouds (coffins are not common in Jewish burials in Israel). The small number of attendees at the funeral were forbidden from passing around a shovel to heap dirt on the body, but some insisted on keeping the ritual and used their hands instead in order to prevent handling the same contaminated shovel. No visitors were permitted to attend Shiva, the traditional week-long mourning period in which close family and friends offer condolences to the bereaved. Orthodox Jews often gave up on reciting the Kaddish as this requires the physical presence of a quorum of ten, while more liberal Rabbis permitted a virtual quorum. Following Jewish custom, some victims in Europe choose to be buried in the Holy Land; however, this does not currently apply to American-based Jews as United Airlines (the only airline providing the service in the USA) has suspended international funeral shipments. As a temporary solution, a leading Orthodox Rabbi in New York has allowed for the temporary burial of victims in the USA until such shipments resume and bodies can be exhumed and reburied in the Holy Land.

 

In Wuhan, China (the epicenter of the pandemic), families were initially unable to collect the cremated remains of their loved ones during the strict lockdown that followed the first outbreak. However, as the Chinese Tomb Sweeping holiday approached in April 2020, authorities permitted families to make appointments to collect the ashes at a specific time and to bury them accompanied by a neighbourhood official– an effective solution to avoid crowds and angry locals. In Pakistan and Turkey, both predominantly Muslim countries, restrictions applied to the traditional practice of washing the body before burial; those washing the body (usually family but now restricted only to those directly involved in the burial) must wear PPE and remain socially distanced during prayers. Mourners are forbidden from approaching the coffin. In the case of India (largely Hindu), gone are the days of the large, public funeral processions which form a key part of mourning for many faiths across South Asia. In the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges River, a lone Hindu priest now recites a daily prayer as a symbolic gesture to the Hindu goddess Ganga. This marks a significant departure from previous practice where thousands would gather for sunrise and sunset to honour Ganga and riverbanks would be lined with many funeral pyres. Many Hindus believe that being cremated next to the Ganges River or having one’s ashes submerged in its waters ensures salvation. At the peak of India’s COVID crisis, there were reports of ashes piling up in crematoriums because families were unable to collect them due to travel restrictions and limited public transport. Indian central authorities also banned the bathing or embalming of COVID victims; however, while no specific religion was mentioned in the guidelines issued, it is clear they are referring to the minority Muslim population, who have faced discrimination in the past and for whom this is an important pre-burial tradition. The initial order to cremate all COVID victims was withdrawn within hours after a Muslim politician intervened (cremation is prohibited in Islam).

 

In Iraq, families frequently encountered delays in retrieving the bodies of loved ones from the morgue. This can cause significant distress as, in the Muslim faith, the deceased must be buried within 24 hours, wherever possible. Abdul-Hadi Majeed, an Iraqi soldier, described how it took eight days to retrieve his father’s body and the family encountered many challenges when arranging the burial. The government intended to bury his father in a field outside Baghdad, which tribal leaders objected to as it was mistakenly feared that this could spread the disease. Consequently, paramilitary forces dressed in hazmat suits took over proceedings and carried out the burial according to Islamic rites in a large cemetery in the holy city of Najaf, with a special section reserved for COVID victims. In predominantly Christian countries, the pandemic is also disrupting proceedings. In the Philippines, the speedy burial of victims is a significant departure from the usual practice of ‘lamay’ or wake, which tends to last from three to seven days. Irish funeral practices have been similarly affected, although many rituals still continue in a slightly adapted form. The tradition of walking behind the hearse and following it to the cemetery has been replaced with the new practice of friends and family gathering (2 metres apart) and lining the road to the cemetery instead.

 

COVID has robbed us of many things including our everyday rituals and habits, which help us to feel secure, as well as our ability to seek and provide comfort during times of distress and bereavement. Although humans are a very adaptable species and we have found many new and creative ways of connecting and honouring our dead, the pandemic is very likely to result in many millions of survivors left behind, unable to process or cope with their grief in the usual ways. We must be prepared to deal with the tidal wave of grief and overwhelming sense of loss when this all comes to an end. It may be the end of restrictions, but it won’t be the end of suffering.

 

 

 

Featured photo by AH NP

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

UFOs: are we alone in this world?

UFOs: are we alone in this world?

UFOs: are we alone in this world?  

sign with a picture of ufo that says self parking
Elizabeth Quinn

12th July 2021

 

A once fringe topic is becoming mainstream in the US with a newly released report seeking to examine unidentified arial phenomena. How did we get here? 

 

UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and the potential that there is something beyond us on earth is having a serious moment in the US. This discussion was sparked by a highly anticipated and newly declassified report from the US government. The report, released on 25th June 2021, examines unidentified arial phenomena. How did this report come to be and why is the US government pursuing an investigation into the topic? 

 

The report is significant due to the history of UFO sighings in the US and the country’s historical reaction to and huge interest in them. The topic of UFOs and the possible existence of another life-form or aliens has gripped public attention in the country since the 1947 Roswell incident. In this incident, a US Army Air Forces balloon crashed at a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. People who witnessed this claimed that they had seen a flying saucer and dismissed the explanations that the US government provided for the incident. It is no wonder that the possible existence of other-worldly creatures captures our attention, as it raises fundamental questions about who we are and would radically expand what we know to be possible in the world. 

 

For years, sightings of what were unexplainable objects in the sky were in the public psyche. For instance, in 1966 Michigan residents claimed to see lights and strange aircraft in the sky. This sighting of aircraft and lights moving at high speeds was said to create ‘UFO mania.’ The sightings triggered investigations by civil defence groups and the US Air Force, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the seemingly unexplainable sightings were merely swamp gas. This explanation did not please everyone who saw the objects, and many continued to believe that the possibility of a UFO sighting had to be investigated. 

 

In 2007, albeit in secret, US Senator Harry Reid created the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which was dedicated to studying UFO encounters with military personnel. From 2007 to at least 2012, the Pentagon spent millions in tracking military personnel who had seen the objects and reported UFO sightings. The existence of this programme was made public by the New York Times in 2017. The newspaper ran a front-page article on the programme and claimed that it had not, as suggested, concluded in 2012.  

 

With the help of Elizondo, videos were released showing unexplainable encounters in 2004, 2014 and 2015. The US government did not immediately respond to the publication of these videos and took many years to confirm the existence of the AATIP. In 2017, the government claimed that it had been shut down in 2012.”

This revelation sparked other news outlets to report on the programme. Luis Elizondo, the former AATIP programme director served as a source for these newspapers. Elizondo left his role in the AATIP in mid-2017 because he did not believe that the programme was getting enough resources or attention. With the help of Elizondo, videos were released showing unexplainable encounters in 2004, 2014 and 2015. The US government did not immediately respond to the publication of these videos and took many years to confirm the existence of the AATIP. In 2017, the government claimed that it had been shut down in 2012. 

 

The operational aspects of AATIP were rolled into the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force. The existence of this task force was made public in August 2020. This was followed up in December 2020 with the stipulation in the Covid-19 Relief Bill which stated that the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other intelligence agencies must conduct a 180-day review and report on “anomalous arial vehicles.”  

 

The report signals a moment in time where UFOs are beginning to be taken seriously. Of course, one explanation for the as of yet unexplained flying objects, is that it could be the US’s  own classified technology or even a foreign adversary’s technology. It is, however, questionable whether a foreign adversary would possess such great technology and not want to use it consistently and out in the open, showing their technological advantage to other countries. 

 

As many options exist for our current understanding of unexplained flying objects, a process of elimination must be engaged in. This process leaves question marks hanging. In the declassified report, the US has stated that there is no explanation for 144 out of the 145 reported sightings which were examined. The one case that they did identify was a “large, deflating balloon.” The report does not rule out the possibility of the objects being extra-terrestrial, and therefore is not revolutionary. 

 

The consequences of a report stating that an unidentified sighting was indeed a UFO could have significant impact on the current world order. Other-worldly creatures may break down the divide between humans, and it has been argued that the realisation of another species would further weld us humans together as a species. Therefore, it has been argued that the hesitancy to take UFOs seriously, and the reason for its taboo social status is that the discovery of other-worldly creatures would undermine the idea of what sovereignty is.  

 

This report has not provided a conclusive examination of the topic but it has created a space for more open discussion and debate on UFOs and their potential emergence into the mainstream. In order to increase attention given to the issue, the taskforce has stated that additional funding would be beneficial in encouraging further study in the area. This has moved UFOs from a fringe topic towards becoming more mainstream and fostering further discussion not only by conspiracy theorists but also at the highest levels of government in the US. 

 

 

Featured photo by Michael Herren

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

A year (and a bit) in review: the opinion section

A year (and a bit) in review: the opinion section

A year (and a bit) in review: the opinion section

person holding coffee and reading newspaper
Olivia Moore

9th July 2021

 

On 29th January 2020, I wrote an article for the Opinion Section of STAND News entitled “Coronavirus: Number of Cases Suspected to Rise”. My piece was littered with claims such as “In recent days China has seen a significant jump with the number of deaths increasing by 26 to 132 almost all in the province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan. This trend is likely to continue in the short term”; “There is an evident spread of the virus to the European continent, with Germany claiming the first confirmed case on the mainland”; and “Nearly 60 cases have been reported in 15 other countries, including the United States, France and Singapore.”

 

If only we were to know what was to come: Covid-19, with a worldwide death toll of now almost 4 million, reached Ireland in early March and resulted in over 250,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths nationally. Following on from this, almost globally-enforced lockdown measures, including the shutting down of schools, social distancing, working from home, prohibitions on excursions of more than 5 kilometres from home, the closing of non-essential businesses, restaurants, venues, mass redundancies, and the suspension of international travel.

 

As the effects of both the virus and the corresponding lockdown are still echoing in Ireland and around the world. It baffles me to think of how much has happened in the almost-year-and-a-half since the entire world ground to a halt: the Australian bushfires, Harry and Meghan’s exodus from the Royal Family, the impeachment of Donald Trump and the subsequent election of Joe Biden (and Kamala Harris as Vice President), the police-involved killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement, the explosion in Beirut, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the rapid nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, the storming of the US Capitol, the banning of Trump from social media, the Myanmar coup overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi, the back-and-forth between Putin and Alexei Navalny, the mass shooting in Asian-owned massage parlours, the Ever Given’s sojourn stuck in the Suez Canal, the death of Prince Phillip, and the highlighting of the #FreePalestine movement after an onslaught of fighting.

 

Since March of 2020, I have finished out my second year of college, and both started and finished my third year; I completed my first internship and was offered a graduate programme; I got a promotion in my part-time job; I made an entire new group of friends; I turned 21; and, possibly my proudest moment, I won Editor of the Year for 2020 with STAND.”

In Ireland alone, we saw the end of Civil War politics as Sinn Féin became the big winner in the national elections, the apparent curse of the role of Minister for Agriculture, the saga of Golfgate, a completely reformed Leaving Certificate, the Garda-related death of George Nchenko, the publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission investigation, the onset of the national vaccine rollout, the cyber-attack on the HSE and the Department of Health, and the extremely recent easing of restrictions and re-opening of society over the June bank holiday.

 

But we cannot forget that this year has also been filled with our own life events and milestones. Since March of 2020, I have finished out my second year of college, and both started and finished my third year; I completed my first internship and was offered a graduate programme; I got a promotion in my part-time job; I made an entire new group of friends; I turned 21; and, possibly my proudest moment, I won Editor of the Year for 2020 with STAND.

 

We’ve had holidays, birthdays, graduations, births, weddings, and funerals; we’ve had cancelled Erasmuses and special online opportunities; we’ve had our most painful disappointments and our most joyous achievements. It wasn’t all good – and it wasn’t all bad. It was just life. And life has a funny tendency, in the midst of chaos or even dormancy, to just go on.

 

And throughout, the Opinion Section in STAND has stood strong, to capture it all; a constant for people wishing to expel their thoughts, whether they be on current affairs or personal prophecies. We’ve had articles on everything from direct provision and image-based sexual violence, to boundary-setting in friendships and cancel culture, to Taylor Swift and Britney Spears. This year was tough, but I feel absolutely privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to look after such a fruitful and varied section, driven by the most thoughtful, clever, and talented contributors, who continue to inspire me every day.

 

And so, as society opens back up and we all venture into the world with a newfound hunger for life, allow yourself to reflect – in a macro and a micro sense – on the time we have had, as well as the times that are to come. Writing, for me, is a way to make sense of this ever-eventful, ever-changing world and my thoughts on it. I hope and believe that the Opinion Section has been, and continues to be, a place for everyone to do the same.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Mattias Diesel

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

The beauty of Pride

The beauty of Pride

The beauty of Pride 

holding hands with Pride wristbands
Shauna Regan

17th June 2021

 

I’ve been hearing a lot of debates lately about why Pride gets a whole month to itself. To me, it is the most unimportant question when discussing Pride – but if people really want to question it, here’s my answer: because why not. Pride was not invented to convert people into being gay. It was not made to shove ideas down people’s throats. It is not some ploy for companies to make their money.  

 

The pure essence of Pride is to feel liberated and proud of whatever and whoever you are. And I know coming from the generation I do, it’s easier for me to accept Pride. It’s so easy for me to look at these brave people that are so open with who they love, and admire them. But for other generations, it is hard. There’s a lack of acceptance. There is a lack of understanding and, unfortunately, a lack of respect. And changing this, changing the narrative of sexuality for the older generation, is hard. It is hard but not impossible.  

 

If we accept that generations will never change, then Greta is fighting for nothing. The BLM movement is shouting at walls, and Malala might as well give up. If we accept that, just because it’s a new concept, it won’t be understood by certain age groups, we’re not only doing a disservice to ourselves but also to every other generation too. 

 

Pride is not just a celebration. It is the best educational tool for people who are lacking information, empathy and understanding. Ireland celebrated its first Pride week in 1979. It began to highlight the oppression of the LGBTQI+ community in Ireland; but over time, it grew into so much more than that. Pride month became a time for people to be proud of who they were. It was time, given to people, to be proud of who they were. A celebration of love and bravery and just an openness to being your true self.

 

“Pride month every year encourages people to come out. Pride month every year gives people comfort in knowing that there are others who are struggling with their sexuality, just as they are.” 

Every year, it paints towns and cities all colours of the rainbow. Every year it brings awareness to the mental health struggles of people in the LGBTQI+ community. Every year, it is spreading the message of love. Having the courage to love who you love and be who you are at your core is something that should always be celebrated. You cannot say that is not beautiful.  

 

There is beauty is being proud of who you are. There is beauty in the rainbow colours people wear, and beauty in the walks of confidence throughout the parade. There is beauty in witnessing someone, who is struggling with their identity, finding Pride month as the comfort that gets them through it. There is beauty in seeing someone’s face when they finally have the courage to say, “I’m gay” or “I’m queer” or “I don’t know yet, but I’m figuring it out”. Because sexuality is spectrum, and we are all somewhere on that spectrum. 

 

At the heart of it all, Pride’s beauty lies in its celebration of all. Anyone and everyone are asked to celebrate themselves and the people they love. And though it is a big step for some people to enter into a world they do not quite understand, it is a step that will only be celebrated. So yes, people may ask you why it gets a whole month, and if they do, you can simply answer a whole month isn’t long enough to celebrate them all. The LGBTQI+ community has fought for too long and too hard to not deserve a month to celebrate their authentic selves.

 

That is the beauty of Pride. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Rachel