Protecting women from image-based sexual violence and abuse

Protecting women from image-based sexual violence and abuse

 

WOMEN

Protecting women from image-based sexual violence and abuse 

image of a phone
ellen mcveigh
15th January 2021

A couple of months ago, many women woke up feeling intensely violated and angry. A server containing thousands of nude photographs saved and shared without consent from the women in the images circulated online. This is sexual abuse.

The server was a collaborative effort by several men using Discord and other networks. Media ranged from private and paid content on OnlyFans, to screenshotted images or saved videos from social apps like Whatsapp and Snapchat. It included stolen content, non-consensual images of women sleeping or in changing rooms, images and videos sent consensually for private viewing and film-based child sexual abuse.

Cue the victim-blaming. The excuses, misogyny and degradation. For women, cue the fear, hurt, anxiety, and anger. We are all affected by the leak, whether it impacted us directly or not. This horrendous act of violence is not the fault of any woman who appeared in that folder. We live in a digital era. People will always take nudes and people will always send nudes. Often labelled “revenge porn”, the term does not capture the severity of the offence, implying that blame should be focused on the victim. It is never the fault of any person who has sent an intimate photograph to someone they trusted, or the fault of sex workers on private websites who have had their content stolen.

This culture of blame and entitlement is founded on the actions of perpetrators such as the men involved in this mass-scale act of violence. The absence of justice is the fault of an unconcerned, patriarchal culture and our judiciary system. Rape culture is prevalent in Ireland – violence against women and children has risen during the pandemic. There is nothing wrong with sexual expression and expecting respect; there is everything wrong with passing-on an intimate photograph, without the consent of the person in it.

When the scandal broke in November last year, image-based sexual abuse was not a criminal offence under Irish legislation. There was no penalty under Irish law, no consequence for harmful misogyny. It was not illegal for someone to share an image of me, a woman, online without my consent. There was nothing to protect me from blackmail, from attempted humiliation, from the unjust job losses that became a reality for women in the past. But speak out against the abuser? Well, that was defamation.

 

There is nothing wrong with sexual expression and expecting respect; there is everything wrong with passing-on an intimate photograph, without the consent of the person in it.”

 

The HSE had encouraged phone, internet or “cybersex” instead of face-to-face physical contact amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, there was zero protection from the law. The fallout of mental health issues lands on the overstretched charities who work tirelessly fighting for change, for issues that require more than simply a legislative shift.

The publication of private images, videos and other content is an ultimate breach of privacy, trust, bodily autonomy and consent. Ireland has consistently failed to protect women and children, instead protecting abusers and criminals. Fighting against overt expressions of abuse is the beginning – further action must be taken toward dismantling and challenging the unhealthy, toxic attitudes toward women and sex ingrained in so many people’s psyches.

On the 17th of December 2020, under pressure following public and political outrage, the Harassment, Harmful Communication and Other Related Offences Act was passed in the Dáil. The law is welcome and long overdue; but concerns remain. As it stands, the statute of limitations is two years after the photo was taken, which urgently needs amendment to “after discovery”. Photos can be shared for years before victims become aware of its existence, as proven in this large-scale case at the end of 2020. This is a conversation for everyone, that does not end with legislation.

As a society, we need to educate young people and provide better sex education. Reports suggested 500 men were on the server. Much more presumably knew about it and said nothing. Many exist in separate group chats, where this behaviour is common. More are complicit in enabling this violence, by viewing the content and staying silent. By not calling out this behaviour, by not leaving these forums and group chats, by holding onto images they should have deleted previously.

Sharing private images in an attempt to humiliate or degrade adult women who are comfortable with their bodies, is a pathetic and desperate attempt at ego inflation. A short-term and feeble hit that comes with having a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense. The act is not about sex; it is about violence, power and control. This is a conversation ALL men need to have with each other and something that every individual should reflect on.

We all have mothers, sisters, partners and friends. But respect and consent should not only be understood by men in context to their own lives. These dehumanising attitudes and behaviours serve no purpose in the progressive Ireland we tirelessly fight to build. Do your part in ending the violence. It has no place in society.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jonah Pettrich on Unsplash

 

 

 
Ireland’s poor treatment of women is a cross-border problem requiring cross-border solutions

Ireland’s poor treatment of women is a cross-border problem requiring cross-border solutions

WOMEN

Ireland’s poor treatment of women is a cross-border problem requiring cross-border solutions

mass grave found at Tuam, Co. Galway
ellen mcveigh

14th January 2021

 

We are still only in the first weeks of 2021, but we have already seen enough to put anyone off being a woman in Ireland. In the Republic, on the 12th January the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation report was published, which included the findings that many women were ‘taunted’ when giving birth because of their unmarried status, and the shocking fact that 9,000 children, or 1 in 7, died in the 18 institutions which were investigated. North of the border, on the 5th January, Amnesty International UK called out the failure of the NI health services to adequately fund abortion services which have been legal there since early last year. This came after the news that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust had been forced to stop referrals to their early medical abortion services due to the failure of the Department of Health to commission and fund abortion services. In that same week, the BBC reported that more than 700 women in Northern Ireland were being contacted regarding contraceptive implants which may have been incorrectly inserted.

 

            The coronavirus pandemic, while also creating a public health crisis like nothing we have ever seen, has unearthed so many underlying issues in our society. One of the most important and perhaps most unpredictable aspects was the overwhelming need for cross-border co-operation. This conversation came to the fore in recent years due to a deadly virus which does not recognise national borders, and through Brexit debates which stressed the chaos of a hard border in Ireland. Irish feminists are one group of many, for whom operating across the border is nothing new. In the second half of the 20th century, as second- wave feminism was gaining momentum across the world, Irish women were utilising the fact that they could move, with relative ease, between two different states with varying degrees of rights for women. In 1971, when contraception was illegal in the south but mostly legal in the North of Ireland, activists from Belfast carried large amounts of contraception on a so-called ‘contraception train’ to Dublin,to protest this inequity in women’s rights across the island. Almost 50 years later, after the referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Irish constitution passed overwhelmingly, hundreds of activists crossed the border to march with activists from the North, who were still fighting for abortion access.

 

 

 

“The liberation of women in Ireland has always been a 32 county issue, and will continue to require cross-border momentum and cooperation.”

 

 

 

While abortion is now, theoretically, available across the entire island, similar obstacles to access are cropping up on both sides of the border. Geographical disparity of availability, individual discrepancies in services offered, as well as deliberate misinformation and intimidation from anti-abortion activists; are issues faced by women across the island in their pursuit of abortion services. The treatment of women, and the fights for gender equality across Ireland, are often mirrored on either side of the border. While the shocking content of the Mother and Baby Homes report was published in the Republic this week, Amnesty International UK, alongside survivors, have renewed their calls for a similar inquiry into the conditions in mother and baby homes within Northern Ireland, calls which have been ignored by Stormont since 2013. While it does not appear to be a failure on the same scale, the story about the contraceptive implants in NI has the worrying undertones of the 2018 CervicalCheck cancer scandal, in which over 100 women were not informed of the revised results of their smear tests, 17 of which had died before the scandal broke.

 

In that same year, two court cases on either side of the border stirred up huge waves of protest across the country. In March 2018, the four men involved in the Ulster Rugby rape trial were found not guilty by the courts in Belfast, and ‘I Believe Her’ protests sprung up on social media and across the country. Many expressed outrage both at the sexist attitudes reflected in the men’s Whatsapp conversations, and the treatment of the young woman in the court, who faced days of cross-examination, with her bloodied underwear held up as evidence. While people were still reeling from the outcome of the Belfast trial, in November 2018, a similar case in Cork reignited conversation and protest across Ireland. The similarities did not go unnoticed, a man accused of raping a 17 year old girl was found not guilty, and again the young woman’s underwear was shown in court, in an attempt to show her consent.

 

The list could go on forever, the names of women who have been failed by both governments live on in many of our memories. Savita Halappanavar, Dara Quigley, Vicky Phelan, Sarah Ewart, Ann Lovett, and many more. While the idea of getting on a bus to attend a protest is a distant memory, we know that social media is and always will be a great tool for protest, particularly across borders. The liberation of women in Ireland has always been a 32 county issue, and will continue to require cross-border momentum and cooperation.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Auguste Blanqui

 
 

 

The Glow West Podcast with Dr. Caroline West

The Glow West Podcast with Dr. Caroline West

VIDEO

The Glow West Podcast with Dr. Caroline West

sustainable fashion - second hand september
ARIANNA STEWART - stand news

Arianna Stewart

11th January 2021

Featured Photo by Sophia Finucane

Book Review: Revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale

Book Review: Revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale

ARTS + CULTURE

Book Review: Revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale

women in costumes from The Handmaid's Tale sitting by The Lincoln Memorial
parisa
Parisa Zangeneh

8th January 2021

 

I first tried to read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was 18 or 19 and on a break from university. I couldn’t get through it, in part because it was too hard for me to handle how mean the women in the book were to each other. In the years between that stage of my life and the present, I avoided it as much as possible, though it was everywhere – in bookstores, on television, and more recently, on Netflix. In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election in the US, I suddenly became interested in reading it, because I felt that it was time to delve into what was really going on beneath the surface.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is also one of the creepiest. The most striking reason for the book’s creepiness is obvious: the United States has descended into a civil war, and the Republic of Gilead has taken over. Those who have not managed to flee are forced to remain in Gilead to assume new social roles, which in part are defined by their sex. While the book focuses on women, it also raises issues that affect the sexual and reproductive rights of non-binary and transgender people. The book’s intersecting and intertwining themes are many: repression on the basis of sex; social caste; envy, scorn, condescension, and cruelty between women on the basis of their fertility levels and/or ability to bear children; government surveillance; militarization of society; lack of due process, etc.

 

 

“It is increasingly important to remember that the progress we have made has been hard-won.”

 

Margaret Atwood, the author, says that she drew inspiration for the novel from Dutch religious iconography. I was a bit surprised by this, because I had automatically associated the book’s plot – revolution, the regression of women’s rights, forced coverages of their bodies with clothes, repressed and controlled sexualities – with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. For me, the parallels between this book, the timing of the book, and the 1979 Iranian revolution are undeniable. The parallels between them, the themes, and my life are also undeniable as well. At times, the book was traumatic for me personally to read, as I saw a lot of myself in the main character and a lot of the repression that she experienced in my own life. The main character, Offred, lives as a concubine as one of the Handmaids in the Republic of Gilead. As readers, we know that prior to her life in the new social order, she had a husband and daughter and that her mother was a feminist who was active in the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

 

One of the book’s main themes is the oppression of women on the basis of their reproductive capabilities. This theme is of relevance to today’s society. It is increasingly important to remember that the progress we have made has been hard-won. I think that most young women and girls in the United States and the West do not know enough of what it is to be completely oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capabilities to empathize with the women’s rights movement of previous generations. I also do not think that most women and girls are aware of the threat that is posed to their rights, personal and collective, not only by patriarchy, but by the militarization of patriarchy.

 

Most young women and girls today, at least in the West, have grown up with relatively liberalized identities and practices regarding sexual identity, gender, and access to birth control. These are all positive things. Thankfully, many young women and people with uteruses have not had to get through a large number of the difficult and dangerous experiences that come from being oppressed and at times having your life threatened on the basis of your sexual reproductive abilities. For example, many of us are now able to take some things for granted, such as having access to birth control, having access to abortion, and not being forced into an arranged marriage. Perhaps most importantly, access to birth control has allowed younger generations to avoid a grim fate: being a young, unwed mother who is left with a baby after the child’s father and potentially family refuse to accept responsibility for the child – and here in Ireland, being pushed into one of the Mother and Baby Homes, or the Magdalene Laundries.

 

The book was first published in the 1980s, which provides a different point of reference for the book, though stunningly, it is still just as resonant and relevant today as it was then. Offred’s mother is portrayed as being openly in favor of women, but she appreciates Luke, her son-in-law, who participates in household chores and in other domestic activities. It is important to remember that many men, even baby boomers and men of my generation, still expect their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and even nieces and cousins to clean up after them, to do all the cooking and cleaning, and to defer to their inherently superior judgment on all matters. We have come far since the 1980s, but not far enough.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Victoria Pickering

 
 

 

We must be committed to addressing child labour

We must be committed to addressing child labour

OPINION

We must be committed to addressing child labour

child labour
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

10th December 2020

Child labour is an issue that is now commonly looked at from a human rights perspective, but this has not always been the case. Until the late 1980s, there was almost no discussion of the idea of freedom from child labour as a human right, and no operation programmes in place to address the issue of child labour. Rather, it was regarded as inevitable in much of the world due to economic circumstances. This changed in 1989 when the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted. The Convention’s ratification created an environment for the discussion on child labour to take place openly in international institutions such as the International Labour Organization (ILO).

 

Child labour is usually defined as work which deprives children of their potential and dignity and is harmful to their physical and mental development. Within the ILO, the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) was instrumental in informing the development of the Convention on the worst forms of child labour. They did this through research, information dissemination and implementation activities. IPEC work was grounded in the Conventions and development of decent work. It involved many stakeholders adhering to the tripartite approach which the ILO takes – including member states, workers’ organizations, and employers’ organisations. The projects taken on by IPEC aimed to ensure the best interest of the child and bring visibility to the widespread and harmful nature of child labour.

 

The ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour has become the only labour law Convention in the world to be universally ratified by all member states. Its universality is the result of long and persistent work undertaken by the ILO, IPEC and many NGOs, and sends a signal to all states that there is a global consensus that these forms of child labour are unacceptable. When children are in slavery, forced labour and trafficking, are forced to participate in armed conflict, and are used for prostitution or in hazardous work, action is immediately and urgently required. The ILO Convention’s ratification means that the elimination of child labour is firmly rooted as one of the fundamental principles and rights at work.

 

However, ratification does not equal elimination. This is clear from comments from ILO supervision on the Convention. For instance, in Angola, there is an emphasis in the report on children still working in the informal economy. The informal economy consists of independent, self-employed and small-scale producers and distributors who are not generally covered by the country’s labour laws and regulations. Countries still need to enforce and ensure implementation of the Convention is effective through inspection and clear legal frameworks. In New Zealand, hazardous work was found to exist for children under 18 which contravenes the Convention. This meant that in 2006 about 300 children under 15 years old visited the doctor for a work-related injury.

 

The Covid-19 crisis, however, puts the achievements that have been made in the prevention of child labour at risk, increasing economic insecurity and affecting many low-income families.

The other major convention on child labour is the Minimum Age Convention. This Convention, in contrast, is not universally ratified, meaning that not all countries have signed both Conventions – this can be problematic in tackling child labour holistically. This Convention is in place to achieve the abolition of child labour by prescribing minimum wages for work. National policy must also be designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour, but there is flexibility in the Convention. For example, Article 8 allows for an exception for artistic performances of children, with safeguards as permits are needed to limit the number of hours and prescribe the conditions of work.

 

This exception has not kept pace with the recent development of the child influencer. Ryan Kaji, one of the top child influencers, has been placed as one of Youtube’s top earners with a fortune of $26 million. These child influencers do not have prescribed conditions and hours of work. People argue that this is not child labour as it does not involve work, and the children are enjoying themselves. The reality is that for a lot of children work is involved. They are brand ambassadors, have paid sponsorships and are considered by brands as influencers. These child influencers are working without protection, and have fallen outside the international labour law protections. This precarity is being looked at by countries such as France which has introduced new legislation to protect young child influencers. This new legislation aims to regulate the hours under-16-year-olds can work online and what happens to their earnings. This legislation should also start a conversation in the ILO on campaigns that need to be initiated to ensure that child labour laws around the world remain in tune with reality.

 

The Covid-19 crisis, however, puts the achievements that have been made in the prevention of child labour at risk, increasing economic insecurity and affecting many low-income families. As a result, the root causes of child labour such as poverty are likely to be exacerbated. The closure of schools and a significant loss of parents’ income may amount to an increase in child labour. IPEC has been examining solutions to this problem, such as raising awareness, supporting countries, providing education to adapt to the new situation and advocating for the prolongation of socio-economic measures to strengthen national budgets for vulnerable populations. Social dialogue should be something which is prioritised in providing solutions to these issues. The children and families who will be most affected by the pandemic should be listened to. While governments ultimately create public policies, other voices are needed to shape these policies and ensure nobody is getting left behind. As 2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, the is ILO planning to raise awareness of the issue to accelerate progress and eliminate child labour in all its forms. This is welcome news; high labour standards and protection from the worst forms of child labour are needed, now more than ever, to prevent the entrenchment of even deeper inequality.

 

 

Featured photo by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

 
 

 

Toxic Gender Stereotypes and the Impact of Socialisation

Toxic Gender Stereotypes and the Impact of Socialisation

 WOMEN

Toxic Gender Stereotypes and the Impact of Socialisation

gender stereotypes
lydia howard Chevalier
Lydia Howard Chevalier

30th November 2020

We witness gender stereotypes every day, but how many of us truly notice? How much of it is so ingrained into our culture and psyche that we are simply blind to it? If you are now asking yourself these questions, then perhaps that proves the point; this is, in fact, the exact purpose of stereotypes. They are a form of unconscious bias which allows us to make sense of the world around us by categorising everything we see – from gender to sexuality and race. They usually serve a useful function by providing us with mental shortcuts to spare us any unnecessary cognitive effort; however, they are often detrimental and limiting when we, or indeed others, do not conform to these straightforward dichotomies. If individuals are not properly informed about gender, sex and stereotypes they can fall into some dangerous traps in the course of their lives and may suffer discrimination, sexual violence or harassment, poor mental and physical health and poor academic or career prospects.

 

Firstly, what exactly is gender and how is it different to sex? What are gender stereotypes? Sex is biological and refers to an individual’s physical characteristics such as the genitalia and chromosomes they were born with; it does not determine a person’s gender identity. Gender, on the other hand, is a personal, private feeling of one’s own identity and is socially constructed based on self-perception, expression and behaviour. The difference between the two is key to understanding the issue of gender stereotypes and the resulting gender-based discrimination. Gender stereotyping is an overgeneralisation of the differences between certain groups based on their characteristics or attributes, and they serve to reinforce the idea that each gender and the behaviours associated with it are binary.

 

This is too simplistic and not reflective of reality; gender identity and sexuality exist on a spectrum, and stereotypes create a disconnect in the minds of those observing the behaviour of a particular individual when, in an attempt to ascertain their gender, they perceive the behaviour as not in line with what they expect. This can lead to discrimination and unfair treatment across various aspects of an individual’s life – in the workplace, the military or when accessing healthcare, for example. Gender stereotypes can also influence a young person’s classroom experience and subject choice; in an Institute for Physics study, only 7% of engineering apprenticeships (a stereotypically male career) in the UK were filled by girls, whilst only 10% of primary school teachers (stereotypically female) in Scotland were men.

 

“Gender stereotyping is an overgeneralisation of the differences between certain groups based on their characteristics or attributes, and they serve to reinforce the idea that each gender and the behaviours associated with it are binary”

Although much of the discussion surrounding gender-based discrimination is focused on women, men also suffer the consequences of unconscious bias. As the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains “by far the worst thing we do to males – by making them feel they have to be hard – is that we leave them with very fragile egos” – this quite poignantly outlines the damage ‘toxic masculinity’ can inflict. Toxic masculinity describes a set of behaviours and beliefs that can include: the suppression of emotions, the masking of distress and maintaining an appearance of hardness or stoicism. Men or boys openly expressing emotion is often viewed as a weakness or something inherently ‘feminine’. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), these beliefs have been linked to significant negative outcomes for men and boys such as aggression and violence, a disproportionately higher risk for school discipline, academic challenges, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and substance abuse. Although power, privilege and sexism often confer certain benefits to men, it can also force them into a narrow set of roles, thereby also trapping them. APA statistics confirm this effect; while men dominate society professionally and politically, they are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women (despite reporting less depression), while their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter.

 

Men who are socialised to show stoicism, dominance and aggression are also less likely to engage in healthy behaviours and show a certain reluctance towards self-care; they tend to normalise risky behaviours such as heavy drinking and using tobacco, thereby putting themselves more at risk of the consequences of such risk-taking. This can be linked to the way men are brought up – to be sufficient, independent and not express any vulnerability. The need for men to maintain a brave face and be the ‘provider’ for his family can also interact with other forms of discrimination, forming an even more toxic combination. Racial discrimination among Black men is associated with hypertension and depression – a direct result of enduring prolonged stress. Black males are also at risk of harsher punishments than those of different groups, as they are often viewed with suspicion by schools and law enforcement, as Black Lives Matter protestors will attest.

 

male affection

A Photo History of Male Affection (Art of Manliness, 2020)

The perception of gender as something inflexible is particularly detrimental to the wellbeing of transgender individuals. Whilst today there is increased awareness of the diversity of gender identity, there is still much work to be done. Men and boys who identify as gay, bisexual or transgender suffer higher levels of hostility and pressure to conform to gender norms. This can be extended to the military – in 1994 President Clinton introduced the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy which permitted gay men, bisexuals and lesbians to serve their country, provided they remain in the closet. Whilst this was overturned by the Obama administration, President Trump not only reversed this but went one step further by instituting a complete ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, citing a rule whereby the US government pays their medical costs. Trump is quoted as saying “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Transgender individuals face economic and social marginalisation as a result of this kind of discrimination – many have been fired, lost their homes or are unable to access the healthcare they need.

 

In their article ‘Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection’, Brett and Kate McKay outline the painful shift in gender stereotypes and norms that has taken place over the last century which has led to the decline of the expression of affection between close male friends. Society has now sexualised simple gestures of companionship such as holding hands and hugging, with many men reluctant to engage in these behaviours for fear of being labelled ‘gay’. Before the 20th century, same-sex sexuality was thought of simply as something you did, not something you were. However, this attitude soon shifted from being a practise to a lifestyle and finally, an identity. Many psychiatrists and ministers viewed it as a mental illness and something to be strongly discouraged. Thus, it became stigmatised. The McKay article reveals a beautiful photographic display of affection between men, the likes of which we no longer witness in our modern, hyper-sexualised society. One of the reasons these male friendships were so intense was because socialisation was highly segregated by sex, therefore men spent most of their time with other men, likewise with women.

 

male affection

A Photo History of Male Affection (Art of Manliness, 2020)

Gender norms also affect women in various detrimental ways. The ‘purity culture’ is just one example. This occurs when a woman is taught that her value lies solely in her sexual purity and virginity. This has very real consequences, as Elizabeth Smart can attest. After being kidnapped, repeatedly raped and incarcerated, Smart, who had a religious upbringing, says she began to understand why others wouldn’t even try to escape, as she felt worthless. She believed that she had nothing to offer society if she was ‘sexually impure’. Our society perpetuates many double standards – men often get a free pass for their sexual behaviour, while women are judged and earn a negative reputation. Women who display any sexual agency or carry condoms in their purse are branded ‘sluts’. This occurs despite the fact that women are socialised to ‘control the brakes’ of sexual responsibility; there is little mention of the male agency.

 

The fashion industry, although mainly targeted at women, has its foundations in the gratification of the male gaze. Strict school dress codes and rules governing the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt combine to reinforce the patriarchal control over a woman’s body. The strict grooming and fashion guidelines enforced by airlines for their female cabin crew contribute to the idea of air stewardesses being a part of the service the airline provides for its customers, a way of keeping the ‘mile-high club’ fantasy alive by putting women on display for consumption. The use of clothing to discriminate against and control women is also prevalent in legal circles too – how many times have we witnessed an item of women’s clothing being used as evidence by the defence in a rape/sexual assault trial? When used in this way, clothing and the fashion industry becomes a means of victim-blaming. Also worth noting is the controversy in France over the banning of the burkini and the continued politicisation of women’s bodies in the public sphere.

 

An interesting perspective on gender norms and stereotypes is the Irish nationalists’ use of women as a means of establishing a sense of identity, of nationhood and ‘Irishness’. Arthur Griffith once said ‘all of us know that Irish women are the most virtuous in the world’. A woman’s virtue was henceforth inextricably tied up with the concept of nationhood, burdening women with the task of being guardians and upholders of virtue in the home. In an attempt to differentiate and distinguish an ‘Irish identity’ from their ‘morally corrupt’ former British colonisers, it has been argued that church and state collaborated to impose a strict set of Catholic social mores and values which subjected women to intense scrutiny of their sexuality and social behaviour. Unmarried mothers were stigmatised for ‘bringing shame’ on the family and many of them were incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries where they suffered horrific physical, verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of the nuns and clergy, even if their pregnancies were the result of rape. Such women were exploited and treated like slaves while their babies were forcefully (and illegally) adopted. There did not exist any male equivalent of a Magdalene Laundry for the fathers of so-called illegitimate children; in fact, until 1998, adoption law in Ireland did not even address the issue of unmarried fathers’ consent at all – they were either absolved of all parental responsibility or they were not regarded as parents at all.

 

“Arthur Griffith once said ‘all of us know that Irish women are the most virtuous in the world’. A woman’s virtue was henceforth inextricably tied up with the concept of nationhood, burdening women with the task of being guardians and upholders of virtue in the home”

Whilst the #MeToo movement has done much to raise awareness of gender-based discrimination, sexual violence and gender pay-gap, society still has a long way to go. There is a huge issue with sexual assault prevention programmes/strategies – they are simply too little, too late. They often take the form of educational classes on college campuses or workplace seminars; however, according to the CDC, 43.2% of women who have been raped or suffered rape attempts were actually attacked before they were aged 18. This suggests we need to take action much sooner. One significant risk factor for a person becoming a sexual predator is the belief in and adherence to conventional gender stereotypes. This can be offset by starting the education process early – gender stereotyping begins very early on in life, with many parents-to-be hosting gender reveal parties, dressing their new-born baby girls in pink and infant boys being bombarded with toy trucks. During the teen years, male gender stereotypes start to incorporate ideas of dominance and aggression, while female norms centre around sexuality and attractiveness. By encouraging toddlers and young children to engage in cross-gender interactions such as play-dates, attending mixed-sex schools and participating in mixed-gender sports, we can help to reduce these stereotypes and prevent children from internalising rigid and unrealistic gender norms which may limit their opportunities and quality of life.

 

 

Featured photo by Freepik