Sexism wins gold at the 2020 Olympic Games

Sexism wins gold at the 2020 Olympic Games

Sexism wins gold at the 2020 Olympic Games

female olympic athletes
Ciara Phelan

27th August 2021


After a year-long delay, the ever-raging coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of spectators in stadiums, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were far from normal. However, this year has also seen a shift in the attitudes of the Olympians, and for the first time ever, female athletes have made it clear that they have not been happy with what was once considered the norm, and are taking a stand to change the Olympics, and international sports, forever. 


One of the ways in which sporting federations have failed to address inequalities in sports is through the continued sexualisation of women’s uniforms. The Olympics are not the only villains in this story, with almost every national and international sporting organisation holding questionable rules surrounding the uniforms worn by both male and female competitors. All of these discrepancies surrounding the tightness and shortness of women’s uniforms combine to make these athletes as sexually marketable as possible.  


In 2004, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter suggested women soccer players wear “tighter shorts” than their male counterparts in order to attract more viewers. Similarly, the Badminton World Federation tried to pass a new rule in which women could only wear skirts or dresses to play at an elite level, with no regard for the actual functionality for this new uniform. The reasoning was “to ensure attractive presentation” and increase interest.  


Arbitrary rules like this are still commonplace in sports, with the Norwegian women’s beach handball team being fined €1,500 by the European Handball Association’s Disciplinary Commission for “improper clothing” as they refused to wear bikini bottoms to compete in the Euro 2021 tournament. The team instead wore thigh-length elastic shorts, which are still several inches shorter than the looser fitting shorts worn by their male counterparts. This news caused such a stir internationally that singer P!NK has since offered to pay the fine for the team, and has also spoken out about the sexist rules within the sport. 


Similarly, the German women’s gymnastics team took a stand and wore full-length unitards, covering their thighs and lower legs, as opposed to the usual unitards worn by competitors. These full-length suits are customary for men to wear, but these women were outliers in their field as they chose to let their athleticism shine through and not their body shape. Sarah Voss, a member of the German gymnastics team, explained the decision when she said that “when puberty began, when my period came, I began feeling increasingly uncomfortable [wearing the tight gym outfits]” and that she hopes that her decision will encourage other gymnasts to wear what they feel comfortable in. The sexualisation of women’s gymnastics uniforms also has a severely negative impact on the perceived intensity of their sport. Sports writer and author Kavitha Davidson, put it perfectly when she said that “At least in the [United] States, the most prominent faces [in gymnastics] like Simone Biles are women who wear leotards, who wear makeup, and that defies what people might want to point to as toughness or as a dangerous sport.”  


Similarly, gymnast Suni Lee amazed the world when she won the all-around gold medal with lash extensions and a set of acrylic nails applied. The fact that she completed a gold-medal routine without even so much as breaking a nail is insanely impressive in itself, but we must think critically about the society we live in, in which a world class athlete felt it necessary to compete with these additional obstacles in the name of appealing to the unattainable beauty standard expected of women. 


Jaime Schultz, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies the intersection of sex, gender, and sexuality in women’s sports epitomises the overlying issue when she said “Women athletes—we can’t win for losing … You’re either too sexy or you’re not sexy enough or you should cover up or you should show more or you should talk about mental health or you shouldn’t talk about it. You should be superhuman but don’t be too human. It’s just a range of issues that I think women athletes have to deal with, and especially women athletes of colour, that mere mortals like us can’t understand.” 


Another way in which women are diminished in the sporting world is the questioning of their femininity.”

Another way in which women are diminished in the sporting world is the questioning of their femininity. There are many ways in which athletes can have a biological advantage over their competitors, such as genetics, levels of various hormones, mentality, training, nutrition, recovery times, and even factors as simple as how the athlete feels in the morning, compared to their competitors. There is a fixation on testosterone levels by the regulatory bodies, and an indifference towards other characteristics that could be equally as unfair. 


Take for example, Michael Phelps. Phelps is a swimmer and is currently the most decorated Olympian in history, winning a total of 28 medals during his career. Phelps has exceptionally long arms, giving him a longer wingspan. He also has double-jointed elbows and large hands, which act like paddles. Phelps also has double-jointed ankles, giving him 15 per cent more ankle bend than his rivals, and large size-14 feet, which act as flippers. He also has an extremely high lung capacity – almost twice that of an average human – and produces half the lactic acid of his competitors, meaning that he recovers from gruelling training sessions far faster than others. In a nutshell, Phelps won the genetic motherlode, and this has been celebrated throughout his incredible career. 


In contrast, let’s take a look at Caster Semenya. Although she does not speak about it publicly, it is believed that Semenya has an intersex condition, meaning that her body allegedly produces testosterone at a higher level than most women. In 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that if Semenya wanted to continue to compete, she would be required to take medications to lower it.  


Similarly, two other South African runners, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were forced to withdraw from the 400-meter race in this year’s Tokyo Olympics, after a medical examination showed that the two women have high testosterone levels. This overemphasis on the powers of testosterone is outdated, and only serves to fuel stereotypes regarding the levels at which men and women compete. Phelps’ natural biological variation is celebrated rather than regulated, while Semenya’s, Mboma’s and Masiling’s are all vilified. 


The irony of the unfolding situation is the progress that the International Olympic Committee released a statement on International Women’s Day, stating that this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games will be landmarks in gender equality, and will be strides towards a more inclusive society. It will be the most gender balanced games in history, with 49 per cent of the participants being women. They have also edited the scheduling, in order to ensure equal visibility of men’s and women’s events, and also includes more mixed events than ever before. However, this potential is undermined when gendered microaggressions present these athletes with hurdles to overcome, that ultimately have nothing to do with their athletic abilities. The point of the Olympics should not be to see who can most successfully navigate the toxic rules of a regulation that out of step with the modern world, but rather to award the passion, dedication, and strength of these humans.  




Featured photo by Nicolas Hoizey

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex


Portraying women in the media

Portraying women in the media

Portraying women in the media

pile of women's magazines
charlotte waldron

26th August 2021


It’s difficult to define Britney Spears. Despite this, the media have tried to in the past and continue to do so.  Innocent, virginal, slutty, an unfit mother, crazy! Before the Free Britney Movement came to the fore, very few questioned the labels that were placed upon her.  After her public breakdown in 2007, she was deemed unstable and was never really redefined in our eyes.  To say Britney is crazy is uncomplicated and requires little reflection. Yet, this view allowed Britney’s conservator to take control of her life, despite her early protestations, while the world stood idly by. The New York Times’ Free Britney documentary and its incredible account of the role of the media in her life left me wondering how women are defined by the media today and if anything has changed in the years since Britney’s “breakdown”. 


Even in 2021, many women continue to be defined by the media in a one-dimensional way. Some are sexualised to sell papers with recent headlines such as “Demi forgot her clothes” or “Kendall Jenner sizzles in barely-there thong” coming to mind. While these women are undoubtedly consenting to this exposure and at times benefitting from it, society at large suffers negative consequences as a result of this portrayal of women purely as sex objects. As people like the Kardashians are over-sexualised, some women are vilified, creating a narrative that can be used time and time again. Celebrities such as Taylor Swift have been portrayed as slutty, while men who have had many relationships never get associated with this term. Meghan Markle is constantly portrayed by the British media as difficult and manipulative. This simplistic, one-dimensional portrayal of women in tabloid media makes it easier for us to consume but it has real world consequences.  


The effects of the one-dimensional coverage of women are profound. Sometimes similar stories are handled differently. Undoubtedly, society at large suffers from women being so singularly defined by the media. 


The contrasting ways newspapers covered abuse allegations against Caroline Flack and Ryan Giggs highlights how similar stories can be handled differently by the mass media. Flack was vilified from the outset, with headlines such as “Flack’s bedroom blood bath” appearing in media coverage. She was made out as a deranged, violent woman who beat her boyfriend with a lamp, allegations he expressly denied. The “blood bath” referred to was from Flack herself engaging in self harm, yet tabloids still sensationalised the event, casting doubt over whether the blood was hers and likening it to a scene from a horror movie. Her boyfriend, clearly perplexed at the misleading nature of the coverage was quoted at the time as saying “Can everyone stop now?”. He, more than anyone, saw the devastating effect the sensationalised coverage was having on her mental health and its role in her subsequent suicide.  


Ryan Giggs has been treated differently in the aftermath of the allegations of abuse that surfaced against him, with the BBC running the headline “Ryan Giggs denies assault allegations after arrest.” This appeared to highlight his proclamation of innocence and not the allegedly violent abuse suffered by his partner. When Giggs could no longer fulfil his role as Wales manager owing to the charges against him, the Sun declared that he still planned to help Wales in their Euro soccer bid on an informal basis. The level and nature of the coverage received by Giggs was incomparable to that of Caroline Flack. While Caroline was vilified again and again by the British press labelled a violent abuser despite protestations from her partner that what had happened was being mischaracterised, the coverage of Giggs highlights his willingness to “clear his name” despite ample evidence of his guilt.  


“When the media furthers the perception of women as sex objects, that has knockon consequences throughout the society.”

So why does one-dimensional coverage of women in media matter? Newspapers and magazines inform people’s views and opinions. It affects how we as society see women unconsciously. When the media furthers the perception of women as sex objects, that has knock-on consequences throughout society. In Women Aid’s recent project ‘It’s time to flip the sexist script,’ they highlight how the sexual objectification of women “underpins domestic abuse” and furthers the belief in some men that they own their partner. While this is an extreme consequence of objectification, it is not the only one. Defining women so narrowly in news and entertainment media perpetuates stereotypes that continue to permeate throughout society with women more frequently defined as crazy or diva-like, while these terms are not commonly associated with men.   


Women can be sexy, slutty, demanding and difficult – but so can men. Defining female celebrities so singularly in tabloid media is dangerous. For Britney, it inflicted untold pain, as the narrative around her was changed and sensationalised by the press. The coverage around women should reflect all of the nuances and imperfections that come with being a person, not caricatures solely defined by a characteristic from which it is easy to create a narrative. Britney cannot be defined so singularly, just like women all over the world cannot be defined by one or two labels. It’s time all media coverage starts reflecting this, and women start demanding it. 




Featured photo by Charisse Kenion

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex


Empowering women through female rap music

Empowering women through female rap music

Empowering women through female rap music

smiling woman taking notes and listening to music
Kate Bisogno

4th August 2021


Since its inception in the 1970s, the hip-hop industry has been inarguably male-dominated, yet women have consistently played a significant role in the development of its culture. Icons Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot paved the way for contemporary artists such as Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat, who have changed the narrative surrounding women in rap today. Figures like these are beginning to shift a culture that for decades has been criticised for its over-sexualisation of women. The recent increase in the popularity of female rap through platforms such as Tiktok has led listeners to view the music as both empowering and progressive. However, many still argue that the sexual and arguably aggressive lyrics of women in the industry further perpetuate the misogynistic connotations of hip-hop. Regardless of the stance that one may take on the topic, it seems as though there is an undeniable depth to our beloved hot girl summer anthems.


Men within the hip-hop industry have fuelled misogyny through lyrics which both objectify and over-sexualise women, facing little backlash. Yet when female artists discuss similar topics, they receive rather extreme reactions. These double standards were evident when Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion joined forces to create the unforgettable anthem WAP. The internet exploded with both criticism and praise for the duo. In response to the backlash, Megan stated that “some people just don’t know what to do when a woman is in control and taking ownership of her own body.” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion had completely reversed the narrative. Not only were they speaking about sexuality in a manner that had, for the most part, been exclusively associated with men, it was even said that the lyrics ‘objectified men’, causing many to acknowledge how it may feel for women to listen to the degrading lyrics of many male artists. 


The empowering hits continued with the release of Megan Thee Stallion’s debut studio album Good News in late 2020, featuring icons such as Beyoncé and SZA. Saweetie and Doja Cat kicked off 2021 by promoting female independence with their single Best Friend, highlighting the importance of women supporting one another, rather than falling victim to the toxicity of comparison – another ideology that is intrinsically linked to the male portrayal of women through media.


“The notion that there can only be one woman at the top is beginning to dissolve as we witness new female faces rise to stardom in the industry.”

Although women within the hip-hop scene are no strangers to public abuse, their overwhelming success and praise is indisputable. The notion that there can only be one woman at the top is beginning to dissolve as we witness new female faces rise to stardom in the industry. Long-time favourites such as Nicki Minaj and newcomers like City Girls receive similar levels of success to their male counterparts which speaks volumes to the growing female presence within the industry.


Instead of condemning male rappers, these artists are turning the tables and using the sexualisation of women to their advantage. Through female rap, women are given the option to reclaim power over their sexuality and obtain a new sense of confidence. To denounce this fact would be to silence one of a woman’s innate powers. Why should women be shamed for expressing their sexuality in a way that men have been doing for decades? A woman is a multifaceted being. Female rap incorporates both a woman’s female and masculine energies simultaneously. Yes, women can listen to Taylor Swift and feel all their feelings, but we can also channel a healthy inner aggression that resides in many of us by aligning ourselves with the shameless energies of Flo Milli or Rico Nasty. The women of the hip-hop industry are reversing the narrative. Instead of being silenced while men profit off of female sexuality, they are using it to empower both themselves and others.




Featured photo by Soundtrap

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex


How domestic abuse scares its victims into silence

How domestic abuse scares its victims into silence

How domestic abuse scares its victims into silence

woman in darkness with hands on her face
anastasiya stand news

27th July 2021


Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people and families have been confined to their homes for extended periods of time as part of government-mandated lockdowns. Across the globe, this has worsened conditions within volatile households and relationships. Aoibhneas, an Irish support group for women and children victimised by domestic abuse, recorded an increase of 125% in calls to their national helpline from March to August 2020. An Garda Síochána also confirmed to the Irish Examiner in March 2021 that domestic assaults had increased by almost a quarter over the last 12 months. Behind all of these figures lies a face, a life, a story – a woman.


Irene is a Ukrainian-born Zumba instructor, nutritionist, and fitness model. She is a single mother of two, who emigrated to Ireland with her then-husband in 2005. Irene bravely came forward to speak about her experience with domestic abuse, as she would like to serve as an inspiration to women suffering in similar situations.


Irene is very open about her story, although it is evident that the memory still affects her greatly. Her story began in 1997 when she met her ex-husband. The pair had only dated for a year before they decided to tie the knot. Irene was 18 and her ex was 21 at the time of their wedding. Irene recollects the wedding with a heartbreaking expression.


On the day of their wedding, her father-in-law came to speak with her. Irene described the experience as a strange and rather unsettling memory. Her father-in-law warned her and begged her not to marry his son. Although Irene was confused and caught off guard, she didn’t think much of his warnings and proceeded with the wedding. Irene sighs while thinking about their wedding day: “It was really embarrassing to apologize to our guests for all the times my husband swore and acted irrationally. I expected this to be the happiest moment of my life and there he was, cursing at his mother, sister, and anyone who ticked him off that day.”


“The truth is you can’t change people. I don’t regret marrying him. The only thing I can thank him for is my two daughters. I just wish I noticed the signs sooner and left before things got worse.”

Irene sits back for a while and looks at the ground before she speaks about the time her husband smashed their wedding photograph. “It was hurtful… Like, that was our wedding photograph! I knew for certain things wouldn’t work out; it was a sign! Crawling around the corridor picking up the pieces of broken glass was almost symbolic. For twelve years, I was trying my best to keep the marriage together, for the kids at least… I thought I could change him. The truth is you can’t change people. I don’t regret marrying him. The only thing I can thank him for is my two daughters. I just wish I noticed the signs sooner and left before things got worse.”


Irene shrugs at being asked why she stayed in this violent marriage for so long: “It’s hard to leave a person who is so controlling. I was scared. The other factor is that when we came to Ireland, all I had was him. I didn’t know that there were helplines I could contact; my English was very bad which also hindered my confidence. I was a bit embarrassed to leave him, divorce isn’t something my family supported. Their concern was how the children would grow up in a broken home. It’s not that easy to just up and leave!” 


Irene says, “he had really angry eyes. The first time he hit me I didn’t know what to do. When we went back to Ukraine for a vacation, I told his mother that he started physically abusing me and then showed her my fresh bruises. She just shrugged and said there was nothing she could do. For the longest time, I was too afraid to tell my own mother. I was embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that I let him treat me like that. He would often take away our Wi-Fi so that I couldn’t communicate with my mother and sister back in Ukraine. I was getting desperate and depressed. I started hating myself every time I looked in the mirror. I didn’t like the weak woman I saw before me. I started planning on how I would leave him. I contacted a woman’s shelter and my close friend. I was ready to leave.”


“I contacted the Cuan Saor Women’s Refuge & Support Service,” she says. They were suggested to me by my friend who knew about my situation.” Cuan Saor is also responsible for the #toointoyou campaign which was shared around NUI Galway last semester. Their core belief is that: “abuse against women and children must become unacceptable at every level of Irish society.”


“I no longer hate the woman looking back at me in the mirror. I know she is strong,” says Irene. “I became a Zumba instructor. I travelled half of Europe with my kids. My daughters are free to live without a verbally and physically abusive father. All I can say is that I am grateful to Ireland and the people who supported me through that difficult time.” Irene’s living room is decorated with various diplomas certifying her achievements as an instructor, as well as the many “Thank you” cards she has received from her students who are mainly women struggling with self-image and personal difficulties. 


Irene smirks, “they’re not just my students. I don’t just forget about them once I get home. They’re my Zumba family. The progress these women have made is amazing. The enthusiasm I get from my students and the progress they make during my classes make me feel like I’ve done something with my life. I was once like some of the women in my classes; unsure of myself and wanting to improve. I only hope that I continue to inspire these women and push them to reach their personal goals.” Irene became a Zumba instructor close to five years ago and throughout those years, she has had many ups and downs. Irene describes those challenges as the building blocks for the growth of her career.


“My struggles with domestic abuse and the difficulties of living in a foreign country so far from family failed to break me and my spirit,” says Irene. “Never ever submit to abuse! Never allow anybody to walk all over you! You are strong and you will get through anything, you just got to make that first step.”  


Names in this article have been changed to maintain confidentiality.


If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations may be able to help:


Cuan Saor Women’s Refuge & Support Service

Phone: 1800 576757 (24-hour helpline)


Women’s Aid

Phone: 1800 341 900 (24 hour helpline)


Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

Phone: 1800 77 8888 (24 hour helpline)



Phone: 01 867 0701 (24 hour helpline)




Featured photo by Melanie Wasser

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex


The power of small

The power of small

The power of small

two hands with intertwined little fingers
Orla Leahy

26th July 2021


There are numerous publications around the world titled “The Power of Small.” While it may have developed into somewhat of a cliché, the power of small should not be overlooked. Completing a university certified Bystander Intervention programme has illustrated to me that every day, there are millions of small but life-changing decisions made across the globe, whether or not to safely intervene.


In 2018, in the United States alone, it was estimated that 734,630 people were victims of rape according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Of those, only 25 per cent were reported to the police. The average lifetime cost for each of those victims in the US falls at just above $122,000.  It is undeniable that sexual assault and rape are seriously pressing and important global issues. In the search for solutions, we tend to jump to the biggest problem solver – how can the law be reformed to better protect victims? Sometimes, however, smaller actions can have a very worthwhile and instrumental effect.


To highlight the significance of simple actions, an advertisement was released in New Zealand in 2011, titled “Who Are You?” Although the advertisement was released 10 years ago, it is still of great relevance today.


“The flatmate ignores her clear discomfort and allows her to be led into her room by her fellow party-goer. He shuts her bedroom door with a resounding thud. But, what if the protagonist’s story didn’t end this way?”

The video begins by labelling the various characters that feature; best friend, employee, flatmate, and stranger, before depicting typical party scenes: drinking, playing games, music, and dancing. Quickly, the party group descends on a nightclub. The protagonist (and victim), a woman, begins to dance with another of the party-goers, a man. Her best friend returns from the toilets to see the protagonist looking decisively uncomfortable in his arms but leaves him to guide her to the bar for more drinks. The employee at the bar realises the protagonist’s obvious discomfort, but ignores it and serves the drinks. Eventually, the protagonist is led away by her fellow party-goer, past the stranger who notices that something is amiss but keeps to himself. Back at the protagonist’s apartment, another person, this time the protagonist’s flatmate ignores her clear discomfort and allows her to be led into her room by her fellow party-goer. He shuts her bedroom door with a resounding thud. But, what if the protagonist’s story didn’t end this way?


Suddenly, the video pauses and rewinds…the flatmate no longer stands by and watches, but thanks the protagonist’s fellow party-goer for bringing her home and offers him a blanket on the couch. The video continues to rewind, and this time the stranger outside the club does not keep to himself but alerts the bouncer who stops the party-goer from leading the protagonist any further away from the club, and offers her a taxi. Upon further rewinding, the employee asks the protagonist about her night and calls her best friend over to help her, rather than merely serve the drinks. Finally, upon returning from the toilets, the protagonist’s best friend takes her home.


This advertisement may have been released 10 years ago but its message remains the same. Simple and safe intervention can have life-changing positive consequences for victims. Positive change need not always come from the top, in the form of new and improved legislation, but it can be initiated and flourish from the small but powerful actions of every citizen.


Recently, universities around Ireland have backed the promotion of bystander intervention programmes and consent training to highlight the importance of small actions taken by citizens as I have illustrated with the advertisement above. For example, University College Cork were the first to implement a programme in 2017, in the form of a digital badge upon completion of four pre-recorded workshops, one live workshop, a number of quizzes and an assignment. University College Dublin has since implemented a compulsory anti-harassment 90 minute workshop for all incoming first year students. In 2020, Young Fine Gael called for the development of bystander intervention training in all Irish third-level institutions.


The New Zealand advertisement asks us who we are, and I ask what we can become? Well, we can become active bystanders and we can utilise the power of small as we have seen, with further development and implementation of bystander training. The only question remains, shall we?


Please note that one should only intervene where it is safe to do so.


If you have been affected by any of the content in this article, please see the following national services for support:


Women’s Aid

Phone: 1800 341 900




Men’s Aid

Phone: 01 5543811






Contact Form:

Find a Youth Group:

Phone: 01 670 6223 (this is not a helpline, so if you need to urgently speak with someone, you can find a list of helpful numbers here)


Online Chat Service:

Email: question@spunout. ie



Featured photo by Womanizer WOW Tech

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + 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


Abortion in Europe – is it really accessible?

Abortion in Europe – is it really accessible?

Abortion in Europe – is it really accessible?

female doctor dressed in medical gear
ellen mcveigh

15th July 2021

On 9th June, an open letter calling for the removal of all legal barriers to abortion access from the charity SheDecides was signed by 29 politicians, healthcare and women’s rights activists. The signatories included Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander de Croo, gender and equality ministers from France, Canada and Norway, and international development ministers from Sweden and the Netherlands. The letter called for a push to secure abortion access around the world as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affect women. “Lockdowns and pressures on health services have made it more challenging for women and girls to access essential healthcare services such as contraception, resulting in increased pregnancies and reduced access to abortion – even in countries where the procedure is safe and legal”, the letter stated. As access to abortion service is now superficially available across the island of Ireland, how do these issues play out a bit closer to home?


The letter highlighted the fact that even once abortion has been made legal, this does not always translate to it becoming freely accessible. Even when abortion appears accessible on a surface level, unnecessary obstacles can force people into a situation in which abortion is no longer an option. This includes mandatory counselling and waiting periods, lack of access to information and to telemedicine. The letter highlights the added barrier in many countries of anti-choice protestors who harass people seeking abortion services and the fact that many anti-choice groups are also powerful political lobbyists. As well as these more concrete barriers, many people seeking abortions also face huge stigma and discrimination, often exacerbated by ‘chilling effects’ caused by legal obstacles or by lack of accurate information. This idea of stigma and discrimination highlights the core of the SheDecides movement, which is that everyone should have the ability to make their own decisions about their body, and be empowered in these choices. The letter concludes with this statement: “we need a global campaign of factual and unbiased information so women and girls know their rights and have access to accurate information about their healthcare options”.


Despite the celebration this May of 3 years since we voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, people are still being forced to travel across the Irish Sea to access services that should be available at home.”

Pregnant people in Ireland know that this is the case. Despite the celebration this May of 3 years since we voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, people are still being forced to travel across the Irish Sea to access services that should be available at home. The Irish Times reported that in 2019 when abortion services became available in Ireland, 375 people travelled to the UK for an abortion. In 2021, even while a global pandemic made travel incredibly difficult, people have been forced to make this terrible journey. Claire Cullen Delsol of Terminations for Medical Reason Ireland (TFMR) told The Irish Times in May 2021 that “we have come across at least 30 people who have been forced to travel during the pandemic. They have to show that letter to strangers, who scrutinise it, asking if their reason for travelling is really essential. There have been women turned away who have had to reschedule and turn back”. Just as the SheDecides letter describes, the travel restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic have compounded the stigma and shame associated with travelling for an abortion, and added extra barriers to the access to abortion in Ireland.


In 2021, the promises of accessible abortion in Ireland have still not been fulfilled, and the pandemic has simply highlighted these inequities. The continued criminalisation of medical professionals who provide abortions creates a chilling effect on people who require a termination after 12 weeks, with the majority of those affected being people whose babies have been diagnosed with a severe foetal anomaly. TFMR are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion for medical practitioners, who they suspect are avoiding diagnosing these foetal anomalies for fear of reprisals in this grey legal area. Those who require abortions after the first 12 weeks are subjected to very strict grounds. While many of these are those requiring terminations for medical reasons, these regulations also affect those already most disadvantaged in society already. This could include those with poor access to healthcare, those unable to travel to their nearest abortion provider, younger people, often the very vulnerable people who the repeal campaign had aimed to protect. Geographical access is also spotty, with many maternity units still failing to provide abortion services. In the whole of Sligo, there are no GPs that offer abortion services.


According to a recent report sponsored by the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organisation (WHO), “there is an uneven or incomplete geographic coverage of abortion services both in the community and in hospitals, particularly in rural regions and in the west and north of Ireland.” The issue is exacerbated by the current mandatory 3-day waiting period, which for those who find it difficult to travel to access these services, or who did not realise they were pregnant until 10 or 11 weeks, this can sometimes push people over the 12-week limit.


North of the border, similar issues persist. Despite abortion services in Northern Ireland being available for just over a year, the lack of an effective strategy from the Department of Health has led to an uneven spread of services across the country. As separate health and social care trusts in NI are currently being forced to regulate their own abortion services, the South Eastern Trust were forced to withdraw these services due to lack of funding. As local abortion services are unavailable for a large proportion of people in Northern Ireland, pressure is being put on health minister Robin Swann to commission abortion services across all HSC trusts.


The possibility of accessible abortion services across Ireland was won by years of hard work and passion by grassroots activists, as well as the swathes of people who were forced to tell their difficult personal stories. As we begin to lift out of the pandemic, we cannot ignore the inequalities which this year has made so clear, and we cannot let another year go by without accessible abortion in Ireland.



Featured photo by JESHOOTS

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex


Why does queer media focus on male relationships and overlook female ones?

Why does queer media focus on male relationships and overlook female ones?

Why does queer media focus on male relationships, and overlook female ones?

two women cuddle on grass
Cliona Hallahan

14th July 2021


Pride month has just ended, and although it’s meant to be centred around love and inclusion, what would this month be without a dash of disagreement? Pride marches began as riots after all. 


This past month has been chock-a-block with online controversy following a post made on the social media app, TikTok. The discord was sparked when one user claimed that she loved the book Red, White and Royal Blue, a fictional story following the unlikely romance between the son of the U.S President and the Prince of Wales, but that she hated the novel One Last Stop by the same author – Casey McQuiston, which focused on the budding romance between two women who meet on the subway. The backlash began after the person stated that the reason she didn’t like One Last Stop was purely because it was about two women who fall in love, no other reason, however she adored the romance between two men. 


As you may guess – the internet wasn’t very happy. There has been an increasing number of posts and videos about the fetishisation of MLM (men loving men) in the media, but this post seemed to tip the scale while also highlighting the further discrimination WLW (women loving women) face. The aforementioned post has since been deleted and the creator has deactivated her account but the splash created online is still making waves. The issue here goes so much deeper than just two books, it’s that queer men and women are perceived very differently, and so, I decided to throw out some feelers and see how the LGBTQ+ community felt about this premise, and they most certainly delivered. Together, we discovered that as many things are, these perceptions are rooted not only in homophobia, but in the patriarchy.


In this patriarchal society, people are categorised in relation to their attraction to men, not their attraction to women.”

In this patriarchal society, people are categorised in relation to their attraction to men, not their attraction to women. In the polls I conducted, some participants ranked some members of the LGBTQ+ community in the levels by which the queer community are discriminated against. It indicated that some members of the community believe that gay and bisexual men are discriminated against slightly less than queer women, because they are men, and that bisexual women are discriminated against less than lesbian women, as they still have an attraction to men. Actual statistics to back this up are unclear, but even the basis that there can be different amounts of prejudice towards different LGBTQ+ people is a mark of the many microaggressions faced by people every day. Gender roles also play a major role in the perception of different people in the LGBTQ+ community. Despite the entire concept of homosexuality defying gendered stereotypes, it is easier for Western society to place ‘traditional’ gender roles on the relationships of queer men than it is with regard to queer women. Society fears that which it cannot understand, and some people not feeling the need to conform to a traditional set of rules scares our global communities.


Perhaps one of the most insightful conversations I had was with a person who was born  intersex. Intersex is a term used to describe people who are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics that “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies,” according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In 1992, this person came out as a gay man and lived their life as such, going on to identify as bisexual and then, in 2018, coming out as a lesbian after transitioning into a woman. She wrote to me about her own personal experiences and the shocking difference  in how the world treats gay men to how they treat gay women. To quote her directly, “I thought homophobia was bad when I was a gay man but to be honest it’s 100 times worse as a lesbian.” She explained to me a phenomenon that nearly all women-loving-women are aware of, which is that many heterosexual people who claim to be supportive and welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community often suffer from internalised homophobia that they may not even have been aware of until faced with a queer person of their own sex. “For a while I didn’t understand why straight girls were so mean and homophobic (towards queer women) but I do know it has everything to do with the patriarchy and internalized misogyny.”


Representation for queer women in media is sorely lacking, and good representation, even more so. Content is either hypersexual (Blue is the Warmest Colour) or targeted at a very young audience (She-Ra and the Princess of Power) – two extreme ends of a spectrum with slim pickings in the middle. Not to mention the problematic stereotype of big age gaps between characters (Carol) or the infamous trope known commonly as ‘bury your gays’ in which queer characters are killed off in media (Lost and Delirious, The 100, Arrow; the list goes on). Good representation for a queer relationship with a happy ending is just about as likely as winning the Lotto, which certainly isn’t the message that should be advertised to young people, particularly those who are just coming to terms with their identities.


These tropes are just as prominent in content about queer men but there are more success stories. This is the reason, I learned, why so many queer women will consume mainly LGBTQ+ content about men, purely because the characters are more accessible and easier to relate to. Male characters in queer relationships are (more often but again, definitely not always) better rounded, with multiple aspects to their personalities; their single character trait isn’t just that they’re gay.


But after all this – how can you support the queer community?


If you’re buying pride-related products, or any products year-round – buy from small businesses run by people within the LGBTQ+ community. Not a big corporation that bedecks itself in a rainbow in June but takes it all away again as soon as July rolls around.


Consume your queercontent from queer creators! Expand your horizons a little and discover some new artists. Who knows,  perhaps you may even find a new favourite artist!


And most of all, just respect people’s right to exist. It sounds simple,  and it is. Don’t ask rude or intrusive questions (you can know if a question is rude by asking yourself ‘would I say this to a straight person?’), use correct pronouns and stand up for the LGBTQ+ people in your life. It really is that easy.


Being proud shouldn’t be confined to June alone, so happy pride!




Featured photo by Marie S

This article was supported by: STAND Diversity Editor Conor + Programme Assistant Alex


Women in Irish Politics: Could gender quotas be the answer?

Women in Irish Politics: Could gender quotas be the answer?

Women in Irish Politics: Could gender quotas be the answer?

sign saying 'the future is female'
Rachael Kenny

25th June 2021

In April 2021, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee became the first female cabinet minister in Irish history to take paid maternity leave while in office. When Minister McEntee requested this maternity leave there were legal and constitutional questions over whether she, or any other female in office, could take paid maternity leave. The Irish Constitution, written over a century ago, did not consider the possibility that a female politician could be a minister. Although McEntee was eventually granted paid maternity leave, many women in Irish politics before her were not so lucky. In 2016, Fianna Fail TD Niamh Smyth was told to provide a “sick cert” after she gave birth to her first child. For this reason, she was forced to return to work just two weeks after giving birth. The fact of the matter is that currently in Ireland there are systematic barriers present that are discouraging women from running for election. As a result of these structural blockades,we do not have nearly enough women holding seats in the national government. 


Ireland currently ranks 101st in the world for female representation in national government, falling behind countries such as Iraq, China, and Afghanistan. At present, just 22.5% of Ireland’s national parliament are women. The lack of elected women in Irish politics is ‘’significantly tarnishing’’ the global perception of Ireland as an inclusive and progressive society, CEO of Women for Elections, Caitríona Gleeson, has said. Currently Sweden has the highest number of national parliament seats held by women in Europe with a figure of 47%. In fact, Ireland lies in the pit of Europe’s rankings with Germany at 31.2%, Denmark at 39.7%, Belgium as 41.3%, to name just a few.  


So why is it important to have more women in Irish government? Apart from the obvious reason of basic gender equality in society, there are countless benefits to having women in national government. A recent study published by The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Westminster Foundation for Democracy has outlined the importance of female political leaders to democracy and equality. The study has found that female political leaders are crucial for enhancing democratization and battling inequality in society.


“According to the extensive research presented in the study, women bring inclusive styles of leadership that have been found to be more democratic, co-operative, and inclusive. It has been indicated that female legislators’ impact on policy extends beyond just females and prioritises society as a whole.”

Female leaders tend to focus on society’s most vulnerable and prioritize their basic rights such as education, healthcare, and welfare. This has been explained by women’s considerable experience of inequality and deprivation, as well as the role traditionally played by women in looking after others. Although progress has been made in recent decades to improve gender equality in society, Ireland continues to seriously lack female political representation. There are still significant barriers to women’s equality of participation in politics, like the ones faced by Minister McEntee and Niamh Smyth. 


A gender quota has been introduced for Dáil Éireann, pushing for 40% women for 2024. However, is a gender quota really the answer to the problem? Many female politicians in the past have argued against gender quotas, claiming that they are condescending and insulting. While serving as a TD in 2011 Joanna Tuffy of the Labour Party said that “when it comes to democracy, the ends do not justify the means. Gender quotas subvert democracy by making the ends more important than the means.”Perhaps the solution to Ireland’s lack of female political leaders is not to introduce patronising measures but to change the Irish Constitution, a constitution that in 2021 does not recognise that a female politician could ever be a leader. 





Featured photo by Lindsay LaMont on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Rachel


Nepal’s anti-trafficking law is a deep rooted patriarchal issue

Nepal’s anti-trafficking law is a deep rooted patriarchal issue

Nepal’s anti-trafficking law is a deep rooted patriarchal issue

silhouette of woman with sunset
Cliona Hallahan

4th June 2021


There has been an uproar of protest in Nepal following the government’s proposal to ban women from travelling abroad. This proposal would require Nepali women under 40 to have consent from their families and government officials before travelling to Africa or the Middle East. Proposed by the Department of Immigration, the ban was created in an attempt to prevent the trafficking of women in Nepal. 


Executive director of Women’s Lead Nepal, Hima Bista, spoke out against the proposal, “What is extremely dangerous is the thought process behind it. The very fact that a policymaker is thinking about drafting this law restricting the movement of adult girls and women tells us how deep-rooted the patriarchal mindset is.”


In 2019, a report by the Nepal Human Rights Commission showed that 1.5 million people were at risk of being trafficked. An estimated 38,000 people were trafficked in Nepal in 2018, according to Nepal’s Human Right Commission. Of this figure, 15,000 were women and 5,000 were girls.


“There were also an estimated 18,000 male victims of trafficking that year, hence why activists are of the belief that the proposed ban on women travelling abroad is not the approach that should be taken to solve this issue.”

International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) have spoken out, explaining that the proposal is not only oppressive and sexist, but may go on to further endanger women. Sonal Mehta, IPPF South Asia Regional Office Director says, “The Government of Nepal has clarified that this proposed rule is an attempt to curb trafficking of young girls and women. On the contrary, this rule inflicts violence by restricting movement and encouraging control over women. It reinforces regressive gender norms of approval and guardianship. I wish I was in Nepal to join the outrage of women and girls there, and we stand in solidarity with them.”


Surakshya Giri, board member of IPPF also stated, “These restrictions are against Nepal’s commitments under the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).” Highlighting the many layers of injustice to the proposed ban on women requiring consent to travel, Former commissioner of the Nepal Human Rights Commission, Mohna Ansari, also pointed out the CEDAW violation, furthering the argument against the ban by posing the question, “If women aren’t protected inside the country, how can they be safe abroad?”


This proposal is not the first of its kind, following an earlier ban on Nepali citizens working as domestic workers in the Gulf. This, however, only stands to demonstrate that these bans do not stop women from travelling to these countries, it just forces them to take illegal routes to their destinations. Human rights activists are calling for the government to take measures to warn the population on the dangers of human trafficking, instead of enforcing restrictions that may cause more harm than good.




Featured photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

This article was supported by: Programme Assistant Rachel


Why is it illegal for married couples to have different surnames in Japan?

Why is it illegal for married couples to have different surnames in Japan?

Why is it illegal for married couples to have different surnames in Japan?

neon light man proposing to woman
Maggie Courtney

31st May 2021


1896 saw the implementation and introduction of Japan’s civil code which included laws surrounding issues such as divorce and individuals with disabilities. The code also saw the implementation of the notion that married couples are legally required to share the same surname. Japan is now one of the very few industrialised countries to still have this law in place despite many people viewing it as being extremely discriminatory and archaic, with many previous laws being altered to fit a more progressive modern society. The civil code has never indicated which surname the couples are required to take, but it has been shown that 96% of married Japanese women end up taking their husband’s surname.  


In previous years, many women’s rights activists have fought to change these laws. 2015 saw a supreme court ruling which deemed this law to be one which does not violate the constitution. This was in response to five women who attempted to sue the Japanese government for 6m yen (approximately €45,800). These women viewed this law as being unconstitutional and violated the civil rights of married couples, deeming them persistent emotional distress which prevented them from being able to remarry when they wanted to. Many conservative politicians and commentators argued that the removal of this law would take away from the strong traditional family unit Japan is known for and one which the country tends to prioritise.  


“Masaomi Takanori, a constitutional scholar, responded to the lawsuit in a very traditional way stating his beliefs that names are the best to way to bind families and hold them together.” 

The lawsuit was one which attracted controversy among the general public with 52% of the public believing it is the couples who deserve the right to be able to choose their surnames and whether they take each other’s. 34% of the public rejected the idea with many people believing this law should stay in place and not be altered.  


The rejection of the lawsuit concluded that the only reason married couples could avoid this law was to not register their marriages. This is not the most feasible idea as it raises many problems related to parental rights and to issues of inheritance or wealth. This has left many married couples to still register their marriage despite the complications with having to share the same surname.  


This law is one which many women’s right activists are still fighting against despite the major blow they suffered in 2015 and the failure of the lawsuit in 2011. One big blow to women in Japan is the rejection by the Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality, Tamayo Marukawa, of the legal challenge to change these laws which would allow women to change their surname after they get married. She rejected this and signed the petition due to what she refers to as a ‘personal opinion’ and not one which would affect her work when it comes to that of gender equality. The current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga brought hope to people fighting against this law when he revealed he was in favour of the implementation of the use of dual surnames in late 2020 but he still yet to take action in regards to his comment. 


This law is one which continues to be controversial and one which has allowed the country to be viewed as an incredibly backwards country when it comes to that of gender equality and the advancement of women’s rightsFollowing extremely traditional and outdated views, the UN committee of the elimination of discrimination against women recommended that Japan reviews these laws by publicly stating it is one which discriminates against women. It is one which activists will continue to fight against and maybe one day, the women of Japan will be successful in gaining back their personal identity. 





Featured photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash + edited using Canva

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Rachel


Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war

Women and the Military: The unequal burden of war
Women and the military representation
Aoife Burke
4th October 2020
In recent years, the relationship between women and the military has become topical in countries such as the UK. In 2018 all positions in the British Army became open to women for the first time, and since then the army has been using increasingly feminist rhetoric in their PR and recruitment campaigns. However, during the same period, government reports and individual testimonies have shed light on the level of discrimination, abuse, and sexual harassment experienced by women in the British armed forces. These issues have fuelled important discussions on the compatibility of feminism and the military – or lack thereof. These discussions have been largely focused on the experiences of female soldiers, questioning whether army service can be empowering to women on an individual level. However, the stories of female civilians (the group that has historically been most affected by war) have been consistently left out of the discourse. Women who have witnessed the reality of imperialist military intervention and shouldered the true cost of war should be at the forefront in discussions about gender and the army. Instead, both historically and in the present day, female civilians in conflict have had their voices spoken over and their stories twisted and misused, for the benefit of imperialist powers.


As we can see in the British Army’s current PR campaign, particularly in their podcast episode with Laura Whitmore, feminism is being appropriated in order to paint military service as empowering to women. Another, perhaps even more dangerous way in which feminism has been misused is in the portrayal of Western military interventions as liberatory to civilian women. Both of these narratives are used to expand the military reach and both erase the lived experiences of women who have suffered at the hands of militarism. The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.


Historically, Britain and other European powers have attacked the rights and undermined the autonomy of women in colonised countries. In the process of colonisation, the social, legal, and economic structures of patriarchy were often forced upon native societies. For instance, in pre-colonial Canada, indigenous society generally valued women, and indigenous women often held leadership and decision-making roles. Furthermore, because of strong kinship systems, women were not economically dependent on men. However, colonial settlers ignored the position of women in indigenous culture, refusing to engage with female spokespersons and enforcing the patriarchal norms that had been well-established in Europe by that time. The lasting impact of patriarchal colonialism can still be seen in Canada today, where indigenous women face the highest rates of violence, poverty, and poor health.


“The image of Western military powers as an emancipatory force for women has been promoted for over a century, yet ultimately could not be further from the truth.”

The colonisation of Africa also saw the European ideals of patriarchy imposed on native women. The arrival of cash crops and the exclusion of women from the marketplace meant that African women generally lost power and economic independence during the colonial period. Because colonial authorities relied on the testimony of men to establish customary laws, the legal systems that developed under colonialism disadvantaged women. Furthermore, the pre-colonial political activity of women was largely disregarded and colonial agents worked exclusively with men in establishing political offices. For instance, in many parts of West Africa, associations run by and for women had deciding authority in disputes related to markets and agriculture. However, because these institutions were completely disregarded by European colonisers, they tended to lose power after the late 19th century. Overall, Britain, alongside other imperialist powers, has a long history of reversing the rights and freedoms of civilian women in colonised countries.


Despite this reality, the subject of women’s rights was used to defend British imperialism. This phenomenon relied on the portrayal of women in the Global South as victims, who need to be saved from their own culture by “civilised” Westerners. This paternalistic and racist narrative has been used time and time again to justify devastating wars and exploitative invasions, particularly in Islamic countries. As scholar Leila Ahmed discusses in her book Women and Gender in Islam, the late 19th-century British coloniser Lord Cromer used the veiling of women in Islam as evidence of the inferiority of Islamic civilisations, and ultimately as justification for the colonisation of Egypt. Lord Cromer actively opposed women’s suffrage in Britain and hindered the progression of women’s liberation in Egypt – yet none of this stopped him from using women’s rights as a pretext for his colonial endeavours. Disturbingly, a similar pattern is still playing out in the 21st century.


Since the early 2000s, Britain and the United States have used “feminist” rhetoric to help justify imperialist military invasions in the Middle East. In 2001, George Bush pushed the idea that war in Afghanistan would free “women of cover ” – reverting to the same patronizing portrayal of Muslim women that was used to defend British colonialism over a century prior. Concerningly, women were also complicit in promoting this storyline, with both Laura Bush and Cherie Blair being wheeled out to speak on the plight of Afghan women in the lead up to war – as though Western military invasions and bombing raids would somehow help liberate them. Yet in 2011, ten years into the war, Afghanistan was named the “most dangerous place in the world to be a woman”, with ongoing conflict and NATO airstrikes among the primary reasons cited. In a similar fashion, the narrative of rescuing women was used to legitimise the Iraq war. Bush repeatedly made vague, non-committal statements about women’s rights in the lead-up to the invasion. “Respect for women can … triumph in the Middle East and beyond”, he said in a speech to the UN in 2002 in which he urged action on Iraq. While Iraqi women were granted some benefits on paper during the war period, in reality, they were disproportionately harmed by conflict and left with less security and economic autonomy than before. The vast suffering of female civilians at the hands of British and U.S. military action highlights the utter emptiness of feminist language in this context.


George W. Bush gives a speech on war in the Middle East, focusing on the rights of women (videocafeblog, 2008)
The trend of world leaders appropriating feminism to sell militarism ultimately contributes to public ignorance about what war really means for women. According to the United Nations, war and conflict exacerbate pre-existing gender inequalities and leave women at a heightened risk of human rights violations. During conflict, women and girls are increasingly targeted through the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war. In late 2019, the British government and army were accused of covering up war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sexual abuse. As well as a serious increase in the risk of gender-based violence, women are also disproportionately impacted by unstable access to essential services. Access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, can often be disrupted during conflict, leaving women and girls at risk of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality and STI’s. Furthermore, due to additional domestic responsibilities and fear of targeted attacks, girls’ right to education is disproportionately threatened during war. Continued instability in post-conflict periods means that the threats posed to women’s rights can last long after war officially ends. These issues, and the immense suffering they cause, are too often swept under the rug in discussions about gender and the military.


In conclusion, despite the empty words of political leaders and the vague sentiments of military PR campaigns, war poses a threat to women’s rights throughout the world. The suffering of civilians has always been inherent in the military action of countries such as Britain and the U.S., and women have shouldered the brunt of this injustice. The use of feminist rhetoric in a pro-war context is not only hypocritical but serves to erase the experiences of civilian women in war, including those who have lost their lives.


Stay tuned for episode 3 of this series which will explore whether or not gender representation in the military actually promotes equality.




Featured photo by USA Today