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By Kusi Okamura
I never believed in ghosts or ghouls, though in Ireland this is a completely valid belief. Fairies and banshees were other other-worldly entities that people saw or heard on a regular basis. However, I did have a sense of the awful dangers that lurked in the outside world, dangers that were relative to me, in the very fact that I was a girl.
I intuited this not only from the extra restrictions that were placed on me, particularly after puberty, both at home and in my convent school, for my own good. Such as early curfew, or banned clothing (skirts too short, tops too revealing), or patent leather shoes that might reflect my underpants if I was wearing a skirt. This last one was told to me by another student on arrival in a new convent school. Whether it was merely a rumour or not, the harsh penalties doled out for not wearing the right shade of beige socks gave it a ring of truth.
I also grew up believing that all the unnamed horrors that could befall me were some way in my power. That I could control my fate in a way. That my actions, and in Catholic Ireland my sins, would be manifested, and would come down on me like wrath of God. The trick, the terrible balancing act, was controlling it all.
And even as a young adult I struggled with this all, feeling an awful frustration with my lot. Because though I was told I was in control, the contradiction of Madonna-whore, temptress and innocent, pretty much as I saw it rendered girls powerless. And I found myself wondering—how are you to be in a world that sees you as a threat, but treats you like a victim-in-waiting?
* * * *
There is something brewing in the air.
You can see in the conversations around us not only in every media—print/broadcast/online—but also in our everyday lives. Women everywhere are talking, acting, moving, waking up, and at times it feels like we are moving towards some kind of reckoning.
The #MeToo movement did more than just illuminate the world to the indignities and injustices experienced by women on a daily basis, it connected us all, beyond race and class. The outpourings of shared stories, experiences and trauma being a great and terrible leveler. We are at a tipping point in humanity’s history and the cry that reverberates now is enough is enough.
This tipping point is at the heart of the Repeal the 8th and the Vote Yes movement in Ireland at the moment, as they move towards changing the archaic abortions laws that have oppressed Irish women for decades. As it stands terminations are only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison. The UN’s human rights committee condemned the laws as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.
In our issue this month our ROAR columnist Lorna O’Hara passionately outlines:
Abortion has always happened in Ireland, and it always will. If you truly want to reduce abortion, then you should be investing your time and money into sex education and provision of contraception, which are the only proven ways to reduce abortion rates. You should be inside schools teaching them about that instead of erecting giant graphic posters of 22-week-old aborted foetuses outside. All we’re doing here is sending our women away, across the sea alone and taking them back silent and bleeding on the plane. We’re sending couples whose much-wanted child won’t survive outside the womb away from their families and taking them back with tiny white coffins in the boots of their cars. We’re making young girls, who are not more than children themselves, take abortion pills alone and afraid in their bedrooms. We’re risking the lives of women who have complications in pregnancy and tying the hands of doctors who want to intervene.
And on May 25th I hope the Irish people will vote not just with equality in their minds, but with compassion and a sense of justice in their hearts.
* * * *
One of the most poignant pieces in our new issue is about the very real emotional place that women find themselves now, in relation to the men in their lives.
I’m struggling with loving, or even liking, the men in my life at the moment. I feel like I’ve suddenly woken up. Whether it’s my husband leaving his dirty laundry right beside the laundry basket, or my slightly creepy boss at work, everything they do seems to stink of white, male privilege, and to be honest I’ve had it up to here. How do I stop from knocking them all over the head with a frying pan?
Awake and Angry New Feminist
The heart of this dilemma, is not only about relationships in our lives, but the very important question of ‘Where do we go now?’ And our agony aunt Growler’s answer couldn’t have put it better:
“…men are our partners on this planet, we need to love the eejit out of them. We need to lead by example, united with soft hearts and strong backs. With the sword of truth in one hand and a mirror in the other. They need to hear our stories, we need to show them self-love. We women have each other, we always have and now more than ever. Men don’t have access to this support, they have been brutally excluded from any meaningful group interactions by modern life. They bond through competition and violence. It is time for us women to lead the way, fearless, like arrows, keeping our eye on the dream of a better world, showing our men the way until they are ready to take our hand as equals.”
Soft hearts and strong backs. Leading the way to equality. Tally-ho women, tally-ho.
Kusi Okamura is a writer and the founding editor of The Wild Word. She lives with her family in Berlin.
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