Does My Vagina Offend You, Yeah?: An Exploration Of The Debasement Of Women & Misogyny in Irish Society

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Vagina. Va-gi-na. Noun. The muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus in women and most female mammals. Exactly what it says on the tin. So why are a lot of men and women in this country so afraid of vaginas? And I’m not talking about homophobia (even though there is far too much of that still circulating in Irish society). There is a severe taboo around the female reproductive system. Not just here, but around the world.

Whether it’s breasts, the clitoris or our rear ends, the fascination with degrading women is highly prevalent in Ireland. In this piece, I will explore aspects of the female body which have been targeted by males and females in a negative light in Irish society; as well as the lack of rights which females have.

Menstruation & Body Hair: 

Now I know for a fact that a period is not the best feeling in the world. Some of my famous quotes while I have been enduring the horrific cramps have been “Will someone please surgically remove my womb before I do it myself?” or “It feels like there is monsters in my uterus”. But why do we feel the need to ignore it’s actual name? It’s not a curse word.

So now I will direct you to Tampax’s “Outsmart Mother Nature” campaign which is cringe-worthy. Exhibit A:

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Why do the marketing people feel the need to talk down to women in this highly colloquial advert? We’re not children. To assume that women cannot engage in sexual relations when on their period makes us all out to be some sort of monsters:  does “Don’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die” ring any bells? A lot of males and females I know are entirely disgusted by what a period entails, but as Georgina, creator of Vox Copuli states: “I refuse to not discuss [my period] because it makes men uncomfortable”.

And why should we feel uncomfortable about what happens to us every 28 days on average? As mammals, female humans have one of the most frequent menstruation periods, which means more fertility. You should be embracing this, not keeping it hush-hush because someone somewhere said it was gross. It occurs far too often for us to pretend it doesn’t exist, or to conceal it’s true identity with a little old lady claiming to be “Mother Nature”. As well as being a natural bodily function, it’s a healthy reminder that you’re not pregnant and you can continue doing rad things without worrying about a baby.

When I asked online “Do you think female body hair is gross?”, the majority of people said yes. I never really thought twice about pubic hair until I thought about how it’s only acceptable to be clean shaven as a woman in Ireland. So I decided to part with all razors for six weeks and see if I really felt gross. And I didn’t. Having body hair is so natural and it’s only been normalized to have a shaven pubic area in Western culture since the late 70s. Why should women feel under pressure to shave? If a guy is really that fussy, he doesn’t deserve your pussy.

Between periods and pubic hair, the female body is seen as ugly in it’s natural state and constantly needs to be modified to suit a males standards.

The Taboo of Feminism:

I am constantly given grief by males and females about being a feminist. Irish people act like it is such a dirty word. Women usually do not voice their opinions on women’s rights in public for fear that being a feminist will make them unattractive to males. Many women turn a blind eye to sexism and many males act like sexism doesn’t exist. The majority of people I have come into contact with believe that feminists are a bunch of angry, man-hating girls. But feminism is about creating equality; not saying that women are superior to men. There is a big difference between feminism and misandry, which you can see here. The definition of feminism to me is:

 “A collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.”

I don’t hate men. My mantra as a heterosexual woman is “Love dick, not dicks”.

Objectification of Women in Public Places & Online:

The cat-calling. The wolf-whistles. All women of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes has felt the wrath of verbal sexual harassment in all places. But never has a man been degraded in such a way. Every night out involves another comment on my “massive tits” or my “huge arse” and every single time I get the same response when I complain about it: “They are just being lads!”. This recent idea of a male being a “lad” has somehow allowed it to be socially acceptable for more men to be misogynists.

A prime example of this is The Lad Bible, debasing women every second of the day. It is a website predominantly aimed at males, with the topics of discussion based around “lad” interests: their own masculinity, soccer and half-naked women. I once saw a section called “Something To Cure The Hangover”. It was a post of pictures submitted by males of their unclothed exes. There was obviously no consent from the women, and the page boasts a whopping 1.6 million likes on Facebook. Everyone worldwide is going to make sexual comments or slut-shame these girls. Who deserves to get called a whore by someone they don’t know? Who deserves to hear disgusting comments made about their body?

As well as this, The Lad Bible’s devoted followers refer to women as “wenches”:

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What a nice boy. About one-third of my Facebook friends have liked this page; many of them thinking it’s a bit of “banter”.

Just today, my local radio station was on the quest for “the best boobs”. The majority of the listeners are young adults who are easily influenced. I watched as comment after comment young girls and boys made suggestions, while I and one other woman commented on the obvious objectification of women. Our comments were ignored and the discussion continued. I was not surprised.

Physical Sexual Harassment:

For some reason, Irish males think it is totally socially acceptable to feel a girl up. Many, if not all of my female friends have experienced some sort of physical sexual harassment, in private or in public. I, for one, have been groped countless times in nightclubs and bars; which many girls brush off. But I’ve also been in a situation where a male has forced his hands down my tights, when I’ve repeatedly told him to stop.  Just last week I had a boy put his arms around my waist and forced his open mouth on my closed one. When he retracted, he wondered why I wasn’t enjoying it. Because a lot of males assume that females will enjoy any physical interaction: after all, The Lad Bible believes we are nothing but wenches.

The Evil Feminist makes a very strong and important point in this post:

“Women have to do so little to be declared “man haters”. All we have to do is name male violence for what it is…But for a man to be declared a “woman hater” he has to do so much more. Even when men abuse, rape, prostitute and kill women, they’re excused… His victim’s actions are looked for as if his hatred was a logical reaction to her own actions.”

This is easily backed up by the statistics of rape in Ireland. In 2011, over 2000 women came to the National Rape Crisis Centre for help. Over 90% of them knew the perpetrator. But think of all the women who are silenced and live in fear? Rapists are very rarely convicted in Ireland, and the laws regarding rape and sexual assault are so degrading to women.

Abortion Laws:

It is illegal for a woman to get an abortion in Ireland unless she threatens to commit suicide or her life is in danger. A woman cannot have an abortion if she is raped, is pregnant by incest or if her child has fatal foetal abnormalities. Basically, a woman has no choice here unless she is on her deathbed. And while The Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Law is extremely degrading to women, it is a step forward to having control over our own bodies.

But we will still be called blood-thirsty murderers and whores by the likes of the Youth Defence and misogynistic TD Jim Walsh. The anti-choice side of the debate is filled with women-hating religious extremists who ignore the women’s right to her own body. The lack of proper sexual education in Ireland is abysmal. Holland boasts the lowest abortion rates in the world with abortion available on demand. Sexual education is not something you need to learn on an exam, it’s a necessary part of human knowledge. And by sexual education, I do not mean the Youth Defence’s suggestion that women need to learn about how to avoid getting raped.

These are only a few things that have been normalized over the years which allow blatant misogyny in Irish culture. Sexism is rife in the Republic and there is an obvious need to combat the sexism in our society. Our country seems to be still in the hands of Dev’s Ireland, where the women’s place is in the home. A female TD being groped by a fellow colleague whilst in the Dáil barely caused a ripple in the media. I’d like to mention that this happened whilst he was under the influence of alcohol during a debate over women’s reproductive rights.

The silence of Irish women must be broken; the sexism must be stopped.

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3 thoughts on “Does My Vagina Offend You, Yeah?: An Exploration Of The Debasement Of Women & Misogyny in Irish Society

  1. I don’t think it’s by accident that the Irish attitudes to women, women’s autonomy, women’s anatomy, sex and sexual boundaries border on the medieval.

    Until the mid 80s, it was illegal for anyone but a married couple to get contraceptives and even then it was on prescription. From the mid 80s to the mid 90s, they were available from the pharmacist to over 18s. There were prosecutions for selling condoms without permission in 1990. It wasn’t until about ’93 that condoms were available from vending machines and without age limits. I remember the moral panic and general hysteria (ironic word alert) at the time. Given the recent abortion “debate”, I probably can skip the whole sordid history of the anti-choice movement. Homosexuality was criminal until the early 90s. Basically, mature sexual debate was absolutely non-existent until the 80s and even then it was couched in language respectful to the ‘moral authority’ of the church.

    In the mid-80s there were two extremely high-profile tragic situations involving pregnant teenagers. I think these two events were watershed events in recent Irish history (well, recent to me), much like Savita Hallapanavar’s death for the current abortion debate. I was in primary school at the time and knew nothing about sex and the reality of babies but the towns of Cahirciveen and Granard evoke only memories of three dead babies and a dead girl to me. Before the incidents, the attitude was “keep everything secret, at all costs”, afterwards, I think that the consequences of that attitude began to sink in. Being pregnant outside marriage was still undesirable but it wasn’t the same as before.

    The two cases I remember were the so-called “Kerry-babies” case and Anne Lovett’s tragic death in Granard, Longford (see http://www.rte.ie/tv/scannal/AnnLovett.html and http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/truth-of-kerry-babies-buried-in-secrets-and-lies-26578044.html for some info on both cases) . These two incidents prompted prolonged national debate and a re-evaluation of attitudes and behaviour surrounding sex and the treatment of pregnancy.

    Basically, I think that talking about sex, sexual boundaries, pregnancy, birth, contraceptives, homosexuality (L_BT wasn’t even on the horizon) and the like was utterly taboo until about the 80s. Until then, women were baby makin’ machines , marriage was the factory and the church was the evil industrialist in charge. I’m not condoning it but it’s a difficult culture to excise.

    I’ve only really become really aware of the problem of ubiquitous sexism by reading the likes of @EverydaySexism and reading about anti-harassment campaigns for conferences subsequent to incidents of harassment. Sure, I was aware of it on an intellectual level but that twitter a/c conveys some of the perpetual anxiety and vigilance in women’s minds, the subtle and not-so-subtle nudges in behaviour that women make to mitigate risk. I just do not experience those feelings. I never have to cross the road “just in case”. I never hear sexual taunts on the bus. If my shirt or jeans are tight, no-one is going to grab me. No-one leers at me from a young age. No-one assumes that, because I’m drunk, they’ll have a go. Before I recognised these things, I was not callously indifferent to the plight of women, I was utterly oblivious and disconnected. I doubt I’m alone.

    But cultures can change. In the time since the 90s, a fairly successful public information campaign has been waged against drink-driving. It was rampant back in the day, and my feeling is that now, it’s rarer, it’s not socially acceptable, it is detected and punished enough to discourage even many of those who might be tempted to give it a go. It has taken decades of campaigning to effect change but I think it is working to a large degree.

    It’s time for a well funded, long-running, hard-hitting and ubiquitous campaign against improper sexual conduct in a similar vein to the anti-drink-driving campaigns. Those campaigns run on prime-time TV ad radio and are well funded, slickly produced and contain visceral images and messages. They don’t pull their punches.

    Anti-harassment and assault campaigns could target issues like proper consent, like harassment, like groping, like victim blaming. I think that these are good likely candidates for an initial wave of campaigning. My (completely unscientific) gut feeling is that the behaviour behind violent, premeditated assault/rape is very difficult to change and is not likely to respond to this kind of media campaign. However, opportunistic or impulsive behaviour (which might still end in assault or rape) could be targeted. Targeting ‘date-rape’, drunken (lack of) consent, groping and verbal harassment not only seeks to eliminate that specific behaviour but seeks to become a ‘conciousness raiser’ for other inappropriate behaviour.

    Bring the message home. Women are not anonymous, impersonal pieces of meat. ‘Yer wan in da skirt’ is not your chew toy. She is your mother, sister, daughter, friend, neighbour, colleague, classmate, co-worker. She is a real, live, bona fide human being. She has the expectation of being treated like one and if you don’t behave properly, you’re the lowlife, you’re the scumbag, you’re the stench in society.

    A campaign like that could work.

    OK, enough rambling, this ‘short’ comment is nearly the size of the (excellent) article.

  2. I am god damn sick of talking about my period to my other half for him to go “ugh can you not, that’s disgusting..” or the like and wrinkle his face, it’s natural and it’s happening to me not him so if I damn well want to express the fact I feel like there is someone squeezing my uterus I will!
    And body hair, I’m half arabic so I have DARK hair and quite a bit of it, I once got a hollywood wax and since then after letting it all grow back my other half seems way more reluctant to not get it on with me which is so depressing!

    This article is great by the way, pretty much said what I feel.

  3. Pingback: Real Talk: Why I Avoided Men as a Teenager « Hella Basque

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