Category Archives: Gender

The Weekend that Called Ireland’s LGBT Community to Arms

It has been a fraught start to 2014 for journalists, activists and GRSM people all over Ireland, but particular in its capital. Following the controversy of censoring Rory O’Neill’s interview on the Saturday Night Show.

Saturday night gave Panti an opportunity to respond to the RTE and to those who had accused her of “hate speech”. Following the Saturday showing of ‘The Risen People’ in the Abbey Theatre Panti took the stage to make the case for calling out homophobia when it is seen.

The next day the advocacy group LGBT NOISE held a protest in the city centre to condemn the censorship of the interview and the huge pay-out of €85,000 of state money to avoid a legal disagreement with any of those mention (and two who were not directly mentioned).

The crowd of over 2,000, was very diverse in terms of ages and backgrounds.

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Senator David Norris spoke with his usual passion. He certainly pulled no punches in questioning the victim position often adopted by opponents of Same Sex Marriage.

The theme that carried through the weekend was a call to arms, a cry that now was not a time for bar-stool activism but to take action.

The Case for GSRM over LGBT

Gender, Sexual and Romantic Minorities (GSRM) is a broader, more encompassing term that is replacing LGBT in many circumstances. The Global Echo will now be adopting the term and this is our justification why.

Okay so most people are familiar with the initialism LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) for discussing rights and cultural issues.

But people outside of the queer community are less likely to be aware of conflicts within the community about that very initialism. Many intersex, asexual, gender-queer and pansexual people claim that the title is exclusionary. This has led to multiple other variants, LGBTI, LGBTIA, LGBTQA, and in one case LGBTQIAAP which I think we can all agree is simply unfeasible.

Also the second A is for allies and I have to say if someone is only an ally to the queer community if they get to feel like people are paying attention to them they are not really allies.

But even with just a single A the initialism is still unworkable, it’s hard to say, it’s hard to spell and frankly no media outlet will be interested in using it so it does not really further the visibility of these minority groups.

Now I’m not going to add to the bashing of the infamous ‘LGBT Soup’ article. Frankly it got enough attention at the time. It raised the same point as us that LGBTQIAAP was unusable but it’s conclusion was that people should just get over not being included. That’s obviously easier for some to say than others.

Of course QUILTBAG (Queer intersex lesbian trans bi ace gay) was floated by some as a more memorable acronym it, again, is one unlikely to be picked up by wider society because, frankly, it sounds a bit silly.

This is fundamentally our case for Gender, Sexual and Romantic Minorities. It’s broad, inclusive and non-specific. If new identities and terms arise it doesn’t matter, they are inherently included.

For this reason GSRM will now be used on the Global Echo in the place of LGBT with a link referring to this explanatory article.

Thank you for reading and engaging with this debate.

Let He with the Best Solicitor Speak Freely

This week has seen legal attacks not only on the LGBT community in Ireland but on the freedom of speech in Irish journalism as a whole.

The controversy began when Rory O’Neill, alter-ego of Dublin gay icon and pub-owner Panti Bliss, was interviewed on RTE’s Saturday Night Show on the  11th January.

The interview was going well until O’Neill attempted to discuss some of the prejudices still facing members of the LGBT community. O’Neill said that of course things has changed over time but that it there were still difficult to deal with the kind unpleasantness found “the internet in the comments and people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers”. When pressed for examples O’Neill named John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute.

Not long after it was posted the interview was taken for “legal issues” following complaints made. When the interview was re-posted on line, all discussion of homophobia was edited out. A transcript of the missing section can be found here.

Now this obvious and upsetting piece of censorship was discussed eloquently by Trinity News writer Matthew in ‘Ignorance Isn’t Panti Bliss’ which was widely shared on social media in the outrage that followed.

O’Neill himself has received soliciter’s letters personally from Breda O’Brien, David Quinn, Patricia Casey, and John Murray (all of the Iona Institute the highly-conservative lobby group) and from John Waters.

John Waters, being the Irish Times columnist who wrote that the “gay lobby” want “to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it” and who is absolutely no way homophobic of course.

This is not the first time the head and founder of the Iona Institute, David Quinn, has silenced his critics or those of Iona with the threat of legal action.

Just last year David Quinn forced the University Times to retracted two articles it had published criticising the Iona Institute’s controversial YouTube video ‘The Case for Man/Woman Marriage‘ with threats of legal action. When Trinity News published an article describing these events, they themselves were contacted by his solicitor, as was published by the College Tribune.

It’s worth noting at this point that mostly the news outlets brave enough to risk Quinn’s legal wrath have been student publications with far less legal support than mainstream media.

‘Defamation,’ the common thread to these claims, is a slightly complicated piece of Irish law though it’s outlined brilliantly in relation to this case here. But ultimately nothing that is true can be legally considered defamation. Is the claim that the Iona Institute, Breda O’Brien and John Waters homophobic, not one of a opinion that O’Neill as a gay man is entitled to have?

Even outside of the range of opinion and in analysis of statements made against Same Sex Marriage by all three that they work against the mainstream of the LGBT civil rights movement is not a matter for debate, as is outlined in an analysis of statement here.

But I believe the real problem is that frequently it is not a question of whether those getting served with Quinn’s legal complaints are legally in the wrong but whether than can afford to run the risk that a judge might side with a wealthy, prominent public figure over them. Deeper pockets wins the debate; which is a scary thought for the future of journalism in Ireland.

Where does the argument for “defamation of character” end? How do we hold people accountable for defaming their own characters? Because the journalists and others Quinn has targeted are not in a position to stop his organisation publishing or operating, they are simply stating that they disagree. But Quinn’s actions serve to silence the opposition entirely. This incident certainly begs the question whether a wealthy, public figure can be held accountable for the offense his organisation causes so many people. 

And much more importantly when will we stop letting those with the most cash on hand, and the best solicitors dictate what is and is not fair debate?

The Veil and the Complexity of Freedom

There are discrepancies between how we define freedom and how we perceive it.

Freedom is defined by most as the ability to make your own choices but freedom is often perceived as choosing to be like you.

Not specifically you obviously but ourselves in general. If you consider yourself to be free then you are more likely to recognise freedom in others if their lives resemble yours.

This problem presents itself particularly strongly when ‘western’ ideologies of ‘freedom’ attempt to reconcile with choices they do not understand. Head-scarves and veiling of Muslim women has become the symbolic battleground of cultural ideology in the west. But behind the rhetoric are the realities of personal freedoms in our societies.

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When discussing legislating against veiling in Europe, discussion usually returns to France and ‘The Scarf Affair’ when three scarf-wearing Muslim girls were expelled from their school in November 1996. Then in March of 2004 a law was passed in the French National Assembly banning the bearing of all “ostentatious signs of religious belonging in the public sphere”.

It is interesting to note that quickly the word scarf (foulard) was replaced by veil (la voile). The choice of words is significant as a scarf is a fairly ordinary piece of clothing in France but a veil is more ceremonial and conjures up orientalised images.

More recently, in 2011 a ban on face-veiling in any public space came into effect in France which threatened monetary fines or “citizenship” courses to anyone in breach of this law. Of the 5 million Muslims living in France fewer than 2,000 women wear a veil that covers their face (burqa or niqab). This begs the question of why this became the focus of the debate. A similar ban was discussed in the Netherlands in 2012 where of 1 million Muslims only a few hundred women cover their faces.

These questions are more explicable if the debate on veiling has more to do with European, and by extension “western”, identity than it does about the realistic impact of veiling.

There are many reasons used to justify the banning of headscarves and face veils, the most common of which being security and fighting the oppression of women.

There is an academic feminist argument against veiling that acknowledges its long, traditional roots far outside any one religion but rather as part of patriarchal history of humans as a whole. Ancient Greece, early Christianity, Judaism and the Assyrian Empire all had veiling as a marker of a respectable woman which, like their chastity, added to the commercial value of women as the property of their male relatives. I am a historian and a feminist so I acknowledge this argument.

However, patriarchy is a fact of the majority of history and if we were to ban everything that had once had a hand in the oppression or objectification of women we would have to ban all sorts of things, including but not limited to; wedding rings, corsets, high heeled shoes, wigs and men.

Also my feminism is that which says that women should be allowed make their own decisions (radical I know!) and so ultimately as interesting as the history of veiling I don’t believe it should play a role in decision making regarding modern legislation. Not only that but I believe that the objectification of women is best typified by the fact that our bodies remain political battlegrounds for the ideology of political systems.

The idea of freedom is opposed to any law that regulates the clothes of women and treats them as ideological tools. So regimes like Saudi Arabia are a different discussion. But I would also like to point out that veiling is the least of women’s problems when living under regimes like this. But if we agree that a law enforcing veiling is wrong then how can we support a law banning them when that is the same control from another perspective?

I also think there is a patronising element to the assumption that veiled, Muslim women are simply incapable of making their own decisions.

And then there is the security argument. That covering your face in public should not be allowed regardless of religion.

A recent high-profile decision by Judge Peter Murphy that a Muslim woman who wears a niqab (a veil that covers the face but not the eyes) must unveil while giving evidence. At previous hearings the woman, who cannot be identified to the public, verified her identity with a female police official before giving evidence. Judge Murphy has said she can remain veiled while sitting in the dock and have a screen to block public view but that he, the jury and the lawyers must be able to see her while giving evidence.

There is no set procedure for situation such as this and Judge Murphy called on parliament to “provide a definite answer” saying:

“If judges in different cases in different places took differing approaches [to the niqab] the result would be judicial anarchy.”

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But the decision that she only had to unveil to give evidence was not enough for some observers. Keith Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said he “regretted” the judge’s decision.

“We will be complaining to the Office of Judicial Complaints and also be asking senior legal officers to make visibility throughout court hearings mandatory, and not subject to judges’ discretion.”

This is part of a culture that removes the right to privacy and the right to anonymity in public. Am I cynical in thinking these bans coming just as facial recognition software becomes more efficient as a tool of surveillance and law enforcement is not a coincidence? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make me wrong.

— Orla-Jo

What is ‘Rape Culture’?

‘Rape Culture’ is a term frequently used by feminist commentators and frequently misunderstood by those they are commenting for. Rape culture refers to the aspects of society that overtly or covertly encourage and perpetuate stereotypes about rape and the victims of sexual assault.

According to Marshall University:

“Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

It manifests itself in obvious ways, the focus the media has on what the victim was wearing or where they were or even sympathy for the rapists who are caught as the conviction will ‘ruin their lives’; all of which we saw with the infamous Steubenville case and are classic examples of rape apologism.

Similar rhetoric was thrown around in the New Delhi bus rape. The lawyer that is defending the five men who brutally raped and beat a young woman in India, can get away with saying that “respected” women don’t get raped. They beat her  with a rusty iron bar to the point where they removed some of her intestines but questions were raised about why she was out so late or with a boyfriend.

njani Trivedi/Associated Press
Anjani Trivedi/Associated Press

Rape culture can also manifest itself in ways that seem innocuous such as the idea of the ‘friend-zone’ or ‘nice guy syndrome‘. Think about this story for a moment:

Girl has best friend who’s in love with her but she can’t see it. She’s attracted to men who are bad for her not the one who really loves her. He does everything for her and gets nothing in return. Either she sees the error of her ways and changes herself for him or he abandons their friendship completely so she’s exposed as stupid, vapid or shallow and he finds someone who really loves him.

You have probably heard this or a variant of it many, many times in films, television or books.

Then things like this surface on the internet:

Lets examine this for a second please. Yes, this is a comic that tells people that it is okay to rape their female friends who don’t want to sleep with them because it’s for their own good and they’re just too stupid to see it.

This breed of misogyny acts as though women have all the power. As though men follow us around waiting to have sex with us and we’re just holding them off because we’re cruel and vindictive and shallow. This is one of the most dangerous forms of misogyny there is and nearly everyone who believes it doesn’t even realise. This is what makes it so dangerous.

Acting as though women have all the power and making men in the wronged party  can be used to justify abuse or sexual violence towards women. In fact it has been, by a US Judge.

Cherice Moralez was 14 years old when she was raped by her 49 year-old teacher. Less than three years later she killed herself. The Montana judge, Justice G. Todd Baugh, said that Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist. The convicted teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, was given just 30 days in prison.

In 2011, an 11 year old girl was brutally raped by up to 18 young men in Texas. The New York Times article on the case felt it needed to include that:

“she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground”.

Two separate statements in the same article mentioned how the “community” had suffered but there was no discussion of how the victim had suffered. Questions were also raised about why had the victim’s mother not known where she was and why had she been there alone in the first place. It asks how these young men could”have been drawn into such an act?” This implies that it was somehow not their fault. The article quotes someone as saying that the rapists will “have to live with this for the rest of their lives” echoing what was heard at the Steubenville trial.

There is also the false assumption that women are raped for being sexually attractive rather than a violent act of punishment, of putting women ‘in their place’. EJ Graff discussed in her article on Prospect.org by portraying rape as a sexual act we’re putting the responsibility on women to protect their “purity” and not on the rapists themselves.

For example, according to the University of Suffolk 98% of rape cases of male-male rape the rapist is heterosexual. It’s not about sexual desire or gratification. It is about power and domination.

The lack of understanding or education on this subject can only lead to more stories like these.

Orla-Jo

What We’re Talking About When We’re Talking About Feminism

Feminism is word that simply by existing can cause controversy. It is often implied that feminist issues are frivolous issues, that feminists are petty and mean-spirited or that feminists just care about abortion or sexual harassment. The mainstream media fosters this idea of feminism is narrow, reactionary and unnecessary.

But feminism is more than a narrowly interpreted idea of “women’s issues”.

Education is a feminist issue. Two thirds of the children in the world without access to education are girls.

Trans rights are a feminist issue. When someone is told that their gender identity lessens them as humans or limits their human rights, that is a feminist issue.

Poverty is a feminist issue. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor. Women work two thirds of the world’s working hours but receive only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property. Of the 150 major conflicts fought since War War Two, 130 of them were fought in the developing world.

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UN Photo/Martine Perret

Racism is a feminist issue. Stereotypes and discrimination of women of colour is a feminist issue. Native American women are nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. Indigenous women in Canada are five times more likely to die as a result of violence.

The rights of the disabled are feminist issues. In Europe, Australia and North America, over half of disabled women will experience physical abuse.

War and conflict are feminist issues. Of the 27.4 million people displaced due to conflict in 1996; 80% of them were women and children. Wartime rape affects women of all ages. In the Democratic Republic of Congo 36 women are raped every day. During the Bosnian War between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped.

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UN Photo/Stuart Price

Rape is held over the heads of women all over the world as a punishment for those who step out of line and is most definitely a feminist issue, even when the victims are men. In the United States someone is sexual assaulted every 2 minutes, 54% of rapes go unreported and 97% of rapists will receive no jail sentence.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 years of age are globally more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are from cancer, war, car accidents or malaria according to World Bank data.

There is a sentiment that feminism is unnecessary or that the term is outdated, that there is no need to actively promote the ‘feminine’ but rather support equality as a whole. But the idea that what is traditionally ‘feminine’ is lesser is still so pervasive in today’s culture that while it is socially acceptable for a women to behave and dress in ways considered traditionally masculine, the same cannot be said for men who wish to behave or dress in ways considered to be feminine. These bias are damaging to men as well. But more significantly they demonstrate that many advances that appear to have occurred in gender equality are based on the idea that women should behave or value things that are more traditionally masculine.

That is why feminism remains relevant.

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UN Photo

Orla-Jo