Note: This assortment of thoughts on the repression of women in Ireland has been in the back of my mind for weeks. For a long time I have tussled with ideas, concepts and various other questions and never really felt comfortable expressing them. Neither do I feel comfortable doing so now as I am still politically underdeveloped to properly asses the repressive nature of Irish society. As a Communist however I feel duty bound to make a beginning, here it is.
The Subjection of Woman by Austin Clarke
“Now praise Kathleen Lynn, who founded
A hospital for sick babies, foundlings,
Saved them with lay hands. How could we
Look down on infants, prattling, cooing,
When wealth had emptied so many cradles?
Better than ours, her simple Credo.
The countess curled
With death at sandbags in the College
Of surgeons. How many did she shoot
When she kicked off her satin shoes?
Women rose out after the Rebellion
When smoke of buildings hid the churchbells,
Helena Maloney, Louie Bennett
Unioned* the women workers bent
Women, who cast off all we want,
Are now despised, their names unwanted,
For patriots in party statement
And act make worse our Ill-fare State.
The soul is profit. Money claims us.
Heroes are valuable clay.”
As the government committee continues to posture regarding the 8th Amendment, discourse and debate surrounds the country regarding abortion, abortion rights and equality. The amount of hysteria, misinformation and propaganda in this debate is overwhelming but great strides are being made by activists to cut effectively through it. It strikes me that a Marxist analysis is absent from this discourse, particularly one which will like a well sharpened spear strike at the belly of the beast. This beast is the toxic omniscient cultural remnant of the Catholic Church.
The 1916 Declaration of Independence drafted by the martyrs had this to say:
“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irish woman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority in the past.”
Legislation enacted very quickly after the formation of the Irish Free State in 1924 and 1927 which excluded women from sitting on juries. In 1932, we saw further legislation created to reinforce gender roles wherein women who worked in the public service were forced to retire upon marriage, after all, in the Catholic ethos their place was in the home. James Connolly wrote of women’s relationship to men as ‘slaves of slaves’ to denote their subservient and secondary role to working class men.
Yet the role of women would be relegated further down the social chain as Fianna Fail the ‘republican’ party came to power in 1933. With explicit support from the beast that is the Church the newly formed state set about lining up the conditions for their hideous new 1937 constitution. Not only was there a marriage ban enacted, further in 1934 a ban on contraceptives came into power and additionally a limit on female employment in industry in 1935.
All this however paled in comparison to the reinforcement of gender roles and the formalization of the subjugation of women in the form of the 1937 constitution.
Article 41 of the new constitution was titled ‘The Family’ and effectively legalized the capitalist family unit and despite the declarations of independence as well as this constitution itself claiming that all citizens were equal before the law, women were thrown into the gutter. The 8th Dail which rammed all this legislation through had miniscule to non-existent representation from women and even they under the social and political pressures succumbed to the development of theocratic rule.
The Family – excerpts – https://www.constitution.ie/Documents/Bhunreacht_na_hEireann_web.pdf
- The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.
- The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.
- In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
- The State therefore shall therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties at home.
- The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.
These articles form the crux of Catholic ideology on the family and the family unit. Ironically despite the State supposedly guaranteeing civil liberties irrespective of gender, the entire premise of the article revolves around the reinforcement of women as domestic house servants and secondary to men.
This constitution has seen amendments, of that there is no doubt. Yet it is shame before the European community that has seen them pushed through rather than shame felt before the entire female population of the country.
Working together, successive governments and the Catholic Church continued to ensure that women were treated in a way that deserves nothing but condemnation. The opportunity of life for a woman reflected nothing but servitude and entrapment. Attempts at rebellion were seen and projected as attacks on the Family and on important Catholic values. Women in Ireland, who for instance had children out of wedlock were imprisoned in Magdelane internment camps. The children they bore were sent to orphanages and often perished in these horrific institutions. The State was always aware.
Despite the self-professed love and compassion for the sanctity of Life and of People, the Catholic Church and the establishment parties have played complicit roles in the continued oppression, alienation and subjugation of women. Of course the economic consequences of these measures were clear. As second citizens socially, the role of women was not to be considered a serious bread earner for the family and therefore as far as industry was concerned an invalid. This helped to consolidate the regressive view that women belonged in the home and men belonged in the workplace but it also ensured that the contradictions between working class men, who broken from their labour would always, find a victim in the woman broken from her labour in the workplace. Instead of seeing a common struggle for emancipation they would consistently see the holding up unjust and backward gender roles.
In 2017, we, as activists are locked in a similarly bitter struggle. Sexism, discrimination, misogyny and the medieval ban on abortion continue to be issues which the State fails to coherently address. Women continued to be vilified for their expression of sexual liberation. Women continued to be vilified for their pursuit of ‘traditionally male’ dominated careers. Women who choose not to abide by the societal norms heaped upon them continue to be looked down upon. Women continue to be seen as aloof or absent minded despite the enormous cultural and social pressures being forced upon them.
All of this and more is what we face when we are attacking the 8th Amendment and seeking free, safe and legal abortion for pregnant people. It is clear, or it should be clear, that the maintenance of the 8th Amendment comes from the continued view that pregnant people, or predominantly women are too stupid to make decisions for themselves and that through our glorious Catholic inspired State we should safeguard them.
This is out-dated medieval nonsense that our generation will wash out and clear from Ireland. We will, through the Repealing of the 8th Amendment taking another step in undoing the archaic, sinister wrappings Catholic dogma has over Ireland. Is this enough however to truly undo the place of the Church? The continued state funding that is provided, the continued grip the Church has over our education and health structures? These questions need to also be addressed and challenged.
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