datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: May 2013

Column: Feminism, still a lot to do.

My column in The Kerryman. 29 May, 2013

It’s not uncommon these days to hear young women disdain feminism. Dismissing it as an ideology for man-hating, joy-killing, angry extremists. What use is there for feminism now, when women have the vote, have jobs and can vomit on the street after a good night out, just like men? Sure they don’t even lock up single mothers anymore.

It’s easy to think that women have it made. Girls are excelling in school and in the universities. Plumb professions in Medicine, Dentistry and Law are increasingly dominated by woman. Respectable professions like Teaching, Nursing and Social Working are all but exclusively female. And ever so slowly, the upper echelons of academia are being infiltrated by smart and ambitious women.

Women live longer. Fewer women die by suicide than men. When separating from their husbands/boyfriends, women retain custody of the children, almost as if it is their exclusive right. At a glance, women are winning the War of the Sexes. Crushing we poor disempowered little frightened men. Surely Feminism would just be rubbing it in at this stage? They even have a gold medal for boxing.

And if feminism was merely about winning the right to vote and the right to act as stupid as stupid drunk men have always acted, then indeed, feminism has won. New livers and antibiotics for all in the sisterhood.

Feminism has barely scratched the surface of the violent inequality that afflicts women. Examples of this oppression can be dramatic. Gang rapes in India. They can be galling beyond bearing. An Australian woman in the Unites Arab Emirates, jailed for having sex outside marriage as she had been raped.

They can be uncomfortably close to home. The woman abducted in Limerick, who was repeatedly raped for almost a week. They can by too chilling to believe. Three women held as sex-slaves for ten years in America. A daughter in Austria, forced to live in a cellar as her father’s sex-slave.

And then there are the examples of such stupidity, one despairs. A Senatorial candidate in the USA claiming women who are ‘legitimately’ raped, can’t get pregnant. A Roman Catholic priest from Italy, saying women attract violent assaults because of how they dress and because they do not cook enough.

Then there are the dull stats. Only six of our 35 High Court Judges are women. Only 26 out of 166 TDs are women. Only two of the 15 members of the Cabinet are women. When it comes to money, among the top earners in Ireland, women make about 25% less than men. Which is understandable as women hold only a fraction of senior management positions and boardroom membership.

Then there are the insidious examples. The too thin and sexualised roles-models offered to girls. The not surprising fact that in the top 100 grossing films in America during 2012, less than 30% of the speaking parts were female.

Yes there has been progress in Ireland. Women are no longer the property of their male relatives. Woman can vote. Husbands may no longer rape their wives. Married women are no longer forced to give up their jobs. Single-mothers are no longer detained. That’s what Feminism has achieved so far. It will never eliminate all the injustices endured by women here and elsewhere, but at least it’s trying.

Forcing me to ask, if you’re not a feminist, then just what the hell are you?

Kerry Column 35

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Column: Allowing Marie Fleming a final comfort

My column in The Kerryman. 22 May, 2013

Last month, driving home from Listowel, I heard on the radio that the Supreme Court had refused Marie Fleming’s appeal for help. I had to pull into the side of the road for a few moments. The decision was expected, but hearing it felt like a punch to the gut. I did what I usually do when I need to vent, I tweeted, “Heartbroken. A sentence of death by torture.”

Marie Fleming is a 59 year old woman, living in Wicklow with her partner Tom Curran. She has multiple sclerosis. The disease has advanced so far, she’s lost her physical independence. She has lost her ability to control her own fate. She has lost the opportunity to end her own suffering.

She has spoken of her regret at not suiciding when she had the power to do so. Her partner is willing to help her fulfill that wish. To end this horrible dying, before it is allowed its full measure of her suffering, though he risks a 14 year sentence. That is the law. Confirmed by our highest court. We deny our citizens the right due any other animal, an end to unnecessary pain and anguish. Even the farmer raising cattle for the slaughter, can be broken by the distressed lowing of his half-starved cows.

Not that pain can or should be always avoided. Pain serves an important function. It tells us something is wrong. A bone broken, a stomach empty, a relationship ended. It tells us something needs fixing. We intervene. Sometimes the intervention is nothing more than a hug and support. When we choose to ignore pain, be it depression or that uncomfortable lump, we make worse whatever is causing that pain.

Unfortunately, pain’s function is sometimes to tell us we are dying and there’s nothing we can do about it. It is the thing I fear most in life, a slow painful death. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to spare myself that ignoble end. And I hope I’d have the moral courage to help a loved one avoid such an end.

That is not to say everyone would wish to interrupt terminal pain. Many would rather wait till their natural end. Due to improving palliative care, this natural end is being made so much more humane and gentle. The wonderful people who provide these services are of such high quality and manage these natural ends so well, they can squeeze every positive experience possible from the loss of a loved one.

There aren’t many of us with the kindness and strength to do that work. To bring comfort at the end of a life, is humanity at its most noble. But it is wrong to insist a dying person be entitled to just one kind of comfort. Imagine it’s you being admitted to the hospice. Feel the full horror at that lack of choice. The lack of options. The lack of freedom. That lack of choice is the experience of those who wish to end their suffering. Coupled with the fear that their loved ones may go to jail.

The Supreme Court has left it open to our politicians to legislate for the Marie Flemings of this country. It is in the power of our politicians to allow Marie Fleming’s loving partner give her the final comfort she craves. I just hope our politicians will offer Mister Curran the comfort he’ll need.

Kerry Column 36

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Column: Time for the middle to stand up.

My column in The Kerryman. 15 May, 2013

The most important advice the editor gave me about writing a column, was that I could either be a mouthy know-it-all or I could write columns which people may disagree with, but would not be offended by. I almost quit before I begun. To write honestly while trying to avoid needless provocation is not easy. It’s especially not easy for a mouthy know-it-all. It means having to see things from other people’s points of view.

When the issue is abortion? Well it can seem like giving and taking offense are the whole point. The terms used by the meekest pro-lifer and the most restrained pro-choicer, are usually the most extreme available. Most of us when arguing about anything else, will leave the really heavy language to the rare times when we want to get very nasty.

In a debate between a pro-choicer and pro-lifer it quickly gets vicious. Pro-lifers (or anti-choicers to their enemies) will hint or out-right state that abortion is the murder of babies. Pro-choicers (or pro-abortionists to their enemies) will demand to know if raped children should be forced to have babies. This is no ordinary war. The nuclear weapons are brought out every single time, leaving everybody devastated.

Cards on the table; I am pro-choice. Very pro-choice and I’ll argue with anyone, anywhere, anytime defending that point of view, but a column is not an argument. You can’t shout back at me when I shout at you. That can be OK on almost any other issue, but not abortion. I can hector the pro-lifers, bully the undecided and play to the pro-choice gallery, but what happens next week? What happens when I want to offer my opinion on how to help those in mortgage distress or explain why I love hurling?

I will end up speaking only to those who see the world as I do and I know that number to be very small indeed. What point is there to writing if no one reads what I write? Worse, why write if I’m so predictable, no one need read it?

Yet I’m pro-choice, with a column, during a national debate on abortion. How do I write honestly without offending someone? Simple answer, I can’t. This debate is so horrible, that just by declaring a position, I offended. No doubt, I’ve already forever lost some readers.

That stings, for there’s nothing and no one, so in need of attention than a writer. Nothing so hurts a writer than not being read. Yet I am pro-choice, with a column, during a national debate on abortion.

I’m so pro-choice, that I feel a knot of anger in my belly anytime I hear a pro-life spokesperson make a point. I’m so pro-choice I often avoid abortion debates for fear I will lose friends and alienate loved ones. That’s how strongly I feel. A strength of feeling, a passion, a calling, that I know is also felt in the hearts of those I call opponents, pro-lifers.

Our only hope, my only hope, is there being enough people so passionately dedicated to finding a middle path, that the rest of us are finally pushed to the sidelines. Our only hope is the middle-roaders drowning out our noise. The silent must find their voice, or this fight will never end.

Kerry Column 37

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Column: Community trumps guns

My column in The Kerryman. 8 May, 2013

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae’s recent call for more liberal gun laws for rural dwellers made me think of the film, Braveheart. It’s about William Wallace’s war with the English King, Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots. Edward never conquered Scotland, making the title Hammer of the Scots, undeserved. He did conquer Wales. Conquered it and pacified it so successfully, it never again seriously contested English rule.

Edward won by building castles. Each castle was built to support the other castles. Attack one and you’d soon have an army at your back. It was common to build forts in enemy lands, to keep a conquered people under the thumb. The Romans did it and all over Ireland there are Norman keeps and castles, built to suppress us natives.

The only thing that’s changed since, is the architecture and the distance between each fortification. Before the War of Independence, British rule in Ireland was maintained by a huge number of Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. Then of course, support arrived by bicycle, today it’s by car.

Edward built his castles big, not just for defence, but to remind everyone who was in charge. Our Garda Stations, aren’t big or impressive but they have the power to make people feel more secure. In sparsely populated areas of Kerry, among the elderly and those living alone, that feeling matters. Matters more than a money man in Dublin can ever know.

Great anxiety is being experienced in rural Ireland. The economy, emigration, the woes faced by farmers due to the awful weather, the silent agony of isolation and the growing perception that we are being increasingly victimised by organised gangs of criminals have led to feelings of abandonment and desperation.

So bad do people feel, the calls for more guns seems reasonable. I may be a soft liberal type, but I’ve no problem with the idea that a man forfeits his life if he comes into my house, my castle, uninvited. The problem is with the practicalities of this principle. Australia once had a very pronounced gun culture. In a country full of voracious wildlife and where the nearest police officer might be a plane ride away, having guns seemed perfectly sensible.

In the 90s however, they decided that they’d suffered one too many massacres, so they came down hard on gun ownership. There hasn’t been a massacre since. Gun homicides, accidental deaths and suicides have been reduced. If we invite more guns into rural Ireland, we can be certain that death will follow in their wake.

Guns are the wrong answer to the wrong question. All they’ll succeed in doing is creating a whole serious of little castles, defended by gun toting scared men. That is not security. That is the opposite of security.

But security we must have. Michael Healy-Rae understands this. I may disagree with his solution, but he knows a fear exists. Kerry has five other TDs and a few dozen councillors. Perhaps it’s time they all sat down together and listened.

Listened and reassured. Not all the fear being experienced is justified. Yet statistics are cold comfort to those living in fear in isolated parts of the county. Statistics are no comfort to those who become the statistics.

Nothing can breach the walls of a strong community. No threat nor disaster can bring those walls down, but our dozens of paid representatives need to be on the walls with us.

Kerry Column 38

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Letter to Indo re Labour Party

It was with a sense of shock and bewilderment that I read in the Sunday Independent (April 28) of the outing of the Labour Party as a pro-choice organisation. As a pro-choice member of Fine Gael, I am outraged that I didn’t already know Labour is pro-choice. Further, I am appalled that just like me, members of the Labour Party see the ludicrously restrictive x-case legislation, as merely a stepping-stone towards the ultimate goal of Irish women, winning the same level of physical autonomy that Irish men already enjoy.
Also the Pope is Catholic. And bears relieve themselves in wooded areas. Except of course for polar bears. They live on ice-packs, so no trees. Oops, did I state the blindingly obvious? Though I don’t mean ‘blindingly’ in the literal sense, or else you wouldn’t have been able to read this sentence.

Indo Letter 05-05-13

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Column: Losing our young men to suicide

My column in The Kerryman. 1 May, 2013

It’s difficult to escape the growing gloom regarding suicide in this county. The South Kerry coroner Terence Casey spoke again last week about the truly frightening number of young men who are being lost to suicide. The overwhelming tragedy that these young men leave in their wake, is mirrored in the stunned confusion of those of us left behind. There can even be anger and accusations of selfishness leveled at the departed.

How many of us have felt the bewildering anguish of depression? To be gripped by an emotional pain so intense, that it feels like a physical ache. To have an ever present knot of anxiety in the belly. The tension in the chest so tight it restricts breathing. Eyes that feel filled with sand, as one battles both insomnia and lethargy.

How does one explain that for no obvious reason, the prospect of nonexistence seems so much more attractive and easier than to continue enduring this waking nightmare? If one is an apparently healthy young man, it is especially difficult to put into words, why instead of feeling the immortal arrogance, common to young men, one feels the agonising pang of despair.

We are failing to identify suicide for what it is. A catastrophic symptom of depression. We are failing to identify suicide for what it is. The end of an illness, that could have been treated if only the shame had been replaced with the firm knowledge that this a treatable disease. We are failing to identify suicide for what it is.

Our young men are being lost in a resource war. They are being lost because we are failing to provide them with the two things they most desperately need, the words to explain their pain and people to understand those words.

This failing is particularly galling in this post-embarrassment age. Now we speak and laugh openly about fingers being stuck up old fellas bums. Prostate cancer is an easy to understand disease. We know how to find it and to treat it. There is no shame in a prostate exam.

Everyday there are ads in newspapers, on TV and on the radio, urging us to check our poo for blood. Colon cancer is an easy disease to understand. We are told to check our testicles, check our breasts. Have our moles examined, have smear tests done and to cough as the doctor checks for hernias.

There are ads for viagra. Lubricants, condoms and toys of all descriptions are available to those who want or need them. Embarrassment is no longer the norm. There are ads for incontinence pads, sanitary towels, tampons, adult diapers, haemorrhoid creams and ointments for thrush. The days of suffering in silence, of brown paper bags and shame are gone.

Yet for one of the young gods that grace our playing fields to admit to depression, is still a hurdle too far. Depression, like any disease, will take its share of victims. This is inevitable. But the numbers currently being lost is unforgivable.

We inoculate babies to save them from the ravages of measles and polio. The best inoculation we can provide for depression, are forewarning, the words to explain and an environment in which to be sick and recover. No one accuses a cancer victim of selfishness, we need to extend the same understanding and love to those suffering depression. It’ll help save lives.

Kerry Column 39

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