A matter of consent

I wrote last week about the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore. The murder has gripped the country in a way that no other one has in recent years, indeed my Dad thinks no murder in his lifetime has gripped the country in such a way (and he’s 80+, so…)

It has also sparked a conversation about the responsibilities of men, and how the vast majority of violence instigators, whether it ends up being against women or not, whether it ends up being murder or not, are men. And there is a lot of backlash against this. There are men out there who can’t believe their  friends would do such a thing. There’s no one in their circles who talk like that. There’s no one that they  would associate with that would do or think such things. And yet… there are also men who think that coming along to a vigil for a dead woman and drowning out the speakers with a “Men’s Rosary” is appropriate. There are men in the country that think coming to an online vigil for the same dead woman and masturbating on camera is appropriate. There are men who think now is the time to start shouting over women to make sure everyone is aware that #notallmen.

All men benefit from the men who do these things, and who eventually move on to murder. Yes, all men. It trains women. It trains us to be quiet. It trains us to be careful. It trains us to not raise our voices, not speak out, not be noticed. It keeps us nicely in our places. And all while the majority of men in this world, not just in this country, can sit back and pat themselves on the back for clearing the lowest of possible bars for decency. By not inflicting violence on women. Yippee. Well done.

Now on to the serious work.

It starts with the absolute basics of life. Treat women as fully emancipated, fully competent, fully deserving human beings, worthy of respect, courtesy and all the other basics attributed to human beings. I’m not even going to go into how much worse women of colour, transwomen trans women*, poor women, chronically ill women, women with different abilities, neurodivergent women all have to contend with. Frankly, as a white woman, who has a reasonable salary, good education, is native to the land she lives on, is in the majority religion of said country, who speaks the language of said country (both of them!), cishet, and mostly reasonably healthy, I’m doing pretty damn well. If only I’d had the sense to go into a profession that was woman dominated, I’d be grand really.

But I’d still be at more risk that any man out there. And that’s the catch.

We train women from birth to be nice, to not make a fuss, to work in the background, to keep the peace. We speak to our daughters, our nieces, our younger colleagues about the strategies to use, to always have some running away money, to always have an escape route, to always plan ahead for late nights and journeys home, even if it’s only a few hundred yards, to “text when you get home safe”. We think about the shoes we wear, the clothes we wear, the places we go in ways that men simply don’t.

We train women to expect their consent not to be asked for. And that has to change.

It needs to change from the absolute smallest things – ask before hugging someone, ask before sending someone a private message on social media, ask before robbing a chip off the plate. Respect women’s autonomy, bodily, emotionally, spiritually. Ask before engaging in their space.

In the Brigid’s Forge facebook group, we have a rule that often confuses some people – no unsolicited private messages. That means asking permission before sending someone a PM. People question this rule a lot. They can’t see the point of it, they can’t see the problem with simply sending someone a PM. A PM can be just ignored, right? Well so can wolf whistling and catcalling. So can gestures made in the street. So can harassment at work. But it all takes energy to ignore. It all takes effort to ignore and deal with. And it’s the same with a PM.

So many of us get so many unsolicited PMs in all social media, it’s an intrusion. People, and in my experience, it’s mostly men, seem to think they are allowed to intrude into anyone they like. And honestly, most of the messages are along the lines of “Hello beautiful”, “Hi your photo looks so interesting”. It’s pure bullshit. Plus – my photo on Facebook is at least 10yrs old if not more. And even blocking and deleting these people takes time and energy to do. And sometimes, just sometimes, it would be great to go into my PMs and not see a pile of requests from people wanting something from me. Because a PM is a demand for attention. It’s an assumption that the person you’re writing to will respond. Not responding is “rude”. After all, the sender was being polite and pleasant, that’s what women want right?

Lowest. Bar. Possible.

It’s #notallmen of course, sometimes I get PMs from people interested in Brigid and my other work, and those are sometimes unsolicited as well. I get the ones telling me I have no clue about Brigid and should get back in my box. I get more insidiously horrible ones as well. I get patronising ones. I get downright abusive ones.

It doesn’t really matter what sort of content is in it, anytime I see a new message request, my heart sinks. And it’s an effort to deal with it. And sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, but really, the % of times that happens is low.

And really, how is asking for permission to send a PM that much of an intrusion into the sender’s life? They want to make contact and are asking the most appropriate way to do it – why can that not be done through a quick question in a group or a contact form? Why must the initial “Hey I have a question, I’d like to PM you about, is that ok?” be PM itself? (There are exceptions for every rule – I mean, I say in the Brigid’s Forge group that if someone has a question about whether to post something or if someone is in a situation they don’t want made public, but need to get out of, then PMing is fine, but that exception is not there for everyone in the group, just for me and is limited to the group)

It’s a really small thing and people might be questioning how I can be linking unsolicited PMs to the murder of a woman, but it’s all a spectrum of lack of awareness and lack of respect. If we teach our boys and young men to heed boundaries like not intruding on people’s private messages without permission, they might start to get the idea that they are not entitled to put forward their opinions on women’s lives, bodies, dress, etc at any point. They are not entitled to lay hands on women. They are not entitled to attention from women. They are not entitled to any benefit from just treating women as human. They are not entitled to vent their frustrations on women. They are not entitled to treat women as objects at any point. They are not entitled to murder women.

Can you see it? Can you see how changing these small, seemingly inconsequential things can lead to bigger changes? Can you see how respecting boundaries is important?

* It was pointed out to me that “trans” is an adjective to be put in front of the noun not a part of the noun itself. So I corrected it.

Women, death and rights

For those outside Ireland, the following may come as a shock, but this event has swept across Ireland over the last few days. A young woman was murdered while out for a run. (the vast majority of Irish news sites are running stories on this event, so please check them out. Also, there are vigils being held in every county in Ireland over the coming days, so if you are in a position to check those out, please do so).

Some of the things that have shocked the nation:

  • She was a young woman
  • She was a teacher for a 1 st class in a local village school (1st class =6-7 yr olds)
  • She was out for a run
  • She was considered an excellent fiddle player and involved in her local Comhaltas group
  • She was running in a public place, well populated
  • She was running in daylight
  • She was dressed appropriately for running
  • She was beautiful

If you were looking for a list of attributes for a woman who did not deserve, under anyone’s consideration, to be murdered, this woman would have fit the bill. I think even the most conservative of religious conservatives would admit, this woman has done nothing wrong.

And she was murdered, in broad daylight, in a populated place, well known for walkers and runners. Now, to be clear, I don’t care if she was a naked, plastered, a sex worker, a drug addict, ugly, at midnight, etc, etc she did not deserve to be murdered. No one does. But she was doing everything “right”.

So, we, as a society here in Ireland, are now looking around and thinking – just what sort of society do we have here, that a young woman, doing everything “right” can be murdered in broad daylight.

To some people reading this, the murder of a young woman might not even make the news where you are – and I’m sorry for you if that’s the case. That’s not a society I want to live in. I’m also aware that there are many women in Ireland killed on a regular basis that don’t have the newsworthy considerations this young woman did, and again, that is on us as a society. All people are equal, and we should be equally outraged at any murder.

But since this story has hit the news headlines, let’s use this as an opportunity to examine what sort of society we want and need to develop.

Women in Ireland are not, as yet, fully equal in society in my opinion. Our movements are restricted in ways men just aren’t. The notion of “call me when you get home” is an almost entirely female one – among friends anyway. Mammies always want to know their offspring are home safe! The practice of holding your keys in your hand, making sure you have the correct key ready so there’s no fumbling at the door, making sure if you have the temerity to listen to music or podcasts or the radio as you walk or run, that the volume is at the right level so you can hear someone approaching from behind or the side. Never walk home alone. Definitely, never walk home alone in the dark. Always stay in groups. Mind your drinks. Abandon your drink rather than risk it. Be careful what you wear.

The list of “appropriate safety measures” women take, just without even thinking about it, is long. And that’s before we get into dating, or red flags in relationships, etc. This is just purely, walking around in our daily lives.

The first time I said to my now-husband, “give me a text when you get home”, he laughed. He lived 1 street over at the time. He fundamentally didn’t understand the impulse that drove me to say it. It took years before he fully understood…

Ashling Murphy didn’t deserve to die. She’s missed out on the majority of her life because someone decided she should die for reasons as yet unknown. She’s never going to get married or form a long term partnership lasting decades. Whether or not she wanted a family, that choice has now been taken from her. Her family are left with a massive hole where their daughter, sibling, cousin used to be.

It’s a life wasted, because it’s a life not lived.

Very exciting news!

Image of a lit LED candle against a plain beige-y blind with a crack of daylight coming in under the blind, showing as a line of blue. Candle is sitting on a wooden windowsill, dark brown.

After much debate and consideration and subtle hints from herself, I’ve set up a Brigid’s Forge School on Teachable. This has been a long time coming and is part of me stepping up for Herself as a priestess and doing some different kinds of work.

Currently there’s one course on there – a preparation for Imbolc course and a few coaching options as well. This is obviously a big step forward for me and one I’m both excited and terrified about! But the aim is still the same – to help people get in touch with an authentic Irish Brigid – and there will still be postings, musings, info etc coming through on the blog here as well.

I will still be teaching with the Irish Pagan School, there’s not been any sort of falling out or split there, but there are things I want, need to teach that don’t really fit focus-wise in there and there are things that just don’t fit time wise either. So here’s my offering as a school and please get in touch if there are things you’d like to see taught here!

Changes to the blog

Well, if you’re this far, you’ll have noticed some changes to the blog. I mainly changed the theme so I could have the “Categories” menu over there on the left hand side, to try and make navigation easier.

Another post will be following in a while, possibly tomorrow, but let me know what you think about the changes and if it makes things better or worse.

For the day that’s in it

Seeing as how it’s Christmas Eve and I just yelled to my husband we have no candles lighting in the front window, it reminded me that maybe people would like to hear some of the traditions prevalent in Ireland around this time. Now some of these, like the aforementioned candles, are old traditions, but others are fairly new. See if you can figure out which 🙂

As I said, lighting the Christmas candle is a big deal. Where we live, the window sills are wide enough and there’s no curtains, so we put indoor lanterns in the window at the front. We also have a battery operated candelabra as well. In my parents house, it’s the battery operated only because it’s a bedroom at the front of the house, but there was always a Christmas candle lit and put on the mantlepiece as well. Now the tradition holds that the light in the window is to show the holy family there’s a place to lay their heads, but in other times, the candles in the window could serve as a guide for those out late, or even not so late, or even show those without a roof that there might be a roof for them here at least. In modern times, we don’t really expect to see a stranger coming to door on Christmas Eve, but this night of all nights, you’d be hard pushed to turn someone away. Just in case like.

I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say it’s a more modern tradition to have the car washed for Christmas. Now, there’s a part of me thinking this is to show off to the neighbours at Mass, but there’s queues at car washes all over the country on Christmas Eve in normal times, to make sure the car is looking it’s best as well as the house.

A tradition I miss now that I don’t bother cooking a ham, is the cut of ham in the hand after Midnight Mass at 9pm. Traditional Christmas dinner in Ireland, since I was a child anyway, is turkey and ham, but the ham would be boiling away on Christmas Eve, taking a good few hours to get properly done, before getting rubbed with honey, or sugar, or cloves or some other nice things and chucked in the oven to finish off. Now the smell of the ham would be driving you crazy and it tastes oh so good coming out of the oven. Added to the fact that by the time Midnight Mass at 9pm is over, you’re generally starving, a cut of ham in the hand is welcome indeed. I have very fond memories of standing around the kitchen table, with Dad cutting off hunks of ham, trying to remember to leave enough for tomorrow’s dinner (to be clear, we always had enough, almost like it was planned that way!) and feeding us hand to hand, family member to family member. I don’t do the ham or indeed the turkey any more since it’s just the two of us in the house and there’s a limit to how much meat one can get through, but every Christmas Eve, I can smell the ghosts of hams past.

Speaking of which, Midnight Mass in Ireland happens at 9pm. Honestly, there’s very, very few actual Midnight Masses said for the public across the country. It’s almost like the whole country decided that the Midnight Mass was nicer than the Vigil Mass (for those who aren’t aware, the readings are a bit different, seeing as how we have to wait til after midnight, technically, to welcome the Christ Child to earth again) but midnight was far to late to be staying up, or worse, keeping the kids up, on Christmas Eve. Equally, with the pubs closing shortly before midnight (usually, this year is different), services could be disturbed by those who had partaken of the Christmas cheer… So, if someone in Ireland says “Midnight Mass” for Christmas, you can be 99% certain, they’re talking about a 9pm mass.

Now Christmas Eve is a grand auld time for people to congregate in the pub and catch up with friends and neighbours they haven’t seen in a while. You’ll also see an inrush to all airports and ports of emigrants coming home for the holidays. (again, this year is different!) so the news reports from Dublin airport on Christmas Eve are another tradition. I was part of that crowd for over a decade and even if I was flying in late Christmas Eve night and flying out again early Stephen’s Day, you better believe I was coming home for the Day. When I was younger though, it was Stephen’s night was the big night out. You’d just spent a good 24 hrs in the company of your family, it was time to escape to your friends. So, while Christmas Eve was a casual laid back affair, Stephen’s night was time to get the glad rags out!

For Christmas Eve as well, many people, people now, not just the children, get new jammies. Fierce important part of the festivities to be waking up on Christmas morning in brand new jammies, all crisp and fresh. Usually good warm comfy ones as well – it’s bloody cauld out there in December (those who regularly measure snow in feet or metres may laugh at this point!) And the excitement of seeing which jammies you get is immense. Of course, it’s less immense when you’ve bought the bloody things for yourself, but I still get a kick out of the new jammies for tonight.

Christmas is also a time when people visit graves in Ireland. The recently deceased will had fresh flowers or plants, the less recently deceased will have something done to recognise the occasion. It’s an important day and sure there’s no reason to leave our dead out of it.

There is also the tradition of going shopping and buying enough food to survive an apocalypse. Just in case, with the shops shut for 24 or 48hrs, you might run out of something vital. Plus, boxes of chocolates. Wars have been fought (ok, slight exaggeration here) over whether Roses is better than Quality Street, while in recent years, Heros and Celebrations have gained real market share. Either way, it’s few houses won’t have at least one box of chocolates being passed around to tide you over from breakfast to dinner or dinner to the late night turkey sandwiches. Oh yes – the auld turkey and stuffing sandwiches. Y’see, after a hard days work, unwrapping presents, getting the dinner, eating the dinner, cleaning up the bare minimum after the dinner, lying around, watching telling, nibbling chocolates and cakes and pudding, round about 10-11pm, someone always suggests turkey and stuffing sandwiches. And frankly, it’s sometimes the best meal of the day!

Now, there are people who decide to go for a dip or a run on Christmas morning – usually for charity. My own brother is doing it this year, on the Irish Sea. He did the Atlantic last year. We’re looking forward to the comparison of temperatures for him. It’s certainly a bracing way to start the day, but not one I’d be too fond of! Lots of people do it, and there’s a real community spirit about it all. It will be interesting to see how it’s managed this year with social distancing etc.

Added on to all this, there is of course present giving, the visiting of family and friends, the sales, the massive over consumption, the joy the kids take in presents, the joy the adults take in presents, the quiet times over a fire, with old friends putting the world to rights. there’s the pulling out of the game boards and remembering why no one ever lets Dad be banker any more (that might be just my family!) or pulling out the decks of cards and teaching the younger members of the family the traditional family games. There’s kids falling asleep, adults falling asleep at any and all times of the day and night. There’s joy and laughter, the sadness and tears, rows started, feuds ended. It’s a great big mess in other words. And while this year, with COVID, it’s different (my usual visit to my parents was condensed into a 2hr visit this morning to get there before lockdown), each family will have it’s own traditions they will hold to.

If you celebrate Christmas, Nollag shona duit! If you don’t celebrate Christmas, Saoire shona duit! Now, whatever about you, I’m worried about Santaí arriving while I’m still awake, so I’m off to get into my new jammies, light the candles, pour a glass of wine, settle down in front of the fire and enjoy some time with my husband.

I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, I know not every country has the time off that Ireland usually enjoys at this time of year. But whatever your faith, creed or beliefs, I hope you get some time to spend relaxing and enjoying life during these dark days. And remember- every day now, we’re getting another minute or two of sunshine (even if it’s hidden by rain).

Unless my spirituality is intersectional, it’s just oppression dressed in light

The quote above is taken from Meggan Watterson’s “Mary Magdalene Revealed”, a book I may do a book review on soon. But the quote hit me to the core this morning about 4am as I read it. (Yes, I had one of my sleepless nights, so I finished off my last Benedict Jacka novel and started on Mary Magdalene).

The quote is obviously a play on Flavia Dzodan’s “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit.” (Please see her original post here: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/ )

But the quote on spirituality is also important. Layla F. Saad (here: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/) addressed her remarks on the topic directly to white women claiming to be spiritual. A small group of friends I have ongoingly comment on the “light and love” crowd in modern spiritual circles – you know the ones, all is light and love, you get what you attract, raising your vibrations will help you escape anything. Which is decent good advice… as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.

And this is where I come back to Watterson’s quote above. Spirituality and social justice have been taking an increased portion of my life in recent years. As readers of this blog and any of my other work around the place will know (I say that as if I’m published all over the place, but here, if you have listened to any of my talks over at the Irish Pagan School, or seen what I write about on Facebook, you will be familiar with the following): I’m an Irish Catholic. I mostly call myself a Pagan Catholic these days to acknowledge I also reach back to pre-Christianity for my spiritual life. I work primarily with/for Brigid out of the Irish pantheon, but I also have relationships with the Virgin Mary and St Therese of Lisieux. It seems I’m going to be developing something with Mary Magdalene as well, but that’s another story.

Social justice is an important part of my spirituality. My mother calls it a “social conscience”, and claims it’s an essential part of Christianity, and Catholicism in particular. (all practical evidence to the contrary, Catholics are called on in both the Bible and in the Church teachings to help those less well off, or who are in need of help). And part of that social justice is recognising that we’re not all starting on a level playing field. There is a large part of the spiritual community that seems focused on the energy you attract, the vibrations you resonate to, the people and actions you attract through your own thoughts, feelings, prayers etc. This ignores some of the more basic issues at hand.

If you and your family don’t have enough to eat, no amount of meditation or vision boarding is going to solve that. If you and your family have no place to live and no money to buy or rent someplace to live, no amount of visualisation is going to actually get you that roof over your head. If you and your family have no clothes, no transport, no work, praying is useful, but more practical steps are probably going to help more.

As a Catholic, of whatever flavour, and a follower of Brigid, and an Irish person, helping those who need it is bred into my bones. Generations of oppression, abuse, rape and pillage are bred into my DNA. My ancestors knew oppression (although they were NOT slaves, feck off with that bullshit now!) and that memory has been passed on to me. How can I, as a modern, mostly unoppressed, independent person not help those in need then? As satisfying as it can be to give money to help someone directly, do I not also have a duty to work to eliminate the systems of oppression keeping people poor, cold and hungry?

Recognising that we’re not on a level playing field is step one. Then comes seeing how uneven that playing field is, and what forces are maintaining that unevenness. Then, we look to dismantle those forces and systems and replace them with better. For example, technically in Ireland, we have free education up to age 18, or the Leaving Cert. (Technically, the primary degree in 3rd level is free as well, but since registration fees are now up to 3k euro, I don’t think that can realistically count as “free”) And the vast majority of kids stay in school til they’re 18 these days as well. (>80% people take the Leaving Cert these days). However, any parent will tell you between uniforms, books, outings, exam fees…. education is not free. And that assumes that the child can get to school as well. While our schools are much smaller in general than in the UK for example, outside of urban areas, there can be a long travel time each way for a child to get to school at all. And that’s before we consider those children currently under direct provision and the extra stress and strain this puts on education.

So already, we have travel times, availability of transport, availability of subjects in schools, teacher/ student ratio… and all of this before we consider if the child in question has a safe home environment, enough food to satisfy them and be pleasant to eat, heating, facilities for clothes washing… there are so many ways our “free education” still doesn’t ensure a level playing field.

And that’s just one area to look at. For a child stuck in poverty, telling them to raise their vibrations to improve their lot is cruel. But working to improve the systems that led to their family’s poverty and making sure the path out of poverty is available to each individual and the family as a whole? That’s important spiritual work.

It’s also dirty work. It’s political, campaigning, developing new systems and structures, working within and without the frameworks we already have. It doesn’t allow us to take a step back, maintain our separateness, our detachment. It’s having arguments and disagreements with people, it’s saying outright “This is wrong and we must change!” It’s being emotional and using that emotion to good purpose. It’s not necessarily serenity, it’s not yoga in inspirational places, it’s not yoni eggs, or mandalas, or white clothing. All the prayer in the world must be backed up with action to make changes. It’s that simple.

There’s nothing wrong with being serene, with practicing yoga in gorgeous locations, using yoni eggs or whatever. These are all pretty cool things and have a role to play in life. But they don’t help the kid shuffling to school in ill fitting clothing, with no breakfast, no books, yet another day of being berated for things outside their control… and it doesn’t stop the next generation going down the same path.

If our spirituality is intersectional, it means we’re looking out for one another, even and especially those that don’t have the same background and outlook on life as we do. What is the point of being spiritual if we don’t leave this world a better place than it was before we came into it?