say it out loud: feminism and equality

‘I’m not a feminist,’ says Laura Waters, in her Guardian column about women in science. ‘I’m an ‘equalist’.’

In doing so, she resurrects a tedious semantic argument, and one that’s been fought on many shores before now. Waters contends that she is “fully devoted to promoting science to women as a great career choice and [that she] honestly believe[s] we need more women at all levels in science.” She wants to “ensur[e] women actively choose to stay in science and climb the promotional ladder.” She mentions positively the Athena SWAN programme – which gives praise and status to institutions that actively work to promote equal treatment for women in academia.

I’m sorry to break it to her, but that’s a feminist viewpoint. That’s an entirely feminist argument. If she wants it from a better source than me – it’s exactly the feminist argument I heard Jocelyn Bell Burnell give at WITS a couple of weeks ago.

I have no problems with Waters’ viewpoint. It’s one I espouse myself (any reader of this blog will know that). My problem is with her denial of feminism.

I’m a feminist because I believe in equality. Equality is – for the most part – the primary role of practical feminism. Currently society does not view women as being the equals of men. There’s a gap there that needs filling, and feminism works to boost women’s role in society to fill that gap. It’s not inherently anti-men to be pro-women; it’s not anti-equality to say that one group needs more support.

Imagine a bar chart of the gender pay gap. For every euro Irish men earn, Irish women earn 13.9% less (Irish Examiner, Feb 2013). Parity in the hourly wage – the value of an hour’s work – would have men with 100%, and women with 100%. At the minute, men have 100%, and women have just over 86%. Clearly that’s inequal. To make it equal, you have to close that gap – and you do that by helping women, because women are the group that’s worse off in that situation.

Equalism? Sure. Through feminism.

Waters wants academia to be fairer to women. Women need more help than men do to fulfil their academic potential, because currently the power bias in the institutions of academia swings heavily toward men. What do we do? Make things fairer for women. Use Athena SWAN to reward institutions that reward women. Understand that family structures still involve more women than men doing part-time or awkward hours in order to be around for the kids, and accommodate that. Give positive female role models to young women in STEM careers.

I’m almost reciting Waters’ points here, which is actually the key to what I’m saying: this is a feminist argument.

Why disavow feminism? It feels like internalised misogyny to me**. It’s not lesser to be a woman, and it’s not lesser to be a feminist. Throwing your lot in with the boys may get you approval at the time, but in reality you’re cheerily standing over the status quo while inequality happens all around you.

Feminism is the reason you have a job in academia. Feminism is the reason you get to have an opinion and have it out loud. Feminism is the reason programmes like Athena SWAN happen, and feminism is the reason that it’s recognised that the sciences should be more welcoming to women. We are where we are because of feminists, and sniffily casting that aside and pretending you’re more advanced, somehow, is disrespectful to their work and their sacrifices.

No-one is saying that scientific output should be judged separately depending on its author’s gender. No-one is saying that an institution should seek a candidate of a particular gender rather than a candidate who’s best for the job. What feminism asks is that a women who reads the jobs posting should feel as able as a man to apply, or that a woman offered a job should feel comfortable and respected in accepting the place.

I believe in equality. I think a just society would offer the same chance to everyone. Feminism wants that full and fair chance for women.

Be proud to be a feminist! Feminism is the path to equality. We have lots of work to do.

** please note that I say this in reference to mainstream feminism, and women who disavow the label totally. I’m not referring to women who choose to use a different term for ‘believes in women’s rights’, like ‘womanist’, because of minority status or perceived disrespect by mainstream feminism. That’s a matter beyond the scope of this post.

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“HORRIFIC” – an anti-choice blight on Dublin’s streets

Walking around Dublin at the minute, it’s very quickly obvious that the city is under siege by an army of bullshit. I’m sorry – I normally try to be reasonably polite about other people’s politics, but up with this I will not put.

I speak, of course, of the anti-choice posters that seem to have been splattered over the city from a paintball gun held by a despotic and artless misogynist. I found out that they’re from the always-reliable Youth Defence, quickly rushing into the breach to spread their moronic gospel – so I feel totally vindicated in my first opinion.

NOPE.

Look here: you are not pro-life. There is nothing pro-anybody’s life about opposing a Bill meant to save women’s lives. You understand that, don’t you? I have a grandmother who’s ninety-one and more Catholic than God, and she understands that. If you let the mother die, not only do you let the foetus you’re so concerned about die with her, you also make sure that she can never have any more children.

I can’t believe there are people in this country who don’t understand that. I can’t believe that people have been pelting the Taoiseach with Catholic paraphernalia, threats of harm, and letters written in blood. I just can’t believe it. I can’t be eloquent about this because I am just so utterly gobsmacked.

I shouldn’t be. I know, like, and respect people who are pro-life. I know, like, and respect many people who are Catholic. The bit that I don’t like and don’t respect is when people who share those views attempt to impose them on my body, my uterus, my liberty.

It’s so strange, this dogged determination that I should have to live by your rules, when you would absolutely agree that I am free to consign myself to Catholic hell if I so desire. If I were to get pregnant tomorrow, I would have it terminated. You know why? Because I’m not ever going to be a good parent. Because I’m not ready to hand over control of my body to an invader. Because I’m mentally ill, and I’d have to change my medication – which would probably land me in hospital, combined with the distress of said pregnancy – and it’s a 50/50 chance whether I’d pass this on to my offspring, and I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, take that risk.

So thank you very much for shouting until my broken, violated, and distressed self would have to get three doctors’ opinions before I would be counted as suicidal enough to require a termination. Suicide kills! Why does no-one take that at face value? Why is it that when several young men kill themselves in a row, they put psychiatrists on the news to discuss the problem, but when women threaten to kill ourselves it’s totally legit to write difficulties for us into law?

Don’t answer that. I don’t think I’m going to like your reasoning.

One of the more vocal anti-choice voices in Ireland is an old lecturer of mine. In person, he’s a genial and intelligent man, who teaches well and greets his students pleasantly when you pass him in the hallway. In the media, he espouses a viewpoint that would let me have a crack at killing myself and a hypothetical foetus, rather than allow me a termination and save my life. The cognitive dissonance there makes me slightly dizzy. I think that’s why anti-choice rhetoric has such a stranglehold in this country – because respectable, smart, likeable people carry a massive conservative bias and don’t seem to see anything wrong with imposing that on (hopefully also respectable and smart) women who don’t share the view.

So I’m pretty bloody angry about this, and every time I have to look at those dreadful posters I get angrier. I’m having daydreams out the windows of buses about having a lovely big bonfire on O’Connell Street – not that I would ever do such a thing, as I have respect for public order and the laws of the state, but a girl can dream. Also ruled out by law would be ‘editing’ them to have a more realistic message, but no-one said I can’t do that on the internet:

posteredit

Better!

This was nicely cathartic, even as rants go. I know this is a sensitive issue, and I really do understand that people can hold a viewpoint I dislike and will do so for reasons they think are morally right. I honestly just cannot deal with the far-right on this one, though. People like this are anti-choice and anti-women, and I am so very tired of seeing their rubbish defiling my beautiful city.

Previous post: a background to Irish abortion law pre-2013.

talk: Jocelyn Bell Burnell at @WITSIreland

Science, art, feminism, activism, and a cup of tea. I’ve had worse lunchtimes.

Okay, confession: I’m not a scientist myself. I just play one on the internet sometimes.

Nevertheless, this Thursday, I was thrilled to don my hobbyist science-geek hat, and attend an event organised by Women in Technology and Science Ireland (WITS) in honour of Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Bringing us together was the presentation of a painting by artist Margarita Cimadevila, inspired by Professor Bell Burnell’s discovery of pulsars.

Margarita Cimadevila – Pulsares.

Ms Cimadevila – a chemist by training and a teacher by profession – based a series of paintings on the work of women scientists whose brilliance was underrecognised. Ciencia Ex Aequo includes tributes to, among others, Annie Cannon, Cecilia Payne, Chien-Shiung Wu, Emmy Noether, and Lise Meitner. Quite apart from the richness of the art itself (and the photo above does this piece no justice), there is something fittingly lovely about seeing the lives and work of these women celebrated vividly and beautifully on canvas. They deserve the honour; deserve their names writ large and illuminated. I really do recommend looking at the Ciencia Ex Aequo catalogue linked above – I wish I could have seen all twelve.

Next up, some of the spotlight was handed over to a gentleman for a few minutes (but only a few). Minister of State for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock, spoke about the importance of the sciences sector for industry and progress in Ireland. In particular, he pointed out that women in the sciences were carrying a lot of the weight of the work, but were entirely underrepresented in the power structures of academia and training. Promoting the importance of women’s voices and representation should be a priority for anyone looking to shore up Ireland’s scientific stock, particularly as we heard this week that Nature considers Ireland one of the up-and-coming countries to watch in high-level research.

Professor Bell Burnell’s talk came in two parts – a presentation about her work with Tapping All Our Talents: Women in STEM, a project of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and an interview about her life and career, conducted by science journalist Claire O’Connell. Having never seen her speak before, I was expecting an interesting talk, but was still pleasantly surprised at how warm and engaging Professor Bell Burnell is as a speaker.

She noted that Scotland is a close analogue for Ireland when it comes to size, character, and economic status, and therefore the results garnered from the Royal Society report would equally serve as good guidelines for the Irish scientific sector. Foremost among her concerns: the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect – whereby, even though school and undergraduate degrees are seeing many women and girls opt for science subjects, the number of those women remaining in the sciences at each subsequent level (bachelors, postgraduate, researcher, lecturer, professor) falls away steeply. For example, while 70% of candidates for school exams in biology are female, only 15% of professors of biology are women. The situation is worse still in chemistry, physics, and maths, where girls start out as a minority at secondary school level and remain starkly so right up the ranks. This echoes what Minister Sherlock had said about women in power structures – there is no reason why women shouldn’t have the same impact as men trained to an equivalent level, and yet we don’t get our voices heard nearly as much. Fewer women at professorial level means fewer women directing research and fewer role models for the girls making it to university lectures.

This is institutional sexism at play, both on a conscious (well, science is a boys’ club, isn’t it) and an unconscious level. ‘How many of you have had to fill out a form where you declared your gender by ticking a box?’ she asked us. ‘And which one of those boxes came first?’ It’s a simplistic example, but one that resonated with the audience. This unconscious bias comes into play even as far as the language used to describe job postings in the sciences, which can often use language typified as ‘male’ (strong, dynamic, etc – adjectives which, for better or for worse, are filed under the M box for cultural gender).

In an employment culture where 73% of female STEM graduates leave the field once they start employment, incentives must be given to institutions to promote their ‘women-friendliness’. The Tapping All Our Talents group recommended that universities be given research grants condititional on reaching a Silver Athena SWAN level, and that employers pay special attention to the conditions offered to female employees and potential hires (diversity and equality in recruitment, positive part-time hours and benefits for working mothers, cultural change and anti-discrimination policies in the business).

A quick aside: a question from the floor raised the question of visible female role models for young scientists. In her reply the Professor mentioned the popularity of Chris Hadfield’s reports from aboard the ISS – currently, one of the ISS astronauts is a woman named Karen Nyberg, who tweets updates and photos as @AstroKarenN. If lady role models aren’t as visible as the men, there’s only one thing we can do about that – make them so.

The tone got lighter after the formal section of the talk was over, and the interview began. I think most of us could relate to the young not-yet-Professor, arguing with her schoolteachers to be accorded equality with the boys in her choice of subjects! You have to be tough to get ahead, it seems, even in school uniform. More seriously,  it was reassuring to hear her talk about experiencing impostor syndrome while a postgrad student – it sometimes feels like people who are successful were created that way, and have never doubted themselves. She discussed the lead-up to identifying the pulsar and its strange pattern of data: how she was convinced, as was her supervisor, that the signal had to be an error or interference on the radio receiver, and how they performed a differential diagnosis until they were left with no choice but to accept the data and find an explanation for them. It’s understandable! A pulsar is such a strange object that if there wasn’t such strong evidence for its existence, it really would seem like a product of a creative imagination.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon overall, but if I’m to sum up the good humour and amusement present throughout the event, I’ll do so like this. Several times in the opening speeches, allusion was made to Professor Bell Burnell’s PhD supervisor being awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of pulsars – even though it had been her data and her insistence, despite his scepticism, that led to the discovery being made. I wondered if that wasn’t something that would sit uncomfortably, given that much of her career has been clouded under this one big oversight. Do you ever really get past being the person who didn’t get the Nobel?

Ms O’Connell brought it up in her interview, asking how it felt to see the supervisor get given the nod.

“I was pleased to see it go to an astronomer, seeing as there is no Nobel Prize for astronomy – it has been given to quite a few, since, but pulsars were the first to be honoured in that way.’

Yes, but how did she feel about it?

“I think I’ve done pretty well out of it,” replied the Professor, laughing. “If you don’t get the Nobel Prize, they give you every other prize that’s going!”

Whoever said that you shouldn’t meet your heroes clearly required better taste in role models.

I’m not ‘having a fat day’ (and neither are you)

I grabbed the wrong t-shirt today, and realised only about half an hour later that I was wearing one that makes me look very oddly shaped and quite unlike my actual figure. Bugger, I thought, I look ridiculously fat today. And then I caught myself.

It’s been a few years since I tried to cut fat out of my vocabulary as a critical descriptor of my figure. I’m not fat, and I don’t think fat is a bad thing to be. I’m being neither accurate nor appropriate. It’s still a really difficult habit to shake, which probably shows exactly how engrained it is into women’s mindsets that the default response to unhappiness in self-image is ‘I look fat’.

It seems like a lot of us don’t really look into that thought process. If you extrapolate from that phrase you get: I don’t like how I look -> I look fat -> fat is something to dislike -> fat people don’t look good. Except… that’s not true. Fat people can look good or bad, as much as thin people can. The word ‘fat’ is not a synonym for the word ‘ugly’. That is – or should be – common sense.

Okay, the media don’t think it is. The advertisers don’t think it is. The Daily Mail would get this far in this post (should they be very bored at work) and split their sides laughing. I’d like to think most of us are smarter than that. It is hard, though, to hold up a properly feminist and equality-driven set of beliefs on body image when you’re bombarded from all sides by: Get a beach body! Snack packs of biscuits, 100 calories! Figure-enhancing and very uncomfortable tights!

What will you gain when you lose? asks a cereal company. Bad restrictive food behaviours and an inroad to obsession over my intake, say I (but that’s another story.)

There are pat answers thrown around – have a body; put a bikini on it – but they’re a patch, not a cure. Ridding yourself of the pattern of thought behind ‘fat = to be avoided’ requires an understanding of the root of that pattern. Isn’t it odd how women get so much more pressure than men to ‘look after’ our bodies? A feminist angle on that question puts the matter among the societal limits put on women. We are to be dainty, petite, restrained people, and we are to be neither seen nor heard, for the most part. Being fat – being anything above waiflike, to be honest – means that we take up space in the world. It means that we have to confront the fact that our bodies don’t equal the idealised image constructed for us. Being a woman who’s proud of her muscular physique, or loves how her curves look in a dress, or doesn’t give a damn that she’s wearing something unflattering for comfort’s sake, is a challenge to that ideal. It’s a statement we make by our mere presence.

And it’s intimidating, don’t get me wrong. Piloting a non-airbrushed female body around means you’re open to uncouth remarks from (mostly) men, and unpleasant comparisons between yourself and the images in the media. How are you meant to feel okay in yourself when someone who’s six feet tall and a size eight looks so much more sleek than you do in a dress? How is a six feet tall, size eight, woman meant to feel when she’s told that wearing heels makes her look ridiculous? It doesn’t matter what you look like – eventually someone, somewhere, is going to say something that makes you feel like Gregor Samsa, post-cockroaching.

Here’s where ‘having a fat day’ comes in – when you have that thought, you’re expressing something internalised from your experiences in society. You’re not actually after becoming twice your size, nor have you instantly added several inches of saddlebags from eating a plate of chips. You feel like something is off about your appearance, and the way you process that is: I feel fat. You’re saying that you feel misshapen, or wrong, or uncomfortable, but the narrative that we’ve internalised translates that vague feeling of off-ness into a conviction that you’re too big, you’re taking up too much space, and you’re straying farther than you should be away from the ideal.

Well, ladies, that’s some bullshit we put up with, right there.

It’s bullshit from both angles. It’s demeaning and embarrassing to people who are fat and are living comfortably, or learning to live comfortably, in their bodies. It’s too simplistic an answer for those of us who feel a dysmorphic discomfort in ourselves – because if we just blame fat, we can avoid the disagreeable procedure of figuring out what’s actually going on in our heads.

Saying ‘I don’t feel right. I don’t know why. I think I look bad, but I can’t tell where. I don’t like my body.’ is difficult but honest. Saying ‘I feel fat’ is careless, insulting, and unproductive – and getting that phrase out of your vocabulary is the first step toward teaching yourself to understand what emotions are leading you to use it. It’s a hard habit to break, but I really feel it’s worth it – even (especially, really) if you just do it to be one less person making women feel bad about themselves.

We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to reclaiming our relationship with our bodies. Thinking about that might make you uncomfortable. It’s okay.

But you’re not ‘having a fat day’. Trust me on that.

‘oh! common sense!’

(…as a Twitter acquaintance said on hearing some of this stuff.)

A very quick post on some of the words that’ve been thrown around recently.

Transgender: someone whose gender assigned at birth doesn’t match the gender they feel inside. The doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ but when she grew up she knew she was a woman.

Cisgender: not transgender. The doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ and when he grew up he agreed. This is not a derogatory term in any way. In the same way that up needs down and gay needs straight, the opposite of transgender is cisgender. Most people are cisgender. If you see it being used in a negative light, it is probably because we cisgender peple don’t understand the abuse and discrimination lots of trans folks face, and that’s a pain in the arse. Think of it like this – if you’re a woman, do you ever get frustrated because men don’t understand some of the sexism we face (‘get back in the kitchen luv’ or ‘shouldn’t you be at home with your kids and not working?’) – see? Pain in the arse that you only really understand if you’re part of the maligned group.

Why do you need to differentiate? Aren’t we all women? Well, yes. Of course we are. But when you need to talk about specifically ‘the group of women who have changed gender in society’s eyes’ you need the term ‘trans women’. If you want to talk about the group of women who have kids, you need the word ‘mothers’. Each group is a subset of the whole, and we’re all women, but different groups of women have different experiences in life – hence the different titles.

Intersectionality: a big word for a simple concept. All women face sexism. Women of colour face sexism and racism; men of colour, only racism. Gay women face homophobia and sexism; gay men only face homophobia. Intersectionality means understanding that your gender and race and sexuality and age (etc, etc) mean you face different challenges in society. You’re better off than some people and worse off than others. Intersectional feminism means taking that into account when you write or act with regard to feminism.

Transphobia: discrimination against transgender people. It happens a lot. A lot, a lot. Most cisgender people – me included – have no idea of the blatant shit transgender people get handed by society. Doctors who think being transgender means that they can treat you like a test case and ask invasive questions, or sometimes deny treatment altogether. People who refuse to address them by their chosen name. She says she’s called Mary but she’s still John to me! People who feel they can ask a trans lady what’s under her skirt and not understand why that’s hurtful. And on and on and on.

Why do transgender people get upset when cisgender people say transphobia doesn’t exist? Isn’t that obvious? You deal with society being a complete arse every day of your life and then someone comes along and says you’re making it up. I’d be hopping mad. Would you tell a Black woman racism doesn’t exist? I’m guessing not. Same goes for transphobia – the discrimination is real and it hurts to have that be pushed to one side.

Why do people write ‘trans*’? What does the asterisk mean? If you’re familiar with search string operators, you’ll know that ‘school*’ will bring up ‘schoolhouse’ and ‘schoolbook’ and ‘schoolteacher’. The asterisk covers every word starting with ‘school’, no matter the ending. Trans* covers transgender and transsexual and other terms – and also people who identify outside the gender binary (those who don’t like either masculine or feminine labels), or those who are questioning their gender assigned at birth and seeking an identity that fits.

Gender binary: the societal system that classifies people as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Some people don’t wish to identify as either: this is often (but not always) called being genderqueer.

Is there anything I’ve left out? Happy to clarify.

(Thank you to my friend Kirill for advice on the term trans* and its use.)

mass communication

The thing about being in a position of knowledge or influence on a particular topic is that at some point you had to go from ignorance to experience. At some critical juncture in your development, you became interested in your discipline and you decided to pursue it further. Looking back, your first tentative forays into reading or research or education seem to be as naive and simplistic as a child learning their ABCs. That’s the point, though – if you never take the baby step, you’ll never get to take the bigger ones.

This is something I think about a lot when taking part in discussions about politics and feminism. It seems so obvious to me now that the dominant media voices primarily focus themselves on women somewhere near the top of the intersectionality* ladder. It seems obvious that there’s a massive world of literature out there, and that you can view pop culture through a feminist lens and see things you’d never noticed (and that sometimes you wish you hadn’t noticed (she says, glumly)). It didn’t always.

[* intersectionality: the principle that your place in society is affected by your gender, your race, your age, your sexuality, etc, and that the benefits and disadvantages conferred by each of those factors is modified and operated upon by each of the others. Basically, society as a big game of Top Trumps.]

To me, one of the primary aims of involvement in an area you care about and consider important is to promote it to others. Makes sense, doesn’t it? You’re a feminist because you want society to give women equality, and the best way to get there is to make more feminists. You’re a scientist because knowledge is vital, so you inspire people to take up scientific careers and thereby progress our understanding of the world around us. Sometimes people tell you you’re doing it wrong. Sometimes they’re right. Often, though, they aren’t – and I see a strange possessiveness articulated by experts/’experts’ when it comes to the general public playing in their garden.

Obviously the Cox/Ince/geeks business is in the forefront of my mind here, but the couple of recent discussions about Caitlin Moran’s writing are playing into it too. Full disclosure: I like Caitlin Moran. She’s not perfect and sometimes she’s entirely wrong, but for my teenage self, finding her writing was one of those watershed moments. You could be a feminist and be funny and care about music and media and non-academic interests! Holy crap. Where has this been all my life? So I carry a residual affection for her from that, yes, but I also think the criticism of her writing can be a little off the wall. Last time I read an argument about her, I spent ten minutes staring at a comment box attempting to reply to an accusation that she’s not a proper feminist because she uses comedy and frivolity in her self-expression. I ended up closing the page and walking away because I didn’t know how to explain to another adult human that people like jokes.

That’s just it, though. People like jokes. Humour is an excellent way to make your audience feel like they have some ownership over your subject, like they’re in the club. Academic feminism has many virtues, but it does often feel like a circle of closed doors – and I’m speaking as someone who’s read the books and had the arguments. If you want to engage people, you have to let them in. You can no more take the average member of the public and set them a reading-list on feminist intersectionality, as you could teach them to enjoy astronomy by giving them an astrophysics PhD dissertation and telling them to get their heads around it before they go buy a telescope.

Everyone has to start somewhere. This is the problem with dismissing articles speaking to laypeople: there is no way to make a layperson an expert if you confuse and isolate them first. Argue that Moran has used offensive wording somewhere or that Ince and Cox could have explained the phrase ‘the scientific method’ better, if you want, but saying that simplistic writing for an inexpert audience is wrong is entirely counter-productive. I would much rather someone ended up at bell hooks by starting out with Caitlin Moran than that they never find either. To be honest, I don’t mind if someone ever makes their way to the academic end of feminism as long as they start questioning the misogynistic standards of society when it comes to what we’re paid, what we’re allowed wear, our freedom of choice, and so on ad infinitum.

Because I want more feminists. I want more people who understand science, too, and I want more people who understand law. I want people to make informed political decisions and I want people to engage with history. But mainly, I want your voice and my voice and everybody else’s. I want gay feminists and transgender feminists and feminists with mental illness and feminists of colour. I want everyone to be counted. And I want teenage girls to understand that you can look at your life with a feminist slant without needing a college education or membership in some esoteric club.

Some people write this off as populism, but I prefer to think of it as accessibility. We’re building Rome – it won’t get done in a day, but that doesn’t mean we’re not progressing by taking one hour at a time.

an open letter to Praveen Halappanavar

Dear Mr Halappanavar:

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for your loss, for your beautiful wife and your hope for a child.

I’m sorry there are people in Ireland so blind to human suffering that they don’t understand why what happened was wrong.

I’m sorry that doctors are too afraid of the law to stand up for a woman’s life. I’m sorry that the doctors you dealt with treated you the way they did. That was wrong, inexcusably so.

I’m sorry we’ve elected cowards more interested in staying out of political hot water than in massive, massively important, issues like a woman’s right to choose. I voted for this government in the hopes that they were the pro-choice option. I hoped that they’d legislate on X and give us our Eighth Amendment referendum. I’m ashamed for my country of what happened in the Dáil yesterday. I’ll contact my TDs. I’ll ask them to say that they’re sorry too.

I’m sorry you and Savita have become figureheads for a movement, positions for which you did not volunteer. The movement is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. It was about time Irish feminists and pro-choice advocates got a rocket lit under us. Nevertheless, it must be so difficult to play out private grief and deal with public interest at the same time. You’re a strong man. I admire you.

I’m sorry that Ireland has treated you the way it has. I’m sorry that this is your impression of our country. It has failed you. It’s not right.

I’m sorry that “in the interests of balance” the media are wheeling out anti-choice cretins who would leave this sorry tale to play out again and again. In the interests of balance, we should stand every lawmaker hiding behind the Constitution and afraid of electoral castigation up in front of the nation and make them listen to women telling their stories. Twelve women a day fly to Great Britain to procure terminations, because they’re not sick enough to fight for one here. Unwanted pregnancy, spanning a spectrum of emotions from discomfort to violation, is apparently not enough. You have to be dying. Even then… seemingly, not enough. I’m sorry you have to listen to these people.

I’m sorry that the doctors brushed you off in the name of Catholicism. I want them to take out their Bibles and show me the bit where it says that saving a woman’s life is wrong. I’ve read a lot of it. I don’t think that’s there.

I’m sorry that somewhere along the line being a Catholic country became an excuse to be un-Christian in our acts. I don’t believe in God, but I was taught a lot about the Christian God as a child. He never sounded like someone who would treat people in grief or in danger the way you have been treated here.

I’m sorry that the God that lives in Ireland is a selfish old man, who looks out only for the welfare of selfish old men like him.

I’m sorry that I can’t even express how wrong this all has been. How inexcusable. How heartbreaking your loss must be. What a rotten stain on our society this sick Catholic hangover is. The audacity of trying to argue any logic or reason into refusing your wife her termination to save her life.

We will fix this. I promise. We will fix it so that no-one suffers like your family ever again.

Until then, I’m just so very, very sorry.