Friday 22 March 2019

Online outrage over abortion speaker's 'Know Your Place' comments show how far we have yet to go

Clare Cullen

Bear with me now as I'm about to jump headfirst into a discussion which I fear will earn me a lot of interaction online.

I will try to explain my point of view in short, succinct sentences in order to prevent any meaning being lost or imagined in prose. I will try not to allow emotion into the piece - as much as I can.

This article is my opinion and I will take the consequences of that - be they agreement online, abuse online, agreement in person or abuse in person. I'll even take the handwritten letters and the requests to my Editor that I be fired.

I agree with the words of the speaker at yesterday's abortion rally.

I want to clarify - I agree with the words of the speaker at yesterday's rally. I'm putting aside the way she said them, and stating that I agree with her words, as I read them, from this page: Video: Men should ‘know their place’ in abortion debate, rally told

'Know Your Place'

I am going to pull one quote from her speech, which is: "I am saying to all those men – know your place. This is a women’s movement. And your support, as much as it's always needed, you must always remember you are here are here to support women."

The term 'know your place' has ignited fire. Women have been told to "know their place" throughout history and use of this phrase has angered both women and male allies for this reason.

I do understand this anger, but - and here is where I probably get in trouble - I feel it's quite ironic.

Women are still expected, whether consciously or subconsciously, to know their place. Every man who catcalls a woman believes he has a right to do it.

Why? because in his subconscious mind he believes that woman needs to be 'controlled'.*

*Here is a fantastic comic that illustrates what I mean by that.

Women are still second-class citizens, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

A percentage of men are still earning more than women in the same roles.

Women are still assumed by the State to be the primary caregiver of children which is reflected in the lack of father's rights, the lack of paternal leave and the lack of support for single fathers.

Women do not have body autonomy in this country. Once a woman becomes pregnant, whether it be by choice, accident or by forced penetration, must carry that child to full-term. Some will be happy to. Some won't. They do not have the right to make that decision.

A woman's worth is decided in how desirable she is to men - by men and other women. The status quo is so entrenched in society that women commit these crimes on each other every day.

The majority of our government are men. Women's health choices are debated and voted upon by men, which means that women effectively have no voice. No matter how 'understanding' the politician, a man cannot empathise with a woman. He can sympathise but not empathise.

'Support vs Leadership'

Male allies using phrases like 'I know how it feels' minimise the experiences of women. Men can sympathise, can feel for us, can understand the issue from the perspective of a potential father or a brother, husband, son. Their contribution is important. We will never make any progress without men on our side in a male dominated world. They are irreplaceable. That is not in dispute.

What the speaker was highlighting is the difference between support and leadership.

Jack L'Hy posted a video of the speech to Facebook and stated his agreement with the woman. This sparked a spirited debate on what the speaker meant with the post being shared across Facebook.

Jason Leonard commented "People need to listen to the words being said and look past the tone, and keep listening until the message sinks in. 

The point isn't that men aren't needed, that men don't belong there, that men shouldn't be there. It's about women's own experiences and lives not being something for men to debate. It is not the place of men to approve or disapprove, to rationalize or validate.

She's not belittling men instead of thanking them - she said that she loves and supports and appreciates the men who support the cause. She's not telling the men she addresses in the first minute that they've necessarily been -out- of place for what they've done so far - making placards, writing articles, etc. She's reminding us about our place in the movement.

If you don't think that you have been out of place, then good for you, and you don't need to be upset, just take it as a reminder. But some people obviously have, as it happens with any kind of movement. Can you imagine going to Pride and listening to a line-up of straight cis-gendered people giving speeches? It'd rub me the wrong way.

If you feel put down by being told that something not about you is, in fact, not about you, then check your damn ego."

These two allies were male. I highlight that these supporters were male only to make a point that this issue is not men against women. The issue is not about male participation - it's about the fear of male dominance.

A female commenter used personal experience to illustrate this point. "Have you, a person with a womb, ever had a cishet pro-choice man speak over you about abortion? Because I have."

"Have you, a rape survivor with a womb ever had a cishet man speak over you about rape and abortion? Because I have."

On the Independent.ie Facebook Page, one commenter wrote "Totally unnecessary comments from that speaker. It's a universal issue, not just a female one."

However, isn't starkly dismissing this woman's comments ironic in the context? Isn't the silencing of women part of the issue? Isn't their inability to speak freely and be heard part of the problem? If this woman feels, from her experience, that some men have "spoken over" her in women's issues, who are you to dismiss that? Present your argument, yes. Explain that the way she said her piece was problematic, yes. Tell her she's wrong, no.

This goes for both men and women equally. Just because you are a woman does not give you the right to dismiss the experiences of other women.

Have we moved forward at all?

The way in which the speech is being received has a lot to with personal prejudice and emotion of the reader, in my opinion (and I include myself in that). This is making it very difficult to have a balanced and open debate, which  is a problem in the entire movement.

I am scared to post this piece because of what the reaction will be. However, As Jack L'Hy said in his Facebook post: "You don't get to dismiss a very important speech because it doesn't make you feel nice. Your reaction is because of you."

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