As a woman, Ireland is not a great place to be. Not just because of the patriarchal hierarchy but because of the blatant denials that the patriarchal hierarchy exists in the first place. I’ve been giving this quite a bit of thought lately – not least because I am a woman and I have two daughters. I’ve also been thinking about it in the context of this workshop that I’ve designed and am offering at the end of the month.
Part of the problem with Ireland’s peculiar brand of misogyny is a constant denial that it exists. Or the mansplainers telling us that, really, we women have a grand old time of it in Ireland. For example, a doctor told me a few months ago that ‘the feminisation of medicine is a real, documented thing’. I tried to argue that, no it’s not really; that medicine is still patriarchal, but he was having none of it.
‘Look, the facts don’t lie. There are more women entering medicine than men. In a few years, a male doctor will be a rarity,’ he lamented, while with that one phrase – ‘I’m not going to argue about it with you’ – doing what the patriarchy does best, shutting women up and dismissing their arguments (or even their right to argue) while insisting on having the last word.
The problem, as I see it, with this doctor’s assertion is that more women in medicine does not a more feminised medical establishment make. Sadly. As women, we share a deep and real problem; we live in a world created by and for men. We are desperately trying to to fit into a society that values its creators – men – more than it values us. Men make the rules and we, as women, desperately try to live by them. Men create the rules we work by, the rules we play by, the rules we love by. They set the bar that we try to reach. In politics and across all professions – the standards, the expectations, and the rules are set by men.
The doctor I was talking to a few months ago had missed the point; that there are more women in a profession does not make it more ‘feminine’ or more ‘feminised’ – it just means that there are more women trying harder to play and succeed at, a man’s game. Even in so-called ‘female’ professions – teaching and nursing for example – while there may be more women in these professions, they don’t get promoted as often as men. Why? Because it’s a man’s world and we’re trying to operate within it.
Today, I’m thinking in particular about the current witch-hunt against midwife Philomena Canning. (I think the term ‘witch hunt’ is very apt in this case as midwives were often burnt at the stake because of their women-centred care and their reputations as wise women.) So far, the best article in mainstream media was written by Michael Clifford in the Irish Examiner. You can read it here. (And, yes, I am aware that Michael is a man – but it is possible for men to be feminists!)
This is where the double-standards bit comes in: A number of mothers and children have died under the ‘care’ of the HSE recently – you can read about them here, here, here, here, here, here and here. And these are just a few of the ones that I’m aware of. Not one of the medical people involved in these cases has had their insurance revoked, their livelihoods threatened, their reputations smeared, or their practice suspended. Even though they were directly implicated in the deaths of women and/or children. Unlike Philomena Canning, who is not political, and who is passionately focused on women, babies and their care. No one has ever made a complaint about Philomena and the care she provided them and their families in her 31 years of practice. No one. Ever. In 31 years. That’s some record. Could it be that the HSE is threatened by women who put women first?
Germain Greer summed things up rather succinctly when she told the Irish Examiner that “Women still have very little power. They still have to become men. They can’t make real things happen for themselves in the workplace. Or it’s still extremely difficult. If they get stroppy, they’re removed. They can’t get real redress when they’re wronged. They can’t get redress anywhere.”
If you fancy doing something to support women, babies, families, human rights, Philomena Canning and the 25 women who are booked to give birth under her care in the coming 7 months, you can sign this petition. I believe there is to be a rally at the gates of the Dáil on the 8th of October, but I can’t find any details to link to, unfortunately. If you have more information on that rally, please post the in comments, or email me so I can add a link.
Update: Thanks to the lovely Heike Eberwein, I can now add that link – Rally in Support of Philomena Canning.