I wrote this in The Irish Times in response to figures published 15 years ago (!! ) on rape in Ireland. I work with women and children who have been raped and sexually assaulted – it is something about which I feel very strongly. And as I read it today, the week of the Tuam babies revelations, International Women’s Day 2017, I find myself wondering if anything has really changed?
THE IRISH TIMES, Monday, April 29, 2002
The recently published figures on rape in Ireland are saddening, but not surprising (The Irish Times, April 20th). In my professional and personal estimation, hundreds if not thousands of sexual assaults are carried out on Irish women every week and go unreported.
Current attitudes towards women in Western society are archaic. We are far from the liberation that past generations hoped for — indeed, I feel that in many ways women are more enslaved than ever.
Everywhere we look the same set of messages are bombarding us. Television ads, music videos, billboards, magazines — all tell women relentlessly that we are not good enough the way we are. We should be thinner, have bigger breasts, have clearer skin, whiter teeth, longer legs.. .indeed, the current image of the ideal woman is physically unattainable without surgery!
How does this affect our self-esteem? We can see the answer to that by looking at the number of young people developing eating disorders, or the increase in business done by slimming and plastic surgery clinics.
Making women feel bad about themselves has become a very lucrative business.
The female body is overused by the media. And the manner in which women are portrayed has become increasingly negative. Submissive, pouting, practically (or fully) fully naked women are everywhere. How can we teach young children to treat women with respect when nearly everything they see says the opposite – that women exist purely to look good and to be sexually available to men? Sexual attitudes are currently such that sexual assault no longer shocks people. Women have come to accept that it is commonplace and fear that they will not be taken seriously if they complain.
And given, for example, the recent comments by Mr Justice Daniel Herbert, who can blame them? I am deeply concerned by attitudes I have encountered to sexual assault and rape.
I applaud any effort to increase support services and I believe that preventive measures need to be taken as a matter of urgency. Enhancement of our sex and social education system would help. Our young people need to be educated about the many forms of abuse of women, to be taught that it is not acceptable to view women as mind-less sex objects. I believe also that the advertising industry needs to be challenged, as do magazine publishers and video producers.
This is not a safe society for women. I resent the fact that I feel too unsafe to walk alone in Cork at night. I find it depressing that a gang of 8-10 year-old little boys felt it was OK to leer at me and say, among other things, “Nice pair of tits” on a Saturday after-noon on North Main Street. I find it sad that every woman I know has experienced either assault or the fear of it.
I believe we have reached a critical stage in our development as a society and that each of us has a responsibility to this and the next generation.We must try to prevent further degradation of our humanity before things get even worse.
And that was 15 years ago! Have we made any progress?
Your comments are welcome!