Why I, as an Irish feminist, disagree with the #coponcomrades letter

“It is only by acknowledging all [our] differences that we have any chance of imagining and building a better world that includes us all.”

I entirely agree with the above statement from the #coponcomrades (COC) letter. Undoubtedly, you would be hard-pressed to find any left-wing man or woman in Ireland who would not likewise agree. However, only a few paragraphs later, I believe this statement is subtly contradicted.

The letter discusses “straight white men” in a particular “version of events” who are “too afraid to say what they think for fear of online retribution”. The advice given to these men is as follows: “Men who claim to be silenced in this way might try a week or even a day as a vocal woman or person of colour online and see how they deal with the rape threats and threats of racist violence that follow.”

I don’t deny the fact that either of these people would experience worse violent threats than a “straight white man”. But effectively what this argument says to working class men (Frankie Gaffney in this case in particular) is don’t talk about the obstacles/prejudice you face – what we have to deal with is worse. This is both a dangerous and unhealthy position to adopt. There will always be someone in life who faces greater difficulties than ourselves. However this does not mean individuals should deny their individual experiences on the grounds that others have things comparatively worse. Nowhere in his original article did Frankie Gaffney state he thinks “straight white men” are the most oppressed group in society. In fact, he has since gone on to clarify this is not what he believes.

My interpretation of the original article is that Gaffney believes he has experienced more oppression/obstacles in his life as a working class man who grew up in “an environment where poverty, violence and addiction were normal”, compared to some middle class women who have greeted him with “open hostility” based upon his SWM status.

As a middle class woman myself, I fully agree with Gaffney that he has faced more oppression and has had to overcome more odds to “get to where [he] is today”. I do recognise my privilege; more on that later.

Of course, the #coponcomrades letter also appears to fully agree with this belief, stating “working class straight white men in Ireland don’t have it easy these days. They never did”.  Given that we are all in agreement with this fact, I am genuinely confused why the signatories were “seriously disappointed” with left-wing men who shared an article expressing this belief. I don’t believe it is “reductive and damaging” to express a desire not to have your identity constricted to “straight white male”. I think it is fair comment. Comment that neither negates nor denies the oppression or prejudice faced by others.

The #coponcomrades letter concludes that “patriarchy forces men into roles that damage them as well as us”. Subsequently, “we should all be fighting patriarchy together”. Again, I entirely agree with this viewpoint.

However, often that is not what I see represented in mainstream discussions around feminism and sexism. These largely seem to focus on issues such as how more women can be represented in boardrooms, break the glass ceiling and so forth; a phenomenon described by COC as “lean-in feminism”. And actually, I would like to see more women represented in both boardrooms and government. However this type of discussion rarely if ever, specifically looks at the challenges faced by working class women – or working class men for that matter. The experiences of working class women, traveller women and men are largely glossed over in this type of dialogue. Sexism receives a greater billing than class prejudice.

I believe “a truly radical feminist politics that has class struggle at its very core” does exist, but I just don’t see this being represented within a great deal of mainstream discourse. I believe this is what Frankie Gaffney was criticising rather than the left-wing women he works with within various strands of activism.

Listening is vital on all sides. We are all individuals and we will never all go through the same experiences in life. What we can all show – all people from all walks of life – is empathy for others. This is the single most important factor we can utilise in bringing about unity on the left – and if you want to be a complete idealist – the entire political spectrum. After all, surely the ‘left’ can only grow by attracting others previously not aligned to its standpoint. Jeremy Corbyn did not record a monumental increase in Labour votes in the UK because he concentrated on politics that divided the middle and working classes. Instead, he did so precisely because he focused on a politics ‘for the many, not for the few’ – the 99.9% instead of the 0.1% (and no, I don’t need to ‘research’ any of the signatories’ backgrounds – albeit with an incredibly suspect level of ‘fact-checking’ –mainstream media has its uses after all!) to know the #coponcomrades signatories are all included in that.

Of course, I do not deny that, yes, we do all have different levels of privilege. As mentioned, here are my (brief, I promise!) thoughts on ‘privilege discourse’. Recognising your privilege can be useful. If, for example, a middle class person realises they have benefited from certain advantages in life that others have not, then that person can work towards implementing equality through political and practical means, such as volunteering or donating to charity and supporting policies that seek to bring about greater equality.

However privilege discourse becomes problematic when it is implicitly used to exclude those not from a working class background/gender/race etc or foster a belief that class struggle is not something they should be involved in because it is somehow not a part of their identity. No aspect of a person’s background should be used as grounds to discourage them – or make them apologetic about – getting involved in the fight for equality. Hence, the idea that it is wrong to “appropriate” the language of another culture or group is problematic. How can we fight against problems without permission to use the language that describes them? How can we demonstrate empathy, if we are not allowed to interact in ‘conversations’ that allegedly don’t concern us? As Frankie Gaffney stated, “language has users; not owners”.

I think there are subconscious reasons why people are reluctant to mention class and confront this issue. Firstly, gender is easy to denote. However, as we have seen so clearly in recent days, a person’s class background is not discernable from their job title or salary. ‘Class’ is a fluid concept (although gender can be fluid too) and people self-define what class they belong to. Some people don’t see the need to focus on class at all because they don’t view it as a defining factor within their identity. And yet, Ireland is a deeply class-divided society. This needs to be recognised before it can be remedied.

I believe many people have deeply ingrained prejudices in this regard – so ingrained in fact that they often don’t consciously question them. I hear this continually in everyday conversations through descriptions such as skanger, knacker, scumbag, gouger – and perhaps the most pernicious of all – the accusation that so-and-so is “a bit rough”. What all of this serves to do in its totality is to fuse class with a sense of morality; a concept of upstanding rectitude if you will. There are many, many examples of this unconscious bias operating in both the UK and Ireland, but an obvious one that springs to mind is the attitude which led to the Grenfell residents’ concerns over health and safety being ignored in London.

When this type of bias is used subconsciously to benchmark your position in society (‘I’m better than that sort of person’ – see descriptions above) it can become difficult for people to confront such prejudices – or even admit them to themselves. Hence, it’s easier to just brush them under the carpet.

Frankie Gaffney was having none of that. He is determined to bring class prejudice to the surface and talk about it explicitly. I have since seen his stance reduced to arguments online that we should focus on ‘no gender or identity distinctions; only class’. However, he has clarified this is not his belief, instead stating: “I don’t want the left to focus on class again to exclusion of gender, race etc. I’d be more than content to see it just get equal billing.” Of course, all these factors are interwoven – but that does not mean if we discuss the challenges faced by ONE demographic AT ONE TIME, we are negating the challenges faced by every other group – or the interwoven challenges faced by a working class black woman for example. When I say I’ve experienced sexism in my life I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist; and I believe this argument also applies to Frankie Gaffney’s original article.

I’m pretty sure the left-wing men who shared his article would agree with that. So instead, of being “seriously disappointed” with them – maybe we should engage with and discuss the points raised in said article that they obviously felt were valid enough to share. Namely the fact “men are statistically more at risk of homelessness, addiction and suicide”. After all, these are precisely the topics that “radical feminism” can provide the solution to. Feminism is needed to destroy the notion men expressing their feelings and showing emotion is inherently “female” and hence not a fitting way for a masculine man to behave. We are all human beings. I, for one, fully believe in the cathartic benefits of having a good cry: Men and women of Ireland I urge you to let your tear ducts loose! Feminism can deliver the solution to these devastating statistics.

But… we all have to listen. It shouldn’t be the case that one side is wrong and the other right. Unity and true engagement requires us all to realise we are all in this together. According to Frankie Gaffney (God, how many times must I name-check the man, it’s nearly enough to give me “the rage of Caliban”!): “If the CIA or MI5 wanted to encourage a style of “activism” that could consume an infinite amount of energy, yet was utterly ineffective at anything other than dividing people, it would be the prominence of this very type of politics.”

So I will judge the #coponcomrades letter thus: How effective has it been at either uniting or dividing us? On the one hand, it has been very effective at uniting all the signatories (and many other people who may not have signed but agreed with its contents). On this point, I would also like to note that I personally know several of the signatories who signed the letter and I have nothing but respect for them – in fact I understand – albeit don’t agree – with why they signed it. But what about the people who don’t agree, including the many, many people who are not Twitter users. The so-called ‘Broletariat’ and – as I saw one Twitter handle describe us women (mostly fellow feminists) who don’t toe the line with the majority verdict – their “wives”. (Yes, because that’s not sexist AT ALL!)

Cinammon Girl @for29years summed up the (relative Twitter) fallout well, when she pointed out: “If #coponcomrades was instrumental in opening and allowing debate, why is reference to and resurrection of it considered stirring etc etc.”

Why indeed? Comrades, if anyone wants to talk, I’m all ears. You don’t even need to cop on. Just bring your lovely selves.

#CrackOnComrades

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The Review

Sir; I have received anonymous correspondence
The envelope of which is merely marked
“A damning indictment from a critic who was formerly an admirer of your work”
With an address in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Would Sir care for me to read it aloud?
Ahem, very good Sir.

It opens:

I went to see your play;
A nasty bang
Of self-adulation
Steaming off the suffocating clamminess;
The turd
Of your self-loathing.

Rotting onion stewing under armpit
Bottle that scent
And tell us what is meant
By your grandiose vision
Wherein every character’s voice is secondary to your own proclamating provoked proclamation

If you have the courage –
To examine a perception outside of your confine
Wherein you are always El Savador
Born to purge us all
-But you don’t.

And yes I know what your lily-livered fictitious butler will say:
Mein Gott! It’s outrageous!
The critic is an unloved bastardised newborn
Even worse! The critic is some fucking bitch!
A fetid sewer of everything inelegant in a young lady.
Perhaps Sir, you never asked to be put on a pedestal Sir
And torn down unceremoniously Sir
When you failed to live up
To our collective guidelines Sir!

Or does that only ever really happen to a woman?
Because after all, your Lordship Sir
The critic is so very much beneath you Sir
Yet simultaneously above you
And all around you Sir
That you can rest assured, I’m honoured to say Sir
That your tower of phallic perfection need never be impregnated
By any silly bit of skirt.
You keep those fastidiously erected defences – to keep out the little people
Barricading and burning on fear Sir.
All the while
Preaching love.

But we, that is to say, we, the royal we
Always the royal we –
Would have more sympathy
Were we not so acidic snarled at Sir.
When we had the misfortune
To accidentally tread
In our tossed-torn dreams
Upon your coattails
Sir.

Well.
What would Sir bid me do?
Toss it in the fire with no response?
Ahem, very good Sir.

 

 

Slipped

Everything would have to come out. Everything does eventually. It all rolls through a hole in a pinball machine. Whether through the pores. Or the tear ducts. Or the mouth. Or out of your arse. There was no need for further explanation.

In the past 24 hours, Francesca met a boy. He looks like a young Alfie Gallagher as in ‘Life! The song, according to Alfie’ – My imaginary poem that hasn’t yet been written. Why do we feel a stinging rejection? Even when we haven’t necessarily been rejected? Flashback. I was tired and had not been intending going out that night. At that moment I did not feel equal to talking shite to a stranger. Let alone try to be charming. My charm had tried up, died up. Well scratch that. Not quite true. It was all being funneled into the dance. Beats. At that moment I couldn’t step out and attempt a verbal entanglement – one with no clear resolution. No guarantee of well-oiled social cohesion. I didn’t want to push myself? Or it just didn’t come naturally to me? Anyway I urged her forwards. I’ll say one thing for me. I’ve never been a cock block. In fact, I would go so far as to say I’ve actively enabled cock action – on the part of others. Not so great at it myself it has to be said. Why is the pen is an automatic writing? Is it meditation in a pen stroke? Is it the cut out method of word choice? Is it, is it, is it, what is it? Birdsong so sweet. Twowhowhip TwipTwipToo Twowoowheeip. It can’t be phonetically spelt. Well Joyce would probably have had a good crack at it. He nailed that miaow. Inspiration is not striking and that’s when you have to keep on writing. Just go at speed and then it will feed your need. To go. Just like now. Just like then. Just like when you said you loved me. Only you never actually said that. And I wouldn’t have expected you to. Nobody would have. Everybody would be extremely shocked to hear that. How do you write? Do you have an idea in your head? And then you try to crystallise it? Something inside trying to get out. Struggling. Punching the air. Going look at me. I can be free. I can go, go, go light as air. Stop talking about the weather. Yes, everyone knows that’s a pack of 52 jokers. And we use it to fill the gaps. Step on a crack break your mother’s back. The good thing was that in the car – on that first journey – you didn’t feel the need to be arsed with small talk. Your son even quipped ‘God, way to stick to the small talk da!’ Then I felt we were connecting. I like your smile. But then when I looked at you in 2D in a photo I wish you didn’t have a fringe like that. You don’t need it to frame your face, it goes down in little spikes. Kind of like icicles. It’s not au courant. But then again, you probably don’t give a shite. It’s become part of you. The way everything does seem to become a part of you. Somehow. Bloody eventually. It’s quite maddening really. Always so close in the corners of my mind’s pockets. But it’s like it’s trapped in the lining. You try to empty it out to find something tangible. Something you can actually hold in your hand and say I have this. I’ve got you. But it’s not that simple when it’s a baby stone trapped in the lining. You might have to take your entire coat off. Dismantle your protective barrier. That could awkwardly disrupt life’s flow. Like if you were at a checkout and all the other customers had to wait while you took your coat off. Tried to find a hole somewhere, root it out with your finger. And then trace it all along the spine of the lining. And it might still be hard to find and hard to grasp. And you might not be at a checkout. You might be doing something so mundane like living your life. Looking after your kids in your slippers. “Me slippers.” They’re slippery your slippers. Did you ever pause to consider that? Hmm? Anyhow where were we? Ah yes the lining. So you might have to take your coat off. And depending on the circumstances of your life, that might mean nothing more than a temporary blast of coldness. Or if it was hectic, like non-stop-hectic like standing in a five deep queue where someone has already been fucking about trying to buy a pack of cigarettes by putting €8 on their card and paying the rest in cash. But there’s a 25 cent surcharge for using their card which they wanted to pay in cash but it got put on the card and now they’re into an unauthorised overdraft on their card and need a refund – then you might not have a moment. And you could go through the rest of your life knowing that precious (Is it precious? I think it’s precious) feeling that stone coin rattling about in the lining. Knowing it’s there. Feeling its potential powers beat like a drum. Itching, itching and rattling through your life. But if you could just take a moment. A single, solitary moment. Before you go any more grey you silver fox! Where you could take the coat off, unfurl it. Then slowly crack through and slant at just the right angle. It would go rolling, rolling and plop. Then hold it gold and glistening in your hand. The heat emanating. It was in you – your gold all along. You were the originator who put it there. Maybe someone else gave it to you. But it was definitely, indirectly or directly, very much because of you that it ended up in your pocket. And indirectly or directly because of you that it slipped through into the bloodstream. A multicoloured dream coat although anyone plebeian enough would probably call it black. Well sir you’re holding it in your hand and feeling its drum beat pulse and echo your heart. It’s stirring. Don’t spend it all at once.

Derry

Sure-footed pride
Sauntering in deep-rooted humility
Derry, you are soft in the soft hours
A maiden unfurling her mane.

Soft as the Donegal burr
Steeped in a splinter more fire
Forever the underdog
Sister to the oppressed
Yet you somehow tread
In grace.

Derry they had to call you stroke city
Derry-stroke-Londonderry
Because you hold too much
Too many
Stories
To be contained
In just one name.

Derry, you are Martin McGuinness
The uniform consensus
Can’t decide
What to make of you either
But no matter what they call you
You will still stretch
Your hands across the divide

Even if
You never manage to meet.

Derry, no wise man
Would ever mess
With one of your women
Because just like you they somehow
Despite it all
Are warriors
Who know
Their worth.

Your quick-witted irreverence
Self-contained
And unwilling to show the world
Just what you have to give
Defences of a walled city
Derry, you are hard in the hard hours
But your generosity
Will always
Live.

Inspiration

I wanted to go out and dance in the rain like a child. My soul had already gone out in front of me. Floating like the dancer on the stage. Arching forwards, aching, limbering out, climbing fairy-footed into a stretch, grace gliding and I too wanted to move. My body was moving in hers, echoing her footsteps, treading the air, slipping away like a wisp, a wisp of cotton, gossamer, freedom. Striking our love and I know that you will never belong to me. On the stage. Inspiring others to stretch like a cat. Into the sunshine. Into the smile. Into the glory. And give them a purpose. A carefree playfulness. Like a child dancing in the rain. And I wish I could stretch into your arms again. Your poetry lives not in the lines. But in your life. You are a poem. Out of this world. Circling into our orbits. Making existence richer. The rain misting down I could barely feel it on my body. But yet I felt it. Touching. Skin. Fleeting. Bliss and gone. Yet your hope burns on. Trickling down, trickling down. Into the pores. Caressing. Guiding. The light.

Chaos Before The Last Day

Trails
Of entrails.
Gluttonous fat deals
Dripping hot sumptuous on molten train rails.
Mangy dog heels
To whine on his recline on a bed of nails
Hammered by slippery electric eels
And now pedal fast boy on your wheels
See glorious concrete hardened by steels
Wash, wash, wash, but grit you shit under your fingernails
Why, this is what you wanted as the bell peals.
Zap-ting, zap-ting, ting-ting-ting-ting go your microwave meals.
Greasing up your desperate bid to burn on among writers of great tales
But selfie, self loathing, self loving mastery, your progress is as slow as a snail’s
And soon, the filmy transcribe of time, your dignity steals
They say that love heals
But I don’t give a damn, I just want all the feelz.
Sewed into a corner by the bloodied strands – trails of entrails
The mighty man kneels

Before God
And Prays.

(C) Gilliam Hamill: 14/02/17

Apollo House

“Anyone can become homeless”
Reassurance –
Handed out along with scarves, hats and socks –
To Natasha
Who
From under cardboard;
Up through tears caught in throat
Said:
“We’ve been working all our lives.”

Politicians attempt to atone for inaction
Telling us Natasha
Has “a complex set of needs”
Yet;
All she and her partner asked for,
Was a blanket.

Of which we had run out.
Unable to carry more
Of Apollo’s treasure trove of donations,
Concern.
In our arms.

Earlier
A man sleeping in a man-shaped cardboard box
Outside the Gaiety Theatre
Told us he had everything he needed.
But when pressed
Said
Maybe socks.
If you have them.
A five-pack of thick black men’s from Dunnes Stores
Lighting up his face
Momentarily
Inspiring more joy
Than any Christmas present so dull
Has the right to provoke.

The streets making it
Weirdly comforting
To know that if you have ten euro
You can buy a chair
In a 24-hour internet café
In a den
Where misfortune is a
Money-spinner.

The 50-odd sandwiches all gone
Made earlier in the kitchen
The butter satisfying
In smushing into bread
Pasting into more even coverage
Ridged by uniform tracks of lightweight plastic knife
The more we got into
The rhythm.

For a fleeting fancy
I imagined a sensory perception
Of a memory
Which it wasn’t.
But all the same;
I remembered.

Standing in my parents’ bedroom that morning
The radio announced
Eglinton Primary School closed for the day
A mark of respect
My mother raging.
“What about the parents
who have to go to work?”

There was no option
But for me to go with Mrs Keys
A woman of the church
Who naturally headed for Faughanvale Presbyterian Church Hall
To cater
To a palpable sense of shock

Northern Ireland’s tragedy had reached
Our doorstep
A massacre;
Shooting in Greysteel
Horror greeted by
The Rising Sun.

A stalwart crew of pensioned ladies of the congregation
Making sandwiches
And 10-year-old me, the youngest by several decades
Put on buttering duty.

At both times
A crisis
Bringing a community together
To heal hurts.
To make sandwiches.

Unable to lay longer in our bubble
Where we think pain caused
By our society’s divisions
Doesn’t affect us.
Because it happens to other people.
When something like this happens;
We realise, it doesn’t.
It happens
To us.

In a crisis
Always tea and sandwiches
To let people
Eat.
Clear away the plates
Of our remorse.

Back at Apollo
I felt close
To my buttering companion
A kind woman
Unsung grace,
Spreading love.

A warmth echoed throughout the building
Where the men who got the water running
Also plumbed in
A piece of their heart.

We didn’t forget our promise
To Natasha
After the shift finished
Drove over
With a horse blanket.
Waterproof exterior
And fleecy lining
“Put that over yous.
It’ll help.
Keep you warm.”

So fucking unfair
Any human being in Ireland’s centenary year
Should be left to be
Grateful
For scrap of kindness
Designed for animal.

But already
Booting back to O’Connell Street
To the illegally parked car.
Grateful to get back
To the warmth
Of our homes.

Home Sweet Home
But galvanised.
And needing
To do more.

Canal walk home

What is it
About the power
of the water
To heal hurts

Three lads sit on the boardwalk
They hardly look like delicate
sorts.
And yet they gaze out
Contemplate
The rushing rippling mottles of the
Undulating lake
Can soothe souls.

Car lights are reflected in
Striking streaks, always dappling
Buzzy thrill of
Modern pyrotechnics
In the most basic of
Science laws.

Edged by banking sycamore leaves
I took one and put it in my pocket
To describe it better.
The smell of its earthy salt and bark
Present.
And the bare elegance
Of stripped black branches
Spearing themselves into the night air
Soldered into the genesis
Of life
And yes they are
Wild quiet.

A little further on
There’s a piece of street art says
Only the river runs free
And maybe that’s the attraction
Of this portal into liberty.

And then to gaze down the row
Through Camden Street from Portobello
The multi-potted chimney tops
Sophisticated lego bricks
Pricked by the Edwardian arc
Of ornate street lights.

The red car lights more dense
The further in you go
Speeding up into
A crescendo
Of urban adrenalin
As if in a movie
And the cameras were moving in
Drawing you in
Crackle.

Crackle
Quick, quick slow
Travelling
Boom
in.

For all your talk
Of dalliances with the dark
Don’t you know that they are
One and the same.

The splendour of the curvature of the
veins in a leaf’s skin
Echoed with variations
Of trickled threads of gold.
Are as a naked woman’s
Crystallised spine
Waiting for your touch
Nymph and nature
They are one and the same.

But purity
Glorying in freedom
In liberated breeze
There is no need for
Shame.

 

(c) Gillian Hamill 8/11/2016

Ophelia down by the canal

The water it is so tempting

Through the sheet of silver slithers of glass

Sluices the voice of your sister sprite born in 1963 and

I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Into the ether

And I pray that you may not

Be born again.

 

Cast off nymph woven from steel-corrugated gossamer

Love refuses to wrap his muscle-hacked arms

Around you

And you have always slipped through

The net.

 

(c) Gillian Hamill