A Complete Beginner

Due to two relatively recent events, I am being drawn to the worlds of protesting and feministing. Both unchartered waters for me (in spite of following this esteemed community), so I’m going to take baby steps.

Protesting:

I’m Irish and living in Brussels. In terms of protesting, this is a slight contradiction. Irish people aren’t great at protesting. Take the bailout of the banks by the EU and IMF in 2010. When this happened in Greece, there were riots in the streets, people were injured, and the country was on the verge of collapse. When it happened in Ireland, there was some grumbling, a general election was called, another beige government was elected, and eventually people shrugged their shoulders and got on with life. It’s what we do.

Having spent the last three years in the headquarters of the European Union, I’ve seen my fair share of protests. The protesters that descend on our little city are varied: one day you walk through a park near the European Commission, full of farmers with their tractors, tents and bbqs, resting before a day of protesting milk quotas; the next day you walk down a street to the European Parliament, passing crowds of trade unionists who jeer at women in suits, make a lot of noise and take advantage of a day off to drink Belgian beers and throw the cans on the ground. They don’t endear themselves to anyone on the fence about protesting.

Since I arrived here, I wondered what the point was. They come to Brussels with the hope of affecting the outcome of talks between the 27 EU heads of state, but instead they have a negative effect on the day-to-day life of ordinary Brussels people. But just last week, I began to understand. I listened to a podcast by the wonderful Johann Hari, who writes for both the UK Independent and the Huffington Post. He has recently started recording short podcasts for the Independent, and this particular one was entitled “Why everyone should be protesting tomorrow“, in advance of the UK UnCut protests. I’d prefer not to influence your appreciation of this podcast, but to encourage you to listen to it. Was I the only one to stop in the middle of the street and say “That’s why!”?

Feminism:

I always agreed with feminism as a concept, but never saw the need to get involved. I never had that sense of rage that pushed me towards becoming a practicing feminist. I think the strongest action I ever took was as a teenager, when I realised that my brothers were always excused from work around the house if they had training or matches. When I brought this up before the extended family, I recall everyone looking around and realising that they did it this way because that was how it always was done. When my mother and her siblings were younger, the girls weren’t allowed to play hurling or football, so it was assumed that they would help out at home. In a way, I assumed that all you had to do was to make the point and people would realise that “That’s how we have always done it” is no longer a valid excuse.

Today, a news item was brought to my attention by a number of sources. The story was taken from the Irish Times, and concerned a Senior garda (police) investigation of the treatment of two women arrested last week on their involvement in protests at a gas pipeline project in the west of Ireland. The arresting policemen, one more senior than the other, were recorded on a confiscated video camera discussing how they should deal with the women.

“It was in the possession of gardaí leaving the scene in a separate car, and during the journey it had recorded exchanges between several gardaí.

One garda can be heard on the tape saying that one of the women “sounds like a Yank or Canadian”. Another garda said: “well, whoever, we’ll get immigration f***ing on her.”

A more senior garda picked up the conversation, saying “she refused to give her name and address and [was] told she would be arrested”.

“And deported,” his colleague continued. “And raped,” the more senior garda said.

The conversation continued in jocular fashion, with the more senior garda saying: “Give me your name and address or I’ll rape you.”

Amid some laughter, another garda said: “Hold it there, give me your name and address there, I’ll rape you.”

“Or I’ll definitely rape you,” the more senior garda responded.”

In case this sounds completely farfetched, the entire transcript is available here and the audio clip is here.

Two things struck me:

The voices. These could be the voices of my own family and friends. I have two younger brothers. Do they talk like this?

These are the guards. These are the people that people are supposed to go to when they have been raped. Statistics already show that a very low percentage of those who have been sexually assaulted report it to the police. What kind of impact will this recording have on these people, or indeed, those people who have already taken the huge step to report an attack?

I’m sure readers will take more from this situation than I have. All I know is that as of this morning, I am feeling a stronger connection to protesting and feminism than ever before.

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