The weeks are beginning to feel a little endless as we dive further in Level 5 restrictions in Ireland. Thankfully, this week was broken up delightfully by calls with several of my friends. One friend in particular, Katie, and I had a mid-week call that broke up the monotony for both of us. After nearly two hours of talking about anything and everything, Katie made an offhand comment that seemed to stick with me. Together, we were laughing about how often boys and men tend to take something out of a press/cupboard and simply walk away, leaving it open. Katie and I are quite similar people, truly. We lived together in our final year of university and we blended together well – mainly because we are both highly-organised, neat individuals who tend to do jobs and chores now, rather than later.
After hanging up with Katie, I entirely forgot what we had been talking about. That is until I was flicking through photos of my time in Secondary School. This was caused by an alarming dream where I thought I was doing the Leaving Cert again, which any Irish person will know, is nothing short of a horrific nightmare. It was nice to relive this time in photos, until I stumbled across a photograph from Transition Year. Together, seventy-two of us were sitting in the upstairs attic of a peculiar little hostel that we were visiting during a two-day outing. Seventy-two sixteen-year-old girls in 2011. It was a picture that was heavily edited in the nostalgic style of early Instagram, but the sight of it did not spark joy in me. At first, I didn’t realise why.
Now, I’ve settled on precisely why.
We were girls with loud voices, notoriously resented by the staff of our school for being outspoken and difficult to tame, as a year group. We were creative, wild and a bundle of loose canons set to explode into adulthood. Yet, these same girls, myself included, were unsure of ourselves, anxious and self-conscious in the extreme.
Once, I was at a sixteenth birthday party with much of the same people as were in this picture. This was a pretty big deal to me, to be invited. The birthday girl was a cool girl – the kind who had friends who were both boys and girls. When the birthday girl’s cake was presented by her parents, they delightfully asked;
“Who wants a slice?”
Every boy in the room said yes, loudly and without thinking twice. The girls looked at each other in side glances and uncomfortable smiles until a nominated member of the group, another cool girl, said;
“Just a small one, thanks.”
It hit me hard. The boys had looked inward to themselves and decided that, yes, a slice of cake would be nice. We, the girls, had looked outward at what was expected of us from the outside world.
Perhaps this was at the root of my earlier conversation with Katie? Boys and men look at a room for what they need – food, a glass of water – whereas girls are trained to look at how we can improve the room and leave as little impact upon a space as possible.
I don’t have a wildly intelligent conclusion to come to here. After all, we all know how this can come about and that these issues go far beyond our generation and unfortunately, will likely stay relevant for the next generation, despite all of the strives we will have made and the shoulders of those activists whom we stand on with such pride.
Yet now that I have noticed this, I can’t seem to unsee it. I examine my own behaviours, those of my mother, aunts and grandmother and see the juxtaposition of this with the men in my life. I do not do this with anger or even irritation – it has become a fun experiment for me that I am collecting data for, logging each time my father uses a hand towel to wipe his face and my Mother spends time on Pinterest looking for ways to improve her home.
So, maybe, the real message here is for all of us to begin to look both inward and outward, to strive to live by our own inner noticeboard with consideration for our outward experience.
When you’re hungry, declare it. Feelings are there to be experienced, not as a pit-stop on the way to happiness. When you act, know your motivation, where it is coming from. There is nothing more liberating in life than acting in accordance to your own brilliance, your own unique mind.
Look inward, consider outward and just live. Remove the pressure from yourself, step off of your own neck and give yourself a chance.
EDIT – I had intended to finish this small blog post up there, wrap it up and hit ‘publish’. However, this week has proven maddening to be an Irish woman. Again. It feels after there are constant reminders for Irish girls and women that we matter less. Two days ago, in writing this, a Discord server containing over six thousand nudes of Irish girls was circulated online. This includes multiple incidents of child pornography. Currently, in Ireland, the silence from men on social media on this has been deafening and it remains true that if my own photos were circulated without my consent, I could not do anything, legally. Yet if I were to name the man who did it, I would be hit with a defamation case.
Upon hearing of this, my heart sunk in a very familiar way. Yes, another example of woman being let down by men and good men being let down by bad. However, the longer I thought about it, the more I realised that these men were simply looking outward once more. Looking at the world and the woman around them for what they could get from them.
It is take, not give. Men are not wrong to look at their emotions and conclude that yes, they are hungry or thirsty or tired, when many woman struggle to declare their needs so boldly. Yet it is this juxtaposition, men looking to themselves for their needs, women looking to the world for expectations that leads to an imbalance and ultimately, abuse.
Just as it took the imbalance of both men and women to create such a problem, it take both to solve it. As long as the men in our lives live in silence, not speaking, not calling their friends out and sitting in silent discomfort, people will be hurt. All of us, especially those of us who stay silent in the moments where it matters, are accountable and should answer for the pain of those around us.
So, what am I, a woman with little to know online following, suggesting we do?
Women, girls, take a deep breath and take heart that times are changing. Fuel yourself with the fire that if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime, it will be in your daughters. Speak loudly, clearly and will all of the power in your lungs you were born with.
Men, boys, take a deep breath and assess the kind of person you are. For once, do not look to yourself for this definition. Instead look to your actions, those you surround yourself with and the women in your life. There is nothing wrong with asking how you can help. Speak loudly, clearly and with the confidence of a man in the right as you protect those around you, from those are you. Simply put; try harder.
With that, it’s my time to leave this post and try to meditate my worries away as I fight to shield those around me from the injustices of the world.