In the aftermath the Belfast rape trial, where do we go from here?

It is unnecessary to spend much time rehashing the disturbing details of the Belfast rape trial, which has dominated news headlines in Ireland in the past two months. If you have been following the case closely you will be all too familiar with the facts. If you haven’t you can find a detailed overview of the case here, or a more succinct version here. In brief, the four accused stood on trial for the following offences against a then 19-year-old Belfast student; Paddy Jackson for vaginal rape, Stuart Olding for oral rape, Blane McIlroy for indecent exposure (he claims she performed consensual oral sex on him although she claims they did not engage in sexual intercourse of any kind), and Rory Harrison was charged with perverting the course of justice by withholding evidence from the police. Following a 42 day trial, the four accused were acquitted of all charges and left the court room as free men.

The Irish public viewed on the side lines as court reporters revealed one sordid detail after the other. For some, the revelations made throughout the trial were a shocking insight into the attitudes and behaviour towards women in society. For others, it simply made overt what had been familiar and known to them for some time. Elements flagged by the general public include the exchange of sexually explicit and derogatory messages and photos in an all-male WhatsApp group, the sexually aggressive posturing within alpha male rugby culture, and the general pervasiveness of toxic masculinity. Above all, it elevated a much needed conversation about consent to the top of public agenda.

An emotional and exhausting trial for all involved culminated with a not guilty verdict for all charges brought against the four accused. No matter how the jury decided, the public, who are not held to strict standards of proof, were always going to exercise autonomous judgment derived from a mishmash of news sources. The response was predictably divided. Some pockets of society argued that justice has been served, while supporters in favour of the victim prompted an #Ibelieveher campaign and took to the streets to show their compassion.

‘Beyond all reasonable doubt’

Rape cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute due to the high burden of proof, ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. This standard must be met in respect of both prongs of a rape charge: the jury must be satisfied firstly, that penetrative sexual intercourse took place, and secondly, that the intercourse was not consensual and the defendant was aware of such. Unlike a murder trial there is no body and usually little conclusive physical evidence for the jury to work with. More often than not, the successful prosecution of rape charge hangs on the jury’s interpretation of the intentions of the accused, which can result in a verdict grounded less in evidence than personal experience.

How does one go about proving something as intangible as intentionality beyond all reasonable doubt? The answer is with great difficulty. Which is why most reports do not result in a formal charge, let alone prosecution.

It is with good reason that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. It is with good reason that the burden of proof in criminal trials is ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. But in the case of rape, such barriers to prosecution are causing the law to become stuck. The most recent Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report conducted in 2002 found that 42% of women experienced sexual abuse in some form. The report also finds that only 10% of sexual offences were reported. The latest figures for conviction in rape cases from 2016 showed that the conviction rate for rape in the Republic of Ireland was at just 2%.

Such a low conviction rate could be interpreted to suggest that a lot of women reporting rape are simply lying. Yet according to research carried out by Trinity College Dublin and London Metropolitan University, it is estimated that 9% of rape allegations made in Ireland are false.

The disparity between a 2% conviction rate when 91% of cases are deemed to be legitimate is staggering. In its efforts to protect the accused, the vast majority of guilty men remain unpunished (and therefore undeterred) while the vindication of woman’s right to bodily autonomy is left shambles. It is no wonder only a limited percentage of Irish women choose report in the first place.

At what point have we tipped the balance too far in favour of the accused when the statistics would implore us to act otherwise?

Toxic masculinity

Toxic masculinity. A ‘buzzword’ that make some men bristle, and the most apt description of the WhatsApp and text message conversations that were revealed during the trial. The defence team may have successfully argued that the accused were ‘braggarts, not rapists’, but there was little hiding the vile and objectifying view these young men have towards women with whom they engaged in sexual relations.

From where does an attitude of such demeaning inequality spring? I have spoken before about the over-sexualisation of the opposite sex in Ireland from a young age, which begins in the segregated school system and influences the way men and women regard one another at all levels of society.

An object cannot feel pleasure. An object cannot give consent.

The so-called locker room talk the defendants engaged in is rampant in our society and it would be naïve to think the opinions that inform such commentary are restricted to words alone. Sending an explicitly demeaning text about women does not make someone a rapist, but their attitudes towards women as mere sexual objects are aligned. Both herald from a broader culture of unbridled male dominance and privilege, whose consequences are wide-ranging.

The minimalist definition for rape under Irish law is sexual intercourse without consent. That does not mean tying her to a bed, holding a knife to her throat or forcing yourself on her in the back of an alley. Violent rape is its most extreme classification, and while it is the predominant narrative that grips our attention, it is not the category into which most rape cases fall.

For some rapists, the unwillingness of their victim is part of the thrill. For others, they engage in the act purely for their own sexual gratification. In the latter category the woman serves as a pleasure vessel, whose consent is irrelevant to the entitled actions of the rapist. Such men fail to identify their own behaviour as unconsensual.

When you reduce a woman to a sexual object her consent becomes beside the point. An object cannot feel pleasure. An object cannot give consent. A sexual object is for your pleasure only.

The law does not concern itself with your attitude towards rape it concerns itself only with your attitude towards consent. Unfortunately, wider society and the sexual education of Irish children fail to reflect this.

‘Sex’ should be followed by ‘consent’ as soon as it enters a child’s vernacular, and for this reason it is imperative that consent classes go hand in hand with sexual education classes beginning with primary school. Thankfully, Minister for Education Richard Bruton seems to agree. Rather than the responsibility being foisted on universities, no child should leave the Irish education system without knowing what sexual consent is, how it is given and received, and vitally, how it is denied.

Despite the complainant of the case being in a state of shock when reporting the rape to a medical examiner, her inconsistencies were exploited by the prosecution when the case reached the courts. This tells us that an inexact knowledge of what constitutes a sexual offence and how it should be reported can be detrimental to the case of the complainant.

If women and men in Ireland are to fully appreciate the need for consent, they should be well versed in the legal terminology for sexual offence that are committed in its absent. They should be able to identify when a sexual offence has been committed and the necessary steps to follow to report and preserve evidence in the immediate aftermath. Educating young school children in how they should report a rape feels rather Margaret Atwoodesque but it is the reality in which we live.

An emphasis on the precision of oral evidence is also critical, and each person handling a victim of a sexual offence, from medical professionals to members of an Gardai Siochana, should be specially trained in how to handle such cases and the importance of the accuracy of their account should be impressed upon the victim from the initial stage.

Social Media

A commonality of the Belfast rape case and the #Metoo movement is the role of the public as the final adjudicator. As with Kevin Spacey, Michael Colgan and countless others embroiled in naming-and-shaming momentum that began with Harvey Weinstein, the disclosure of the defendant’s name in rape cases in Northern Ireland (but not in the Republic) will have far-reaching consequences for all four accused in spite of the final outcome of the trial.  The greater public know that a verdict of not guilty is not the same as innocent when such a high burden of proof must be met, and for most people their pre-conceptions based on news reporting will remain intact. It remains to be seen if and how the rugby careers of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding will progress.

Margaret Atwood recently spoke out against the dangers of trying an accused in the court of public opinion when the proper judicial channels are deemed ineffective. Her warnings came around the same time as the publishing of the ‘Sh*tty Men in Media’ list, a spreadsheet compiled of the names of 70 men within the media industry who had been accused of sexual misdemeanours, much of it violent. The women who updated the list did so anonymously and none of the claims were investigated when the list went viral.

The journalist Moira Donegan who published the list did not intend for it to go public and her intentions were only to protect her fellow colleagues. Her plan was deeply flawed and left potentially innocent men without opportunity to defend themselves. Alternatively, traditional channels of justice have proved hopelessly inadequate and forcing to create their own avenues for protection.

The fallout of the Weinstein reporting has the potential to harm innocent men while circumventing the course of justice, but unless women feel protected by the higher powers they cannot be blamed for taking up this role themselves.

Amongst all this discussion of past sexual misdemeanours committed by men, it cannot be forgotten that the effective reporting incidences of sexual misconduct and violence is not just about punishment, it is about protecting other women in the future. It was this impulse above any other that prompted the 19-year-old victim in the Belfast rape case to finally go to the police.

The same systems which encourage women to report offences of sexual assault simultaneously make its prosecution prohibitively problematic. If such an incident takes place within the framework of an official institution or organisation, this does at least potentially provide non-legal avenues for recourse, but if such structures are not in place, an all-or-nothing court case is the only available option. It is little wonder that the majority of women choose to remain silent. While all perpetrators of sexual violence and misconduct should feel the full force of the law, the legal system in its current form has proved impotent and it is clear that it is not designed to handle the realities of such crimes: their regularity, their systemic nature, and frequently, their lack of physical evidence.

If women are to be protected it is obligatory that there be established a whole new body to handle reports of sexual abuse when the available evidence is unlikely to meet the burden of proof in a criminal case. A civil suit is always an option but this is costly, placing a huge financial burden on the victim, which could be devastating if they lose. Furthermore, on a whole current procedures are still vastly ill-suited to the everyday occurrence of sexual misconduct in its many forms and contexts. It is likely in such a system that the punishment would no longer fit the crime but for most women the end goal of reporting sexual violence is to ensure it doesn’t happen again, to themselves or other women.

The complainant in the Belfast rape case was forewarned about the realistic chances of the state winning the case, but she pressed ahead regardless. Her bravery has stimulated an overdue conversation about the misogyny which is rife in Irish society and the devastating consequences it can engender. Let us not waste this precious opportunity.

Featured image¨Rape of the Sabines¨ By Girolamo del Pacchia – J. Paul Getty Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48327746

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Men need to start identifying their own behaviour as sexual assault

Like millions of women around the world, it is impossible for me to follow the story of Harvey’s Weinstein with the same distance that is afforded to most -but not all-men. It brings up memories of sexual violence and sexual misconduct in the real world and the workplace that is all too commonplace for women.

As a young girl growing up the burden of femininity is slowly impressed upon you. It begins with restrictions being placed upon your freedom and stories told by way of caution. Movies, books and newspapers lay bare the oppression and subjugation committed against women, but like much of the suffering recounted through words on a page it remains at a distance, belonging to the lives of strangers.

But as your body moulds itself closer to the form of femininity, so too do your experiences start to resemble the lives of those once distant women.

Of all the stories you were told growing up, these are the ones that come true.

Is modern society as equal as we like to think?

Irish people like to believe that we live in an egalitarian society, with equal treatment for men and women alike. However the corresponding reality played out on streets, on nightclub dance floors, in offices, on college campuses, behind closed doors, virtually anywhere that men and women congregate together, repeatedly informs Irish women that this is not the case.

To face the staggering numbers – to face the truth – requires an admission that some of the men we know and love are guilty of harassment and sexual violence against women. As a society this is hard to accept, as an individual, even harder. We prefer to believe that most men treat women with respect, the men we know personally at least, even if statistics and experience tell otherwise.

I have experienced countless iterations of catcalling, groping and unsolicited sexual behaviour that I could draw upon as examples from my own life, most of which has occurred within the public domain. To add a filter, I will talk about my experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace and some of the more watered down versions of sexual assault that I have experienced.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

It is one of my first jobs as a teenager and my significantly older manager appears to take pleasure in making my job more miserable in whatever way possible. The ‘light-hearted’ teasing for which I am singled out becomes relentless. A male colleague compares it to the textbook schoolyard tactics of using bullying as a front to conceal one’s true feelings.

Leering at me with a self-gratifying smile on his face he says, ‘You can’t report me because its the pen touching you and not me.’ The sexual overtones are blatant and I feel deeply uncomfortable.

One day while I am standing in the corner of the workplace, my manager approaches and starts poking me with a pen. Leering at me with a self-gratifying smile on his face he says, ‘You can’t report me because its the pen touching you and not me.’ The sexual overtones are blatant and I feel deeply uncomfortable. I know his behaviour is inappropriate, but I am young and lack the confidence to stand up to a figure of authority. The next figure in the chain of command is in the habit of giving unsolicited shoulder massages so I doubt I will be listened to anyway. I try my best to forget it ever happened and stay quiet.

A few years later I am working a job as a waitress. Drunk, the owner tells me that he knew he wanted to sleep with me from the first moment he saw me. His delivery is intended both as a compliment and a proposition. I am a terrible waitress and I strongly suspect this is the only thing that has kept me from being fired. The line between personal and professional is blurred by a matter of course in the running of the establishment, and I know if I were to complain I would be dismissed as ‘too PC’. Again I say nothing, and leave my job soon after.

Fast-forward a few years later. I have graduated from university and it is my first time working in a job that could be described as ‘professional’. The office environment is a novel experience; I marvel at the rows of computers and cubicles, the business attire, the unfamiliar level of formality. One day an older male colleague on my team invites me to go for lunch. It is Friday and virtually everyone leaves the office for lunch, so I agree without reading too much into it. We sit down and he encourages me to order an alcoholic drink, despite not drinking alcohol himself. I decline and order water instead.

As I stutter in reply, he appendixes his question with a sexually suggestive hypothetical situation involving him and I on a bed.

Once we have ordered food, (I order soup, the cheapest thing on the menu), he launches into a peculiar and probing line of questioning. ‘What is the craziest thing you have ever done?’ he begins by asking. Very quickly, I realise the lunch holds more significance for him that it does for me. It is not often that this middle-aged man has lunch alone with a twenty-five year old woman, and his delight as this exclusive ‘access’ granted to him through the corporate world is thinly disguised. The personal questioning continues, culminating with him asking how I would define the nature of our relationship. As I stutter in reply, he appendixes his question with a sexually suggestive hypothetical situation involving him and I on a bed together.

I stop him in his tracks before he can go into any kind of detail. I tell him in no uncertain terms that he has crossed a line and that his behaviour is inappropriate. Half-heartedly he attempts to convince me that I have misunderstood him, but judging by the expression I am wearing he quickly realises the futility.

At age of twenty-five I have finally found my voice against male sexual harassment. I have learnt to use my feelings of discomfort as a barometer for inappropriate behaviour instead of setting the bar so low it requires non-consensual physical contact or even violence to be counted as ‘serious enough’.

When we finally leave he insists on paying for my meal despite my protests, claiming that he ‘earns four times my salary’. My purpose to stroke his male ego has been dispensed with. It disgusts me, yet still I say nothing (initially at least).

A warped sense of bodily autonomy

As a woman in the world, sexual harassment and sexual assault begins early in life. Growing up in Ireland is no exception. At a young age, sexual acts had little to do with mutual lust and desire and everything to do with individual power. Sex was never portrayed as a shared physical pleasure founded on consent and respect, but something to be given, taken, or preferably abstained from. This has dire consequences for its segregated youth, which highly sexualises the opposite gender from a young age while lacking a firm grasp of appropriate boundaries – an incendiary combination.

This bleak disparity between the treatment you deserve but the behaviour you are subjected to, fuels an immense internal conflict.

Although I appreciated the sacrosanctity of bodily autonomy, for years upon years I put up with the actions of boys and men that violated this. As a teenager growing up, the frequency of groping my friends and I were subjected to on nights out was so profuse we grew to accept it as normal (despite always knowing that it was wrong). This inappropriate touching we experienced at the hands of our peers appeared to be a non-issue, never discussed within the education system, by the state or by the media. There was never any encouragement to report such behaviour and so we simply learnt to put up with it.

This bleak disparity between the treatment you deserve but the behaviour you are subjected to, fuels an immense internal conflict. Added to this is the guilt and self-flagellation for staying quiet, which to the inner critic is perceived as silent acquiescence. Many times I wanted to shout stop!, but could never get the words out. I would be leered at, shouted at, or touched without consent, confined to silence by a perverse aversion towards causing offence. But more than anything, my silence was an act of preservation. My gender is a source of danger, and so fear lurks below the discomfort.

The hidden dangers of passive terminology in public discourse

The conversation surrounding sexual violence and harassment in the public sphere has, till now, predominantly been conducted using broad strokes. Nameless, faceless men are responsible for the violence against women. Sometimes men are not even part of the conversation. Sexual violence is described in passive terms such as ‘committed against women’, with the perpetrator omitted from the sentence entirely. Its implications are far from benign; because men are never seen to actively commit sexual assault it enables the shrugging off of responsibility and guilt, the turning of a blind eye.

Borne of unwillingness and ignorance, men fail to identify their own actions, or the actions of their peers, as harassment or assault. The man that grabs the ass will never describe his actions as ‘sexual assault’. This shelters men from viewing their own actions through the same lens as women, and so inappropriate behaviour continues, uncorrected.

There is one night I can recollect that clearly illustrates the unwillingness of men to classify their actions using legal terminology. I am at a music trying to escape a man who is continuing to touch me inappropriately from behind. Despite deliberately moving away to discourage him, he is not to be deterred. Seeing no other choice I am forced to detach myself from the crowd and so I join my group of girlfriends on the outskirts. Upon telling them what happened, the conversation turns to our individual past experiences of sexual violence.

Feminism and bodily autonomy were for him a brand, a form of social currency that might be borrowed to increase his appeal to the opposite sex.

Midway through, the same man whom I had sought to avoid attaches himself to the group. Without a hint of irony, he proffers an educated and seemingly enlightened spiel about the simply awful mistreatment of women at the hands of men. I stand there listening to him, hardly able to believe his gall. I wonder if I am being Punk’d. As I re-enter the crowd, I think to myself, his hypocrisy has at least one silver lining – I will finally be able to listen to the music in peace. But no! Lo and behold, he has taken up his position behind me once again, his roaming hands as active as ever.

It was a classic case of sexual assault unidentified from the male perspective. Lofty feminist declarations are no good on their own, and actively harmful if the contravene one’s own actions. It was painfully clear to me that he did not understand, nor care, about the meaning of his own words. Feminism and bodily autonomy were for him a brand, a form of social currency that might be borrowed to increase his appeal to the opposite sex. Examining his own actions with the measuring stick he produced with such a flourish was not something that served his own purpose. It would entail the curbing of his own behaviour around women, or worse, counting himself amongst the sleazy men he so eagerly rallied against – two things he was unwilling to do. But unless men are prepared to examine their own actions very, very carefully, nothing will change.

The Passive Bystander

In the numerous reports of sexual violence involving public figures, there are often three people involved: the victim, the perpetrator, and the invisible bystander. Regarding Weinstein in particular, a recurring theme in his victims’ accounts was that ‘everyone knew’ what was happening, but nonetheless said and did nothing.

The ubiquity of inappropriate sexual behaviour has led to its normalisation, which is further reinforced through the passivity of bystanders. At best this undermines the severity of the offending action; at worst, if self-defence is classed as an ‘over-reaction’, it censors the victim and hinders their ability to protect themselves.

I would be lying if I said my sense of bodily autonomy remained intact through all of these experiences….

In the early hours one morning I was standing in line of a fast food restaurant when a male behind me in the queue repeatedly cupped my ass cheek. I turn to throw him a dirty look but the cupping does not abate. In frustration I turn to my boyfriend at the time seeking intervention, but I might as well be talking to the wall. He is nonplussed and clearly thinks I am over-reacting. To shut me up more than anything else, he eventually throws a filthy look of his own. Coming from a fellow male, this time it has the desired effect. At long last the touching stops.

I would be lying if I said my sense of bodily autonomy remained intact through all of these experiences, if it had even been whole to begin with, but I am finally beginning to ‘unlearn’ the message that has been repeatedly impressed upon me, that my body is not my own.

One moment clearly illuminates my atrophied sense of physical boundary. I am standing in the queue of a club one night with two men, one a friend of mine, and the other a stranger. We are talking about tattoos, and when I mention I have one on my wrist the stranger grabs my hand and turns my arm over to take a look. My friend comments on this afterwards, describing the non-consensual action as ‘aggressive’. For a moment I am dumbfounded. I consider myself perceptive to breaches of personal dignity but I had not detected the aggression nor the lack of consent in the stranger’s handling of me. It disturbed me that I needed someone else to point it out.

Speaking out is our power!

In contrast to public discourse, when women talk privately about sexual assault the conversation is held in particulars – we ourselves are the objects. In safe spaces we lather salve on one other’s wounds, but we are careful to keep the stories within our inner circles.

In recent months, buoyed in large by the many brave women speaking out against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful male figures, I have come to realise that as long as women continue have these conversations solely amongst ourselves, nothing will change.

While trauma is intrinsic in the aftermath of a shocking event, many of the fears (accusations of slander, career damage etc.) are man-made and therefore avoidable.

Reporting non-consensual sexual behaviour of any degree feels like a big deal when it shouldn’t. As someone that has stayed quiet on many occasions, but also reported incidences only to have the veracity of my statements challenged, or no charges brought at all, I understand why silence is easier.

Following sexual assault or harassment, a victim’s instinct is to retreat to safety. Reporting is the opposite of this, and the reliving of the incident through the retelling of intimate details to a stranger is often referred to as a ‘second victimisation’. While trauma is intrinsic in the aftermath of a shocking event, many of the fears (accusations of slander, career damage etc.) are man-made and therefore avoidable, but unless a culture of speaking out is actively fostered, in which women are listened to and believed, silence is often the simplest and most logical option.

This is how I felt in work as I continued to sit in close proximity every day to a man whose presence put me on edge. I thought about speaking to HR but mitigating factors stopped me: he was in a more senior and added more value to the firm than I did, and his comments weren’t severe enough to result in his dismissal so reporting the incident would likely do little besides exacerbate my grievance. The company’s stance on sexual harassment was never discussed, so I had no idea what I would potentially trigger by talking to the HR manager. A fear of the unknown and further loss of control over the situation stopped me. My contract was due to end shortly and so I decided to grin and bear it.

That was until a female friend of mine urged me to speak out. She said that similar patterns of lecherous behaviour were rife in her office, but as it was largely unreported the men continued unfettered.

It became obvious that by trying to protect myself I was protecting him too. By staying quiet I was perpetuating the false belief that my office was free from sexual harassment, which potentially put others at risk. For victims of sexual harassment and assault, our strength lies often in numbers rather than truth alone. In case he repeated similar patterns of behaviour with someone else, I was unwilling for it to be treated as an isolated event.

Thinking of all the men and women that had suffered sexual harassment in a workplace but were afraid to speak out, thinking of unknown people in my office who may have suffered harassment, or might in the future, I swallowed my fear and marched myself to HR.

By the time I walked out I felt a million times lighter!

The long reign of decorous silence is finally over.

5 Days in Lisbon

Berlin was apparently ‘the place to be’ summer 2015/16, but its seems this year’s title has gone to Lisbon. Whether I was talking to friends or work colleagues, every time I mentioned I was going there on holiday it elicited first and second hand stories of people who had been. Despite all the hype my trip to Lisbon was purely serendipitous, chosen by my parents (who have an immunity against all that is in vogue) as the destination to stage a family reunion.

From the reports that had reached me, my impression of Lisbon was a slow-moving artists’ city with a speciality for rooftop bars. Lisbon and I were going to get on just fine.

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Colourful streets in the Alfama District of Lisbon

Day 1

One of the sweetest parts about travelling are those irretrievable seconds when a place reveals itself for the very first time. For the first time, ideas and imaginations are replaced by real, concrete images. As my metro train emerged from the mouth of the underground tunnel Lisbon reveals itself as a city of colours; bulky apartment blocks were disguised in sunny yellows, pinks, purples and greens, colours I was more accustomed to seeing in a children’s playground.

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Pretty pinks and corals brighten tired apartment blocks in Avendias Novas

Drained from my 6.45 am flight (a mistake I am destined to repeat – but the cheaper tickets are never worth the exhaustion!) I head straight to my accommodation on the outskirts of the city. My accommodation of choice is an AirBnb flat, eponymously named ‘The Photographer’s Apartment’ by its owner. The apartment is a welcoming haven for a weary traveller. Sparse white walls served a backdrop to stunning photos, and vintage cameras and travellers’ trinkets decorate the apartment. I feel instantly at home.

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Shabby chic architecture in the up-and-coming Avenidas Novas district

That evening I wander around the Roma neighbourhood, constantly distracted by the flamboyance of the buildings. Lisbon’s brand is undoubtedly shabby chic. Bright colours of pale pinks, olive greens and baby blues truss up dated architecture, with one lone-standing building exuberantly painted in flamingo pink.

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Empty roads in Avenidas Nova

My introduction to Portuguese food hit a speed bump on the first night when it was decided by popular vote that we would eat Chinese for our first meal out. The Portuguese seafood I was so eager to try would have to wait until tomorrow!

Day 2 – Old Town – Grace + Alfama

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Praca de Commerciado is a place of luxury

Bright and early on day two I venture into the old town to do some exploring, beginning my expedition at the edge of the city at Praca de Commerciado. Overlooking the river Tagus, the square is flanked on three sides by traditional government building painted in canary yellow. Set against the backdrop of a blissfully blue sky and fluffy white clouds, the richness of colour has the lavish quality of a fresco

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Tourists throng to the Praca de Commerciado overlooking the river Tagus

Lisbon’s Great Earthquake (and subsequent fire and tsunami) in 1755 reduced most of the city’s structures to rubble, the rebuilding of which has lent a certain homogenous quality to its architecture dominated by the 18th and 19th century style. Building facades in many places share an identical blueprint, featuring square windows laid out in linear, evenly spaced rows. The monotonous, vaguely Communist design is countered by beautifully intricate geometric azujelous tiles that decorate the front of buildings from top to bottom. The kaleidoscopic colours in bright, neutral tones brighten the city at every turn, bringing art onto the streets and earning Lisbon its reputation as a city of timeless beauty.

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Azujelous tiles cover buildings from top to bottom in Lisbon’s Old Town

I spend most of my time in Graca and Alfama districts where the Old Town are concentrated. Much like Rome, Lisbon is a city built between seven hills, and comfortable shoes and a moderate stamina are a pre-requisite to tackle it by foot. As I weave my way up winding, sloping paths the streets begin to shed its modern characteristics. Cars and traffic thin out to be replaced by Tuk-Tuks and trams, modern brands replaced by speciality local shops.

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Tuk-Tuk is the preferred mode of transport in Lisbon’s Old Town

Halfway up the hill I pause at a viewing point, taking in the sea of ochre tiled roofs and cheerful buildings clamouring for space on top of one another.

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Panoramic view of the Old Town at the bottom of the Castelo de Sao Jorge

With the sun beating down, a visit to the Sé de Lisboa Cathedral offers the perfect restbite from the heat. An imposing building built in the Romanesque architecture style dating back to 1147, it is one of the few structures to survive the Great Earthquake.

One of main points of attraction (according to guidebooks, although not, according to the tour guide), is the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The group jostles to the end of the long queue trailing from the entrance where a rambunctious group of musicians gather to play rhythmic carnival style music and flirt with the crowd. After a brief team huddle we opt to avoid queuing in the midday sun, choosing instead to take the famous 28 Tram which brings its passengers on a scenic route of Lisbon.

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Buskers entertain tourists queuing for the Castelo de Sao Jorge

Crammed full of tourists, the 28 Tram is not for the faint-hearted as it jolts its way around Lisbon’s steep slopes and bends, emitting a loud hiss each time it comes to a stop.

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Locals hang their washing out to dry in the Alfama and Graca District

As the tram chugs its way to the outskirts of the old town and into more residential areas, symptoms of Portugal’s failing economy begin to show. The majority of the residents I spotted were elderly and grey haired, slowly inching their way past graffiti covered abandoned buildings most likely left behind by the disenfranchised youth. The Tram 28 is infamous for its mercurial timekeeping and after half an hour I give up waiting, and make my way back to the centre of the city on foot.

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Signs of decay on the Tram 28

That evening I finally had the chance to try some Portuguese cuisine, opting for fish of the day and washing it down with plenty of sangria.

Day 3 – Belém

Lisbon is not a large city and so its has tourism has spawned into neighbouring port districts that can be reached by train within half an hour. Sintra, Cascais and Belém are the most frequented. On the train journey to Belém I see groups of manual labourers working outdoors digging into the hot and sticky road. They look weary and fatigued as they shovel piles of black, glistening tarmacadam.

I had plans to be back in Lisbon before dark so my list for Belém had to be ticked off expediently. One of the first sites was the Padrão dos Descombrimentos, a fifty meter monument shaped like the prow of a ship standing at the shore. Carved into the bow of the ship are the statues of over thirty male figures deemed to have played an integral role in Portugal’s history of expolaration. The title of the carved ship is translated as ‘Monument of Discovery’, suggesting a biased interpretation of Portugal’s colonial past.

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Padrão dos Descombrimentos in Belém

I pay lip service to the Monastery of Jerome and Belém Tower, both UNESCO sites since 1983. The Tower fell short of my expectation. Prior mention conjured fanciful images of a grand and imposing maritime fortress but what materialises is a miniature tower, built on a tiny island in the Tagrus River about a stone’s throw away from the shore. A long queue of dutiful tourists stand in line, but I decide to cut my losses and give it a miss. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from travelling it’s to know when the guidebook should be thrown away!

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Tourists queue to see the Belém Tower

I devote most of my day to the Botanical Gardens, home to over 600 species of lush trees and plants from all corners of the worlds. Keep with the theme of Belém, the gardens carry the stench of colonialism. Shamelessly still referred to as ‘Colonial Garden’, its initial function was to house plants and trees imported from Portuguese colonies. While the gardens and greenhouses showed signs of having gone into disrepair, the excess and exoticism it once represented is still evident.

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Hollywood or the Palm Tree Boulevard?

Walking along the palm tree boulevard it wouldn’t require a stretch of the imagination to picture myself in Hollywood, or somewhere equally as opulent and moneyed. Portugal still carries memorabilia of its past as a wealthy colonial power (or a nation of “discovery” as it prefers to define itself), but today much of it lies neglected, serving as a symbol of its fallen state of grace.

By pure chance the previous evening I had stumbled upon the venue for the Concert de Lago, a daily music festival during the month of July comprising of free classical concerts for the public. Performing that night is a soprano and tenor, accompanied with gusto by the Portuguese National Symphonic Orchestra. The soprano steals the show, singing high notes so powerful yet fragile they hang like icicles in the summer air.

I end the night in the rooftop bar PARK, named in reference to its location on the top floor of a car park. The connection between the name and the location clicks only after I spend minutes scrabbling around alleyways trying to find the entrance. Although it’s a word I shy from using, ‘trendy’ is the most apt description for PARK. The lighting is dim save for chunky candles drowning in a pool of their own dripping wax, the DJ plays feel-good, crowd-pleasing hits, and almost everyone I come across is a tourist.

I don’t hang around for long.

Day 4 – Cascais

No holiday to a hot and sunny climate is complete without a trip to the beach.

On day four I venture to the neighbouring town Cascais, known for its beaches and unusual rock formations. Without the pressure of a list of tourist attractions, it is the ideal place to spend a slow day away from the city.

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Calm waters along the coastline in Cascais

For those seeking a little adventure, the Boca de Inferno cliff formation is roughly a twenty-minute walk away from the old part of Cascais. The name is a translation of ‘Hell’s Mouth’, with ‘mouth’ referring to a hole in the cave carved out by the ferocious waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Fierce waves carve out the Boca de Inferno

Cascais raison d’etre is relaxation and pleasure, with everyone moving at an andante pace and lots of good options for places to eat. My choice of cuisine is an all-you-can-eat vegetarian menu at the restaurant ‘Garden of Wonder’, whose broad selection of food is creative and delicous. Feeling indulgent I treat myself to a renowned Santini ice-cream for dessert, opting for coconut and hazelnut scoops. I savour the punchy flavours while watching some locals playing beach volleyball, killing time till my train back to Lisbon.

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Tourists throng to relax in Cascais

Day 5

 Lisbon has been described as a city to get lost in, which is lucky for me considering I followed the wrong bobbing orange t-shirt halfway through my walking tour. In keeping with the city’s spirit I give into my misadventure, liberating myself from the constraints of maps and tourist attractions. Guided only by the whimsy of curiosity I am free to wander where I please, traipsing up and down alleyways and ducking into whatever shops catch my eye. It is exhilarating.

Around the corner leading up to the entrance of the Castelo del Jorge I come across an encampment, which appears to be a cross between an artist’s enclave and a political statement. The artwork took various forms and was constructed from an assortment of scavenged, recycled material. Brightly painted stones piled on top of one another formed lone-standing installations, and the walls were decorated with love heart motifs in trippy colours. At the edge a colourful mat bore the word ‘welcome’, but no one dares cross periphery.

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An artist’s enclave at the foot of Castelo de Sao Jorge

Lisbon is undoubtedly a beautiful city. Ever the trademark tourist, I found myself constantly reaching for the camera around my neck. While a relaxed long weekend can be spent in Lisbon, something tells me the city’s true magic is locked in its lifestyle, reserved for its locals and creatives seeking artistic refuge.

Who knows, if inspired you might end up staying longer than expected.

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One of Lisbon’s many alleys

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Arabic influence in Lisbon’s architecture since Moorish rule

Is ‘Dry January’ worth the hype?

Let me come clean from the get go before I flaunt my New Year’s abstinence – I did not make it through January without drinking alcohol. Not even close. Even before January began I knew I wouldn’t last the duration. I had planned a much-anticipated trip to London towards the end of the month, and withholding alcohol was not part of the plan. It was an absence of intention as opposed to a lapse of will, which perhaps in hindsight is a degree worse.

I relinquished my teetotaller vow an additional two times before the trip. My mother of all people was the first person who enticed me to break my pledge, a reversal of roles my younger self would never have dared to imagine. She had opened a bottle ofgood’ prosecco, which she had been saving for me to open on a special occasion. A multitude of celebratory events in my life worthy of ‘good’ prosecco had come and gone yet the bottle always remained unopened. Instead, the birthday of a family friend, which coincided with the only time in my life I had sworn off alcohol, was deemed the idea occasion. I initially demurred the offerings of a glass, resolving to stick to my pledge, but given my mother’s affrontation I played the role of dutiful daughter and acquiesced. Admittedly, it didn’t take much coaxing. I drank one glass and it tasted divine.

My second moment of weakness occurred a few days later. I was at a friend’s birthday in a swanky bar in town and glasses of champagne were being handed out for free. Amid proclamations of how good the champagne tasted, and one particular friend accenting her enjoyment with audible lip-smacking, I couldn’t stand the feeling that I was the only one missing out. Ameliorating my guilt with the flawed logic, ‘Its basically the same alcohol so it doesn’t really count’, I sipped my free glass of champagne and savoured every drop.

Alcohol is to be Enjoyed
Both lapses imparted wisdom that was as valuable as the month long prohibition itself: it is possible to really enjoy alcohol and in small quantities too. Along the trajectory of my career as a seasoned drinker, beginning with my teenage days drinking whichever brand of cider was most inexpensive, I had come to regard alcohol almost entirely as a stimulant, forgetting that it is a luxury product to be tasted, savoured and appreciated. If I had to classify my relationship with alcohol over the years I would describe as complicated, but in an Irish context, entirely normal. Getting to the truth of the matter, a lot of the time when I drink, I binge drink.

If I had to classify my relationship with alcohol over the years I would describe as complicated, but in an Irish context, entirely normal.

Like most people my alcohol consumption rotates around my social life so the bulk my drinking is done between Friday and Sunday. If I avoid alcoholic social events, it is entirely plausible that I could go stretches of weeks without drinking at all. However once I’m geared up for a night out, I’d lash the stuff back like its going out of fashion. I had known for a long time that my alcohol consumption and the surrounding patterns of behaviour were unhealthy, and it was this dissatisfaction that prompted me to join in on the ‘Dry January’ hype.

Dry January
There is one particular night in Dry January that sticks out in my mind, the night I played the role of ‘sober friend’. A group of friends and I had gone to a bar followed by a bar/club, the kind of place where you can have a dance and actually talk to people. While everyone was drunk and merry, I experimented with different kinds of fruit juice, starting with orange and boldly working myself up to pineapple. Not the least perturbed by my sobriety, I enjoyed my friend’s drunken antics and all in all had a great night. I talked to lots of different people, spent less money, and felt great the next day. It actually surpassed similar alcohol fuelled nights in the same venue.

Looking back, two things stuck with me:

  1. If I enjoyed someone’s company, the following day, I knew I actually liked them
  2. Being sober is far more stress free.

Number one is pretty self-explanatory but number two requires some elucidation. Don’t get my wrong, I’m not saying drinking alcohol is stressful per se, but the very lack of control we hope to attain by drinking foments the inherent risk that things can go wrong. This can range from minor incidences, like losing your phone or purse, or potentially finding yourself in a compromising situation. Every time I drink beyond a cautious few drinks, in the back of my mind there is always the fear that something regrettable will happen, either due to my own stupidity or my inability to resists someone else’s. This of course is liable to happen with or without alcohol, but restricting one’s alcohol intake very much undermines the chances.

The very lack of control we hope to attain by drinking foments the inherent risk that things can go wrong.

Reminding myself that I can have fun without alcohol, or that I can simply enjoy a few drinks, Dry January served its purpose. The hype was equally as valuable, providing the necessary impetus and a legitimate excuse not to drink (a decision which I doubt would have been met with as little resistance on an ordinary occasion).

So with such positive experiences of abstinence in January, how did I fare in February?
My first night out in February started with good intentions. I was actually going to count my drink intake, or so I told myself. This proved slightly harder because I was drinking a punch mixture made by a friend; vodka, peach schnapps and juice mixed in a steel pot, because we’re classy like that. Without even realising it, getting to the end of that pot became my challenge. It was after all free alcohol, and drinks in the club are expensive. As is always the case in Ireland, time and speed were of the essence and my drinking was driven by urgency rather than caution. I was drinking for the future as much as the present. Although I didn’t end up in too bad a state, on reflection, my motives for drinking were questionable. There is something about a club environment, current or impending, that incites me to drink beyond what is reasonable, a desire to shake off my sober state.

And if I go a little deeper, it’s more complicated again. In recent years I’ve realised that when it comes to alcohol and tolerance, my own bodily limits are somewhat of an enigma. I usually start out with a vague, unarticulated (even to myself) goal in mind; drink to loosen my inhibitions, while preserving my memory and not totally surrendering control. The sweet spot between sobriety and getting plastered. Sometimes I get it just right but veering towards drunkenness is far too easy; once I get to a certain level of inebriation a little voice inside my head starts egging me on – ‘go hard or go home.’ Mostly its fine, but I will wake up the next day wishing I had drunk less.

Sober Parent and the Drunken Child
My second night out in February, I took a different tac by starting out the night purposefully, measured my drink. Dare I say it, achieved that sweet spot. Despite its effectiveness I can’t say it’s a role I am pleased to undertake, playing both the sensible, sober parent, keeping alcohol out of arm’s reach of my later drunken, child-like self, but perhaps it is an unavoidable by-product of alcohol and one that I just have to accept.

Growing up, but especially leaving Ireland, has transformed my drinking habits. When you quickly realise that the behaviour normalised here is totally shocking abroad, it forces you to examine the Irish drinking culture with a critical gaze, while allowing the necessary distance to do so.

As generalisations go, the reputation that Irish people drink too much is fairly accurate. In the country responsible for the phenomenon ‘pint baby’, it is too easy to brush away drunken affairs with humour, forgetting to take any lessons on board. I have absolutely zero judgment for anyone that has a messy, drunken night, it would be the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black, but taking some wisdom from past mistakes wouldn’t go amiss either. The advice I am giving myself at least is, drink with awareness and intention, veer on the side of caution rather than recklessness. And don’t forget to savour the taste too!

An Ode to Female Friendship: Why I would rather be a woman in a man’s world

It wasn’t until I was older that I truly understood the force, the institution that is Female Friendship. Growing up as a child in the segregation of Irish schooling, I was only friends with other girls. We were forbidden from interacting with ‘the boys’ during school hours, and friendship in my eyes was a sacrament that only existed between members of the same sex. At lunchtime we would peek out the back window and those that hit puberty long before I did would point out they boys they had kissed at the weekend, or ‘scored’ as we used to call it back then. Before we even had time to know one another as friends, boys quickly came to hold the position of sexual objects: to be kissed, fawned over, or held at arms length. In my little world, friendship was female.

While I still believe growing up that way that it still did more damage than good, it created a space for The Female Friendship to grow in utter purity. Only in adulthood, which has allowed me to experience the contrast, has its gloriousness revealed itself to me. As females we congregate together, usually over tea or wine, and spend hours discussing our lives, cleansing ourselves until the brittle problems of life have been softened and shrunk and can be dealt with more easily. Over empty bottles of wine we pry open our chests, let our problems spill out and swap with one another, talking down the beast till it is soothed and returned to its owner.

This desire to take on our friends’ problems as our own is a powerful thing, an endeavour to understand each other as wholly and as deeply as one human can another. So many of a woman’s problems are shared we see our reflections in each other. When I read about the struggles of women, past or in the present, I cannot separate myself from them. I see myself in their pain because I know it could have just been me. And sometimes it has been me.

Our store of shared experiences allows us to feel our problems viscerally, to experience them, to re-experience them in a way that most men simply can’t because their position in society protects them. Try as you may, it is hard to understand what it is like to inherit the fully developed female form and all that it brings with it: being touched, grabbed and groped till it becomes normalised until one day, a horrific revelation, you realise you have been taught to get used to being an object for strangers. Or how to navigate and burgeoning friendship with someone of the opposite sex, when you suspect they might want more. A problem with a gender-neutral form but twisted in a world where the kindness of women can automatically be taken as an expression of romantic interest, creating a trap where you are either way you’re perceived as cold.

The problems of being female in a man’s world are so nuanced and convoluted and embedded in daily life, it would take centuries of diary entrances and female accounts for a man to fully grasp what it means. Even as women it is hard to understand because we have never known any different. They are so bound in our world experience that they have crawled beneath our skin we need to remind ourselves they don’t belong.

So even if a man allows himself to try, he won’t quite get there. Some men do try. They try to overcome their physical limitations and see the world as a woman does. A male friend of mine came close. He told me about a time he went to a gay club and felt the heavy male stares saturate him throughout the night. He felt the male indignation when a friendly interaction turned sour upon advances being rejected. He told me the experience helped him understand what women go through on a daily basis, how it shapes our experience, leaving us wary and cautious.

However length and breadth of The Female Friendship is not defined by our problems as women, or our rejection of misogyny. Each friendship has its own rich identity. Within the confines of many female friendships is the wall-less space where we can reveal ourselves as vulnerable, where we can give and receive gentleness. We do not have to hide between hard words or be brave and emotionless at all times. Being a man comes at a price, and even though I live in a man’s world I would still rather be a woman.

If you don’t see colour or gender you’re probably a white male

“I only see people, I don’t see colour or gender.” I’ve heard it said countless times, a self-effacing testament to the speaker’s ability to see the true person unobscured by race, gender, sexuality or religion. With such decisiveness, they detach themselves from such bodily or social hindrances, and get to all the good stuff, the real stuff that makes us who we really are. Up until a while ago I would have counted myself amongst such people, but now I’m not too sure. The motivations of this sentiment are admirable, but I’ve been wondering lately whether it is little more than a fanciful ideal and an expression of privilege. Can we really unearth the unadorned personhood, shining in its glorious purity beneath the pressures and prejudices of the mortal world?

Identity is used to describe something outward, an external marker that makes us identifiable to others by prescribing us to a class of other beings. It aligns us with some and diverges us from others. Depending on the person and the form, it can make up who we are to greater or lesser degrees. In the case of a devout Christian for example, their religious belief will form a large part of their identity, perhaps even more so than other identity markers such as nationality.

Turning to social constructs such as gender or physical attributes such as skin colour or sex, it gets more complicated. They are on display for everyone to see and we have little choice in the matter. Of course we can chose to get gender reassignment surgery and choose our own gender, but even such cases are generally a matter of realigning the body with a predisposition. Either way, we are forced to identify as something. We cannot shed ourselves completely of these qualities and present ourselves as colourless, genderless or sexless people.

I think it is nice that someone wants to get to know the genderless, sexless, colourless and nationless Elly, but even I’m not sure who she is or whether she even exists. According to John Locke our personal identity is shaped by our conscious experiences and memory, so according to him there is no Elly minus my experiences as a white, Irish, female. She doesn’t exist!

This sidestepping of identity is most often evoked in situations when we are “getting around” one another’s difference. Other times, we embrace it; the sacred bond of female friendship, for example, is practically a religion it is so widely celebrated. Our femininity becomes a virtue we recognise in one another, that we reach out and grasp, and fuse it with our own.

In a world where much of our views are dictated to us, it would indeed be refreshing to start all our relationship in factory mode, to decide the perimeters of friendship completely fresh and free from judgment. Close relationships such as friendship are a safe space that allow us to see one another as equals, although we should not conflate this we thinking we are the same.

This lack of sameness is both natural and unnatural: natural in the sense that there are objective, bodily differences between people, and unnatural because most differences are superficial, derived by social structures.

The most pronounced natural and physical divergences are those that exist between man and woman. As a female I have different body parts. I am naturally slower and weaker. I menstruate each month and body holds within itself the possibility of carrying a child. No matter the kind of world we lived in we would be different, and our experiences of the world wouldn’t be the same.

However most of the differences, such as skin colour are superficial, and could easily be ignored. Others, such as sex, strength and disability could be accommodated for and mitigated. The world we live in, nevertheless, exacerbates these differences and makes them unnatural in the process. Depending on the situation, my femininity becomes either a weakness or a strength. My skin colour gives me an advantage. My sexuality makes me ‘normal’.

I think this urge for identity blindness comes from a place of seeking to restore the natural equality that exists between every human but which society has disturbed. This disturbance adds an extra layer to relationships of every kind, from brief interactions to enduring friendships. It creates an initial ballast of uncertainty between two people that are other, a fear of unacceptance engendered by society’s debate of your differences. It turns everyone into a potential homophobe, racist, sexist or bigot.

In some cases the layer of uncertainty barely exists. We flock to people, places, settings & communities where we can leave this burden of uncertainty at the door. For most people it is burden we never asked to carry, while others wear it with pride

And still I do not feel that identity blindness is the answer. Not in the world we live in right now.

It is denying reality, so much of it unfair and unnecessary, but reality nonetheless. My black friends have a different experience in the world because of their skin colour. They create communities around their blackness. It is something we should be curious about and strive to learn more. We should attempt to understand one another’s issues and extend a helping hand. We need to know what makes us different as much as we need to know what makes us the same.

Re-Defining Success

With New Years having just passed under our nose, it is once again that time of year where we place ourselves under the microscope for rigorous self-inspection. A season of gluttonous self-indulgence brought to a close, the  leap from depravity to punishment fits in nicely with the spirit of the religious festivities. For every drink or pie too many there is a sin to atone for, and the tallying up of our annually- accumulated vices sweeps us into the new year on a fresh wave of disgust and loathing. This year however I found the idea of waiting till New Years to change my life positively comical. With self-improvement and wellness very much in vogue, tearing yourself to shreds only to build yourself back up again is an year round, if not daily, activity.

As a recent graduate seeking employment this has been especially true in my case. Prepping myself each day with a series of daily resolutions as I enter the intellectual pageantry of job-seeking, the bid to make myself ‘worthy’ has become an unrelenting endeavour. With each job-spec highlighting my shortcomings, waiting until January 1st to up-skill is a luxury I simply cannot afford.

Since it began, my job-seeking process has become all-consuming. As a young graduate whooshed out from my university cradle, it has been an unspoken, mutual understanding reached by society at large the becoming gainfully employed would be my de facto purpose in life. The discussion is not whether I should look for a job it is a forgone conclusion. The pressure feels immense at times. Days of unemployment stretch ahead of me like an indeterminate prison sentence, each job application like a parole meeting.

Society has come define work as virtue rather than a means to an end and being educated and unemployed is tantamount to a sin. Friends that have chosen to enjoy the time between jobs rather than fill the void say feel ashamed of the indulgence of “doing nothing”. Gaps on your CV timeline are the ultimate faux pas, prompting suspicion and demands for explanation.

In modern times we have become so fixated with work it has fused with our identity, leading us to vilify those that are unemployed. This was touched on in a piece in The Atlantic where the author hypothesises a world without work by taking a look back on a time, surprisingly not long ago, when work was interspersed with play and free time was not equated with idleness.

I have grown fed up with feeling unsuccessful because I do not have a job. Or more accurately, I have grown fed up with employment and career advancement being used as the sole benchmark of success. On some level acknowledge that friends, family, good health and happiness are the most important things in life, but it remains confined to an idealistic plane of existence, reserved for late-night discussions over glasses of wine rather than how we actually define or live our lives.

Unlike our parents’ generation, millennials regard their careers as an opportunity to realise their purpose in life. While that is certainly for the better, their ability to be mutual exclusive from one another is too easily forgotten. Success is broadly defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose”, but in our modern-career driven lives we have demoted it job success. The gendered phrase, “the successful businessman” has been drilled into me since I was a child, but does one ever hear of a stay-at-home mum being described as successful? Even a Google search of ‘successful mother’ brings up webpages overwhelmingly referring to ‘career mothers’, as though raising children is no achievement in itself. Would we ever describe a father as ‘successful’ if he gave up a career to mind is children?

Looking for a job is exhausting and demoralising. With the final decision out of your hands, it is easy to feel powerless and consumed by the search. No matter how much graft you put in, unless you lockdown an employment contract the finishing line continues to taunt you from the same distance. Perhaps the most tragic thing of all is that those with jobs are also perpetually miserable while at work, but even more so on their downtime. A famous study of Chicago workers in 1989 led psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Judith LeFevre to describe this as ‘the paradox of work’: their results showed that workers wished they were somewhere else when working, but still reported feeling better and less anxious at work than anywhere else.

If I am potentially going to be miserable either way, it seems that using employment status as the watermark is a rather skewed way of defining success. Beginning this 2017 I intend to rectify that by applying my own definition success. Does that mean I’ll stop looking for a job? No. Does that mean I’ll stop looking for a job that I deem to have purpose? No again. But it does mean I will stop myself from using a formula of success that favours work over happiness.

I will define my own purpose and I will define my own success.

Campaign for Government Approval of Orkambi: “They are putting a price on our child’s lives.”

15354128_10209739695242387_1360940305_o Campaigners gathered today outside the Dáil in efforts to suede the government to approve cystic fibrosis treating drug ‘Orkambi’.

The NCPE (National Centre for Pharmeconomics) has recommended the government not to approve the drug as it does not represent value for money.

Vertex, the pharmaceuticals company manufacturing the drug are currently charging €160,000 per patient annually, while the National Pharmaceutical Agency has valued the drug at €30,000 per annum.

The final decision rests with Minister for Health Simon Harris who will receive a recommendation from the HSE, but a report in the Sunday Business Post indicated that the HSE would not recommend funding the drug.

Significant impediments blocking approval of the drug are its hefty price tag and gaps in its effectiveness. Professor Michael Barry of the NCPE said Orkambi would only work on about 25% of patients.

“You’re being asked to pay a really high price for a drug which won’t work in a lot of people,” he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated that the government would be willing to approve the drug if Vertex were willing to come down on the initially quoted price, but it does not appear as if they are willing to do so.

Lisa McMahon from Cork was protesting outside the Dáil today in the hope that Orkambi will be approved. She has two children between the ages of five and four, who are diagnosed with a mutation of Cystic Fibrosis that will respond to the drug Orkambi.

Cystic Fibrosis is a progressive disease causing lung function deterioration as well as affecting the pancreas and other organs. There is no cure but Orkambi has proven as an effective treatment in some cases.

Lisa believes that access to the drug would result in a significant improvement in the lives of her children that would reduce hospital admissions, increase lung function and ultimately let them “lead a normal life.”

Vertex has approved the use of Orkambi for patients from the age of twelve onwards.

According to Lisa some people in Ireland diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis are receiving Orkambi on a “compassionate” basis.

McMahon and her family as well as other sufferers of Cystic Fibrosis face a situation in which they are being denied the only hope of live saving treatment due to a dispute over money. Ireland is also the country with the highest instances per capita of Cystic Fibrosis worldwide.

“They are putting a price on our kid’s lives.”

“They are forgetting there are people in the middle, and some of these people are dying.”

However it should be acknowledged that in England and Australia funding for Orkambi was rejected for similar reasons. Vertex has indicated that it believes Germany will be the only European country to contribute to sales in 2016.

Taoiseach Entreats Irish Families to Talk about Porn

While making an appearance at the launch of a new helpline for the victims of crime, Taoiseach Enda Kenny called for there to be a discussion about the ‘corruption’ of young people of Ireland due to their exposure to porn. In a country where open discussions of sex are limited to sex-ed classes and tend to follow the strain of thinking that abstinence is the best, his move is a bold one.

With the burgeoning adulthood of those who grew up with unlimited access to the internet, the corrupting effects of porn on young people has emerged as a contentious social issue in recent years. Describing pornography as ‘ubiquitous and damaging’, Kenny called for a national conversation on the issue and said it would form part of the government’s up-coming agenda.

It pains me to say that the internet and porn are practically synonymous, but porn has consistently been the most searched word since, well, the conception of the internet itself. The ubiquity of porn is undeniable. In fact, my very first experience of the internet involved porn when, as a naive eight-year-old I typed “girls” into the Google search bar and was greeted with an onslaught of naked female pictures. While I managed to recover from the trauma, the hyper-sexualisation of men and women in porn has left an indelible mark on young people today due to its influence on what is considered normative sexual practise. The Taoiseach himself made reference to the contorted depiction of sexual behaviour in porn, which risks becoming normalised in the minds of impressionable youths.

Bringing the topic of sexual education so unabashedly into the public consciousness is an unprecedented move amongst high-ranking political figures in Ireland. I applaud the Taoiseach for his outspokenness, he raises a valid point, and his sentiment for a ‘more caring’ Ireland is touching. I am curious to see what, if anything, will happen on the back of his instigation. Banning pornography is certainly not the answer and is almost one hundred percent not possible either. As long as teachers and parents continue to talk about sex like it is not something to be enjoyed, the internet will continue to be a fountain of misinformed knowledge for the Irish youth.

Will the Taoiseach share his own refined and less deviant ‘lad magazines’ that he mentioned from back in the day? Will the topic of pornography be elevated to the status legitimate dinner-conversation? Or will the country go down the well-tread road it usually does whenever we encounter something we don’t like…absolute prohibition.

An Irish Millennial’s Reaction to President Trump: I’m Scared

I woke up this morning to a stream of news notifications flashing on my phone, each bringing me closer to the reality that has come to pass: Donald Trump is president.

The running joke that has been the US Presidential elections has come to a close. Like a tightly wound Jack-in-the-box everyone was taken by surprise when the grinning clown sprung up, including those pushing the handle.

I’m not going to lie, the teeniest tiniest bit of me wanted Trump to win just to see what happened. Not because I actually wanted Trump to win but out of morbid curiosity, like a child sticking their hand in the fire.

My all-female friend Whatsapp group was buzzing this fateful morning. Needless to say, everyone was terrified. Friends based in New York reported multiple instances of people crying. They had friends so petrified by the result they couldn’t eat.

From my position in Ireland I have seen most of the election through the lens of parody, reality TV gone wrong. Oh crazy ‘ol America, there she goes again. She’ll get it together in the end. They’ll vote Clinton and we’ll tell our kids about the time a tangerine tycoon was nearly president.

This Can’t be Real

It was easy to pretend things weren’t really so bad when you get all your information through the media. America has always possessed a surreal quality, an extremity so cartoonish and at odds with Ireland it didn’t seem real.

The election and its build up fed this perception even further. To think that this hated-filled, licentious character, wholly unprepared for the role of President was ever a viable candidate was shocking in itself.

Trump’s escalation to power as he usurped his numerous challengers with ease elicited the correct responses: disbelief and dismay. But the sorry affair was treated with the levity of a TV show. With facetious SNL caricatures, sensationalist articles and comic debates dominating the media, the line between parody and reality became blurred.

Conversations became dominated by superlatives and words soon lost their meaning. Revelations of sexual assault and rape charges were almost expected. The ‘October surprise’ became a daily affair. ‘Unprecedented’ was the buzz-word of the campaign.Amid the complacency of the political elite Trump lay his insidious seed and paved his way to the White House.

6,500 km away with no voting power I could only watch on the sidelines as the nastiness unfolded.

America’s Saving Grace

Although Hilary Clinton was easily the better candidate there was an indelible question mark hanging over her. Amid smear campaigns and a continuous barrage of corruption allegations, it became hard to decipher the truth. By virtue of her womanhood she faced unjust scrutiny and her character was tarnished. But where prejudice ended and her character began became a difficult line to decipher.

This is the saving grace for Americans. You were lied to, toyed with, your fears and emotions played upon. This is the source of my compassion for Trump voters.

While the election evidenced the sorry state of American politics, I was always sure that Hillary would win. The frustration of Americans may have unleashed itself in a torrent misogynistic, bigoted and racist abuse far worse than previously imagined, but the circus act had to end somewhere. ‘President Trump’ seemed such a fictitious character he simply didn’t hold in our minds as a person of truth.

Visceral Fear

When I read the victory announcement on my phone it was like watching the final episode of sordid drama. When I gossiped on Whatsapp it was entertaining. It wasn’t until I spoke to my grandmother that I felt something real.

She uttered the words ‘We don’t know what is going to happen’, and my stomach dropped. I felt fear. Real gut-wrenching, bodily fear. Any thoughts of entertainment withered. For the first time during the whole election my brain and my heart connected and I had a visceral understanding of the trouble we are all in. Trump’s victory marks the first irreversible notch on the course of world history since this whole mess began. There is no more pretending.

I am scared.
I am scared, not for myself, but for the minority groups in America who are waking up this morning wondering if they should flee the country and in fear of their own safety.I am scared for the women of America, whose hopes of a female President are dashed and in its place a misogynistic pig accused of child rape.
I am scared for Muslims, abhorrently singled out by Trump and used as a scapegoat for terrorism.
I am scared for the Clinton supporters, who feel alienated from their fellow countrymen and even members of their own family. Their nation is now divided.

I was so sure Hillary was going to win and in that certainty I felt comfort. With Trump elected the future holds uncertainty, and in the unknown there is fear.

Will the saga continue next election? Trump v Kanye?

At this stage, anything is possible.