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Irish Tour Day 5 – Women Are Badass

It was marvellous to spend International Women’s Day, the final day of our Irish Tour, with Esker House in Athlone, as part of their first ever Women’s Conference; an opportunity to launch their new helpline and their Purple Hand campaign for businesses.

 

Me and Deirdre

On arriving at Athlone’s fancy Sheraton Hotel with my Trusty Trolley (I previously enthused about the trolley HERE), I was greeted by the wonderful Esker House team including their fantastic Manager Deidre Berry and Own My Life facilitator Sinéad Butler, who is the voice behind our new Irish Intersectionality video. 

Sinéad and me



The beautifully decorated conference room was packed full of women from across the region, including Own My Life participants, the Soroptimists, businesses, the Esker House team and their supporters.  Deirdre launched the new 24-hour helpline and introduced the reality of life for women with an abuser partner.  Helen McEntee, Minister for Justice, celebrated Esker House’s work in a pre-recorded video, and Sarah Jayne Brennan explained that through the Purple Hand campaign, Esker House would train local businesses to understand and respond to abuse, which would enable them to place a Purple Hand in their window to advertise being a safe place for women who may need help or support.

 

The conference speakers (me, Cathriona and Susan)

After a delicious lunch (which included more of the delicious pastry encased fruit crumble that I mentioned HERE), we heard from Ashen and Cloud’s founder Susan McGowan.  She inspired us to be brave as she spoke about choosing to leave behind business success in London and Dublin to raise her family in Athlone.  In a world that pushes success at any cost, Susan offered an opportunity for us to think about making decisions based on what we value (identifying our values is a core part of Own My Life).  After speaking of Athlone as a treasured place to live, Susan shared the painful learning of being in charge and having to let people down. She also spoke of working to do something you love, which is how she came to establish the already marvellously successful interior architecture company, Ashen and Cloud.

 

Next up was nutritionist Cathriona Hodgkins.  Knowledge is power, and Cathriona shared her ten top tips to enable women to lead healthier lives.  If women need to have medical tests, Cathriona encouraged us to ask for a copy of the results.  Rather than passively receiving medical care, we can choose to be active participants in the process. Overall, Cathriona’s message was that we need to take ownership of our health, checking in with our bodies and understanding what works for us. 

 

Next up, Esker House’s Sinéad spoke passionately about facilitating Own My Life and the difference it makes to women; one woman told Sinéad that she was “feeling a little taller” after each week of Own My Life. 

Me presenting (yes, those are magnificent orange trousers)

I started my presentation with THIS little musical number, celebrating older women, explaining that too often older women are dismissed and ignored. While society conditions us to fear ageing and to aspire to remain as young looking as possible, it is often as we age that we discover we no longer care so much what others think and can free ourselves of the social pressure to be “nice” and “likeable”. 

 

Throughout the tour, but perhaps most strongly during this event, I spoke about the harmful portrayal of women subjected to abuse; images accompanying newspaper articles about abuse where women are small and shrivelled up, hiding in a corner often with a black eye. The awareness raising campaigns depicting women subjected to abuse as small, pathetic, completely powerless. 

 

While it is understandable that articles and campaigns seek to convey women’s pain and the impact of men who seek to destroy their partners and children, such campaigns often have an effect that is opposite to their intention.  Women with abusive partners (and their family and friends) do not see themselves within these campaigns.  They know themselves to be strong and can list the many ways they have resisted their partner’s control.  This one-dimensional portrayal of weak brokenness will often further confirm to women that they are not being abused, for they are not one of those women; they are strong and capable and they keep going.  Even in the midst of all his power and control, she will still have moments of joy, and she will always have the potential of a joy-filled. What she certainly is not, is small and shrivelled up. 

 

THIS suicide prevention campaign from Norwich City Football club was so powerful because showed that someone’s struggles may not be visible.  Fascinatingly, neither man is portrayed as small or shrivelled up.  As usual, it is only women who are shrunk into a one-dimensional victim role.  Something that is particularly noticeable in ITV’s Loose Women domestic abuse campaign that launched earlier this week.  While it is admirable that panel members have shared their personal stories, each panellist’s photograph reinforces the idea of abuse happening to those women.  The strength, power and resistance that each woman enacts whilst with an abuser becomes minimised in favour of a narrative in which each woman is a passive recipient of the abuser’s power and control. 

 

We can stand against one-dimensional portrayals of abuse by asking ourselves whether women’s strength and capacity remains present as we tell stories of abuse.  No woman lets an abuser hurt her, each of us resists in myriad ways, some large and some small.  Often as we share those stories of resistance, we are met with judgement and blamed for what the abuser subsequently does to us. 

 

Every abuser has rules their partner (and any children) are expected to obey; she must not wear dresses or make-up, she must never answer back, she must keep the children quiet, and never fall asleep before him.  Each women will have stories of how she defied those rules. Perhaps she wears a dress to the party or shouts back because she knows it is likely to get his violence over with; maybe she cooks him dog food pie or conspiratorially has a fun late night with the kids when he's working away.


When she tells her story, about how she wore the forbidden dress or weed in the bath he demands she run him; she will often be met with judgement.  Family, friends and professionals may subtly judge her or ask outright, “What did you expect after doing that?! And if the professionals are unhealthily risk obsessed (as all UK services are forced to be), then her resistance is often most especially disapproved of.

 

Women’s resistance shows them (and the rest of us) that they are still alive.  It helps her to remember that she still matters and it protects her from the abuser’s intentions to destroy her.  We must be incredibly careful to not allowing abusive men to shape the stories we tell about their abuse.  An abuser sees his partner and children as small and pathetic, as his possessions.  Stories of abuse must show women to be as multifaceted, as of course we are. We must remain vigilant to the ways an abuser is controlling not only his partner and children, but also controlling the ways we see her and relate to her.  Make no mistake about it, if the stories told leave those of us being abused unable to see ourselves in those stories, then the stories have seriously failed.


With the Esker House team

At Own My Life, we know women who have been subjected to abuse are badass and we refuse to portray women one-dimensionally as solely what an abuser does to them. This can make it difficult for us to raise money. People want to fund the mending of broken women; they're less keen on donating to enable us to be make already-badass-women even more badass.


It was a beautiful day with Esker House, and a delight to meet even more brilliant women.  Women working to make a difference in other women’s lives; women working to move their own lives forward; women cheering other women on.  Loading up my Trusty Trolley, I made my way to the car park where my bright yellow car was waiting.

 

Setting off home!

At the end of my last day touring Ireland, my heart was fuller than I thought possible.  I am deeply grateful to all the women I have met on my way, and to the organisations who firstly embraced Own My Life, and then embraced me over this week.  This is my first trip to Ireland, but I know that with the Own My Life sisterhood, it certainly won’t be my last!

 

 

 

All the blogs from my Irish Tour:

 

·      Day 0 (Sunday) - Travel Travails

·      Day 1 (Monday) - Brilliant Women and My Trusty Trolley

·      Day 2 (Tuesday) - From Teenagers to Tipperary

·      Day 3 (Wednesday) - And My Heart Got Fuller

·      Day 4 (Thursday) - Women Are Not "Hard To Reach"

·      Day 5 (Friday) - Women Are Badass

 

 

 

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