Oppression, Liberty, and Hope of Women
The Irish language has some poetic quirks. Take the words solas, sólás, and saoirse, for example. They mean light, solace, and freedom respectively, and yet change the initial ‘s’ in each word to a ‘d’, and you get their opposite meanings. Dolas is an archaic word for darkness (the more common word would be dorchadas), dólás means despair, and daoirse means oppression or slavery. From a writer’s perspective, the slight difference between each word is inexplicably powerful.
There is a common phrase in the Irish language: Ní saoirse go saoirse na mban,
which means: There’s no liberty until [there is] liberty of women
. That phrase could not be more apt in light of the events seen in recent days; the murder of Sarah Everard in London, the outpouring on social media of women’s experiences and fears of scenarios that most men would never have to even think twice about, and the vigil in Clapham in London
that was handled so awfully by the London Metropolitian Police. In Ireland and the UK, International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day were a week apart this year, and yet so much took place which reminded us all of how even the most ordinary of things – like considering a taxi home after a night out, for example – are highly risky decisions to women.
I have long considered myself a feminist, yet applying that term as a man does not mean you automatically ‘get’ everything about what women have to face in everyday life, even in the most supposedly liberal of societies. I thought that if I found myself walking behind a woman on a dark road, of course I’d cross the street or call someone on my phone to show that I wasn’t a threat to her. I also thought that listening to, and sympathising with, the experiences of my female friends and family members was somehow enough to prove my solidarity. Most naïve of all, I once thought – years ago – that my being gay was somehow an automatic status of allyship to women.
Quite frankly, none of that is enough.
One of the lessons I’ve learned in recent weeks is that solidarity and support cannot be in the form of polite platitudes, the occasional hug, or a well-intended tweet. They might be a good place to start, but they make little lasting difference, and need to be followed up by showing up for women. That means attending events (virtually for the moment, in Ireland at least), following the actions of campaigners and activists, supporting them where possible, and donating to causes where one can afford to do so.
In Ireland, there was a seismic shift towards women’s rights, in an admirably inclusive manner, with the Repeal campaign in 2018
. It was a well-respected movement on the whole, especially among younger generations, but it’s safe to say that not everyone opened themselves up to getting involved at that point, even if they ended up voting in the campaign’s favour. There have been plenty of other opportunities for people to show solidarity, once ready, both before and since then, and a person should be welcome to help out whenever they’re ready to do so.
In my case, I felt I had previously done enough, but I was very wrong. That will change from here on out.
As for recent events more specifically, I felt compelled to write a poem in honour of Sarah Everard’s tragic death – “Nightwalk” – but I should make clear that the story behind the poem is fictional, albeit based on themes and stories we’ve heard time and time again about women being victims of crime at home and abroad. I sincerely hope the poem is worthy enough to be dedicated to someone whose life was so horrifically cut short, and that it is a show of support for her and countless other women who have feared the story in my poem becoming a reality.