I was brought up in a rather unconventional household. My mother and father, both artists, met early in their twenties. Both of them had been in serious relationships before and had children. My father is from Glasgow, where both my half-brother and sister live. And my mother is from Mayo, where I was raised with my brothers. Their story is a precious one. My mother and her friend went on a weekend break to Glasgow. When they got to the hotel, my mother was very tired and just wanted to go to bed, but her friend insisted they go out. They went to a pub, where my mother met my father, and spent the rest of the weekend with him. When it was time for her to leave, they both said “I love you” after only four days of knowing one another. Two weeks later, my father arrived in Westport, and they have been together ever since. Coming from such an avant-garde, free minded background, it’s no surprise that I turned out to be the perfect mix of these two beautiful, terribly stubborn souls. My parents always taught me to follow my heart; to get out into the world and make my mark on it, no matter what other people may think of me.
My family and I moved to our house when I was six. We had moved around a bit when I was a young child before building our own house in the country, away from all the noise and nosy neighbours of the busy towns. We had a vast collection of books dominating our hallways, (I always loved to joke that we had our own personal library in the house), alongside framed photos of holidays and birthdays. It was a big house; with a spare room that soon became my little brother’s. I loved the feeling of being so small in such a big house. My family are a close-knit unit; we speak openly about things that would make most people uncomfortable, such as out-of-the-ordinary bodily functions, how we are doing mentally, even if it’s not very good, and things most people generally shy away from talking about, especially here in Ireland. I have always felt able to speak my mind and disagree with someone if I think they’re wrong or to stand up for myself.
I never really understood social cues, like why people would get awkward sometimes or felt they couldn’t be themselves in front of others. I never understood the phrase ‘the Irish conservative attitude’ until I went to school. By all means, I was a weird kid. By warranting my own absolute freedom to act as I wished, as long as it didn’t cause harm, my parents had unknowingly created a perfect storm of all that the Irish conservative attitude hissed at. I wore bright coloured tights and hats that drew a lot of attention towards me at school. I played by myself, whether in the mud or trees. And I talked to myself. A lot. This, people thought, was weird. The other kids at school band together in groups at all times and I got the impression that they felt they needed to be around others, to impress people, or seek validation. I have never understood this. Why would someone place their own self-worth in someone else’s hands? Or allow themselves to feel like they couldn’t be themselves. Over the next decade I would learn that it is not usually the individual that chooses to be this way, it is taught to them. Everything we know, we have been taught. How to speak, how to walk, even how to eat. But yet children are taught to be quiet, especially girls. To speak only when spoken to. Ever hear the phrase “You should smile more” Or have you ever said it? This is exasperating for every girl and woman alive. For a man to tell a woman how she should be. But it’s fine, we should just let it go, they say, no harm done.
Now, in saying that, I have never felt ashamed of being a woman or being Irish; until three years ago. I first learnt about rape and sexual assault at a young age. I was told not to leave a drink unattended at a party, never to wander off on my own, and to always have a friend with me. These are pretty basic fundamentals all young girls are taught. That if we are not careful, something bad might happen to us. But it does, nevertheless. As it did to me, and to a young girl in Cork.
I first heard about her trial on the news. A twenty-seven-year-old man had been accused of the assault and rape of a teenage girl in Cork. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Many cases come and go on the news, it wasn’t shocking to me because I had heard it so many times before and experienced it first-hand. But what did shock me was the actions of the defence lawyer. Elizabeth O’Connell, the defence attorney for the rapist on trial, believed that if she could not prove that he was innocent, she would certainly try to prove that the young, teenage girl was guilty, by holding up the girl’s underwear in court, blaming the victim of rape for enticing her predator to rape her because of the black lace thong she was wearing. I believe this to be the most toxic display of victim-shaming I have ever seen. And what’s worse? The people who agreed with her. I feel sorry for the women who feel like they cannot wear what they want in public, the women who are objectified constantly, treated like a vessel for men to pass through. As long as small-minded people believe they can treat people however they wish, and as long as little girls are told to remain quiet about creepy older men, nothing will