That’s men: Cherish the empowerment of women
In a recent column I suggested that fathers who banished their daughters, up to and including the 1970s, for becoming pregnant outside marriage may have shed tears on their own in their fields for years afterwards. I also wrote that, at another end of the “acceptability” scale, the decision of a daughter to become a nun must also have led to tears as she too was effectively vanishing from the lives of the family.
This angered reader Anne Lawlor, who writes: “When a daughter became pregnant outside marriage, it didn’t happen to her alone. It takes two to tango and you have failed to mention the other hard- hearted man in her life – the baby’s father. The ‘shame that descended on the family’ very conveniently never visited the latter man’s family – ever. You are ‘ruined’ in this situation if the people who purport to love you believe you are ruined, not if the Church and wider society told you so.
“Your daughter is ‘dead to you’ if you decide that is so, and not for any other reason, simple as that. Please don’t refer to the hidden grief of the father/family without an exploration of the wholly hypocritical and misogynistic attitudes of the times which were the underlying causes of that grief.
“Yes, all at the time were products of a history of harshness towards girls and women who offended against the rules of society but let’s not forget who the rulers of that society were.
“Ditto the reasons for grief at losing a daughter to ‘God’. As Mary Daly so succinctly once said, ‘if God is male, then male is God’ and how very subconsciously educated we have all been by that particular truism.”
I agree with most of what Anne Lawlor says in her email and have expressed similar views myself in print in the past.
Still it was only recently that it struck me, for the first time, that some of these fathers must, in some part of their hearts, have been grief-stricken.
I believe that a strict and harsh culture played a greater role in these tragedies than Lawlor allows. She is right in saying that all of these girls and young women had been let down by the fathers of their babies who did not acknowledge them; perhaps in some cases their own families forbade them from doing doing so. Other families, I expect, arranged hasty marriages.
If you want to know more, look at the website of One Family (onefamily.ie) which began life in 1972 as Cherish, led by Maura O’Dea Richards, to promote the rights of unmarried mothers, as they were called then, and their children.
“Founder member Colette O’Neill suggested Cherish as a name for the group, taken from the 1916 Proclamation which declared that Ireland would ‘cherish all of the children of the nation equally’, the One Family website says.
“Unfortunately in 1972, this was not the case. Single pregnant women were often thrown out of their homes, lost their jobs and were rejected by their communities. It was extremely difficult for them to keep and raise their children themselves.
“Cherish was set up to provide such women and children with a voice, empowering women to help themselves and their families.”
Cherish, whose first president was Mary Robinson, lobbied for the weekly unmarried mother’s allowance and this was introduced in 1973. The allowance was hugely significant in enabling single mothers to bring up children on their own.
We should all be proud of Cherish: it represented a much-needed reforming strand in Irish society and made an enormous difference in leading us all out of the shadows in which young, single, pregnant women were hidden from view.
Some of my own Irish Times articles from the 1990s on the anguish of the imposition of adoption on “unmarried mothers” are at padraigomorain.com. Click on “Other” and “Adoption stories”.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.