A new year, a new round of attacks on women

 

IS this it? Is this what you call living is all about? Look around. Read the headlines. Not even two weeks into 1996, ask yourself if this is the Ireland you want to live in for the rest of the year? For the rest of your life? In the name of all that is, sacred, what kind of psychotic little" statelet is this? Who the hell is supposed to be in charge?

For the rest of 1996, for the rest of the waning century, do you too want to live in fear of taking a short cut: home? Do you want your life destroyed by rape, murder and assault? Do you want your elderly mothers and fathers living around the country, beaten up and viciously attacked in their homes? Do you want contract killers riding around on motor bikes at high speed to their next hit? Do you want to go home, and - like one colleague last week - find your house turned upside down with your few precious possessions, like your mother's wedding ring, taken by louts who will never be caught. Even if they are, it will make little difference to their careers. But their assault on your mind or body will leave you demented for months and maybe for life.

Do you want to continue living in a country where the compromises women make in order to survive now amount to us living under siege; confined to virtual house arrest. We sneak out in daylight to go to work. We sit in cars with the doors locked but still feeling unsafe if we are caught in traffic or even held up by the lights. We know, only too well, that windows can be smashed, that we'll be lucky if just our bags are taken. If that is all that happens, we know we will try to reassure ourselves with learned and pitiful little jingles like: "Sure, it could have been worse". Or; "it was only money" - Or; "I'll just have to be more careful" - Or; "it happens in London, Paris and New York, we can't expect to escape in Dublin/Cork/Galway/ Limerick/Tralee or Connemara".

Are we now so fooled and frightened into such conditioned and despairing responses that we are struck, dumb this week at the murder of Marilyn Rynn? Are we now so intimidated that we sit silently, under a shroud of hopelessness, waiting for the next attack? Have we begun to believe the unspoken, but still deeply felt, view that, in some way - regardless of the horror of the crime - we have asked for it? Are we shivering under the cloud of pervasive guilt for, very simply, being women?

Do we believe that for just having been created women we must put up with a regime of crime and punishment that nearly always leaves some of the mud of the sins of men sticking to us. Have we accepted the largely unspoken notions that the price for being independent women means we have to live out our lives under more and more limiting curfews? And if we depart one iota from the set rules, we can be prepared to expect the worst?

No. We do not. No. We can not. No. We will not. We have to shout "stop". We (not so simple) have to turn the whole question round and look at the facts. What is vividly stark is that this country is critically out of control. It is politically, morally and spiritually leaderless and rudderless. The only politics practised is that which belongs to the world of balancing the accounts, of being able to say we have the lowest inflation in recent history, of piling up points in bringing the wars of other countries to an end, of being seen on the telly shaking hands with the Mr Xs, Mr Ys or Mr Zees on the international circuit. The bottom line is, about holding seats, of largely caring about what kudos can be stacked up in the short time between elections.

The only morality is a quagmire of meaningless rubbish put out by old men desperate to hold on to the power they lost when they still lived comfortably in a world of impenetrable palaces. They speak with such a mix of tongues that their message just hits some people some of the time and misses most of us all of the time.

A spiritual bankruptcy exists in the vacuum created by years of lack of real contact between churchmen and us, lack of communication between them and us and their cosmic ignorance/indifference about our lives. Since they have failed so abysmally in tackling their own problems, pretending that if they do not speak about them they will go away and much else, they have lost most of us and left the rest floundering. So we carry on with our own notions of spirituality and hope for the best. And the best of them go to the Third World.

It is not enough. Rather, it is both pitiable and outrageous. Do they not yet know that women's lives are solely defined by issues like abortion and divorce? Why do they persist only in sermonising and sending out scripts at times when these two chestnuts are on the table again? For how much longer will they persist in regretting that women have learned how to speak and more importantly, to question and talk back? For how long will they dismiss the prospect of women getting their jobs?

Why, in this most awful and tragic of weeks, with the discovery of Marilyn Rynn's body as the first brutal harbinger of what will happen to more women in 1996, is there not any public word from any bishop or archbishop? What do they feel? What do they think? What are they doing? Not just for women but about the men who do such desperate deeds.

And let's not just question the way the workings of men appointed to arbitrate on justice, good and evil, do their work. Today, Des Hanafin will be in the High Court in his attempt to get the divorce referendum nullified. While he is taking the case as a private citizen, he is also a leading "pro life" campaigner. Why is there a deathly silence from him, William Binchy et al about the murder of a 41 year old woman on her way home from a night out? How can they expect to be taken seriously about the lives of foetuses when they themselves only rattle into action when the lives of those not even born are under threat.

Neither can Nora Bennis nor the National Women's Council nor the small but significant number of women prominent in politics and other areas be let off the hook. Why are their fax machines strangely quiet this week?

One can understand the weariness of many of them. This crime and other horrendous deeds against women has happened before. They have all done their share of protesting, of and of writing about them. But do they not realise that it is the actions of them or women who went before them on such issues which has got them into the jobs they now enjoy?

Why is there no clamour for the Dail to be recalled? Is everybody content to sit around waiting for the Budget which, you can bet, will have precious little money for dealing with things like crimes against women or investigation of the reasons why men are committing them. Not just the perceived reasons - the real ones which only come out of careful and costly research. God knows, we all need a cut in our taxes but we also urgently need a debate on whether paying less tax is preferable to not being able to walk the streets with safety. Do we need more prisons? What we definitely want is more gardai on the beat.

Last Friday, my elderly mother answered a knock on the door around lunchtime. It was a fine, bright Kerry day. I was inside, picking at the unending leftovers and nearly choked when she told a man - a stranger who said he was selling potatoes that she would not possibly get through a stoneweight bagful. "I live on my own. I only use a small amount," she said. It is a measure of my fear of living in this little island, as we head into another year, that I could only see horror headlines as a result of such a simple and common rural interchange.

Am I over reacting? As Gay Byrne says, talk to me. And if Finola Bruton's husband is saying nothing, what does she think?