The Irish Times view on Majella Moynihan

The sexism – some might say misogyny – that underlay her treatment went far beyond the Garda

Majella Moynihan “has done a great public service in speaking so honestly and so eloquently about her experiences”. Photograph: RTÉ

Majella Moynihan “has done a great public service in speaking so honestly and so eloquently about her experiences”. Photograph: RTÉ

 

In 1984, Majella Moynihan was threatened with dismissal from An Garda Síochána because, as the formal charge against her put it, she “had sexual intercourse with” a fellow recruit “as a result of which you became pregnant and gave birth to a male child”.

She was, as the excellent documentary broadcast on RTÉ radio at the weekend and yesterday’s interview with Seán O’Rourke revealed, subjected to a demeaning and intrusive disciplinary process. She felt pressurised into giving up her son David for adoption while in what she calls a “distraught” state.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has rightly offered to apologise in person on behalf of the force to Moynihan. The Garda Representative Association, which should have defended her, but instead played its own part in shaming her, should do likewise.

Yet it is important to remember that the sexism – some might say misogyny - that underlay her treatment, went far beyond the Garda. Two years before Majella Moynihan’s ordeal, Eileen Flynn was sacked from her job as a secondary school teacher for becoming pregnant by a man to whom she was not married and in 1985, the High Court ruled her dismissal lawful and justified.

Sexual guilt

The double standard, whereby pregnancy was proof of a woman’s sexual guilt while men who had sex outside marriage could generally keep it secret, was not just social hypocrisy. It was a legal and institutional reality. So was the wider duplicity of a State that put a ban on abortion into the Constitution the same year Moynihan conceived her child, while giving women like her and so many others every reason to avoid censure by terminating a “shameful” pregnancy.

This is not ancient history – these social and official attitudes shaped and still shape the lives of far too many Irish women. “That pain”, as Moynihan put it on RTÉ, “is still like it was yesterday.” She has done a great public service in speaking so honestly and so eloquently about her experiences. She has helped us to remember that the sexist attitudes she encountered have been banished only because women have fought so long and so hard for equality. That struggle can never cease.

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