A couple of weeks ago I had a very illuminating conversation with a close friend, a man like me. We were in the pub to watch the rugby and he asked how the campaigning was going. In our circle of friends we thankfully chat about more than sports, but this instigated quite a long conversation that left me at a bit of a loss.
He was convinced the referendum would pass and I agreed it is polling well, but there are a lot of undecideds and more importantly confusion on the part of the electorate that those campaigning for a no are trying to exploit. It dawned on him that actually yes, someone close to him (a woman) thinks she might vote no because she had seen the manipulative and disrespectful Down Syndrome advertisements. So there we are, not as easy as we thought.
I noted that again this is at odds with the polls for women who are in a vast majority in favour of repeal and that those doubts and lies by pro-life groups are and will be exposed. What was more worrying to me was that how many ‘lads’ were having this very conversation? He paused and said… ‘I don’t know. Most I suppose?’. I then said, ‘think about it this way, the way society groups (I’m not going to go on a long rant about patriarchy don’t worry, I’ll save that for later) together we are generally in crowds socially with ‘the lads’, I’m sure your lunch break at work is the same, or even family gatherings, the lads group together holding a beer, talking about some sort of sport. When does ‘this’ conversation happen?’ It doesn’t.
I think I am very lucky in the friends I have in my life, we are a diverse bunch of men and women who speak about these things, but maybe not often enough. If we aren’t, what hope is there of a bunch of guys deciding that maybe something that affects all the men and women in their lives probably deserves a slot between debating VAR and what the best craft beer is?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past two weeks and not had much of an answer as to how to tackle it. I’ve brought up issues such as the pay gap/women’s expected roles under patriarchy/sexual harassment in groups outside of my close knit friends in the past to mixed results, but generally there is a dismissing of it by men as not their problem (much the same as many of the twitter threads on ‘lads’ and the eighth amendment in recent days). I try to push the point, but dependent on the context and more often than not I say my piece and the conversation moves on. Do I do this often enough? Do I pursue the issue? I don’t know, probably not and it’s this upcoming referendum that has made this very clear to me.
It is very easy to slot into the caste that is man with beer and sports. This equates to fitting in, it is safe. But, you know what is not safe? Being pregnant in Ireland. This affects everyone, men, women, married, young, old, single, same sex relationships. I guarantee whether you know it or not there is a story of abortion in your group of friends and family. It may have been spoken about, but likely not.
So, what can men do? Firstly acknowledge that there is no time to be complacent. We have unique opportunities to speak with a half of the population that are currently not engaged with this. How we do this is going to be different for everyone. I plan to make sure I speak about this at every moment I can with the men in my life. I will be sending a message into the various WhatsApp/Facebook groups asking my peers to vote for repeal and to speak with me if they have any questions or doubts. I will be speaking to family members at social events (when we are gathered in that beer huddle). I will be continuing to campaign and canvass, but I’ll also be doing my best to drag men out to do the same.
I’ve had long conversations with my dad, who is one of the most compassionate people I know, but struggled with this because of his Catholic upbringing. He now sees it as a healthcare issue and understands that there are a myriad of reasons for an abortion. He may never have chosen that option, but he understands that he was also lucky enough never have to face one of the many reasons for having one and ultimately it is not his body.
Sean Moncrief shared his story this weekend in the Irish Times, the cold Ireland that he illustrated is the very same as the one we have today, one of silence oppression for men and women when faced with difficult decisions. Telling his story shows how men can make a difference. We can talk to each other and make this island a better and more compassionate place. We certainly don’t do a great job of talking to each other at the minute.
Lad culture can be abhorrent in its lack of depth and empathy and it is only a good thing if we can break a cycle of not talking and seeing the humanity in these issues. Yes, not all men are having incredibly flippant and banter fuelled conversations such as those chronicled by Sarah Maria Griffin, that serve to bolster the notions of dominant masculinity, but it is the mean. Imagine being proud of shouting down a woman, ‘winning’ your ‘debate’. It may not be as vacuous or repugnant as the ‘maleness’ in the tweet thread above, but not talking about these issues only serves to perpetuate this incredibly male problem of not dealing with real problem.
Every story is a deeply personal one and we all have an opportunity to speak with those closest to us, our casual acquaintances and everyone in between. Every vote will count as well as every story spoken or unspoken. The thought of forcing someone else to travel abroad is horrifying be it for cases of an unviable pregnancy, rape, financial, health or other reasons. Each man you speak with needs to be aware that these things happen, affect them and their loved ones.
The women who have shared their stories are doubly courageous, they have lived their stories and then told them in a context that is not welcoming or easy. It is time that men, especially those who consider themselves Pro-Choice to stand with their friends, sisters and mothers.
Men need to talk about this issue and the consequences of not acting have never been so clear. The ramifications of men not speaking to each other on this issue and others are stark and a massive problem in a society in general. Let’s talk to each other and repeal the eighth amendment.
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