When Do You Leave?

 

The events in the book in the middle happened 80 years ago this year. The Chalet School In Exile is one of the most extraordinary children’s books I’ve ever read and I still get more and more from it during every reread. It’s written contemporaneously, which gives it a unique perspective, and from the point of view of being generously sympathetic to the German population. I’ve often had the thought “When would I leave” on reading it.

Do you leave when you’re getting uncomfortable with the political unrest alluded to in an earlier book in the series? What about when you see the Nazi party consolidating power? Do you start thinking about packing up your life when you see the local young fellas with nothing better to do chasing the Jewish goldsmith through the village? There’s no spoiler alert required; the school quite clearly does leave and goes into exile (spoiler alert: the initial exile is short lived) and lives are upended by doing so. The school’s history is forever altered, given that the author felt she couldn’t move the school back again once peace was restored to Europe.

I haven’t read the other two books as much as Exile, as its popularly known in the Facebook group where these books have gained a new lease of life, but they have sparked similar musings. When should Offred (TV or book Offred) have left? When the creeping march of control over her reproductive rights meant her husband had to sign the form to get the pill? When she was fired from work under the watchful gaze of “some other” army? What about when the initial terrorist attack took place? Packing up your life is a hard thing to do, when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Is it going to get worse? Is this temporary? What do you leave behind? These aren’t rational decisions, no matter how they might appear with the benefit of hindsight.

When Ireland gained independence women lost a lot. Things changed, such as the introduction of the marriage bar for women working in the civil service. Once you got married, you had to leave. This rule wended its way into other parts of the workforce over time. We had never been great at looking after women and children, but the new state didn’t think to address this. Instead, decisions were made to pay religious orders to provide “care” for women, including those who weren’t married but were pregnant. We know how this ended and we have never properly dealt with this legacy. Women were constitutionally categorised as belonging in the home, something which needs to go but is usually dismissed as an anachronism with no real meaning. I don’t agree; it is a horrible thing to read about yourself in your country’s constitution.

Would you leave, knowing the kind of things your new country is doing and saying about women? Would you stay, hoping that the birth of a nation meant some unpleasantness but an eventual working out of the things that a republic is supposed to be? We’ve long had a history of emigration, so packing up and leaving is part of almost every family’s story, mine included. People left, and returned, and made things better. We can change our constitution, and we do, frequently. We have moved forward since independence and this 1937 document. The one pictured above is one of several little blue books I own; this one is from 2018. Before we repealed the eighth. I’m keeping it, because I know how things can change and sometimes its good to have a reminder of what can happen and how it can happen and how hard you have to work to correct the trajectory of a nation.

When Do You Leave?

Monica, and being 22.

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I remember the Monica Lewinsky “scandal” very well. I say “scandal” because with 20 years in between then and now I’ve revised a lot of my thoughts about her, and Bill Clinton, and that time, and how I feel about it all. I was about 14 when it all kicked off and Monica seemed like a glamorous, go-getting woman in her 20s to me, someone who had her life together and was going places and knew what she wanted and how to get it.

Obviously the age gap hasn’t changed but now I feel much closer in age to her, which is the usual feeling you get as you grow older. I’ve been the new college graduate, unsure of myself and trying to figure out the working world and my place in it after the security of years spent in full-time education. I’ve navigated the world of older men in my workplace, and walked the tightrope of years spent being polite and never quite being sure if something is what you think it is or if its something you probably shouldn’t have to put up with.

I’ve been thinking about being 22 and being around people in power, and being around one of the most powerful people in the world. I’ve been thinking about sex, and what I regarded as sex, and what other people, mostly men at least twice my age, think about sex and consent and right and wrong. It’s uncomfortable to look back at 22 year old me, and think about 22 year old Monica, and the choices we made and the things which happened which weren’t really choices at all.

I’ve listened to  season 2 of Slow Burn and what other people said about Monica and how she navigated all that pressure and how, shamefully, she became the punchline of so many jokes about sex and power and men and what they do and who they do it to. I thought about my clothes when I was 22, and how I probably would have considered a navy dress from Gap as the ideal choice for working in an office.

I think about the working world now and my place in it and if things have changed and if a 22 year old in my workplace would be treated like Monica, regardless of how many people proclaim #metoo and talk about consent and condemn the actions of men in power who take what they want. I think about the current man in the White House, and the 22 year olds who work in that building, wearing the Gap dresses and figuring out their place in the world and I hope their world is better than mine was when I was 22 and when Monica was 22.

But I don’t know if it is, or if it can be, knowing what we know about everything that’s happened since Monica was 22.

Monica, and being 22.

Reeling in Repeal

 

It’s been a whole year since we repealed the eighth. This week last year, I was very, very worried. And nervous. And hopeful. And anxious. I was uplifted by my journey home from work the day before the vote, being handed a leaflet by canvassers who lifted my spirits. A leaflet I stuck up on the door before we rushed off to school and which is now in a box, along with a copy of the Irish Times from the Monday after the referendum and our repeal sweatshirts and badges.

I don’t think I’ve fully grasped what the campaign and vote and result really meant to me until quite recently. I needed a break from all things repeal, so while I followed the passage of the legislation and the implementation of services very closely, I listened to little analysis and read even less about what was going on. Some distance was necessary.

I’ve slowly started listening to some podcasts from around this time last year, featuring those I cheered and those I loathed. It’s been somewhat cathartic and frustrating. The same arguments come up, the same lies are repeated and the same frank and brutal truths cut through the nonsense.

Something I’ve watched many times is this short video. It was hard to watch, but covered so many of the emotions I felt. I don’t think I will ever forget 10.01pm on 25th May 2018, when I couldn’t believe that exit poll, until I did and it was all real.

Reeling in Repeal

Election 1918

 

 

I’d kind of missed the fact that it’s the 100 year anniversary of the 1918 election in Ireland, for which the franchise was substantially expanded and women could vote for the first time. I like the fact that we still vote using paper and pencils and that then as now people could spoil their ballots if they so wished.

Having no other plans this evening I’m going to watch some of the “election coverage” on television. My daughter is the same age her great grandfather was in 1918. I hope she’ll remember going to vote with us to repeal the eighth amendment and in favour of marriage equality and the other visits to polling stations along the way.

This week the Bill to provide for legal abortion services was passed. A hundred years ago women got more rights, and I hope next year we can give more rights to those who need them.

 

Election 1918

“It will come sometime. Some beautiful morning she will just wake up and find it is Tomorrow. Not Today but Tomorrow. And then things will happen … wonderful things.”

[A quote from one of my favourite books, Anne of the Island, by LM Montgomery.]

Today is International Women’s Day.

Today we finally have a Bill which proposes to repeal the eighth amendment.

Today I really started to hope this will happen.

Today felt like progress.

Today has been a long time coming.

Tomorrow the debate in Parliament will begin.

I am looking forward to a tomorrow when these kinds of posts will be obsolete.

“It will come sometime. Some beautiful morning she will just wake up and find it is Tomorrow. Not Today but Tomorrow. And then things will happen … wonderful things.”

A New Coat For Anna

When I was a small child, one of the books I remember borrowing a book about a little girl who got a new coat from the library. It was a story that stayed with me as a child and I remember loving the book, but I hadn’t thought about it in years. The book, A New Coat for Anna, tells the story of a little girl dealing with post-WWII life in the Netherlands and her mother’s efforts to get her a new coat.

As an adult, rereading the book is a jarring experience. Anna’s mother had to give up a gold watch, which must have been a valuable heirloom and which had survived years of war, just to get the wool for a coat. She has to give up other things too, like a lamp, a necklace and a teapot, to ensure Anna has the coat she needs.

More than that, the book shows that war doesn’t end when the powers that be sign an armistice. Children grow and need warm clothing. Mothers who’ve carefully hoarded family treasures weigh up what they might be worth. People with skills trade them for necessities.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I’ve been thinking about Anna’s red coat because of the iconic scenes in Schindler’s List, where a tiny girl in a red coat wanders around the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. And I’m thinking about all the children who today have grown out of coats and are dealing with war and its effects and their mothers who are trying to decide whether now is the time to trade a precious family object for the necessities of life.

I wish Anna’s red coat was a purely fictional book about a time long ago that we’re glad never happened today, but sadly whenever humankind has said ‘never again’ this hasn’t come to pass.

A New Coat For Anna