Down Syndrome, reproductive choices and the need for a social welfare state

On January 2nd, the Irish Times reported that Irish women have been advised to start having babies younger. The contextual hypocrisy aside (think housing crisis, sky-high childcare costs, poorly paid graduate jobs – the list goes on), one aspect of the story jumped out: Dr. Fishel, of a Dublin IVF fertility clinic, said that Down Syndrome occurs in one of 700 pregnancies in women aged 32, while the same figure for women ten years older is one in 67, and 70-80% of a 40-year-old woman’s eggs have a chromosomal abnormality. Why it’s important? Because Irish women aren’t having enough babies to keep society going with our ageing population. We need to keep producing healthy, productive sprogs. Last weekend, Down Syndrome appeared in...

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Normalising hate speech – on John Berger, the Irish Times, and the recontextualisation of meanings

I watched the first episode of Ways of Seeing, the BBC John Berger mini-series from 1972, last night. Explaining how images are given new meanings in different contexts, carrying ideological biases depending on their presentation and contextualisation, Berger ends the episode with a warning: “But remember that I am controlling, and using for my own purposes, the means of reproduction needed for these programmes. The images may be like words – but there is no dialogue yet. You cannot reply to me. […] You receive images and meanings, which are arranged. I hope you will consider what I arrange – but be sceptical of it.” The alt-right article and glossary* by Nicholas Pell published yesterday in the Irish Times has been called many...

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A feminist childcare model – and mammies doing it wrong

“Children of working mothers have better social and everyday skills,” read an Irish Times headline last week. A few days later, The Guardian reported on another study suggesting that mothers should spend as much time with their children as they can afford, and went with the headline “Child’s cognitive skills linked to time spent with mother”. Such is the game of pitting mothers against each other: you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. This of course is nothing new; the stream of new studies seems never-ending, and media loves reporting on them – likely because new mothers never fail to fall for the clickbait, desperate for some sort of evidence that they’re doing something right in this most difficult job...

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On ‘whataboutery’, echo chambers, freedom of speech and playing the devil’s advocate – or: Why can’t we all just get along?

As someone who is regularly accused of hiding in an echo chamber of angry feminists patting each other on the back, I thought I’d write to those of you who accuse me of that, who think that I’m not doing feminism right. If you’ve ever thought that I’ve been too angry, that I’ve been wrong to disengage myself from a discussion, that I’ve overreacted to a seemingly innocent statement, that I haven’t tried hard enough to convince the other side – this is for you. Please read it. First of all, I want to highlight that all of the below has been written about beautifully and powerfully and poignantly many times before; but that’s the thing with the echo chamber, isn’t it, that those important articles may well have hit a wall...

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On reproductive justice, the failures of neoliberalism, and why ‘choice’ is complicated

It’s a funny one, the word ‘choice’. I spend so much of my time promoting it, explaining it, demanding it – yet whenever I stop to really think about it, I realise that it’s a word I’d much prefer not to have to embrace. For as long as laissez-faire or economic liberalism has existed, ‘choice’ has been one of its most important buzzwords, second only to ‘freedom’. In fact, the Swedes, keen on optimising language to become its most functional and least wasteful, would talk about a combination of the two: ‘valfrihet’ – freedom of choice. In the name of freedom of choice, neoliberalism has torn down many a welfare state in the hope that the free market, as an invisible hand, would bring us all greater utility by way...

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We need to change the way we talk about politics

I’ll remember the morning Donald Trump was elected as the morning I cried while stirring the porridge. Some people will say I am exaggerating. I can only hope they’re right. The Ku Klux Klan are celebrating, as is the anti-abortion brigade. Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, the friends of Brexit – these are the people who feel as if they’re on the right side of history in this. People say that feminism has gone too far, but a man who talks of “grabbing [women] by the pussy” has just been elected to the White House. People say that white lives matter, as the new President of the United States of America prepares to build a wall between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between those born with a right to the American dream and those who need...

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Why politics needs passion: on tone policing, Repeal jumpers and rational reasoning

Is tone policing the new master suppression technique? What is a master suppression technique? you ask. It is a way to suppress and humiliate an opponent, according to Norwegian psychologist and philosopher Ingjald Nissen, who articulated the framework of such techniques in 1945. And tone policing? A tone argument is one which isn’t strictly concerned with what is being said, but rather with the tone in which it is expressed. Tone policing, consequently, is a strategy of dismissing arguments irrespective of their legitimacy or accuracy. It’s a derailing tactic and, I would suggest, a master suppression technique on the rise. Ireland boasts an impressive selection of recent examples of the latter, thanks to a series of articles...

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Rule of the people, anyone? On democracy and the system being broken

Look, I don’t mean to be patronising. If you’ve been to school, you know this; you’ll know it like the back of your hand. But today, it feels like perhaps we need to go back to basics. The word democracy means ‘rule by the people’, derived from the Greek ‘demos’, for ‘common people’, and ‘kratos’, for ‘rule’ or ‘strength’. Democracy, in other words, is a form of government in which political control is exercised by all the people, either directly or through elected representatives. Ireland is a parliamentary, representative democratic republic. Scrap the ‘directly’ bit from the definition above: representative democracy is a form of government in which power is held by the people and exercised indirectly...

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Real change or spare change? Or, why adopting the language of the establishment won’t fix it

“See how your income would change with the Renua Ireland flat-tax tax calculator,” my local Renua candidate tweeted today. That’s how Renua is planning on winning votes – literally: click a button and see how many quid you’ll save. I went to a Dublin civil society group meeting recenty where, among other things, the art of talking to canvassers was discussed. “They’re politicians,” one of the organisers said, “so you can’t talk ethics with them. You have to make financial sense.” It stayed with me, that idea of politicians as cold-hearted sales people with euro signs in their eyes. Not because I don’t think there’s a smoking gun – but because I found the attitude disheartening. There it was, right at the heart...

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Angry, impolite, shrill-sounding, hysterical women

Calm down, dear. David Cameron was undeniably patronising towards female MP Angela Eagle, but there’s more to that phrase than just superiority and arrogance. I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about my own tone, particularly on online platforms like Twitter, wondering if I should indeed calm down. I’m furious with the Tories over the cuts; I’m sick to death of the widespread sexism in media; I tell brands who cement old-fashioned gender stereotypes to piss off; yes, I’m pretty sure that if you ask any of my followers on Twitter, they’ll say if not that I need to calm down then at least that I seem pretty angry a lot of the time. So I thought to myself that maybe I should take a chill pill. Maybe this is not how deliberative...

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