Wall of shame

Everytime I go to draw money on campus I see it: the Wall of Shame. It’s covered with photos, and no, not photos of people who’ve messed up, who should be ashamed. In fact, the pictures are of smiling people proud of achievement. The shame belongs to those who picked and printed the photos. They’re on the wall of my college’s GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) club office (at least I think it’s their office).

There are 21 photos on the wall. One of them is a shot of a sport field with people only in the distance:

That leaves 20 photos. Of these, three are of women. Here they are:

In two of the three photos the women’s faces are obscure or turned away from the camera. In the third, a large group of women are shown, a sea of faces, indistinct. Some of the photos of men are similar. However, the majority are loving, personal, joyous, celebratory.

“The lads” are depicted as a team, mates, the images a celebration of the brotherhood in sport:

What breaks my heart as well, though, is how men are also shown as students, apparently studying sport. Only men (you can make out one woman in the background):

I don’t know much about DkIT’s GAA club. I don’t know what they say about including women, encouraging women to participate. What I do know is that this wall speaks more clearly than a hundred thousand words. This club is by men, for men, worshipping men. A few crappy images of women are thrown in awkwardly, no heart in them. They may as well have written “by the way we are not sexist srsly look women” on an arrow-shaped poster beside these pictures, it would at least have been more honest.

Should the excuse be that so few women participate that those are unfortunately the best pictures that could be found, the club should know that as long as there are almost no images of women playing GAA sports, there will be almost no women playing GAA sports. Fake it ’til you make it. If there’s a single game each year then make sure you get loads of good photos and SHOW THEM OFF. Make sure for every photo of men there’s a photo of women. Make the photos good, as vibrant as those you have up of male players. Men are intimidating, especially in packs. We need to see other women doing stuff to show us we can, too.

Someone asked on Twitter a while ago what can be done to encourage more women to participate in GAA. Well, on the wall outside DkIT’s GAA club you can see what you can do to make sure they don’t.


Small Roots

The greatest challenge I’ve encountered since starting postgraduate study is loneliness. You rejoin the familiar environment where you were part of the family mere months ago, and find yourself an outsider. You are no longer part of a class, griping, laughing, anticipating, working, celebrating together. Much as they are familiar faces, you are also not part of the staff. They are their own group, friends, colleagues, and you are not one of them, nor are you one of their students any longer. In my specific circumstances, through a few quirks of coincidence, I am utterly alone when I am in college.

You’d think, then, that I’d be interested in, perhaps even delighted about an effort on the part of my college to give students a chance to make new friends. Come and connect, they say. Join us in this particular spot, reach out, get to know someone new. There’s just one problem. It’s facilitated by the chaplaincy team.

In my college, the chaplain is a lovely guy. He’s experienced, he’s friendly. He’s also a Catholic priest – while he is employed and paid by my college, from public funds, he is in service to the Roman Catholic church.

What do I know of the Catholic church, just from personal experience?

In the past decade:

  1. I had a choice for my children to either attend one of the local schools, all walking distance from our home. Alternatively, I was free to try and get them a place (hahahaha good luck with that) in a “multi-denominational” school, which would still not be non-religious but hey, at least they teach all the religions, as long as they’re Christian. But by law you can opt out, so we did. In spite of that…
  2. My children have been forced or pressured at various times to attend Catholic rituals, against my express wishes and in at least one instance against their added clearly expressed wishes not to be forced to attend due to their own personal, very deeply held religious convictions.
  3. Catholic representatives were given access to my children without my permission.
  4. Two of my children were subjected to a full day of open, intense Catholic religious indoctrination. One of them surreptitiously texted me, disturbed, describing what was happening (think Jesus Camp style downright sick indoctrination), but the school had not sought my written permission for this off-campus activity, nor did I know where my child had been taken, so I could not fetch them immediately. I was one of a number of parents to complain; when the next child reached this age group, the experience was repeated with no change. At least this time we were prepared and the child in question chose, forewarned, to have the experience simply to get an understanding of the intensity and psychological power of such zealotrous indoctrination techniques.
  5. One of my children was bullied by a teacher for being opted out of religion. The child was forced to sit in class, because this is what the Catholic church does in the publically funded schools they control: they have to let you opt out as it is a constitutional right, but they fail to take any action whatsoever to make your choice practically workable. They refuse to move religion classes to a time of day that will allow for parents to simply drop off or collect a child a little earlier or later. They refuse to provide alternative classes, or allow a child to sit in on another class taking place at the same time. Instead, the child is “opted out” but forced to sit in the class as it is presented, and in many cases not allowed to keep themselves busy with something else. In this case the teacher then proceeded to vilify and smear atheists, and when my child objected she told them to “shut up, you’re not part of this class.”
  6. One of my children considered studying to be a teacher. I had to discourage them, as that would mean having to go to another country to study and definitely to work. The Catholic church is almost wholly in control of publically funded schools, running and controlling these schools with the money collected in taxes from all Irish citizens, not just Catholics. They can and do exclude or discriminate against anyone who is not prepared to at least pretend to be Catholic when it comes to appointing teachers. They also control the overwhelming majority of facilities offering teacher training. This career path is closed to my children in our country, directly due to the Catholic church.

If I ignore my personal experience:

  1. Personal friends have had their children insulted and humiliated for asking not to be forced to attend Catholic rituals. One family is deeply devoted, but in a different sect of Christianity. Still the child had a teacher hiss right in their face: “Just because you don’t pray doesn’t mean you can stop us from praying,” when the teacher was leading a class to church for an unscheduled, spur-of-the-monent mass attendance and the child said they didn’t want to go because they were not Catholic.
  2. A personal friend had marital trouble in the mid 2000’s. When she tried to find out where to obtain marital counselling to try to save her marriage, she was only directed to Catholic-controlled Accord. Believing she would get Catholic-controlled advice, and coming from a family near destroyed by a priest’s response to a cry for help in an abusive situation, she ended up not getting professional help. We lost touch, I have no idea if her marriage survived.
  3. Catholic control of hospitals, and where they are not directly in control, of patterns of thought around childbirth, does damage to women in Ireland way, way beyond the already serious and shocking issues reported in the media. Women I know personally have been traumatised in their pregnancy and during childbirth, as a direct result of Catholic views on women, pregnancy, and childbirth. I believe Savita’s death was directly caused by the Catholic church’s continued influence in women’s health care and medicine in general.
  4. The Catholic church ran slave camps in Ireland until the mid nineties.
  5. Criminals will exist in any organisation. However, the Catholic church as an organisation systematically enabled and assisted criminals in covering up past crimes and in continuing to commit crimes. The organisation then took very cynical steps to put their share of the burden of financial reparation almost completely on the backs of the people who were the victims of their complicitiy in crime.

In opposition to this, no doubt a devoted enthusiast could make a very long list of good things the Catholic church has done, and continues to do. So why focus on the bad stuff?

Let’s say I tell you that there’s an organisation called, say, The Wonder Bunch (TWB). It has raised funds for victims of natural disasters, has sent representatives to help establish shelters for abused women. It has also raised funds to recruit and train child soldiers, advocates for slavery, and lobbies for any sexual relationship other than heterosexuality to be criminalised as a death penalty offence. Finally I add that they run the local tennis club.

Would you feel it’s ethical to join me for a game of tennis?

Everytime we do attend that game of tennis, everytime we do go to that “Chaplaincy-facilitated event”, everytime we shrug and accept the involvement of the Catholic church in small, “benign” events in everyday life, we allow a small root to grow, to remain, or to strengthen. These small roots individually are likely benign, even good for the immediate community. But each of these small roots supports a big, dark tree with bark like razor wire, and menacing branches with blade-like thorns hanging over others not as lucky as us to be nothing the Catholic church happens to oppose. Teachers or people interested in studying to be teachers who are not heterosexual or who are not Catholic and are not prepared to pretend to be Catholic; anyone in need of routine or critical healthcare; children who should be free to get education without the intertwined religious indoctrination; those traumatised by Catholic-enabled or perpetrated rape, abuse, neglect, and other crimes.

Everytime we’re ok with the small roots, we are siding against all those who have suffered, and strengthen the hand of the Catholic church to continue harming others still.

Media Discourse and Analysis

All news is fake news – kind of. Nothing you read or watch is what it is. Instead, even when a reporter strives to present no more than an unbiased account of an event or situation, what they offer for consumption is a representation of reality.

One of my modules this semester is Media Discourse and Analysis, and in this category I’ll be blogging about what I learn.


I’ve had two opportunities to ponder two things about me that are worth pondering. Both are related to being an outsider: I’m an expatriate, and I’m a mature student. The first ponderous moment was a survey I filled in. It focused only on my experience as expat, and even the pondering brought about more pondering about the subject of my musings.

All this pondering now has me thinking about ponds. And Doctor Who.

I digress, though: having recently commemorated the tenth anniversary of our arrival in Ireland, I’d say my expat label has matured to where my view on the matter can be considered informed. And the information I can impart is this: for all that I have an Irish passport, I am not Irish, and never will be. Because life has a weird and twisted sense of humour, I am also no longer South African. Leaving, living elsewhere, means I am forever changed. I am neither one, nor am I the other. My identity is that I am identity-less.

The second period of pondering was brought about by someone asking me what it was like to be a mature student. (This was perhaps ironic, in an Alanis Morissette kind of way, as I was just acquiring something rather immature to play a trick on my kids.) Being a mature student is a similar experience to being an expat. I am a student, I have a student card, I attend classes, but I am not a student. I’m late for class because the cat was sick and I needed to take care of her before I could leave, not because I partied last night and overslept because I only got in bed at 3am. I’m stealthily texting in class to remind my son of his haircut, not to flirt with my boyfriend. I don’t have a boyfriend – my husband would probably object if I did. That personal problem my classmate is facing – I’m helping my child through the same thing.

The commonality, I think, is that both experiences are of being different. Different is difficult, but I believe difficult is the entry fee for an awesome life.

I pay it with a smile.

Why things stay the same

So this happened:

Last September, I started a degree course at Dundalk Institute of Technology. It’s a great college, and I’m very happy here. But there’s always a but.

Part of the (mandatory) orientation included all of us being addressed by a Catholic priest. I left the room before he started speaking, I happened to have a legitimate excuse, but if I hadn’t, I’d still have left. It felt so, so wrong to have an address by a religious figure included in the orientation for a course at a secular college. But that’s just my own, private, personal feeling so I aimed to handle it discreetly, and I think I succeeded. I just want to keep my head down and get my degree, then move on.

Then boom, I got these emails from the priest. The first one was understandable, he had to let everyone know he was there if they wanted to confess something, right? But the second one was not okay. Nor was the third. By the time I received a fourth email (this at a rate of about one a month), I asked very politely that I please be taken off their mailing list. That was not possible. The priest, in this college, has blanket access to every single student email, he has licence to inject his religious invitations into your inbox if you study here, whether you like it or not. He couldn’t exclude me even if he wanted to.

I tried to block emails from his address. It was not at all an obvious process, and why should I have to be the one to have to actively resist this spam? Why is the onus not on the person actually sending this stuff? But hey, I just wanted to quietly and privately opt out of this, so I figured it out and changed email settings to make sure I at least didn’t have to see this ridiculous assumption of entitlement stuffed under my nose into my inbox every month.

What do you know, it didn’t work. So in January, I emailed the college president, explained as politely as I could why I had a problem with the current state of affairs, and got a great, understanding response. That is not sarcasm, my faith in humanity was restored. In February, I got another feckin’ email from the priest. And again in March. I replied and asked him to please stop spamming my email account.

Finally, an email from an administrator, offering for me to go to her office for her to help me set up my email to no longer receive these emails. They had changed back-end stuff since December, so now it was in fact an option to send such crap directly to the shredder. This doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that the college assumes by default you want to receive all the priest’s news every month, and that you have to jump through hoops to get it to stop. It doesn’t solve the problem that the RCC is given outrageous privilege in access to students who never asked for it. It doesn’t change my extreme discomfort that something that’s not exactly secret but also most certainly not public – my student number, which is part of my student email address – was given to the RCC’s servant. But by now I just wanted to get this over with and I was exhausted after a rough week. Just… whatever.

So finally I’m in the admin’s office, and I tell her I’m ragged but am going to try very hard not to swear. Just so’s you know, I don’t think this solves the problem. I mean, how can it be right to send religious emails to people through an academic communication channel? What the fuck?

POUNCE! I swore. Bad girl, to quote her, “watch yourself.” Fair enough. Because, I then realised, firstly I was wrong to swear, no matter how many months I’ve had to struggle to get the extremely simple request met to not be spammed, no matter how frustrated I was, no matter how outrageous the situation seemed to me. It was not on.

But also:

Reason One why things stay the same:

When you point out something that has always been done this way is wrong, you’d better make sure you’re perfect because The Powers That Be are going to nail you to the floor for every single flaw you show. I decided at that point to be courteous and under no circumstances to try to argue my point. Just to emphasise, I was wrong to swear, I don’t deny that, but the “watch yourself” was a reminder how the game is played. I just had to shut up and get the priest’s spam to be dealt with then leave.

So. When she said our student email is not an academic communication channel, I didn’t argue. This:


…is not an academic communication channel. Which brings me to:

Reason Two why things stay the same:

When you dare to complain and they can’t fault your arguments, we’ll start getting extremely technical about definitions, for instance, to create, out of thin air, a way to invalidate your complaint. So God for instance may get redefined until they claim when they pray to Jesus to open a meeting, when you hear Jesus you should understand it to mean some vague deity which totally can include whatever you believe. Wink wink.

I saw the light. Of course, this email with the college logo and which has your student number and the college acronym as part of it, through which you get notifications about classes changing or being cancelled and when your assignment has been submitted successfully and through which you’re notified when an assignment has been marked and through which lecturers notify you of changes in deadlines, it’s not an academic communication channel, therefore presumably it’s okay for it to be used to circulate the RCC’s notifications and invitations and shit.

How could I not have understood that from the beginning.

Reason three why things stay the same:

Bad, bad me! The chaplaincy is a requirement for all academic institutions in Ireland. How can I ask anything to change that is required from on high?

So that was indeed new. Wow. The state actually requires SECULAR academic institutions in Ireland to have a chaplaincy for students*. But her next sentence blew me away:

“We can’t afford to pay for representatives of all faiths, so we pay the priest and he covers all religious needs.”

Okay. Right. So I’m not even going to begin to try to begin to START discussing everything that’s wrong with looking at religion that way. I mean, I’m an atheist, but I used to be an evangelical Christian and I can give you a written guarantee I would not EVER have turned to a Catholic priest for my religious needs. We viewed the RCC as a corrupted version of Christianity and the Pope was speculated to be the antichrist. I remember my mom being very progressive and controversial when she said, years ago: “You can find true Christians even in the Catholic church.” That statement blew me away back then. What a novel thought, that you’d find an actual real Christian in the RCC.

But yes, sure, great, I’m sure all students of all religious persuasions are just grand to have a one-size-fits-all priest. I wonder does he have a collection of signs in his drawer, and he pops one around his neck to just let whoever is with him know today he is an imam, tomorrow he is a guru, day after that he is a shaman.

And there I was fooled by that black outfit. Looks just like a Roman Catholic priest, but you learn something new every day. No doubt nobody would ever feel reluctant to go see him fearing he’d either deliberately or uncosciously steer them towards his particular religion. The RCC is after all not known for indoctrination.

So now we have to go back to that little sentence and have another small inner explosion. I’m sorry but WHAT THE FUCK is this time totally justified: the college has to PAY the priest???!!! I… let’s just move on before I sprain something.

Reason three, summarised, is that if you complain, you create problems for often already overburdened organisations who are just doing their utter best to comply with the demands made of them. This is usually true. You may not be a villain, you may just want to stop receiving spam, for instance, but you will end up feeling like a villain and chances are if you make more of a fuss you’ll look like one, too.

Reason four why things stay the same:

You may not need this service, but others do.”

How dare you object to 100% of students being subjected to an intrusion by a religious organisation through a non-academic communication channel mandatory for all students, with no opt-out possible unless you email the college president and eventually make an appointment with an admin to show you how to implement the instructions secured from the IT department? How dare you feel it’s not right for a representative of religion A to be paid and given an office on campus to minister to people from religions A through Z? You’re so selfish.

Things stay the same because if you dare complain, you always end up feeling like the sea couldn’t wash you clean.

Reason five things stay the same:

“Really?” said my husband when I told him about the one priest to rule them all, one priest to find them approach to ministry on campus. “Why don’t you make an appointment with him, tell him you’re a satanist and you need religious guidance. Ask him to have the Satanic Bible on hand, you really need an expert’s advice. Go on, I dare you.”

I laughed. “Nah.” Because I just don’t have the energy or time. Reason five things stay the same is because It’s Always Been Done This Way is like a huge blob of… let’s say jelly. If you try to push it, it doesn’t really resist, but it’s also not moved. You end up covered in it, exhausted, possibly ruined, and the jelly will be exactly where it was before you started.

Not for me, thanks. I just wanted to stop some spam.





*A friend asked a legitimate question: really required? By the state? I realised it was an assumption, she didn’t specify who required it. So now I am puzzled and intrigued. I can find no explicit info online. It would be interesting to know. If I find out I’ll update this. 🙂