Friday, December 18, 2020

A Girl In Ireland


There are all kinds of forces in our childhoods that form us as adults. I was forged in an Ireland that today sounds like the Taliban. Men and women were separated in all kinds of ways starting with church.
A mantilla

In my time - late forties early fifties in the last century - men and women sat on opposite aisles of the church. As soon as a girl hit puberty her head had to be covered in a mantilla in church. I was one who always asked why and the answer was that a women's hair could tempt a man. We had to be vigilant about throwing any temptation in a man's way as they quickly "went out of control."

Education was an awful waste for a woman as she would throw it all away when she got married, which was the end goal.

And speaking of end goals: There were 3 options for a girl's life:

(1) Become a nun (highest calling, a girl would be the bride of Christ. Chirst was obviously a polygamist but saying that was blasphemy of the highest order - hell fire and damnation were yours.

(2) Married, giving god all the children she possibly could and even more, if one of her sons was a priest she could go sit on the right hand side of god once she died (usually early being worn out from constant pregnancies.)

(3) Staying single but dedicating one's life to (free) community work in the church and supporting the clergy's housekeeping, etc.

Careers for women were frowned upon severely as
(1)If it was outside the norm (teacher, nurse) it could be offputting for a man who might be interested in you.
(2)You refrained from buying a car as you might as well say goodbye to any good man finding and marrying you.
(3)Keeping your intelligence to yourself, men find "smart" women saucy and forward. "Intelligence," said my father, the youngest of the family of six - all girls until his precious self, "Is always wasted on a girl."

Sex education was strict.

(1) Tampons would "destrioy" you. Why? No man would want you. Why? Tampons destroyed his pleasure.
(2) Never let a man touch you below the neck or above the knee - see "out of control" section from church rules.

From the beginning I saw that I was more of a worry than my four brothers. For I could "fall" pregnant. By any stray man. I remember living in fear of toilet seats if a man had used it prior to me. I could "catch" a stray pregnancy. And I was told about these dark and smelly places where girls who fell were incarcerated scrubbing sheets for the rest of their lives with their hands covered in chilblains and carbolic soap, dawn to dusk, living on bread and water and beaten by the nuns if they complained.

I remember looking at my brothers and thinking they have absolutely no idea how much freedom they have. None. The most they were told was not to climb into cars with strange men offering them sweeties. They didn't have to fear endless laundry work and were free to spray any female with an "unwanted" pregnancy and walk away.

the most imporant rule of all: I had to avoid these lurking pregnancies as I could wind up with carbolic hands in a dark damp dungeon for the rest of my born days.
To be continued.

39 comments:

  1. Is this what you thought at the time or just since you have been past it and looking behind you?

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    1. GP I just couldn't verbalize a lot of it at the time. I just knew it was wrong. My mother did say to me at one point that she never wished for the life she had to be mine. She was a very intelligent woman and was victimized both by circumstances and the RC church which I have written about before.

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  2. Sigh.
    Several generations later some of those self same issues abound. Better disguised perhaps but they are still there.
    Not least the question of 'shame' about unplanned pregnancies. That shame is still only directed at the woman.

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    1. Yes, we never hear the term "Unmarried fathers" do we EC? And incest and sexual abuse by priests was rampant in Ireland. All under wraps until it all exploded in the eighties and nineties.

      And yes, women have never been able to breathe, whether out walking at night or living in a fear of a Handmaid's Tale type of existence coming back once more with the fundies.

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  3. I thought my Catholic childhood was bad but yours was worse. So glad I didn't grow up in Ireland. Lol.

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    1. It was a terrible country to be a female and in some ways it still is.

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  4. I hope Ireland is as socially advanced now as it should be. Its face is a lot better, at least.

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    1. Well they had an openly gay prime minister, Andrew but a woman prime minister is still to be seen. Much of the misogyny is unspoken but I can assure you it is there.

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  5. As you may remember, my father was a "fallen" Catholic. His sister was a nun, a wonderful aunt. His cousin was a priest, his parents' "gift" to the church. I always held this priest responsible for sending a young priest to our house, when my parents were away, to tell we three children that our father was doomed to hell if he did not return and we three children were bastards and equally doomed if dad did not return, so we had to implore him to do so. I was the oldest, no more than ten at the time, so my brothers were eight and five. We three solemnly swore to never tell our parents. My mother would have been very philosophical, but I cannot imagine what my father might have done.

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    1. It's appalling the kind of power the RCs have and still do, particularly with terrifying children half to death, Joanne. What a terrible thing to tell you about your dad.

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    2. I attended the funeral of my son-in-law's father here in the U.S., less than ten years ago. I was appalled and considered whether I should get up and walk out when the pastor started preaching about the horrors of hell this man--whom he had never met because he wasn't a church-going man--was now enduring because he hadn't been "saved." His sons were warned this was their fate, too, if they didn't save their souls. I sat, only to find out later, that my son-in-law's stepmother had asked the pastor to take this hellfire-and-brimstone approach. I still don't know whether I should have stayed or protested by leaving, but I didn't want to make my new son-in-law's life more complicated.

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    3. A fine line to manoeuvre there Linda. Daughter and I walked out of a dreadful cathedral service in Toronto that terrified Grandgirl who was only about 6 at the time with the priest screaming from the altar about burning in hell for all eternity with endless suffering.

      I do believe that was the last time we darkened church doors apart from architectural style visitations.

      Unbelievable abuse of their audiences - and we know what so many kept up to in private.

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  6. I grew up in north Yorkshire, UK, and though our English family had been Catholic since before the Reformation, the priests and nuns in our parishes were largely Irish, and taught a lot of the nonsense you describe, some of it very harmful. The priests were arrogant and my mother actually threw one out of the house because he walked right in without knocking, sat at the table and expected dinner! in a family where there was barely enough food for the large family, and we had visitors for food only at Christmas. She heard from Irish friends that he was doing what they did in Ireland, where the priest was so privileged he could do that. But they were glad an Englishwoman kicked him out and refused him entry after that. She was close friends with the parish priest, though, an Englishman, who understood the proud history of the Yorkshire Catholics. But there was so much wrong with what the Irish priests said and did. So rude to girls, and demeaning to women. No wonder I left the whole lot of them when I got to be an adult making my own decisions! Can't say I've missed much except I loved the Latin mass. Then when John 23 threw that away, he threw me away with it!

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    1. The rituals layer my memory too Boud, especially the choir and I was also part of a touring Gregorian chant group which included entertaining young girls in Good Shepherd laundries. We weren't allowed to speak to them. Later I discover many were victims of rape and incest and incarcerated for life with their babies stolen and sold to Americans.

      It is an evil cult in so many ways and I have no time for it now.

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  7. Dear Wisewebwoman and Friends, Treating women like crap, is so typical of salvation-by-(your-own)-works ra-lid-juns in general. From what i understand of catholicism, (and more than a few protestant cults) even the men are discouraged from reading/studying the Bible - let alone teaching the Scriptures to their children.

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    1. It's all about control of women and inculcating children at birth. Patriarchy at its finest. You remember that old joke (ha!) about keeping us barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen? Hollow laughter from any women I knew.
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  8. That really is a terrible way to grow up and I wonder that some areas (countries) today still teach these things to their girls.

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    1. The absolutely do River. I see a massive regression in women's rights even in the last few years, particularly at these massive expensive weddings and the patriarchal rituals associated with them.

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  9. That sounds absolutely horrific. I think a lot of young women have little idea how constrained women's lives were just decades ago. How lucky they are to live in less oppressive times - though there's still a long way to go.

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    1. A very long way to go Nick, like I mentioned in a comment above. We're still obsessed with gender and pinking the girls and blueing the boys - much worse than when my girls were small and I gave them trains, cars and lego, etc. This is rare today.

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  10. I had heard about some of these which I always found hard to believe but, India in those days and even today in rural and semi urban areas, similar attitudes existed/exist.

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    1. It's appalling Ramana, I know that in parts of India too, they abort girl fetuses as they are perceived as having no value but a burden. The whole structure of society needs to be changed.

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  11. WWW - I must have come along a bit later than you though not by much. I believe I was in a more urban area than you were. And still it was no picnic. The church had us by the throats! You didn't dare contradict a priest, or miss Mass, or marry a non- Catholic. My memories are not as harsh as yours. Some of the nuns who taught us were as innocent as we were, having been bamboozled into believing they had a religious vocation before they even started menstruating.
    I thought, until I read this, that mantillas were an easing up on the requirement for women to wear hats or headscarves to church. Live and learn!
    Do you rememnber the series in the Sunday papers by Archbishop Fulton Sheen? It addressed young people (we didn't even have the term teenagers) on all the subjects we were starved for information on since the nuns and clergy avoided them like the plague. Knowing details about sex might have corrupted our young minds! We devoured that series. He warned us that girls had to be the strong ones and set boundaries, as the young men, God help them, had much less control over what was in their trousers!
    After H.S. we had limited options - the bank, the civil service, teaching, nursing and - how could I forget - the nunnery! In spite of pressure from the nuns to choose that last one, I opted for teaching.
    I disagree with you though on how it is now. I have nieces and other younger relatives who are architects, doctors, lawyers, engineers, zoologists, you name it, not to mention world travellers. Makes you want a do-over! You and I were born too early. Also, did you forget that a few of Ireland's recent presidents were women?
    I was shocked to learn, a few years ago, when the story came out about the Magdalene laundries, that a convent near where I grew up was one of them.
    Ireland is a beautiful country and will always be a huge part of my identity, but, it does have it's dark side.

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    1. I was raised in an urban area, though started out in small East Cork town until the age of six. My parents were small town people but moved to the new suburb to get a better life for their children with more advantages.

      First thing on the agenda was weekly elocution lessons to get rid of our "accents."

      I agree that women today have much more advantages. Grandgirl is an economist. BUT I have seen many throw magnificent careers (and their names) away upon marriage. I know it is societal - no universal daycare, etc. But also the mommy guilt thrown when they give birth. But at least they have choice over when today.

      I'm aware of female presidents in Ireland but my comment was about the Taoiseach (prime minister). There has never been a woman prime minister in Ireland and the presidential position is very much honorific. Like the queen.

      Yes, Irish to the bone here but it has not treated me and many other women of my acquaintance well.

      Many women fought for freedom and were incarcerated in 1916 but the church got hold of the burgeoning republic by the throat and ensured our enslavement.

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  12. I want my granddaughters to read this.

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    1. I will continue it Linda, there were some upsides.

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  13. Yes, I caught a hint of all that from various books but I'm sure it is a much more intense thing to live through.
    It was my understanding that Catholicism everywhere was like this, was Ireland worse?

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    1. I think it was, though women from other Catholic countries could chime in. I do know from UK friends that parish priests were more "flexible" when it came to birth control, etc. I know here in RC Newfoundland procedures like RC ordained symphiosotymies (sp?) like my mother had were unheard of. But the priests (mainly imported Irish) kept busy measuring skirt lengths on girls which they did in Ireland too. Along with other predatory practices.

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  14. And you survived and went on to thrive!

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    1. Yes, I did E, I had to leave this misbegotten place to do so and never looked back!

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    2. WWW , how old were you and what year did you leave Ireland?
      Do you have sisters and do they still live there?

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  15. There were limitations here in the U.S. for females, too, but not quite as rigid for me or as the Catholic church and some other denominations than ours prescribed. I do recall visiting Catholic churches in Quito, Ecuador, for which the city is famous, and my SIL cautioning me I must cover my head, even if it was just placing a handkerchief over it. (I was visiting family during the time they were there.) Catholicism predominated there in the fifties (may still) and a lot of indigenous people in the city who would have been highly insulted feeling I had not respected them had I not covered my head -- and this was just to walk in the church mid-day when no services of any kind going on.

    A few years earlier when I was jr. hi-hi school age we had moved to a U.S. southern state which had some rather backward ideas, from my point of view, from a northern state where I had previously lived. This new-to-me public school did not allow dancing for school events due to the school board being made up of men who belonged to an evangelical-type protestant church who had their share of rigid man-made rules God-inspired by their interpretations and much not sanctioned. We had a new Physical Ed teacher, Miss Burpee, one year, who convinced all to allow folk games as an evening social. "Virginia Reel" and other such musical activities I had been taught in grade school were presented. None of this two-step, or males holding females close were presented. Not one of the school board members came to the evening event to see what went on, but the word came down the next day that there would be no more folk game evenings. Years later as an adult I realized that school violated our separation of church and state Bill of Rights guarantee. I'm sure there were a lot of schools for which that was true and may even still be in some parts of our country.

    As for careers for girls, our counselor had nothing to suggest for me, maybe not even college, but nursing, teaching or being a secretary ... until I got married, of course ... what else was a girl for?

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    1. Interest insights there, Joared. I love how our values were perceived like livestock to be bartered at the altar and off the father's financial responsibility and into the husband's. Still symbolic today in church weddings. Given away indeed. I wish these hoary old patriarchal customs were thrown to the kerb.

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  16. I grew up in a Protestant Irish family, and we got identical warnings. We were threatened to be sent to the nuns if we strayed.

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    1. Many nuns had a cruel power only us Irish can understand.

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  17. This was such an interesting post. My mom's family is Irish Catholic from Philadelphia, PA. So traditional most of them but my grandmother broke the mold. She was ahead of her time in so many ways; didn't follow what I'm sure most people in that area thought she should be doing. She was phenomenal; I miss her everyday but especially so today. Merry Christmas to you from snowy Ohio!

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    1. My mother also, Elle, she didn't live long enough, also broke the mold and she told me she never wanted my life to be like hers.

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