Lament of an Irish Catholic Woman

Article by
Iseult O'Brien.

Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I meant to be good yesterday but then for lunch I had Wicklow Rack of Lamb with a Whiskey and Honey Jus followed by A Warm Tarte Tatin of Armagh Apples. In the evening I ended up in front of The Voice with a packet of crisps and a Tequila Slammer and I haven’t gone near the gym since Paddy's Day.

Good conversation and a sense of humour are so last century

Good conversation and a sense of humour are so last century

When did eating and drinking become so sinful? Our guilt was once strictly reserved for the Bold Thing. Philip Larkin said that sexual intercourse took off “between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP”. But that was across the water. Conservative estimates reckon it only arrived in Ireland somewhere between the Eurovision Song Contest in Mill Street and the Beef Tribunals.

But before you race into the bedroom to celebrate, it turns out we are now living in a hyper-sexed society and your body might not be in the right nick. You may need to lay off the Cherry Garcia and acquire some spinning shorts. 

Reports estimate that 30 percent of Internet traffic is directed to pornographic sites. But you don’t need to go on porn sites to see women degraded. You can just look at television, go to the cinema or simply watch music videos on YouTube.

We’ve seen the women writhing around in their bras and knickers with vacant expressions on their faces. Robin Thicke was the talk of the recent Video Music Awards when he sang a duet with the former child star Miley Cyrus. It makes painful viewing. She twerked tragically in his direction as he sang the words “I know you want it” repeatedly. Misogynists always assume that women want it, but the only thing Miley looks like she wants is a warm jumper and a square meal. 

But how did it come to this? In the 1980s and 90s, female Hip Hop stars empowered themselves by donning the starter jacket and the gold chain and rapping about sex like Salt‘n Pepa in their seminal recording “Push it”. In 1993 Queen Latifah warned women: “You’ve got to let him know. You ain't a bitch or a ho”.

But their female heirs today tend to be scantily clad babes with powerful lungs. When Beyoncé gets political she does so in a leotard and Louboutins. In her smash hit of 2008, “All the Single Ladies”, she tells her jealous ex boyfriend “if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it”. Empowerment through marriage was what women aspired to in 1950s Ireland and even then they didn’t call themselves “it”.  Now that she has her ring, shouldn’t she ask Jay Z to stop calling her a “hot bitch” while rapping with his friend Kanye West?

On the eve of winning the election in 2008, President Barack Obama was asked his views on sagging, a fashion that started in US prisons, where belts are routinely confiscated and trousers hang low on men’s hips. He said:

“Brothers should pull up their pants. You’re walking by your mother, your grandmother  … And you know, some people might not want to see your underwear – I’m one of them”

But, if asked, would Obama have been equally quick to slam the bras and thongs peeping out of women’s clothes up and down the high street? He called Kanye a jackass but would he have stood up to Rihanna like Alan Graham, the farmer from County Down, who insisted that she keep her top on while performing in his barley field in September 2011.  Dare criticise women’s clothes today and another baffling Slut Walk will be called or some Ukrainian feminists will take their tops off and run around Kiev.  It’s unclear how this has come about but 30% of Internet “enthusiasts” must be thrilled.

It seems paradoxical that women who have won the right to sign their own mortgages, stand for election and demand equal pay for equal work now embrace fashion that constricts all movement.  It’s difficult to walk in six-inch heels and a bandage dress and impossible to express emotion with a botoxed forehead. We even seem to have reinvented the corset but with a name more appropriate to our times: spanx. 

Men too are under pressure from the fashion dictatorship. They must humiliate themselves in lycra if they want to strut around in tight fitting jumpers and Prada suits. They must look fit. Good conversation and a sense of humour are so last century.

Irish streets are now full of joggers atoning for the sin of eating. But most of us who wear tracksuits never get off the couch.  We, the descendants of famine survivors, a legendarily repressed people, find ourselves in a quandary. We are being tortured by the sight and smell of delicious food and the promise of lashings of sex, but only in the unlikely event that we tone up. Somebody up there hates us.

Images by Jessica Grehan

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