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The Power of Opinion

November 25, 2017

 

 

 

On this day, 25th November 2017International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day marking  the commencement of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign

 

Ending 10th December 2017 – International Human Rights Day

 

I dedicate this essay to the two hundred and sixteen women and sixteen children who have died in Ireland since 1996 by men known to them—men who, in the opinion of others, were described as;

 

Decent, kind, pillars of the community, loving husband and father.

 

 

˜

Opinions evolve, at least they should with time, education and experience. Yet, I am wholly aware this is idealistic thinking. The human race’s development is not synchronised. Emotional and intellectual variances are as infinite as point three recurring. Even though this is a truth, Dr. Stephen Hawking is correct, we should never abandon our search for the perfect equation that gives us the answer to everything—and there are so many places to start. For one, there are opinions and their power.

 

However we view a subject, when we make our opinions public, what is absolute—is they have the power to define us in one moment in time. Reveal us in the public arena. There are those who, by virtue of their position, professional or otherwise cannot make public their thoughts or at the very least, must engage in meticulous self-censorship.

 

There are those who enjoy the attention derived from the opinions they hold, so neither listening nor growth is a priority. Then, there are those who register high on the narcissistic scale who will change their opinion to align with their current need. The common denominator is; everyone is entitled to express them and from my own observations, age, being cosseted in emotional support and experience are all factors that can contribute to softening our opinion.

 

It is also important to remember, opinions are fragmented truths. Fractions. Not morals, ethics, facts or values. It is the receiver of the opinion that superimposes all these onto it to form a judgement and in turn the judgement made will make a declaration about them.

 

None of this is original thought. Marketers, publicists and politicians have hijacked all this knowledge since time in memorial, to promote products, people and causes. In the main, through the masculine filter or the female extension of patriarchy.

 

 

*

Around this time last year, RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, aired a documentary produced by its religious department—a, Would You Believe? Special. The main content was around a programme that had been developed in Canada by a Catholic congregation reaching out to paedophiles who had been released from prison, based on the philosophy that if they were included in the community (under supervision) it may reduce the possibility of them re-offending. In principle, I agree with the concept. My agreement does not come from misguided kindness or charity—but from a journey that began with trying to understand what had been done to me, through reading and watching documentaries on the subject—one which unexpectedly brought me beyond myself.

 

In the Would You Believe special, we heard about the poor priests in Ireland who were suffering from social ostricization, having been labelled child abusers. Strong innuendo that paedophilia was linked to homosexuality. I was left with an overwhelming feeling that it was propaganda to garner sympathy for the Catholic Church’s years of covering up child abuse. I was so incensed, I couldn’t continue watching it. What possessed me to write a letter of complaint, I still don’t know. I was in the middle of a breakdown and attending Pieta House for counselling, at the time.

 

In the letter I clearly stated my own experience of abuse, years of self-work, reading and watching documentaries on the subject and clearly outlined my issues with the Irish programme.

 

The response I received from RTE, knocked me back to my own abuse—reminding me why I never reported the priest in question. I received an email from the Head of Religious Affairs in RTE. He explained that I was entitled to my opinion, telling me that that is all it was, an opinion. The remainder of the email was a jigsaw of cut and paste narratives he had received from very important people. Professors of Theology, Professors of Sociology and one from Colm O’Gorman—congratulating the team on a job well done.

 

My response was a one liner.

 

“Do you know how many people committed suicide after being interviewed by the panel on the national redress scheme of victims of clerical abuse because it was insinuated that other people didn’t see it the way they did?”

 

Two days later, I noticed RTE One changed its programme schedule—airing a documentary on how both, victims and perpetrators lived after abuse.

 

To heal from the place I was already in I had to let it go and I know, that act was possible only because I was in counselling.

 

It was several months later before I was ready to allow thoughts of the whole matter drift back into my consciousness, which happened while I was in conversation with someone on Twitter, discussing the extreme bias in broadcasting. I mentioned my complaint and the response—at which point, Colm O’Gorman joined the conversation. He asked me why I had not contacted him directly. From recollection, I said two things. One, this was about me, not him and two, I invited him not to tell me that the Catholic Church had changed. It was a courteous exchange.

 

I don’t know Colm. I know of him, I know certain things about him. I had formed an opinion on him prior to the exchange. It was this—he lives with the impact of sexual abuse, he has done tremendous work in educating and highlighting clerical abuse in Ireland. He is a compassionate human being. From all accounts he is a good parent and has a supportive husband. He is highly regarded.

 

For days after this exchange, something niggled at me, but I couldn’t identify what it was, eventually I just dropped some questions into my notebook to return to it at a later date.

 

*

As I have said previously, the MeToo hashtag felt like stumbling on an oasis for me, a validation of my own experiences. I was able to read all the tweets, articles, the commentary and the smart arse remarks without being pierced, which was a surreal experience. Then of course, like everything, it moved into the critical phase—a phase that both men and women engaged in. Why didn’t they just...? If you haven’t experienced any of it, then these are valid questions—but the response is too big to reduce into two hundred and eighty characters, so it was wonderful to see old essays being given an airing, articles being written by young women, all much needed additions to the conversation of sexual violence and bullying.

 

Only one wormed its way in, though. Jo Brand’s sentence

 

“If you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that wears you down”.

 

It was this sentence that sent me off on an odyssey of remembering how water erodes rock.

 

I was in a good place at the time. Mentally. I was focussed on personal goals and therefore, a high percentage of my emotional capital was self-invested. I remember thinking, that when I arrived at my perceived idea of mental utopia, the ultimate destination, I would be in a position to interact with the world like everybody else did—with ease and confidence.

 

And it was during this time, I had agreed to work on an eleven month contract—much longer than my previous ones—a slice of time where I would meet a large number of high profile people, well, men—many of whom, years later I would see being called before various tribunals. With the scene set, let me hone in on one Friday afternoon. I had nearly completed my monthly task of invoicing, calculating expenses for my ‘bosses’ and typing up the accounts in ledger format, ones which would eventually be used to submit to the Revenue Commissioners. At this point, I knew not to question the figures. The outcome of my doing so had resulted in being asked to stay late one evening while one of them dictated a report, under the pretext of ‘urgent deadline’—for the record, this request necessitate me ensuring that someone could look after my daughter. Having sat at my desk for over two hours waiting for the dictaphone tape, I went to his office to find him fast asleep. It emerged there was no urgent deadline, he was teaching me a lesson—he was the accountant and I had no business questioning him. An ex-partner of one of the Big Four. But, I digress. On this particular Friday afternoon, I received a phone call, from another one of the men I worked for, who was being uncharacteristically charming. He needed a favour, explaining that he had agreed to meet, let’s call him ‘John’, for a drink and named the public house, but now found he was unable to attend. He asked that I finish work two hours early and meet John there to deliver his apologies.

 

John was, (still is) the brother of a very well-known and popular British news anchor. John, at the time, was contracted as a consultant to CitiBank. I had already met him in the office and he had always addressed me as an intelligent lifeform, so I didn’t blink when I said yes. As instructed I went to the room at the back of the pub, a grubby place, with maybe four small round drinking tables. I gave him the message, he thanked me and said since I was there already, I might as well have a drink with him. I had a coke. He spoke of all the people he knew in the world of entertainment. He spoke about all the money he had. He spoke about how well connected he was. He told me how generous he was with his women.

 

“Good, because I have to be honest and give you some advice, if you brought any woman here, she’d probably think you’re were very cheap” I said, standing up to leave.

 

The following Monday, when the ‘consultant’ was in the office, he and one of the men I worked for stood in front of my desk talking about winning bets—how he could spot a dyke at a hundred paces.

 

It was not an isolated incident.

 

I did leave before the contract ended. Not because of this behaviour—because they were being very creative with their accounts. I was told that I would never find a job in Ireland if I opened my mouth. Seeing a notorious ex-Prime Minister counted amongst their circle of friends—I didn’t sit around wondering about due process, I remembered the bills that had to be paid and moved on.

 

These were men I often heard described both privately and in the media with words such as; highly regarded, professional, brilliant mind, a bit of rogue, descent skin.

 

During another contract, one of my tasks was to retrieve and collate figures from various branches for a bi-monthly Liquid Assets Report. Over a period of several weeks, I noticed large discrepancies in the figures. I spent several lunch breaks examining historic reports to try and identify what it was that was niggling at me. I photocopied all of them, circling in red the pattern as I saw it, presenting them in a folder to the Chief Financial Officer at a pre-arranged meeting. I told him I believed someone was behaving in a fraudulent manner. He sniggered, declaring

 

you’re a secretary dear, not an accountant—close the door on your way out”.

 

Nine weeks later, there was great buzz and talk about what an astute accountant he was picking up on the fraud. He received a substantial monetary reward for his findings and shares in the business.

 

Most of the work I had been doing was withdrawn and I was left sitting at the desk doing nothing, something I am not good at doing and left shortly afterward.

 

A man who, in the opinions of others, was described as fair, mannerly, respectful, great husband and father.

 

*

Over the course of my working life I lent my support to five women enduring sexual violence in the workplace. They are not my stories to tell, but I can say this; with the exception of one case, the outcome was identical. Despite making complaints to HR, the women eventually had to secure a legal representative, to be heard, to ensure that the business understood the impact of the violence on their personal and professional life. The perpetrators (all men in this particular narrative) left the businesses and set up consultancy firms, continuing to enjoy invites to breakfast meetings and networking dinners—receiving lucrative business referrals—(not dis-similar from abusive priests being moved from one parish to another) two of whom I dealt with even after I moved company. Their wives (all were married), to my knowledge knew absolutely nothing about it. The women who had been subjected to the violence, entered counselling, engaged in heavy drinking and chaotic behaviour for months afterwards—their trust in due process and their belief they were well respected in their place of employment, shattered. Their relationships severely disrupted.

 

Due process is a term used by those who are of the opinion justice is tidy and equal. The emotional and mental carnage rarely referred to. So, I understand the messy anger that oozes onto social media platforms. Previously unheard voices have found a place to park their anger, hurt, loneliness—and sometimes I can almost see the gunge seeping out of their hearts. This I can tolerate, just. Not from a place of virtuosity but recognition.

 

These are filters with which I read the stories on the the MeToo hashtag—identified because of my emotional reaction. I had come through my own anger, hurt and loneliness and understood that this was a stage just for women who had endured, collectively, hundreds of years’ worth of abuse. A public space had opened up for us—a safe place to unload the emotional and mental carnage. And because we understood that a brilliant mind’s behaviour can be violent, we didn’t need to articulate it—there was no defending the ‘him’ before explaining his violence towards women. We were telling our story, without considering the ‘him’.

 

And shit, no-one will ever persuade me that isn’t an oasis.

 

But.

 

Oases sometimes sit in the midst of harsh and barren lands and it easy to want to sit and bask in it forever—but the goal is to change the landscape. One which a multitude of people inhabit and are entitled to contribute to its architecture with both expertise and opinion.

 

But. Again.

 

From observation, there is a eucharistic attitude to those in the media, church, academia and politics, bastions of the male—a faith that what is said by those who have easier access to public platforms are right. And, I am of the opinion that, those who receive the adulation, the role of expert, are absorbed into an unchallenged vortex, firmly placing themselves as part of the one, not the many—and even if it remains unrecognised, it is power.

 

As I contemplated on this and read commentaries, essays and articles, #AlPorter began to trend on Twitter. Al Porter, Irish comedian, presenter, actor.

 

I have never warmed to him—simply because I found him disingenuous, so there was no sharp intake of breath when I saw the reason why he was trending—he was being accused of sexually harassing young men. I did begin to read an article and stopped at the second paragraph—a carefully, protectively worded piece.

 

There were ugly, nasty comments made about him, I don’t deny. Comments that any woman who has been in an abusive relationship, be it professional or personal, or even just walking down a street, has had directed at her—enough times that she has buried it because she was told she was being too sensitive.

 

And there it was.

 

I can’t believe the ugliness…I have always found him to be a kind and decent person. CO’G tweet.

 

A tweet that was swiftly followed by support, condemnation of trial by media. The ugliness, the vitriol, the taking down of men’s careers—spewing out the fucking absence of due process.

 

I hissed at the screen and said “What utter horse-shit”.

 

I made a cup of tea, hit play on a live version of AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie—and picked up my imaginary microphone and sang

 

 

I wanna tell you a story bout a woman I know...

 

*

My opinions are not written on Moses’ tablet—I have seen them morph, expand and overtime, soften—on some matters—but my reaction to the term ‘due process’ told me, not on all. For me, ‘Due Process’ is often used as a manipulative tool, a delaying tactic, a term propounded by those who believe it makes tidy emotional mess. Due process is generic. There is one for the privileged, one for men and one for women.

 

As I watched the saga of the missing email roll out the front door of Irish Government buildings—I had very strong opinions on it—ones that were not formed because I enjoy conspiracy theories or a bit of drama, but from experience.

 

Any business that has been made formally or informally aware of investigation or litigation have, in general, a go-to action plan. Meetings to formulate a plan, schedule action items, delegation of those items—it will involve risk advisors to offer opinions on potential risk to the business, the director of the IT department who will partition the back-up server to hold all relevant evidence, paper evidence will be first scanned (and then filed with a security company, if required) and saved in the newly partitioned section and a meticulous list of emails, letters, reports and minutes of all meetings in relation to the matter will be itemized and dated—all of which should be available to both plaintiff and defendant (under legal the process).

 

I have worked in thirty plus businesses, across all industry sectors in my lifetime.

 

Any evidence withheld is perverting the course of justice and illegal. Any evidence procured without legal authority to do so is criminal.

 

An individual earning €175,673 per annum (basic salary + salaried allowance), with a team of highly qualified professionals at her disposal, who ‘forgot’ a crucial piece of evidence is either a) a complete incompetent who should not hold office or b) is hiding something.

 

The Prime Minister of Ireland has easy access to the media—he is spewing out the term ‘due process’ and the Charleton Tribunal. He is using terms like trial by media, trumped up charges.

 

Maurice McCabe, who has endured bullying, harassment, stalking and the public smearing of his character over a period of years—followed this so called ‘due process’.

 

An individual (like Jonathan Sugarman), who wanted to improve the integrity of the system. Who challenged power and eventually had to seek legal representation to be heard.

 

If the ‘trial by media’ had not commenced, had not been leaked to an investigate journalist—then power would have continued to remain unchallenged—and dictatorship would have begun to annihilate all semblance of democracy.

 

But that is only my opinion.

 

*

The appearance of Rebecca Solnit’s essay, Let This Flood Of Women’s Stories Never Cease, in The Literary Hub, was much needed sustenance for this weary soul. I realised I needed to sit by the oasis just a little bit longer—leaving the weeding and planting, the landscaping for another day.

 

Yes, I kept thinking, as I read her words, yes. I want to be greedy. I want to speak without consideration. I want to be bold and speak out loud, not just when I have prepared myself or when the viper protrudes from my mouth without permission. Perhaps, I thought, that is what real confidence is. Perhaps this is my mental utopia. Perhaps it is not a state of elation, but one of fear driven by necessity—a necessity to invent a new culture. A place where the language of emotional and mental carnage is given space and even taken seriously.

 

Yes, I thought, we needed to flood the world with our stories—in history, in poetry, in essays, in politics, in business, in theatre, in academia, in the media.

 

Stories like the woman who was threatened, by the Irish welfare department, that if she didn’t seek maintenance from the father of her children, her lone parent allowance would be cut off within fourteen days on the date of the letter. The father of her children whom she had escaped from because of domestic violence, a situation she had already explained to them. A situation that will rarely impact men. A story that people on social media shared far and wide—then the media picked it up—resulting in the department resolving the issue for her.

‘Due process’ would have demanded she appeal (with no money) and then proceed to The Office of the Ombudsman – taking approximately eight months. In a place of privilege, the time inconsequential, in a place of poverty it might as well be eight years.

 

The eight thousand, five hundred people living on the street, three thousand of whom are children, not only do not have the privilege of some semblance of due process, but have no access to the media to have their opinions heard.

 

Visible action is imperative when engendering the hope of change.

 

And.

 

I thought to myself, no, just no. Do not tell me about how kind and descent your friends are. If it matters, pick up an axe and help demolish a system that is built on the opinions of men who hold power—and if you need persuasion, swim in the flood that has begun.

 

And there it was.

 

Finally, the answer came. Colm had simply been trying to explain to me why he thought the Would You Believe? Special was a good documentary. I just hadn’t acknowledged how disappointed I was that he had not asked my opinion, and I thought perhaps that is what happens when you get used to being heard—which has, to date, been mostly men, a place where voicing your opinion becomes habit—when you don’t have to wonder what confidence feels like.

 

 

 

Video from Women's Aid Ireland. 

 

 

 

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