Tam Sutherns

We haven’t moved very far away from the age of ‘fallen women’

Tam Sutherns

Tam Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

Reeking of the 18th century Ireland Magdalene Asylums, a Chile Catholic Church has confirmed that a priest stole babies for adoption between the 1970s and 1980s. Reuters reports that the priest was:

“Instrumental in the forced adoption of at least two babies without the knowledge of their mothers, and had also maintained an “inappropriate relationship” with one mother.”

The priest, Gerardo Joannon, is being investigated after allegedly telling single mothers that their babies had died, while actually giving them up for adoption. Alex Vigueras, a regional church head who is in charge of the probe into Joannon, is reported as saying,

“The preliminary investigation has established the truth of the accusations…he always knew that both babies did not die.”

Apparently, the priest has tried to justify his actions with the fact that there is a stigma attached to unmarried mothers in the Catholic society in Chile, especially at the time of incidents.

Similar to the nun’s laundries in Ireland, where ‘fallen women’ were housed, put to work in the laundries and their babies given up for adoption, this story shows just what acts can be justified simply because of the patriarchal restrictions society can place on women. The last Magdalene Institution shut down in Ireland in 1996, which wasn’t exactly eons ago. This story in Chile has emerged, showing that these women were lied to and their babies taken away from them in the last three or four decades.

How far have we really come from shaming women?

It’s not restricted to religious culture, third world countries or the past. Slut-shaming is full steam on social media today – alive, kicking and international.

South Africa’s Grazia magazine caused a raucous recently when it tweeted:

“What makes a girl a slut? Is it the way she dresses? What she says? What she does? And …”

The magazine published an entire article dedicated to slut-shaming, clearing up the reason behind its controversial tweet. In-depth and well-put, Grazia SA  spoke about slut-shaming culture, amplified by social media commentary that is often abusive. With many getting the wrong end of the stick by Grazia’s Tweet, the magazine deleted the tweet and responded;

“The messages were published to gauge our audiences’ perception of the word ‘slut’ and to coincide with a feature that we are producing on ‘slut-shaming’ – the term used to define a woman’s character based on her choice of language, wardrobe or actions.

 

The concept of ‘slut-shaming’ is one that Grazia South Africa opposes in the strongest possible sense. We take our role of defending and empowering women very seriously and our feature story focuses on the fact that we live in a society where women are bullied and shamed and that it must stop.”

The sensitivity around the issue showed that it is one that did not die with the last Magdalene Institution and more so, that it should not be swept under the carpet. Why are friends, enemies, frenemies, the media or the public calling anyone a slut? What makes a woman a slut? What is it that she does that makes it OK to use that label?

If we’re horrified by the Magdalene institutions or a Chilean priest giving out women’s babies to save them from the shame of falling pregnant out of wedlock, then we need to be horrified by a culture that still judges a woman with such harsh and unnecessary labels based on her personal sexual life, her choice of clothes or who she chooses to befriend.

And it seems that we are. South Africans shunned the idea of slut-shaming (along with Grazia’s Tweet questioning what it means to be a slut) as a repressive, regressive and misogynistic side of society, similarly to how I would imagine they would shun Gerardo Joannon for stealing women’s babies.

Anton Marshall wrote on Facebook:

“This is a deeply problematic and inappropriate question. Deeply problematic. Given the volumes of information available as to why, I’m disappointed and offended by its phrasing, as I’m sure many others will be. EDIT: In fact, I’m pretty shocked that anyone in your organisation would be thinking along those lines at all. Horrifying.”

Chloe Quinn Johnson posted:

“‘Slut’ is simply another derogatory term developed to try and shame women (see ‘bitch’ and ‘ballbuster’ as another example of this). As long as the woman is happy with her life, prepared to accept the consequences of her decisions and her actions are not negatively affecting anyone else – then what she chooses to wear, who she chooses to sleep with, what she chooses to say and whatever else she decides to do with HER body and HER life is nobody’s damn business but her own.”

Let’s continue to draw parallels between 18th Century patriarchal practices and calling someone a ‘slut’ on Twitter and let’s end the shame right now. Instead of using social media as a platform to abuse, let’s use it as these South Africans did above: to defend, to educate and to stand up for.

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4 thoughts on “We haven’t moved very far away from the age of ‘fallen women’

  1. Foghorn The IKonoclast says:

    Actually we have moved very far and if you look at Al Jazeera and their stories about abuse of maids in the Middle East, you will be shocked. Sure there is work to be done, but factoring out males as some do, is surely not the way to go at this..
    Larry

    Like

  2. Spinning For Difficulty says:

    Fatherless upbringing (especially in early childhood) is the main predictor of everything from depression to gang culture to self harm to unwanted teenage pregnancy to criminality.

    Statistically speaking, adopted children do much better than children raised by single mums.

    Historical solutions to social (or medical) problems were often harsh or even barbaric (even without additional corruption and exploitation from the church or the state) because life back then was basically harsh and ‘oppressive’ full stop due to a lack of technology and the lower living standards that resulted from the lack of technology.

    Shaming sluts has always been society’s way of discouraging promiscuous behaviour which tends to lead to unwanted pregnancies and/ or single mums who (in modern society) go on to demand money from everyone at gunpoint (via the state) to raise the kid without a father. For thousands of years slut shaming (discouraging sexual promiscuity before marriage) was the only effective form of contraception available to women and life was so harsh no woman could afford to raise a baby without a husband to help provide resources – which is still pretty much the case today.

    Fathers are essential during childhood development for the development of empathy, self restraint and a healthy balanced gender identity.

    It is impossible to really accept feminist theory if you had an close and loving relationship with your father (or father figure), just as it’s impossible to grow up a racist if you had a close and loving relationship with a black step brother or step sister (or black best friend).

    Like

    • Christie says:

      Are you being serious?

      I am a feminist and I’ve always had and still have a close and loving relationship with my father, grandfather and brother.

      Like

      • Jen Thorpe says:

        Dear Christie,

        I don’t think the article actually comments on familial relationships in a way that is denigrating. What are you referring to exactly?

        Warm regards,
        Ed

        Like

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