Performing Feminisms in Contemporary Ireland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


This panel discusses the performance of feminism(s) in Ireland today. Defining ‘performance’ as including the performances of every day life that mark and shape identities, reshape and adorn the body, tell stories and shape our experience of the world around us, this panel seeks to explore some of the performances that shape and define discourses of gender and sexuality in contemporary Ireland. The period under examination is primarily post-1990, with an emphasis on the developing multicultural and increasingly secular society of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and post-Tiger eras in the Republic, and the post-Ceasefire period in Northern Ireland. However, the impact of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement and grassroots activism throughout the 1970s, must be recognized as having shaped the current status of women and the role of feminism in Ireland today.The abstract for my paper for the panel is as follows:This paper examines reports of the scenes at Listowel in December 2009, during which approximately 50 local people (described in the press as mostly men) lined in court, in front of the victim, up to shake the hand of the man convicted of sexual assault. This was a remarkable performance of empathy, hostility, identity, and loyalty that positioned one party within the community (Foley, the convicted), and one outside or on the periphery (the victim). The story was picked up by Newstalk radio and became the subject of blog postings and comments as well as being covered in the official media. The responses seem to have overwhelmingly supported the victim, and to have called for boycotts of Listowel town and the Writers’ Festival which takes place there. The scenes in the courtroom at Listowel suggest a lingering ambiguity, in the case of rape and sexual assault, of who is “sacrificeable” within a given community. The paper traces the progress of a debate that rehashes attitudes towards female credibility and culpability in rape accusations, and the description of the crime as a ‘vicious rape’. The response to this case seems to hang upon what Hanly et al (2009) call the ‘real rape stereotype’ (rape by a stranger in a dark or deserted place) on one hand, and on the other to demand that descriptions of the crime be as lurid as possible, so that the rapist can be condemned unequivocally. In doing so, it both attests to the impact of the women’s movement on Irish attitudes to sexual violence, while simultaneously revealing the extent to which ambivalent attitudes towards rape continue to be publicly expressed and performed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherInternational Association for the Study of Irish Literatures
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Jul 2010
EventIrish Literatures and Cultures: New and Old Knowledges (International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures) - NUI Maynooth
Duration: 28 Jul 2010 → …


ConferenceIrish Literatures and Cultures: New and Old Knowledges (International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures)
Period28/07/10 → …

Bibliographical note

This paper was part of a panel that I convened to discuss the performance of feminism in Ireland. The other speakers were Maria Kurdi (University of Pecs, Hungary) and Tina O'Toole (University of Limerick).


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