Northern Ireland: Cara Park stars in a feminist parody on Stormont’s 2013 beauty misogyny
London ~ Tuesday 11 March 2014
A scream of solidarity to my fellow women everywhere
International Women's Day was the perfect occasion to deliver my speech to Stormont demanding society's archaic, patriarchal constructs be torn down By Cara Park
Cara Park speaking at Stormont on International Women's Day. 'By dressing like this, does that immediately make me a “slut”, a “slag”, a “whore”.' (Justin Kernoghan/Photopress Belfast)
Is mise Cara Park.
I am used to speaking publicly but I am a little nervous about this speech as it is so important to me.
I have always wanted to do this and I am not sure if I will get the opportunity again so if you could humour me, I want to let out a scream.
A scream of frustration.
A scream of solidarity to my fellow woman who are not able to express themselves in such a fashion, who are suffering injustice and discrimination.
If you would join in a cry/a keen for other women who are suffering.
I stand before you today as a woman unfree, in spite of the location of my birth here in the European Union, a colony of the British empire, the island of Ireland, Eire.
This is because I do not have the same rights as my sisters in other parts of these conglomerate nations. I am officially a citizen of the United Kingdom but the same freedom of reproductive choice is not awarded to me.
An bhfuil sin cothrom? [Is this fair?]
I was going to wear a chastity belt today as a symbol of sexual slavery but I don't want to use a gimmicky prop to represent a serious act of oppression against the female population of this island.
I am wearing very little clothing.
By dressing like this, does that immediately make me a "slut", a "slag", a "dolly bird", a "whore", a "loose" woman?
Am I letting the side down by wearing lipstick, fake tan, dyeing my hair, showing my nipples?
I am expressing my femininity.
Does that make me superficial?
Should I be able to dress how I like and not face discrimination?
This may seem like a superficial, trivial matter, but it is not.
Men and women have fought and some have died in the suffragist struggle to award me such freedom of expression.
Other women in the world are not so fortunate.
Some men in this society are not so fortunate.
This is a symptom of a very serious problem.
Putting them in boxes.
Identifying with symbols.
Flags, groups, teams, sides.
What side are you on?
I am a product of both the Protestant and Catholic communities.
I relate to both and belong to neither.
I am not a republican. I am not a unionist. I am a humanist.
I believe we are so distracted by tribal rituals that we forget to address the real inequalities, oppression, racism, gender discrimination that some of our laws uphold.
For example, the gay blood ban.
The fact that I can't speak my native language in a court room.
An bhfuil sin cothrom?
The fact that I am objectified, vilified if I appear overtly sexual.
Sex is a dirty word, we don't talk about sex here. Hush, hush.
Well maybe we should.
I have sex.
I am a sexy woman.
I said it.
I am not ashamed.
We all are born of sex.
Hiding the truth helps no one.
Perhaps if we were more open about sex, if it was not deemed a mortal sin and children were given proper, informative sex education, then so many rapists wouldn't have gotten away with sexually abusing our women, men and children over the years.
It is the shame that has guarded rapists and sadists who have carried out hideous sexual acts against victims.
The shame of confessing, the dirty secrets, the lifetimes ruined by abuse.
We must educate our children and remove the associated guilt of the victims.
End the tyranny of sexual shaming.
The main point I wanted to raise is about a woman's right to choose.
The Offences Against the Person Act which criminalises women for taking their fertility in their own hands.
The patriarchal laws and the predominantly male enforcers of said archaic acts of parliaments condemn us criminals if we terminate our pregnancies.
We are forced to break the law, go to other parts of the UK on illicit journeys, adding secrecy and criminality to already traumatic situations.
We are forced to lie to doctors.
Conceal our shame.
An bhfuil sin cothrom?
We can argue that this is because we are in Ireland, an exceptional place historically, a Christian country. If we are to attribute the suppression of female autonomy as a upholding of fundamentalist Christian values, let me inform or remind you that abortion is not mentioned in the Bible.
It is a social construction, much like the compulsory hair covering in Muslim countries. Burqas, hijabs, gloves are not mentioned in the Qur'an either.
Another act of suppression on the female form.
But the oppression of women by refusal to apply the Abortion Act 1967 is possibly the one point that the opposing conservative parties can agree on.
An bhfuil sin cothrom?
I am calling for the patriarchal laws to be changed and affirmative action taken. We are in a fortunate position here in Ireland compared with other regimes, in spite of facing a lifetime in prison for having an abortion. We should use the relative freedom we possess, like the freedom of speech, to vocalise our struggle and support other people less fortunate.
We must not become complacent! The struggle is not over! Continue the fight for equality in the face of casual misogyny, physical misogyny and, most importantly, resist and revolt against misogyny by the state.
Equal rights for women means equal rights for all! Continue the suffrage, support other women, do not be complicit in the commodification of the female form, do not judge other women in how they dress, who they have sex with, their sense of humour, the books they have read etc. We must unite as collective force and fight the patriarchal powers instead of dividing ourselves into feminist sub-groups.
Do not let the superficial age we live in divide and conquer us, unify, organise, protest, demonstrate, love your neighbours, celebrate differences. We owe it to our suffragist brothers and sisters who have fought for the rights we have today.
Make abortion free, safe and legal.
Corp s'agam, Ré s'agam. My body, my choice.
Equal rights for all.
• This is the text of a speech given at an International Women's Day event at the Stormont assembly
London ~ Monday 10 March 2014
Northern Ireland feminist defends decision to go bare-chested at Stormont
Cara Park, who wore feather necklace to cover breasts at International Women's Day event, is criticised by unionistsBy Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
Cara Park at the International Women's Day event – a parody of a beauty contest held at Stormont last autumn. (Justin Kernoghan/Photopress Belfast)
A Northern Ireland feminist has defended her decision to partially expose her breasts during an International Women's Day event at the Stormont assembly – an act that has prompted unionists to demand a parliamentary inquiry into the controversy.
The Derry women's rights activist Cara Park, whose breasts were hidden behind a feather necklace at the event, said she was highlighting the plight of women in other parts of the world who could be stoned to death for having their bodies exposed.
Park said: "I just thought: when am I ever going to get an opportunity to stand barefoot and bare-chested in Stormont, while other women elsewhere in the world would be stoned to death for that? I honestly can't understand how a nipple can be offensive."
She was attending an Alternative Ms Ulster beauty contest in the Great Hall of the Stormont parliament buildings at the weekend when the furore erupted over her outfit.
The 32-year-old refused to apologise to unionist assembly members who claimed her stunt was offensive. She said: "My nudity was a statement. It was a very considered thing. It was to do with my freedom to be a feminist and to express myself physically as a woman without being discriminated against."
"I think women should be allowed to be bare-chested. I don't think that other women have a problem with it. My breasts are my own, that's me in my natural state and I think I should be allowed to be in my natural state."
Jim Allister, the leader of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, called on the assembly's commission "to hold to account those who sponsored an event which permitted such unseemly behaviour".
Allister added: "I do not think Stormont should be the stage for such indecent exhibitionism."
The Democratic Unionist party junior minister in the devolved government, Jonathan Craig, described it as a "cheap publicity stunt".
His party colleague Tom Buchanan said: "This is just shameful and I think that these social events need to be more closely vetted by the organisers to ensure that this does not happen again."
Park is an Irish-language actor and performance artist and a contributor to a Gaelic-language programme on BBC Radio Ulster.
She was one of 25 women who made speeches on the rights and plight of women around the world at the event, which was organised by the Green party's sole assembly member in the devolved parliament, Steven Agnew.
Agnew said he defended Park's decision to go partially nude at the International Women's Day event.
He added: "I certainly don't find the female form offensive. There's exploitative pornography, that's one thing, but an empowered female choosing how she dresses is very much up to that woman."
The event was staged as a parody of a Miss Ulster traditional beauty contest held in the Stormont parliament last autumn.