Mother and baby homes: Where are the men?

For every imprisoned woman in a mother and baby home, there is a corresponding man, and their voices, their guilt, their fault, their shame, and their torment is nowhere to be found.
Mother and baby homes: Where are the men?

Plaque remembering the babies, women and girls on the Greenway between Rochestown and Blackrock near the walkwalk over the Southlink motorway at back Bessborough house in Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Around 57,000 women were incarcerated in Ireland's mother and baby homes in the period covered by the report released this week. 

It can be assumed that for every woman who entered these shame-conversion camps as a result of the heady, beautiful intimacy of young love, there is another woman who was there because of a man's overwhelming belief that women have no right to their own bodies, and that it was the right of men to use and abuse these bodies how they saw fit — and society backed them to the hilt.

Thousands of children entered these homes with no knowledge of sex, consent, or intimacy. In the time of Catholic superiority, one would think that "polite" society would have sought to root out the sinners who abused and impregnated these children and make them pay, but the fact is, it was never about sin at all.

Catholic-led Irish society was only about submission, standing on the backs of the weak and vulnerable in order to look down from a very moral, and very male, high horse.

From the industrial schools, to the Magdalene Laundries, to CervicalCheck and now the mother and baby homes, Irish women are called on time and again to split themselves open to be heard.

Women must lay out their most personal and intimate abuses, the doctors' examinations, the nuns' cruel torment, and the life-altering sexual assault, across the media and into inquiries, in order for the State — who paid the mortgage for this cold house for women — to be forced into an apology.

There have been hundreds of these women this week, making their voices heard, picking at barely-healed scabs in order to present modern Ireland with its rotten past — but where are the men?

There are men across the country, men as young as their 40s and 50s, who carry this weight too. 

There are men who loved their partners but left them. There are men who stayed and fought for their children's right to live outside the walls of an institution, but found themselves against the might of village gossip and the all-seeing eye of the parish priest. There are men, maybe married, maybe not, who think every day about the child they wanted and couldn't keep. A child who might believe their biological father is part of the society who forced their mother into a house of shame. 

There are also men who raped, abused, and defiled these women and girls, who must know when they lie in bed at night with their wives, what they have done.

The voices of survivors of the torment in the mother and baby homes have rightly been at the centre of discussion this week, but as we continue to confront the hurt caused, we continue to lay all responsibility for explaining how, why, and what happened at the door of women.

Men have for too long been voiceless, either through their own cowardice or through the barriers we put up in society to prevent these men from speaking what they know to be true.

Women have done enough. It's time for men to speak up.

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