Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Reaction to an article in H1! Humanist Ireland

Posted in Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 15, 2010

Ida, my sister who is a member of the Humanist Association of Ireland, brought this over to me knowing that I would react to it and this is my response to the article that regurgitates the Venus/Mars, Female/Male nexus adding the   atheist/religious polarity. The writer even acknowledges that John Gray, the author of 15 books on gender and relationships,  is a self-styled guru but then persists on giving it total credence , although he would probably have dismissed it out of hand had it been written by a women like ‘Eimear’  his younger stereotype.

This This is what I sent to HI!


Greetings from a fellow Humanist member of the BHA. I am writing to respond to the  article in your magazine that drew comparisons with the women/men, Venus/Mars nexus and religious/atheist world. My sister brought her copy over to me because she knew I would react to it with raised hackles and blood pressure.

I had asked on the HumanistLife forum “Where are the stroppy, vocal women Humanists? Indeed, I suggested that I was interested in what female atheists/Humanists had to say as the anti-god squad is, not surprisingly, also very much a male domain. It is led by a trinity of poster boys, Dawkins and his ‘God Delusion’, Hitchens,  trying to prove he is cleverer and wittier with his ‘God is not Great’ and Grayling’s macho ‘Against all Gods’.

It was men who invented religion. Religion is all man-made fantasy just like porn. It is no surprise that men posited the notion of a superman God in their own image and not as a hermaphrodite. Male genitalia is a dangling blunt instrument – a three-in-one tool- just like the holy trinity. It was your macho Christians that came up with the three-Gods-in one. You expect it to be like the story of the three bears- the Daddy God called God , the baby God called Jesus and the mummy God called- there is no mummy god only a fucking holy ghost. Then there is their womb envy in the ‘Adam giving birth to Eve’ fantasy.

It is women who have had the rawest deal from the power and effects of religion in this male constructed world. We have the greater imperative to challenge and reject it. But it is no surprise that women are not rushing to join another male dominated organisation or movement.

I had also pointed out that the British Humanist Association membership consists  mainly of C of E atheists who can become defensive when it is pointed out that Britain is a theocracy with the Queen as the Supreme Governor of the state Church.  (Apparently, it is heresy to suggest that she is the Head of the Church of England as that position belongs to their God.). They defend their Hobbity, Vicar of Dibley  religious cult as a bulwark against the other usual suspects of  Catholics, Muslims and American Evangelicals. I also suggested that as the BHA was keen to be seen as a respectable organisation it was an unlikely place to find the outspoken, female atheists/Humanists who were mavericks and loose cannons. However, compared to the National Secular Society and periodicals New Humanists and The Freethinker women are better represented. The last three Presidents have been female as is most of the staff.

From what I can see from your website it is evident that HI! contributors and the Humanist Association of Ireland are very much a male and Dublin centred domain. I know you have the usual disclaimer about the opinions expressed by contributors not necessarily representing the views of any Irish Humanist organisation.  Nevertheless, a misogynistic article is not likely to attract women and you will need to be doing a hell of a lot better if you are going to become a more representative organisation. Any organisation purporting to be Humanist must have women’s equal participation as a priority aim. Of course, I will probably be told I have no sense of humour, how it is all light hearted fun and be dismissed with a ‘ go an get a life’ or ‘you should get out more’.

When I read Eoin Kelleher’s stereotypical description of atheists being “male, well educated, between 25 and 35, sarcastic and individualistic” I took this to be his description of himself.  Which part of the universe could this arrogant, whipper snapper be inhabiting and describing?  Of course, it was the country I had emigrated from, as a teenager in the 60s, because I could see no future for myself in it. The same country that continues to deny women their right to a safe abortion to control their fertility and sends them off to England as part of the hidden Irish diaspora.

He continues his theory by accepting the sexual politics trotted out by Gray. He depicts two misogynistic stereotypes of Irish womanhood– an older version  Josephine, ‘your average holy joe’  in her 60s , a member of the ICA, dyes her hair blue to go to mass and likes Enda Kenny and the younger ‘ Eimear’ from an estate in Kildare who works in PR or HR and reads Paulo Coelho novels while drinking wine in the bath after a long day!!

I had to point out to a fellow atheist that ICA stood for the Irish Countrywomen’s Association and not the Institute of Contemporary Arts, that I have never seen a women in Ireland who dyes her hair blue and that wikipedia revealed that Enda Kenny, from Castlebar, is apparently the longest standing MP, who in an old Irish nepotistic tradition took over the seat from his father and is Father of the Dail. We both agreed he had a look of Tony Blair, another creepy Catholic.  (I also digressed and told her that I used to stay with grandparents, when I was as a youngster, in Castlebar and danced a pas-de-deux in a pantomime in 1960 in the Linenhall Arts Centre and returned to perform my one woman comedy show Sheela-na-Gig there nearly forty years later!)

The younger ‘spiritual’ Eimear sounded like one he fancied and fantasised about her as she lay in the bath drinking wine but who rejected him as, in his own words, a ‘cold, shallow, ironic, soulless bastard’. He continues his theory by accepting the sexual politics peddled by Gray, whom he describes as “the self styled relationship and gender guru”. I find it contradictory that he accepts the dubious psychological stuff by this man who is the author of 15 books many with Mars/Venus in the titles. Here are some more conclusions from Kelleher: “men/atheists are cautious accountants while women/believers are extravagant jewellery and fashion spendthrifts”. And finally he claims to speak for harassed husbands and concludes with his coup de grace “we don’t believe we’re right –we know it”.

I don’t know how many long-suffering women members you have but I wonder if there will be any response from them at all.  Of course, if there isn’t it will prove that they are long suffering! I do hope I am proved wrong. I do hope you have or can attract some raging, feminatheists, especially the ageing, raging ones as they have nothing to lose but it is crucial that younger ones are welcomed as they will be the torch bearers. However, I expect that many young, freethinking women will not be lining up to join a male dominated organisation.

Of course, we know that most atheists are Humanists. As a ceremony celebrant who has conducted hundreds of funerals I am on a mission to get those atheists I encounter to acknowledge that they are actually Humanists. We need them to ‘come out’ as Humanists and describe themselves as Humanists. I also believe that one of the crucial attributes of a Humanist ceremony is humour, as it is in life. I say to clients that I won’t have done my job properly unless there is some laughter. This applies to all our ceremonies the hatchings, matchings and dispatchings. Of course, funerals are the most numerous and most important. I had the privilege to have conducted the funeral service for the inspiring comedian Dave Allen in 2005. I also think that another distinctive Humanist ceremony is the two-in-one – a wedding and naming combined as so many people live together and have a child with out having got around to having a wedding. In fact, they make such good, rationalist sense. I promote them as the cheap, hassle-free wedding.

However, I suspect that we probably do need some women only spaces within the humanist /atheist/ rationalist world. It is crucial that women are part of this  burgeoning movement in Ireland. Give women the opportunity to set out their stall and their vision for a Humanist future in Ireland. Perhaps the Humanist Summer School is just such an opportunity to give women their space and to see what comes out of it. I suspect that student rationalist/Humanist societies should also consider such a tactic as a way of attracting women as audience and as committee members.

It seemed so ironic that a blasphemy law was introduced into Ireland just as it was  rescinded in Britain. I do look forward to a challenge from bolshy atheists and I have a feeling that it will come from one of the newly established student societies. But it is only a hunch –what they used to call feminine intuition! Whatever.


PS. He also mentioned being door-stepped by the Legion of Mary. I had no idea that this happened. My only knowledge of the Legion Of Mary is that my second cousin Edel Quinn was very much associated with it and promoted it as a missionary in Africa- she played her part in the Irish colonisation of Africa and is buried in Nairobi. It was always difficult and embarrassing for a budding atheist to be paraded in front of visitors to my primary school as a cousin of the women who has been given the title “The Venerable” by the Pope.

Kelleher, however,  jestingly suggests that an atheist when confronted by these’ lovely ladies’ should retreat to his garden shed to grab his sawn off shot gun to send them on their way. Any Humanist/secular/atheist society would need to distance themselves from such misogynistic ramblings and reassure their women readers and potential members that they do respect them and would like them to join so that the organisation can become more representative. Men have been in charge of public affairs for centuries and women, quite rightly, have been reluctant to join any male club be it for business, politics, social or sports. Clubs/societies/institutions were set up by men with a male agenda and women are resentful of having to fit in and accept the status quo.  All of them need to address their gender imbalance if they are are to progress. Unrepresentative institutions have little credibility, especially if the are a lobby or campaigning group.

Male mysogynistic expression has a long tradition- be it from the bible, ancient civilisations, St. Paul to Christopher Hitchens.  A classic example is the tirade of women hating blather from xtian John Knox entitled “The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women”  Here is one quote from his blast “Womankind,” says he, “is rash and fool-hardy; and their covetousness is like the gulf of hell, that is insatiable.”  Somehow I can hear that being said in the thunderous voice of the Rev Paisley. You gotta laugh.


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