Archive for January, 2011

Upon reading about the death of Rachel Peavoy from hypothermia in her corporation flat in Dublin, I was filed with dread for the future of those living in poverty in Ireland. When we look to what values a society holds dear, Ghandi’s contention that you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members seems particularly poignant in light of this young woman’s senseless death.

The fact that this young woman’s death failed to make the news in our national broadcaster speaks volumes about what is important in Ireland. Why is one young woman’s death treated with hourly updates bordering on the macabre while another’s is blithely ignored? While the structural and societal cause of this tragedy will hopefully receive considerable interrogation in the coming weeks, I was particularly motivated to write about it due to the report of her death in the Irish Examiner and the Herald. The closing line in the piece on Rachel’s death was ‘The victim, who had a borderline personality disorder, also suffered from back pain.’ Why had editorial chose to include this piece of information on the young woman given that it has nothing to do with the circumstance of her death?

The individualist understanding of this case will be that Rachel in some way facilitated her own demise, that she was in some way culpable or responsible for freezing to death in her own home due to lack of heat. The insinuation created by the addition of information on Rachel’s mental health is noteworthy on a number of levels.

Firstly, mental health is still, despite efforts, heavily stigmatised in Ireland. Borderline personality is not the defining criteria for anybody’s life, no diagnosis is; it adds nothing to the story. The story is that of a young woman, a mother of two children, who froze to death in substandard accommodation. Her mental health had nothing to do with it. By including this information in the piece it serves to legitimize the treatment of this tenant. Irish media is particularly good at picking up at any perceived psychological shortcomings in those whose stories do not make for easy reading. I have yet to read anything of the psychological health of those who ran our economy into the ground.

Secondly, a diagnosis is just a label, and it is a label that for some facilitates access to services and support that can help. A diagnosis does not define a person; there are many labels that Rachel could have had applied to her life: a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, all of these as important or relevant for the piece as the snide inclusion of her mental health diagnosis. It was a parting kick to the article, to remind readers that all is well in the world as long as ALL are well.

Mental health is not a static entity, it fluctuates, it ebbs and flows, it is a process not an end game; a past difficulty does not denote a flux at the time of her death, she was competent enough to bring her children somewhere warm and safe, but thought of herself as stronger and more capable. When she put the key in her door she was returning home. Who among us does not prefer our own bed? To drop the remark about Rachel’s mental health in the article serves only to widen the gulf between those who do and those who do not have to strive for flow and balance in respect to their mental health.

Rachel died from freezing to death in her flat in Ireland in 2011.

Ann Cronin

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Kelly Valen is the author of The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships, a book she wrote after initially penning a 2007 essay for the New York Times. In both, Valen tackles the idea that some women are their own worst enemies – from sabotaging their own friendships to undermining and criticising each other. Valen surveyed over 3,000 American women about their female friendships and the result formed the basis of her fascinating book. In a recent Irish Times interview, she spoke about the dangers of “mean-girling” and how we should raise our daughters to be respectful of other girls. She lives in Bangkok with her husband and four children.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

Steely Dan’s Aja.

What’s your favourite smell?

Lilacs – reminds me of my grandmother’s house in Minnesota.

Have you ever had a nickname?

Unfortunately, yes: Smelly. (Rhymes with Kelly. Very creative.)

What is your favourite room in your house?

The kitchen. Always.

What are your guilty pleasures?

Enjoying a probably-too-generous pour of fine wine in an appropriately large Riedel glass.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I used to hang out with Prince’s bass guitarist and can be seen in the crowd in the Purple Rain movie. It was all very innocent and fun. Being from Minnesota has its perks.

Who is your closest female friend?

Tie between Mary Kay and Teri, both of whom I mention in my book, The Twisted Sisterhood. Funny, wacky, brilliant and creative women who love me despite my many flaws.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

My right ear has three piercings, two of which filled in decades ago. It was all the rebellion this suburban Midwestern, Catholic girl living in the 80s could muster.

Where would you most like to live?

I dream of splitting time between a cottage in Maine and pied a terre in Paris. Cliché, but true.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

John McKenney, 9th grade, in the back of an older sibling’s car. Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust was playing on the radio.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

Well, a Brazilian journalist recently asked if in fact it was I who was the “Meanest Girl of All” for writing a book about women (a book that aims to encourage girls and women to behave with more civility). I’m still wondering if something was lost in translation!

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

My son, Jack, who was born on Christmas day in 1996. Bonus: he was an easy delivery.

What is your favourite word?


Who was your first love?

Can’t tell – the truth would wreak unnecessary havoc.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?

I wish I’d pushed myself harder as an athlete and become an Olympic-caliber downhill skier. Fantasy, of course.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?

Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. Gives me chills every time and I love to share that sensation with others. Of course, some just find it depressing.

What happens after we die?

It would be nice to know, but I couldn’t deign to say. I can be patient in this instance.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

It’s probably due to my age, but I’m going to go with Madonna. I find it amazing that she was just another Midwestern, middle-class girl with dreams who clawed her way up and accomplished what she did with the skill set she was born with — on her own terms, through sheer will and hard work. She’s a true icon. I also love Antigone — a strong-willed, loyal, principled woman unafraid to stand up to powerful men and the State for what she believed and knew was right.

Sum yourself up in three words: Honest, Impulsive, Irreverent.

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro? I am anti-bullshit and pro-authenticity — in all contexts!

The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships by Kelly Valen is published by Ballantine Books. Follow Kelly Valen on Twitter: @KellyValen1

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I’ve been trying to get away from serving meat every day. In a rush of healthy optimism I purchased a bag of dried mixed beans for 65c in the supermarket. The whole family was dubious as I diligently soaked them overnight and cooked them not really knowing what I was planning to do with them. I hate beans, my other half is a confirmed carnivore and my eldest child is suspicious of anything new. This dish turned out to be surprisingly tasty and filling, not too ‘beany’ and tasted even better the next day. I ate it just as it is but it can be served with rice, baked potato or tortilla chips. 

Mixed Bean Chili

1 onion chopped

1 red bell pepper diced

1 500g bag of dried mixed beans –soaked overnight then boiled for 15 mins and drained and rinsed. (3 drained cans of a selection of beans will do fine)

1 tbs cumin

2 cloves garlic minced

1 tbs hot chilli powder

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 jalapeno pepper (I left this out thinking it would be a step too spicy for my kids)

¼ cup chicken or veg stock

4 cups water

1 tin chopped tomatoes

¼ cup of red wine

Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Sauté onion till soft (about 5 mins)

Add cumin, cayenne, paprika, chilli powder garlic and chopped jalapeno.

Add red pepper, continue to cook stirring for another 3 mins.

Add can of tomatoes, wine, stock and water, bring to the boil.

Add beans, bring back to the boil then simmer for 20-25 mins, stirring occasionally.

Using a potato masher or spatula, mash about 1/3 of the beans at the bottom of the pot to thicken the chilli to desired consistency. Stir well and simmer for another 10 mins or so.

Serve with sour cream and grated cheese.

Jenny Foxe is the MD of The Natural Home Company. She also haphazardly runs a home with two small boys and is a voluntary breastfeeding counsellor. She occasionally blogs at http://www.jennyfoxe.blogspot.com You can follow her on twitter at @jennyfoxe

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One for you, and you, and you, and...

In this age of Kindles and iPads, e-reader this and mobile platform-that, one of the most enduring uses for good, old-fashioned paper books (how long before they’re called ‘offline reading systems?’) is as gifts. I can’t remember the last present I bought someone that wasn’t a book; and my favourite gifts to receive have pretty much all been books, too. The practice of giving just isn’t going to be the same electronically.

Call it monotonous if you like (and I’m sure some of my less literally inclined recipients may), but surely book-giving is exactly the opposite of repetitive? Every package is different; instant art, right there in your hands. And that’s before you’ve got on to the content. I may not be sure of my friends’ taste in clothing, or jewelry, or games; but it’s a pretty fair bet I can come up with something that matches her taste in terms of a little light reading material.

Some birthdays, though, all pretence of matching the book to the person are thrown out of  the window. The books are just too obvious to miss. AA Milne’s Now We Are Six is the only possible option for anyone turning that critical age. The birthday girl/boy is usually astonished by the idea of a book made just for them, and it’s not a book that people seem to have just lying around, so there’s no fear of the child’s face crumpling as she tears off the gift wrap only to discover a duplicate of the 45 copies she already owns.

My biggest thanks of last year went to author David Nicholls, whose  One Day solved an extra issue for me of what to buy my July 15th-born pal R. for his birthday (the book, for the three people left on the planet who haven’t read it), is centred around 20 years of meetings between two friends, always on, yep, July 15th).

And now, as we all creep into what we can only call (whisper it) middle age, another old classic is doing the rounds again. What better gift for someone turning 42 than a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy? Wrap it in a towel if you really want full geek points.

Any I’ve missed?

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Hello! I’ve been asked by The Anti Room to contribute a number of pieces over the coming months to offer a different voice and perspective on issues than might otherwise be found here. As a fairly recent convert to Twitter, and social media in general, I’m glad to do it, and, being interested in other perspectives myself, I’m looking forward to some robust debate!

To start I’ve been asked to reflect and respond to the general furore surrounding the accusations of sexism made against Richard Keys and Andy Gray of Sky Sports. Because a furore it has been. Column inches have turned into yards and on into miles. Calling it a storm in the teacup would be an understatement. Storm in a thimble, possibly. First of all let me declare I’m not a football fan. I don’t know the game; indeed I rarely watch it outside of World Cups (on the rare occasion when Ireland make it through!). And I wouldn’t know Ryan Giggs if he jogged past me on the street. But from my perspective, the media reaction over the past few days has been akin to a medieval witch-hunt. Quite clearly (to me anyway) a liberal media consensus has emerged with commentators hell-bent on ramming a feminist agenda down the throats of the public by punishing and humiliating two men who were simply caught off-guard in a moment of professional privacy. What was simply an instance of harmless male banter, the type one hears day-in day-out on building sites, offices and even houses of parliament, has somehow been upgraded to the status of a sexual assault.

Now don’t get me wrong, suggesting that Sian Massey can’t understand the offside rule because she’s a woman is clearly going to be insulting to a girl who tries very hard at her job. But how is the public interest being really served by the sort of affirmative action which results in these women being “promoted” to major roles in what is essentially a male realm? Do feminists want or need traction in every aspect of male society? If we are to believe, for example, that women should run and own clubs and even officiate at the games then why not take that thought process to its logical conclusion? Let’s see if women can play in the darned things! Of course nobody cares to mention this great big elephant in the room – you won’t see “Tina Down The Street” take on John Terry or Robbie Keane because of physiological reasons that go back to the very creation of the universe! Anybody who thinks otherwise is clearly living in Cloud Cuckoo Land – and let you tell me it’s getting very crowded there.

But I digress. Events like football matches have a proven sociological benefit – everyday, male aggression, which might otherwise emerge in more sinister forms like war and rape, can be expelled in the den of a stadium or in the cut-and-thrust of watching your favourite team on TV. This healthy, primordial urge harks right back to hunter-gathers and should not be denied in the name of some feminist liberal ideology. Men have a right to this private, albeit very public, space. I only wish our media would spend more time focusing on the real moral crisis in football culture: young men stuck in pubs all weekend; rampant hooliganism; the sex and pornography permeating TV advertising; not to mention extolling “role-models” like Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole – two philanderers who clearly don’t understand the real Offside Rule!

Oh, and speaking of which – my husband must have tried explaining the Offside Rule to me ten times over the years and guess what? Nope, cannot get my head around it! And I’m University educated! Something tells me that if you gathered together most regular Anti Room contributors or indeed any random female focus group to watch a game, many of them wouldn’t get it either, and let’s be honest, simply wouldn’t care. Richard Keys mentioned “dark forces” at work in the leaking of the offending clips to the media. In this instance, I must most forcefully agree.

God bless,
Attracta McCarthy-McKenna

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It’s been brought to our attention that the Anti-Room posters are some sort of cabal of terrifying feminist lefty-liberals. So in attempt to balance this, we’d like to introduce you to our brand new contributor, Attracta McCarthy-McKenna. Unlike us baby-hating wife-swapping sodomites, she is a voice for a different sort of Irish womanhood. Please, make her welcome, and enjoy her posts ….

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Lemme start off by saying that I’m no fan of girl groups. Nor boy bands. Nor any homogenised battalion with their own colour scheme and dance moves. Though I’m going to rant about a sneering take on Irish popstrel Una Healy, I must admit that haven’t heard a single song from her band, The Saturdays. I wouldn’t know The Saturdays if they’d been creeping into my lugs at night and crooning subliminal messages directly into my noggin. I’m not writing this from the perspective of an indignant fan, in other words. I’m an indignant twenty-nine year old Irishwoman, though, which gives me more than enough in common with my subject.

So yes, Una Healy is a gorgeous strawberry-blonde pop vocalist. Once a struggling singer-songwriter, she now makes up 20% of The Saturdays, and so is appropriately dolled-up and adorned with sparkly things. Last weekend’s Sunday Independent featured a piece by Niamh Horan, calling out Ms. Healy for being a bad role model and a drunken mess, basically because the writer has seen paparazzi images of Una looking rather worse for wear on a number of early-hours occasions. Her latest excursion resulted in her taking a tumble in front of waiting photographers, who naturally zoomed in and went all out.

Ms. Horan was most put-out by the whole thing.

…you’ve got to wonder what her parents must think. Not to mention her reserved country and Irish musician uncle Declan Nerney.

Indeed. Especially as Una was wearing a

… skirt up to her backside

… at the time, which I would have thought was probably her lot in life, being a member of a girl group. And hey, it’s not like she was out there wearing fishnets as trousers with a gigantic teabag on her head. Though if she was, we’d probably swoon and call it art, eh, Lady Gaga?

I was rightly riled by Horan’s attack on Healy. Whatever you may think about booze culture in the UK and Ireland, or about wimminfolk wearing minidresses in January, what’s righteous about singling out a grown woman celebrating a friend’s birthday and haughtily hypothesising how her poor Mammy must feel about her partying ways? It’s not as if Healy threw up on the pavement, dodged her taxi fare, or lamped a nightclub toilet attendent. She had a few drinks, tripped over her own feet, and looked less than graceful getting into a taxi. I doubt any manner of uncle would disown her for that … although it’s certainly an evocative image, Declan Nerney weeping into the Sunday newspapers whilst clutching his Nano Nagle action figures; “My kingdom for a shapeless tunic!”

Obviously, we have to advocate taking responsibility for one’s own actions, especially when one is nearly thirty, in good health, and financially independent. Ms. Healy chose to become a pop star, and so invited a certain amount of public attention down on her head. But that doesn’t mean that she must be held accountable for every angle she is snapped from. That doesn’t mean that she must remain poised and coiffed and boring and blank-eyed, for fear she may appear off balance or chunky and so frighten impressionable tweens. In fact, the notion Horan seems to push here – that female celebrities should restrict themselves to a particular hem length and a particular bedtime, that they must be graceful above all else, and that they must never lose control – is rather too sinister to chance adopting as standard. Young fans striving towards unattainable perfection and constantly berating themselves when they fall short? What a depressing thought.

Personally, I wouldn’t advocate Una Healy as a role model, but it’s because Una’s an entertainer, not a neurosurgeon. If my nine-year-old comes home and tells me she wants to be in a girl group when she grows up, I’ll probably roll my eyes and say something disparaging about the cost of fake eyelashes. That wouldn’t be half as disturbing as her coming home and claiming she wants a career as a dewy-eyed mannequin, Stepford-elegant with a silver ramrod up her jumper, though. Una Healy’s antics may well stop upsetting Niamh Horan when Niamh Horan accepts that Una Healy’s not an international ambassador. She’s a young, pretty popstar. Surely, then, she can wear her skirts as short as she damn well pleases?

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A recent Saturday morning’s scroll through Facebook updates and something caught my eye. A friend who has recently moved to Dubai to be with the person she loves had posted some happy festive photos. And she’d dyed her hair brown. What with her being a stunning looking girl, tall and blonde and having moved to a country with some questionable attitudes towards women, I immediately put two and two together and made about 5000. On came the feminist hat and conclusions were jumped to Grand National Steeplechase proportions.

My god – did she have to do this to fit in somehow or to discourage male pestering? Was this a way of coping in her new life in Dubai, did she feel she had to tone down her look and try not to attract ‘attention’? How shocking! Still musing over these questions when I caught a glance of myself in a mirror. I had spent the previous twenty minutes scrubbing the en-suite and was wearing only my underwear (a well-known method to avoid getting bleach splashes all over ones’ clothes as we all know) and had thrown a short silky red dressing gown over as the morning was chilly. In my underwear, scrubbing the bathroom – next stop ‘barefoot, pregnant in the kitchen’. Ah. Hardly a spectacle of liberated modern feminist womanhood.

I still don’t know the reason why my friend coloured her hair. Perhaps I’m right and its something she felt she had to do for whatever reason. Perhaps she just fancied a change. And truth be told if she’s done the same while in her native Australia I’d not have batted an eyelid. But I it was a reminder that just sometimes things are not necessarily how they seem and many situations may in fact be other than how they appear.

Anyone else ever catch themselves in mid-rant only to realise they may not only have gotten the wrong end of the stick but only realised it after administering a damn good proverbial battering?

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ATTENTION ALL MEN! This is an important news bulletin: you do not own the rights to football. Guess what? There are even some women out there who know more about football than you do, and I’m willing to wager that Sian Massey is one of them.

"What's that strange round object? My fragile ladybrain can't comprehend it.."

Sadly, the sort of snide sexist drivel spouted by Richard Keys and Andy Gray at the weekend is typical of many (not all, obviously) football-loving men, who scoff at the thought of women on a football pitch or cheering on their team down the pub.

And of course, inevitably Facebook, Twitter and various blogs are currently crammed with blokes thinking that they are the very epitome of wit by making patronising jokes about women’s knowledge of football. Like Keys and Gray, they’d probably bottle it at the thought of telling those jokes to a woman’s face. What if a woman had made an equally condescending comment about men being in the kitchen, the supposed traditional ‘place’ for a woman? Where does that leave the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal?


I am a woman, and I am a football fan. I know more about football than most of my male friends, it’s me that badgers THEM to go to matches, and I could probably run rings around them on the pitch, too. I played at U-12 and U-14 level over a decade ago, and I would have continued to play if the team I was a member of had had provisions for U-16 and ladies’ teams. Unfortunately my playing career ended there, but my love of football didn’t. Oh, and yes, I know what the offside rule is. My miniscule brain occasionally makes room amidst all the recipes and thoughts of flowers and fluffy kittens to soak up such information.

I’ve been to some of the biggest stadiums in Europe, of my own volition – Old Trafford, the San Siro, the Nou Camp. I disappointed my Bohs-supporting Dad when I made Shelbourne my team as a 12-year-old, and I used to follow them up and down the country to matches, before work and studying got in the way of travelling. I might not be as big a football fan as I used to – music eventually replaced sport as the primary pleasure in my life. But I still enjoy watching a match as much as the next PERSON. Gender irrelevant.

But Keys and Gray shouldn’t be fired or fined – they should be taken out onto a pitch and publicly humiliated by the UK’s best women footballers, who undoubtedly have more metaphorical balls than either of them.

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Football: A Game of Two Half-Wits

The sexist remarks made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys off-camera during Saturday’s Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool FC match were appalling but hardly surprising. Soccer is notorious for its sexist attitudes towards women. Take Notts County banning Karren Brady from their boardroom and Luton Town manager Mike Newell giving referee Amy Rayner so much abuse that he made global headlines. Of course it’s brutish behaviour, but it makes me wonder if soccer is the last bastion of male chauvinism?

The belief that football is a man’s sport is all too prevalent both on and off the pitch. Which is precisely why we need women like Sian Massey – the official at the centre of the Keys/ Gray controversy – to effect change and bring much-needed balance to the sport. Bigots may try to push women like Sian out with their derision, but that’s all the more reason why more female officials are needed in football. Equality is always worth fighting for – especially in the face of such vile opposition.

Paradoxically, it was football that taught me to stand firm in my own convictions. A lifelong Liverpool FC fan, I have supported my team all the way from their golden era of the eighties through to the painful lows when they lost almost every accolade they had. Dark, devastating times.

And our opponents’ fans loved them.

There was nothing I could do to make Liverpool play better. But I wasn’t entirely powerless. Thanks to the fantasy football league in my workplace, I could exert some control over the weekly fixtures and use the knowledge I had built up over so many years. Yet, the better I played, the stronger the opposition I faced. This culminated when I won the league; the runner-up refused to pay his fees when he found out that the only female out of twenty new recruits had beaten him. It was a bittersweet victory. But a victory nonetheless.

Changing the status quo won’t ever be a smooth transition. Nor will it ever make you popular. But when it needs changing – as it does so badly in football now – all you can do is keep charging ahead.

Keep up the good work, Sian – you’re playing a blinder.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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