By Brónach Rafferty
Brónach Rafferty is a fourth-year law student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
“First I was a lovely wife, picturesque and pensive, showed no signs of inner life beyond the mildly inoffensive. Now I must assert myself, and break out if I can, which isn’t easy for a woman, written by a man.” These are the an idealized, lamentations from Rough Magic Theatre Company’s 1971 production of “The Train.”  Under Irish law, the Irish woman does indeed seem to be ‘written by a man’. The idea of the ‘Irish Mammy’ is held up as the epitome of all that is Irish. Good, kind and always willing to do the washing, she is reputedly what makes Irish society “great”, but it wasn’t long ago that the Irish Mammy couldn’t keep her job in the bank after she got married. She couldn’t refuse to have sex with her husband. Irish laws dictated that an Irish Mammy’s rape by her husband does not truly constitute rape.
Above all other identities, however, the Irish Mammy is a woman who has long been neglected by history. In her paper “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State”, Catharine A. MacKinnon advances the idea that “the law sees and treats women the way men see and treat women...the state is male.” As a consequence, women are funneled into a very specific way of being female.  Here, I will examine the way in which the Irish Constitution perpetuates the female myth, the societal role it imposes upon women, and their damaging effects on both women and men.
While the Irish Constitution claims to be written by and for “we the people”, the reality is that the conservative ethos of the blue book upon which society was founded was shaped by an all-male civil service and judiciary. The story of Irish history is not ‘her’ story; it was merely told about her, yet never by her. As a result, women have lived on the margins of history. How, then, can the Constitution be said to represent “we the people” if women were denied a voice in its creation? This is the place of the Irish woman in society as decreed by the male voice of the Constitution: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved…. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” 
These provisions are incredibly anachronistic, yet continue to exist in modern Irish society. They serve to illustrate the way in which the Irish woman is relegated solely to the sphere of the domestic, and her place is confined to ‘life within the home’. This aligns with MacKinnon’s belief that under these circumstances, women cease to exist as autonomous beings, and instead become “ ‘the family’ as if this single form of woman’s confinement...can be presumed the crucible of women’s determination.” 
Not only is a woman’s world greatly reduced in comparison to the opportunities available to a man, the Irish woman must also be identified within the Irish constitution in order to ascertain her being and place in society. Conversely, since the Irish man’s existence and his potential is automatically assumed, the Constitution feels no need to point it out. MacKinnon writes that “women and men are divided by gender, made into the sexes as we know them.”  However, if we “know” these sexes so well, why is that a false universal notion as to what it is to be female still exists? Why is it that the role of men in society need not be defined, yet women, by culture, law, or both have many different interpretations of womanhood imposed upon them?
Under this kind fo law, women are essentially “made” by pre-existing perceptions. The place of women in Irish society segues seamlessly into motherhood, with her rights as a figure in society stemming from this role that she must play. She is thus not seen as a whole person in the way that her male counterparts are, but as simply a vessel for another life.
And what of those women who cannot or choose not to have children, women who pursue careers? Where is their place in society if they do not conform to what their country expects of them? Where are their rights? We measure men by their achievements, and women by their conformity. MacKinnon surmises that, “women who resist or fail, including those who never did fit...are considered less female, lesser women. Women who comply or succeed are elevated as models.”  This implicates that women who pursue their goals without successful results simply fall outside the definition of womanhood as defined by the Constitution, and therefore have no place in Irish society.
At the same time, to funnel women into this predetermined conception of motherhood and family is to close out the male role in such an experience. Where does a father who takes on what is considered traditionally maternal roles fit into Irish society? The Irish Constitution has buried itself so deeply into the idea of the maternal based family unit that it does not seem to acknowledge whether there is space for a man. In custody disputes, it is incredibly difficult for the father to gain custody. In isolating the woman’s role in society, it could also be argued that the male is being isolated from and denied access to a full family life. This is implied in Ngaire Naffine’s perception that there is a “profoundly lonely sexuality in which the man never reaches out of his singular subjectivity...men, civilized in shells of identity and abstraction.”  In repressing and compartmentalizing the place of women in Irish society, the Constitution serves to advance this incredibly harmful ideal of the strong silent male figure, adversely affecting the position of men who do not fulfill masculine ideals
We say that society has changed, the times are different, and things are not as they were for women in modern Irish society. But still I am hesitant, and feel the need to moderate myself when I write for fear of being misread by a male-dominated culture. The Irish woman has included her country in her life, but has her country included her?
 “The Train | 6 Oct - 11 Sept,” Www.dublintheatrefestival.com, accessed October 5, 2016, www.dublintheatrefestival.com/Online/The_Train.
 Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence,” Signs 8, no. 4 (1983): 635–58.
 electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB), “Electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB),” accessed October 5, 2016, http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/cons/en/html.
 MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State.”
 Naffine Ngaire, ‘Possession: Erotic Love in the Law of Rape’ The Modern Law Review 57, no. 1 (1994): 10-37 at 29.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Stanley Zimny
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