Saoirse Connolly is a 24-year-old 4th year student at National University of Ireland Galway. She is a disability rights advocate and an active member of her college’s student union. She is currently the chairwoman of CUMAS, a disability advocacy society which she co-founded. Recently, she has become more involved in women's rights advocacy following her opposition to a motion proposed to the Student Union.
Conall Mc Callig, a male student, created a motion advocating for the automatic de-platforming of far-right, extremist and discriminatory groups. The motion included a list of organizations to be subject to the automatic ban. Among those listed was pro-LGB group LGB Alliance Ireland and two radical feminist groups, Irish Women's Lobby and Radicailín.
Saoirse has been vocal in her criticism and condemnation of the motion online and in the student union.
Sinéad (4W): Can you tell us a bit about the motion you’ve opposed and what has happened with it since the vote?
Saoirse: The motion I opposed sought to deplatform far-right extremist groups and discriminatory groups, giving no definition of either. The motion listed far-right organisations, some “on the fence” organisations and feminist organisations all together. What happened with it was that it was majorly objected to after I started a campaign to prevent this because it would have been such an infringement of free speech on campus. Now it’s been amended to oppose all forms of extremism and discrimination. It’s more balanced now. There’s no listed organisations so if anybody is to be deplatformed there has to be discussion, the council has to vote on it and there has to be legitimate reasons for banning them.
Students can protest against moves to deplatform a group or individual and it is also less likely to be used in the first place because the far-leftists that proposed it now know that it can be used against them also. It’s not great but it’s better.
Sinéad: Why did you decide you needed to oppose this motion?
Saoirse: I had two reasons. My main reason was that they were putting women’s rights groups on a discriminatory list which I thought was really really bad. There’s no words to describe how ridiculous that is. It’s regressive and misogynistic.
The other reason was that there was no definition of what “far-right” and “discriminatory” were to mean. It could mean whatever they wanted it to. They could use this however they liked just to fit their own agenda. That wasn’t going to fly with me!
"We had a certain class representative make threats about setting TERFs on fire... I also get messages telling me 'Go die transphobe.'"
Sinéad: You brought this motion out of the college and to the attention of the wider public. Were you scared about being so public?
Saoirse: I was slightly apprehensive at first but I decided that this had to be brought to the attention of the wider public. I felt that people needed to know about what is happening in colleges, parents need to know where they’re sending their kids and we can’t change this if people don’t know what’s happening. I don’t regret coming forward. In my first tweet about this I said this was the hill I’d die on [laughing] and you know, it is that hill. I’m still very committed, I don’t regret it one bit.
Sinéad: Had you been interested in the debate surrounding gender ideology prior to the proposal of the motion?
Saoirse: The way I became interested in this is an odd story. It was to do with using pronouns on campus, I kept coming up against it socially. I typed something like “pronouns are stupid” into youtube and came across a video by a Hunter Avallone making fun of them. After seeing that I thought there must be something to this. I found another video slagging off radical feminists so I searched “radical feminism” and went down the rabbit hole like we all do!
Sinéad: Women who speak out against these matters are usually subjected to pretty severe backlash. Did you experience this?
Saoirse: Yes! I received a lot of backlash. We had a certain class representative make threats about setting TERFs on fire. A woman started a gender critical stickering campaign on campus. Even though I wasn’t actually involved in that campaign I got caught up in it due to accusations like “Oh she’ll have hidden razor blades under these.” I get sent pictures of “TERF” from people trying to be funny. I also get messages telling me “Go die transphobe.”
I had a student union officer make a list of everything I was involved with in the union. They wanted me removed from the positions I held and claimed that I was a transphobe who shouldn't be in power because students would feel unwelcome because of me.
But I also got a lot of support. You can ignore the haters, you know? Just don’t look at your retweets [laughing].
"Gender identity theory teaches [women] to suppress their instincts. You’re not even allowed to have preferences... They’re disconnected from their instincts."
Sinéad: From looking at twitter, it seemed like a lot of the hostility was coming from men. Why do you think that is?
Saoirse: I think that there’s two types of men in this movement. There's the men who are so afraid of being called misogynistic that they jump on any cause to do with women. But in doing that, they end up woman-hating. Then there’s those who actually hate us. They use these movements to hide their misogyny. “Look how woke I am? I care about women! I’m a libfem!” There are some men who are gaslit but I think the ones pushing the narrative are the ones who hate us.
Shortly after the motion was voted on, two male students and self-proclaimed feminists who had been vocal in criticizing Saoirse for her stance were accused of sexual harassment and assault.
On the 4th of April, John Feeney, a class representative for the student union, was accused by dozens of women of sending unsolicited messages and screenshots detailing his pornographic sexual fantasies. One female student posted screenshots she received from him telling her “I’m a misogynist” and “You’re simply a sex object.” He allegedly sent similar messages to girls under the age of consent. He quickly deleted his social media accounts amid the scandal.
Cian Mortimer is the vice auditor of political party People Before Profit in NUIG and was a candidate for the position Welfare Officer for the student union.
Amidst the accusations made against Feeny, Mortimer preemptively posted a now deleted tweet apologizing and confessing to having taken a violating photo of a girl without her knowledge. He cited struggling with his sexuality as his motivation for taking the photo. Several female students have insinuated that this was not the only time he engaged in this behavior but are yet to come forward with an accusation.
4W was unable to reach either of the accused for comment.
Sinéad: Cian Mortimer and John Feeney both gave you grief on social media and at council for your pro-woman stance. Were you surprised to see accusations of sexual harassment made against them?
Saoirse: No. I know that sounds awful, but no. It goes back to what I was saying about the two types of men. I think the ones who are real misogynists and use this movement to their advantage give off this really creepy vibe. I think as a woman you just know that when you talk to these guys that they’re not naive. They’re calculated. They know what they’re doing.
Sinéad: Why do you think this behaviour is so commonly exhibited by “male feminists”? Do you think there’s something about mainstream feminism that attracts predatory men?
Saoirse: I do think that. If you’re a smart predator, it doesn’t take long to figure out that this movement is absolutely perfect for you because it centres men. All this talk about deconstructing sex really is just nonsense. Predatory men can use the idea that “woman” is just a feeling to completely degrade and dehumanize the female experience. It’s so calculated and I feel that they feed into these theories to serve their own interests. That’s especially true in the academy.
Sinéad: It seems obvious that men who support the sexual exploitation of women and oppose our right to single-sex spaces are not to be trusted. Why do you think liberal feminists fail to recognize these positions as red flags?
Saoirse: I think it’s because the whole idea around gender identity theory teaches them to suppress their instincts. You’re not even allowed to have preferences. If you have preferences about who you want to date, that isn’t allowed. You have to bury any feelings of discomfort deep deep down to even survive in that movement. They’re disconnected from their instincts.
Sinéad: Does the liberal feminist pro-prostitution and pro-pornography stance play into this at all?
Saoirse: Completely. I think that goes back to gaslighting. They don’t know the true reality of prostitution, especially in places like southeast Asia where women and girls are exploited and trafficked. They only think about their friend who does it on Onlyfans so she can afford a few extra drinks. A lot of it is a lack of knowledge about the world. It’s so multi-faceted. I’m still trying to figure it out myself.
"We should stand together, no matter where you're from, if you’re a woman and you see this happening in your country you have a right to speak out."
Sinéad: You made the point in a recent tweet that the men who criticized you and your feminism are the same men turning out to be predators. How did your fellow female NUIG students react?
Saoirse: They hated me for that. That made them more angry than anything else I had done. It’s ridiculous. You want to laugh but at the same time you want to cry because it’s so sad. There was so much cognitive dissonance there that they could not see the connection between what I was saying and their lived reality. They reverted to saying “those are fake leftists!”, “those men were pretending!” but then turned around and said that no man would ever pretend to be trans to prey on women.
It made me really sad. The woman who made the original tweet accusing John Feeney of sexual harassment, retweeted me and told me not to “use [her] experiences to further [my] agenda” which I wasn’t doing.
Sinéad: Where do you go from here? You mentioned on twitter that you worry your ability to engage in disability advocacy could be impeded due to this fiasco.
Saoirse: It already has been. I think I just have to forge my own way and accept that what I thought I was going to do, isn’t what I’m going to do and this is a better path anyway. The fight for women’s rights was never easy. It wasn’t going to start being easy just for me. I’m going to try to keep doing my work around disability but I don’t think I’m going to get into any national NGOs [laughing]. It’s over in that way.
Really, at this stage I’m open to having a career that will actually make the lives of women better. What’s going on is just ridiculous and it needs to stop. I’m still trying to figure it out because my life has come crashing down and changed course in just three weeks.
Sinéad: It’s so unfair, you aren’t doing anything wrong.
Saoirse: I suppose it’s like the women who fought for our rights in the past. Of course they weren’t doing anything wrong but the misogynistic male dominated establishment thought they were. I think it’s the same here, right? The people in power think we’re horrible just for defending our rights. How things have regressed is terrifying.
Sinéad: How do self-ID laws pose a threat to women with disabilities specifically
Saoirse: One of the main factors is that people with disabilities are more likely to be reliant on another person. You’re less likely to have your own income or to live independently. If you have a lot of care needs you may need to be in a specialized care home and those places already have a poor track record. Women with intellectual disabilities are particularly susceptible to abuse as they may not have the intellectual capacity to understand a predator’s motives and actions. If you’re a woman with a visible disability you’re a lot more vulnerable than other women as predators will always target vulnerable women.
You can have very complex care needs as a disabled woman and not having the option to request an actual female as a carer is huge. Working disabled women can have complex needs too. You could need assistance in the bathroom with very intimate care but still be able to go to the office and take conference calls. It might look like your care needs aren’t too severe and so people will ask what the issue with having a trans PA is? Actually, it can be very intrusive. Do we really want a male providing women assistance with this?
If you can’t afford to employ your own PA, the state provides one. You have no choice in who it is. If you have lots of money as a disabled woman, this won’t affect you so much. It’s all about whether you have the money for your own house, your own PA...if not, then you’re vulnerable to this.
Sinéad: Is there anything else you would like 4W readers to know? Any more thoughts you’d like to share?
Saoirse: Something that the far-left do really well is sticking together. I think that’s what women need to do. We need to stick together on this issue. We don’t need to be divided by people who accuse us of being British or say that the only people who hold our beliefs are TERFs from “TERF island.” No. We should stand together, no matter where you're from, if you’re a woman and you see this happening in your country you have a right to speak out. We’re all women, that’s what we have in common and we need to capitalize on that!
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