Infantacide, Sexual Assault and Abduction in 18th Century Ireland

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What do the Phenomena of infanticide, abduction and sexual assault reveal about the patriarchal order that obtained in eighteenth-century Ireland?

This essay as the title suggests aims to deal with the phenomenon of infanticide, abduction and sexual assault in Eighteenth century Ireland. Each will be dealt with in their own right and this essay will also set out to discuss what these phenomena revealed about the patriarchal order that obtained in eighteenth-century Ireland. In the case of Infanticide, women were often forced to come to this desperate conclusion due to the way an illegitimate child would affect their lives. Not only would id destroy all chances of a woman engaging in an advantageous marriage but it would also risk the young woman being thrown out of her lodgings, losing her job, (if she had one) and raising a child that would be discriminated against from birth. She would be entirely marginalized and disregarded for the rest of her life. In most cases, the woman had little or no support from the male involved, particularly if the baby was conceived by way of sexual assault. Infanticide was always deemed a woman’s crime but one wonders is this as a direct correlation to the fact that most men involved simply didn’t want to know. We see in these cases that again men held the reigns and although were equally involved in the conception bore none of the stigma or blame. Secondly this essay will continue to discuss the evidence of a patriarchal society through sexual assault. Assault at the time was a common issue in which women were taken from streets, places of work or any other outlet and raped or sexually assaulted by one or a group of males. The woman although through no fault of her own, was in many cases deemed unfit for a favourable union and so limited in her options later in life. The price of a husband was a dowry and the maidens virginity. Without one a woman held little hope of securing a husband of their status or above. Some women even conceded to marrying their abductors to avoid the humiliation of a court trial. In these cases we again see the patriarchal order that prevailed in Irish society. A woman was worth very little if her honour was not intact and although a woman who was raped did not damage her honour herself she was still not pure and thus an unsuitable marriage partner. Men on the other hand could redeem lost honour quite easily through duelling. Men could also get away with prosecution if a woman had been known to have consumed alcohol on the night of the assault, if she did not come forward quickly after consent was suspected, if she refused to either have an intimate medical examination to prove rape or take the stand and undergo an embarrassing and through cross examination. Thirdly this essay will move onto the phenomenon of abduction. Abduction was a common occurrence in which a man or group of men abducted a young heiress, forced her to marry them or sexually assaulted her. If a girl was forced into marriage the groom was entitled to a proportion of her riches, particularly if the marriage was consummated afterwards. In the case of assault, if a woman was sexually assaulted by an abductor she was often encouraged to marry him anyway as her chances of securing a union as a result were slim. Men saw these wealthy women as opportunities. They knew how to evade prosecution and secure an extremely advantageous marriage. These men cared little for the rights of the woman and thought only of how they could benefit from the abduction. This essay will seek to examine how men’s attitudes and actions at the time were greatly influenced by their position in this patriarchal society. Women were seen as objects and little more. They were attractive to a male only for their wealth and honour. When taken from them women held little or no status in society. These phenomena show clearly that a patriarchal order obtained in Irish society. That is not to say that women were not cared for, in...
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