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Cathal Crotty and the patriarchal lie of ‘protecting women’
Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

David Woodland

Cathal Crotty and the patriarchal lie of ‘protecting women’


by Roe McDermott
27th Jun 2024

In the wake of the vicious attack of Natasha O’Brien, the silence from conservatives and the far-right, normally concerned with “protecting women”, is deafening. One thing is clear, women cannot solve a problem that is caused primarily by men and if we want change, it’s time for the good men of Ireland to step up.

On May 29, 2022, Natasha O’Brien was walking in Limerick City when she saw a man hurling homophobic abuse at some passersby. O’Brien did what many people would be too apathetic or scared to do: she called out this abuse and asked Crotty to stop. Instead, Crotty turned on her, now directing homophobic slurs at her, and attacked her. Crotty grabbed Natasha O’Brien by the hair and began punching her in the face. O’Brien fell to the ground, trying to protect herself and begging Crotty to stop. He didn’t. Crotty continued to punch the young woman as she lay on the ground, breaking her nose and rendering her unconscious. Crotty only stopped when some men passing by started to intervene, at which point he fled the scene.

But Crotty didn’t flee in shame or fear. Two hours after the attack, he bragged about randomly beating a young woman senseless, sending a message to friends on Snapchat saying “Two to put her down, two to put her out.”

At the time, Cathal Crotty was a member of the Irish Defence Force, whose aim is “to defend the State against armed aggression.”

When approached by Gardaí, Crotty initially denied the attack. Only when confronted with CCTV evidence and the Snapchat message which Crotty had believed had disappeared and had to be retrieved from Snapchat servers, did he decide to plead guilty, aware that guilty pleas come with more lenient sentences – and indeed, a lenient sentence was given. Despite Crotty’s obviously aggressive and bigoted nature, given that he was hurling homophobic abuse at people, despite Crotty’s vicious assault on a civilian, despite Crotty’s misogynistic pride in assaulting a woman, and despite the lack of accountability, responsibility or remorse that Crotty showed when he tried to deny the charges until the point where admitting guilt was beneficial for him, despite being found guilty of the attack that left Natasha O’Brien unconscious, injured and traumatised, Crotty walked free from court last week, receiving only a suspended sentence.

‘HIMPATHY’ OR WHY WE CARE ABOUT MEN’S CAREERS OVER WOMEN’S LIVES

In court, Judge Tom O’Donnell expressed concern that a prison sentence would certainly end Crotty’s army career. No concern was expressed for what the assault had meant for O’Brien’s career, life or well-being and how she has spent the two intervening years experiencing health consequences from the assault, experiencing PTSD that has affected her quality of life, and how she indeed lost her job due to the aftermath of the assault.

In court, Natasha O’Brien spoke about this impact, detailing the multiple ways that her life had been affected.

“As I lay in the foetal position, and losing consciousness, he continued his relentless beating. My last conscious thought was ‘he’s not stopping, I’m going to die’.

“The physical injuries I sustained were devastating; a severe concussion, a broken nose, severe swelling, and bruising on both arms, shoulders, head, right upper thigh, left eye, cheek and jaw.

“I spent the following weeks and months attending hospital and doctor appointments, and due to persistent concussion symptoms I was deemed ‘high-risk’ for a brain bleed, and I received a battery of tests including a head CT scan.

“I lived in constant fear that it could still result in my death. Cathal Crotty’s actions left me in a place of darkness. I have been suffering symptoms of PTSD, and I’ve had to attend multiple therapists since the attack.

“A sense of constant dread and isolation was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I spiralled into self-destructive behaviours and lost all interest and motivation for life.

“Basic tasks at work became incredibly difficult and I ultimately lost my job due to my rapidly declining performance. I became numb and detached from reality, living in perpetual fear of seeing him again.

“He may not remember, but my memory of the vicious, sinister look in his eyes as he approached me will haunt me forever.”

But Crotty’s career is what mattered.

Patriarchal societies will always value men over women, always empathise with men over women, always protect men over women.

In her book Down, Girl, feminist philosopher Kate Manne coined the term ‘himpathy’; the flow of sympathy away from female victims towards their male victimizers. This excess of sympathy shown to men who abuse women and the lack of similar concern towards their victims is exceedingly common in society, and particularly benefits white, straight, cis, able-bodied men – particularly if these men are privileged or have a respectable job. Often in court cases involving a man’s physical or sexual assault of a woman, concern is expressed for his future, his career, his mental health – without acknowledging what the assault has done to the woman’s future, career and mental health.

These one-sided gendered concerns are used to forgive men for their assaults on women, never to stress the life-changing impact that being assaulted can have on a victim.

Himpathy is a simple maths equation: patriarchal societies will always value men over women, always empathise with men over women, always protect men over women. We don’t care about women’s physical safety, their mental health, their trauma, their careers. We don’t care about women’s futures. We will sacrifice women’s lives and expend our energy ensuring that abusive men can flourish.

HOW THE FAR-RIGHT USES WOMEN, BUT NEVER PROTECTS THEM

Over the past weeks, thousands of people have tuned out for marches, protesting not only Crotty’s sentence but what this sentence says about Ireland’s attitudes to violence against women. A man trained in physical combat can viciously assault a woman in public, brag about it, and walk free.

What is important though sadly not surprising to note is that yet again, these marches and protests have mainly been attended by women. And the groups that have been most noticeably silent on this issue are groups that have been incredibly loud and vocal about “protecting Irish women” the past few years: the far right.

Over the past few years, conservative and far-right groups have arranged protests, partaken in violent and disruptive riots, ran election campaigns, and harassed immigrants, refugees, people of colour, trans people, feminists and liberals, all using the same lie to justify their horrendous actions: they want to protect Irish women and children.

Conservative and far-right groups don’t care about women, they care about protecting white men at all costs.

This is a lie. Because conservatives and the far-right only ever speak about “protecting” Irish women when this “protection” allows them to gain power for themselves and oppress others. Conservatives and the far-right have a white supremacist patriarchal agenda, which seeks to oppress and control women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of colour, and immigrants. They don’t care about women; they are actively seeking to control them, which is why the far-right are also anti-feminist, anti-equality, anti-abortion, anti-consent culture. Nothing in their belief system is about empowering or supporting women, because that would limit their patriarchal power and ability to abuse, exploit, control and oppress women.

However, they will use the rhetoric of “protecting Irish women” to oppress others when it suits their agenda. This is why the far-right initiated a violent riot across Dublin when a young girl was stabbed by an immigrant, setting fire to public transport and attacking people of colour – but didn’t turn up to march for Natasha O’Brien. One allowed them to use the rhetoric of “protecting Irish women and children” to enact racism, bigotry and violence against minority groups, whereas turning up for Natasha O’Brien would be highlighting the risk that white, Irish men pose to Irish women – and that doesn’t help them.

Conservative and far-right groups use women as a rhetorical pawn to push their agenda, while absolutely hating women.

This is why conservative and far-right groups constantly demonise immigrants and refugees as posing a danger to Irish women – but do nothing to address the rising rates of domestic violence against Irish women by Irish men, or the fact that one in four Irish women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, statistically most often by Irish men.

This is why conservative and far-right groups use the absolutely false and damaging myth of transgender people sexually assaulting women in bathrooms – but do nothing to dismantle rape culture which allows cis men to assault women without consequence, or do anything to support women in the LGBTQ+ community.

This is why conservative and far-right groups pretend to use the repeatedly debunked myth that abortion is bad for women’s mental health – while doing nothing to address how misogyny, rape culture and lack of bodily autonomy and abortion access impact women’s mental health; or promote equality which would improve mothers’ mental health after having children.

This is why conservative and far-right groups will use any isolated incident of violence against women from a person of colour or immigrant to perpetuate racism but allow sexism, misogyny, slut-shaming, gendered violence and rape to fester in their own friend groups, communities and cities.

This is why conservative and far-right groups jumped all over the Aisling Murphy murder case to accuse, hunt down and assault random non-Irish citizens and use the nationality of the convicted murderer to launch an anti-immigrant campaign – but are remaining completely silent about the assault of Natasha O’Brien by a white Irish man.

Because conservative and far-right groups don’t care about women, they care about protecting white men at all costs. They may talk about wanting to “protect” others, but what they are most invested in is protecting their patriarchal power and privilege, and they will never take any action to risk or endanger that privilege – which is why they stay silent when straight white men hurt women, knowing that addressing it may lead to an examination of and the eventual dismantling of their power.

While the Irish Defence Forces have claimed that an investigation is taking place into Crotty’s case and it looks likely that he will lose his position, Crotty’s career in the Defence Force is important to understand the ways in which women are used by abusive, misogynistic and bigoted individuals and organisations as tools to push white supremacist patriarchal agendas.

Crotty signed up to the Irish Defence Force, vowing “to defend the State against armed aggression” – but it’s clear that Crotty doesn’t believe that everyone in the State deserves to be defended against aggression. Not LGBTQ+ people, and certainly not women. To Crotty, ‘the State’ that he believes deserves protecting is one of straight men. This is what patriarchal thinking looks like in action – using the rhetoric of protection while inflicting disrespect, bigotry, violence, aggression and control on anyone who is not a straight white man.

HOW AMERICAN CONSERVATIVES USE WOMEN AS PAWNS WHILE ERODING THEIR RIGHTS

This tactic of using the rhetoric of “protecting women and children” to promote a white supremacist patriarchal agenda is not new, nor is it unique to Ireland. We need only look to the United States, where Republicans are removing women’s access to abortion and even contraception, all while claiming that they are doing so to protect children but also women from the (again, untrue, debunked and utterly fictional) dangers of abortion. But statistics don’t lie, and Republican states are proven to be less supportive of and more dangerous for both women and children.

States with abortion restrictions or bans have higher maternal mortality rates and higher infant mortality rates. Women in Republican states with restrictive abortion access have lower earnings, worse economic conditions for families, and child poverty is higher. Health insurance for the most vulnerable families is harder to access; paid family leave does not exist; women are pushed out of the workforce at greater rates, and investment in children’s education is lower.

Where are the so-called good, liberal men?

A new study shows that since Texas banned abortion, infant mortality has spiked significantly. There has been nearly a 13% overall jump in infant deaths and a 23% jump in infant deaths to due to congenital anomalies. Researchers say that the increases are largely because of the state’s mandate that women carry nonviable pregnancies to term. No concern has been expressed for the danger posed by pregnant women who are forced to carry and birth unviable pregnancies; the financial cost of being forced to continue a complicated, risky and unviable pregnancy; or the mental health impact on women.

Because conservative and far-right groups do not care about women and children. They care about using them for their own agenda, then controlling them.

WHERE ARE THE GOOD IRISH MEN WHO SUPPOSEDLY SUPPORT WOMEN?

As conservative and far-right men turn out in their droves at riots protests and increasing, election campaigns, the question remains: where are the so-called good, liberal men? The marches supporting Natasha O’Brien and calling for reform in Ireland over how women are treated in both society and the Irish justice system were still predominantly attended by women.

It’s no longer good enough.

When men do not show up for protests, when they don’t openly speak about sexism and misogyny, when they don’t actively engage in discussions and marches and movements that support women, they are letting women be treated as second—class citizens. They are communicating that issues facing women are not issues that concern them. They are letting the narrative of “protect women” be dominated by misogynistic, racist, homophobic, xenophobic white supremacists, and not demonstrating another way that men in Ireland can actually support and protect women, by tackling the real problem: white supremacist patriarchal misogyny.

Men have to get involved to dismantle misogynist, patriarchal beliefs that exist in and are perpetuated by the men around them, and men in power. Being silent is not good enough. Being silent is letting misogyny thrive. Being silent is being complicit.

Even in the years since #MeToo, conversations about and movements against misogyny, rape culture and gendered violence are still initiated by, directed towards and almost exclusively led by women. However women cannot solve a problem that is caused primarily by men. Men have to get involved to dismantle misogynist, patriarchal beliefs that exist in and are perpetuated by the men around them, and men in power. Being silent is not good enough. Being silent is letting misogyny thrive. Being silent is being complicit.

The cynical, agenda-laden cries of “protecting women” from misogynistic men can only be drowned out by genuine declarations of solidarity for women if good men turn up and start shouting. Shouting for women, shouting for LGBTQ+ people, shouting for people of colour, shouting for an end to white supremacist patriarchy. For men, the call of patriarchy is coming from inside the house: you need to fight it.

Natasha O’Brien saw a man hurling homophobic abuse and decided to speak up. She was brave, selfless, and determined to speak up for and protect the rights of those around her – especially people more vulnerable than she.

Natasha O’Brien is the type of person we all should aspire to be: ready to protect the most vulnerable in society, willing to defend everyone’s rights and determined to fight for what is right.

Natasha O’Brien is the definition of a hero: someone who risks making themselves vulnerable in order to protect others.

Ireland needs more Natasha O’Briens, and from the marches, demonstrations and activism of the past week, it is clear that women in Ireland are ready to step up.

But the question remains: are the men in Ireland brave enough?

Photography by David Woodland.