Fata Morgana (chimerically) wrote,
Fata Morgana

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The Magdalene Sisters

Last night I saw The Magdalene Sisters, a film about the Magdalene "asylums" (convents and laundry facilities) in Ireland. We also watched the documentary on which the movie was based - "Sex in a Cold Climate" - afterward. It appears that all the events in the movie really happened, though names, dates, and details were changed slightly. Girls and women could be sent to the Magdalene asylums by their families, orphanages, etc. to "repent" for their sexual sins - including prostitution, sex out of wedlock, rape, or even just being pretty or flirtatious - with slave labor in laundry facilities. They were completely cut off from the outside world and had to endure physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at the hands of the nuns and priests. And there was no hope of accountability or retribution. Some girls who escaped were dragged back by their families, who wanted nothing to do with their fallen daughters. One of the main characters who was raped by a cousin was sent there after she told her family, in order to prevent the spread of the accusation and the shaming of the family. (This reminds me of my grandma's brother who bled to death at 18 from a stab wound inflicted in a fight, but was said to have died in a "farm accident." The family wanted to avoid the gossip of the insular German community around them. The murderer was never accused.)

Throughout the movie, I kept thinking of the famous Stanford prison experiment, where ordinary people became monsters or captives when randomly assigned as "guards" or "inmates" in an experimental setting. It amazes and disgusts me that the same psychological torture tactics have been reinvented again and again by those who have power over others and no accountability for their actions.

Throughout the movie, I also kept thinking about the corruptibility of religious institutions. The Catholic Church has been famous for it over the centuries, but it seems that most churches, with their unquestioned power hierarchies, their reliance on blind faith, and their influence over communities, would be prone to it. The Catholic Church in Ireland had created, in a way, the perfect conservative society, where they were the ultimate authority in people's lives and where there was no safety net like welfare for those who didn't or couldn't live up to social norms.

(Speaking of conservative societies, I wanted to mention this fabulous post about all the things like welfare that liberals have fought for, but that many now take for granted.)

The events portrayed happened in the forties and fifties, and the last Magdalene asylum wasn't closed until 1996. The women on whom the characters in the movie were based are contemporaries of my parents or grandparents. Somehow atrocious actions seem more "reasonable" if they happened long ago (the whole world was more backward then, and women didn't have much of any rights until recently, right?), but this was happening in my lifetime and in a "developed" country. Sometimes people wish they had lived in some historical era, but I wouldn't want to live in any other time, and there are few other places I'd want to live even now. Never before could I have enjoyed this level of freedom, the relative absence of sexual double-standards, the ability to speak my mind, and the ability speak out against abuse with the possibility of justice - and there are many places in the world where I still couldn't.

I highly recommend the movie, but note that it could be triggering for those who have experienced abuse themselves. There's a rape in the opening scene.

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