Book Review on ‘Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society’ by Pat O’Connor

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‘Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society’ by Pat O’Connor focuses on the roles that Irish women have embodied in the past and how these roles have changed or been altered over time. The book was published in 1998, twenty-one years later, in 2019, many of the problem’s women faced back then can be still seen in Ireland today. Many of the ideologies faced in the book and those of 1970’s Ireland and in 1998 she is comparing the changes to the past and present. The running themes of the book are patriarchy and oppression of women, as they are highlighted in every chapter. Something which is highly impressive is the authors evidence and knowledge on the topics she covers throughout the book, many of the topics will be covered in this review.

Many of the roles and perceptions of women have not changed. It can be seen throughout the book that O’ Connor has a great insight into how women have been unfairly treated throughout the years. She suggests that patriarchy “refers to male control” (O’Connor, 1998 p.6). It is hinted that patriarchy has played a huge role in the position of women in Irish society. With male influences such as marital violence, rape, gender paid employment and the marriage bar. Chapter one of the book suggests that “the concept of patriarchy is a key element in understanding the experiences of women in Irish society” (O’Connor, 1998, pp.29-30). O’Connor highlights the mistreatment of Irish women in a fantastic manner throughout the text. The way in which she goes about it highlights her own knowledge on the matter and her passion towards equality in Ireland and is something to be admired about her writing.

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O’Connor presents the role of women in 1970’s Ireland, they were known for working in the home and raising the children. This can still be seen in Irish society today, although it is certainly not as common as before. It was not uncommon for women to have to leave work after marriage, in fact this was normal back then. Again, we can see the influence of a patriarchal society as women have to retire to the home, men can continue to work and get paid. It is said that women in the 1970’s did not feel discriminated against, everything they went through was part of “the cultural tradition out of which Irish women weave the fabric of their own identity and the meaning of their lives” (O’Connor, 1998, p.81). The lift of the marriage bar in 1973, shows the reader that more and more women were interested in perusing a career before settling down for marriage. The reader has to question, if the marriage bar was not in place, would women in Ireland have more opportunities to get a higher position in the workplace? O’Connor highlights the way that the state has done wrong by them in an effective so that it is clear to the reader and it is easy to understand which can be applauded.

The control of which the state has had over women’s bodies has been an issue for Irish women for many years now, “Contraception and abortion illustrate the many attempts made by the Irish state to maintain control over women’s bodies” (O’Connor, 1998, p.51). The view on contraception and abortion has been heavily influenced by the Catholic church throughout history. O’Connor states, while talking about conservative groups that “agendas were not centrally concerned with women” (O’Connor, 1998, p.53). The Irish state has never truly been concerned with women’s rights, even in today’s society. Irish women have been seen as an accessory to a man for centuries. The mistreatment of women is the focal point of many chapters of this book, showing the importance of this theme in the book.

O’Connor also focuses on some more disturbing realities for women in Ireland: sexual harassment. Chapter six displays a case of sexual harassment in school, the results of which are alarming. Sexual harassment is a reality for women of all ages around Ireland. According to a study done by Hanafin (1992) and shown by O’Connor, 40% of girls in their leaving certificate year had come in contact with inappropriate touching and/or groping from their male classmates. Here it can be seen that boys from a young age believe they have the upper hand on women. It is as if young boys are taught that they overrule women, regardless of how it will make the woman feel. As a result of this, women from a young age will have a negative disposition of men, “the view that is ‘natural’ for girls to be intimidated by boys” (O’Connor, 1997, p.178). This is not what young girls should feel like and the author highlights this, the statistics shown are awfully surprising. Young women should not have to feel this way anywhere, let alone in a classroom, this should be a safe place.

The strengths of this book outweigh the weaknesses massively. It is easily said that a lot can be learned from O’Connor’s book that a reader has not known before. The authors use of tables and real-life statistics through each chapter effortlessly shows the audience exactly that message she is trying to convey. O’Connor’s opinions remain neutral from start to finish which is admired hugely. It is mainly based on facts not opinions, which makes it much easier to understand the points she is trying to get across. She manages to always stay on topic and focus on the issues on hand. The contents of the book can sometimes be heavy yet O’Connor deals with the topics in a skillful way that allows the reader to focus on the issue on hand and not to dwell on the disturbing histories of Irish women. In saying that, this book certainly is one to remember as the authors writing style and content is unforgettable and leaves the reader wanting more. As previously stated, the weaknesses in this book are few. Some can say that the views are bias given the fact that O’Connor is female and may relate to the issues more. The repetition of some of the issues can be seen as a weakness in O’Connor’s writing as towards the end of the book this can become tedious. Finally, the depressing nature of the history of Irish women could become overwhelming, particularly to younger readers as the author touches on upsetting cases such as domestic violence and rape so should be avoided by younger children.

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Book Review on ‘Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society’ by Pat O’Connor. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Book Review on ‘Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society’ by Pat O’Connor.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Book Review on ‘Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society’ by Pat O’Connor. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Book Review on ‘Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society’ by Pat O’Connor [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:

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