Women’s fashion and societies standards

In our culture, clothing has always been tied to the perception of how others view us and they believe to know who we are and what our position in society is.  This narrow minded approach  is continuously perpetuated by marketing and the need to label. Around 1916, clothing, as it is now, was heavily tied to gender roles, as it was seen as a scandalous act for a women to wear pants. Today women are seen as being more interested in fashion than politics so often clothes are more expensive for women, for example a white t-shirt for women is more expensive than one made for men, even though there is no major difference, except the target audience and general size.

Cumman Na Mban uniform with skirt
Cumman Na Mban uniform with skirt

In 1916, fashion was even more problematic, as it differentiated between the male and female soldiers even further. Female soldiers were at disadvantage as they were expected to wear long skirts in battle, as this was proper way for women to dress. Cumman Na Mban (the Irish Republicans woman’s paramilitary organization, which in 1916 was an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers) members were not confined to being couriers or procuring rations for the males soldiers but they also fought alongside their male counterparts in the rebel garrison. The uniforms of Cumman Na Mban and the Irish Citizen Army were very similar as both uniforms were of a dark green colour, however the female jackets were much coarser and heavier than their male counterparts. This tweed material had a V-neck, which some of these women accessorised with bandoliers, pocketed bells for holding ammunition and they were usually slung over the  shoulder in a sash-style as well as white kit bag. They also wore a belt buckle in a shape of an S, which was very common among armies in the last two hundred years. In the Irish Citizen Army, equality was a principle they strived as they took in women on equal rank to men, though on record there was no more than thirty women in the army who tended to act as nurses and messengers rather than fighters.

Margaret Skinnider, photo courtesy of Glasnevin Trust
Margaret Skinnider, photo courtesy of Glasnevin Trust

Margaret Skinnider was part of the Irish Citizen Army. She was twenty three years old and an excellent marks woman. She was shot during the rising and sought compensation for this. She was sent to prison twice, once during the War of Independence and then again in 1923, when she was became the Paymaster General of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The reasons for both of these arrests are unclear. She struggled to be seen as a soldier throughout the rest of her life as in the eyes of the law she was entitled to nothing, not even her pension:  “were applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”. This was the law’s response when she seeked her military pension. Once again femininity was apparently a weakness even though Margaret Skinnider has proven versatility and strength. She was a skilled women in a male dominated environment where it took decades to recognise her as an equal to men who were often less experienced than her and worked half as hard as she did for the recognition and equality she so richly deserved and yearned for.

 

Irish Citizen Army:

http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/11/04/the-formation-of-the-irish-citizen-army-1913-16/#.VxQKYDArLIX

Irish Insurgents

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/the-forgotten-role-of-women-insurgents-in-the-1916-rising-1.1030426

Margaret Skinnider:

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/rebel-wounded-during-rising-was-denied-a-pension-because-she-was-a-woman-1.1658164

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