Cultural, Linguistic and Literary Approaches to Narratives of Femininity
Edited By Tiina Mäntymäki, Marinella Rodi-Risberg and Anna Foka
‘Threshing in the Haggard to her Heart’s Delight’: Women and Erotic Expression in Irish Traditional Song
← 210 | 211 → Róisín Ní Ghallóglaigh and Sandra Joyce
Subjects which could be regarded as taboo are often expressed in Irish traditional song through use of metaphor and symbol. Song can provide a space for the communication and expression of sexual or erotic themes, reflecting social and cultural norms and mores. Morality, sexuality, body image and the social position of women are central themes in the songs An tSeanbhean Bhocht [The Poor Old Woman] and An Staicín Eorna [The Little Stack of Barley]. This chapter examines the meaning of these songs in different social, historical and performance contexts.
It is not the behaviour itself that is deviant but the social expectations about which social roles can perform it. (Henry, 2009: 18)
Although any definition of ‘deviancy’ is dependent on social norms and mores, it is a term particularly associated with unusual or unacceptable sexual behaviour. For example, a morally conservative society might view women who have multiple sexual relationships as performing deviant behaviour, going against the ‘norm’ of marriage and monogamy. The same type of society might consider it deviant to speak, communicate or have knowledge of the existence of ‘sex for pleasure’. A survey of the complexities of historical attitudes to sexual behaviour in Ireland is beyond the scope of this chapter, but there was certainly much conservatism in the late nineteenth-/early twentieth-centuries, a time of great political upheaval and change. As Ferriter states:
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