Why is Feminism such a Dirty Word?

Feminism should be a strong, vivacious powerhouse of a movement, crashing through the barricades of inequality. Yet in reality, and particularly in modern Ireland, feminism seems to be creeping along in silent apathy. Why earth don’t young Irish woman care about feminism? There are some new collectives cropping up, and there is now an Irish Feminist’s forum, which is really great to see. But in the mainstream collective consciousness feminism is still a dirty word.

In ‘developed’ countries, like Ireland, women work a lot more than their
male counterparts but earn quite a bit less (especially taking domestic work
into account; most women work two jobs but are only paid for one). We are
hugely out-numbered by men in every sphere of government, politics, industry
and elected representation. Most single-parent households are headed by women and yet we’re shunned for things like breast-feeding in
public or talking about inherently female topics, and so we try to prove
ourselves- socially and professionally- through patriarchal standards.
And we’re the lucky ones. In ‘developing’ counties women are the victims of
violence, institutionalised rape and extreme social exclusion/ pressure.
They are usually the gender forced to turn to prostitution in tough times,
and often the ones left responsible for children. Most people with literacy problems, globally, are women, who have less automatic rights and access to education. And literacy and education are two things which keep people in the grips of long term poverty.

So the fight is not over, yet we seem to have given up. When I tell them I’m
a feminist the response of other young Irish women is usually one of mild
disdain and vaguely cloaked shock. As if part of them would like to say
‘good on you’ and part of them is thinking ‘who does this militant
man-hating femi-nazi think she is?‘I am not militant and I love men. I genuinely believe a pro-feminist world is a better place for both women and men. A place where both genders can strike a good work/ life balance, share the load of monetary responsibility and embrace the differences of masculine and feminine traits, leading to greater understanding and easier living. Much environmental change needs to have women at the helm, as women are so often the people working the land (without owning it), and the gender affected by climate change most absolutely. Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai is a shining beacon of such movements, having set up the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, for example.

There is no doubt in my mind that the world will be a better place when we have balanced the scales of power and privilege, and when equality nurtures sustainable stability for all…men, women, children, cats, dogs, trees…no matter what your gender, ethnicity, class, religion, ability… Another reason why feminism is so important is because in the aforementioned
places of poverty or conflict, where everyone is in a dire position, women
still get the worst deal of all. For example, in the Democratic Republic of
Congo, where rape has been used as a systematic weapon of war for years,
hundreds of thousands of victims have been disowned by their communities or
irreparably damaged through rape. The long-term effects of which cannot be underestimated.

So the plight of women in the developing-world is the worst one. But if
you’re feeling abhorrently selfish there is also plenty to suggest
that in our own, comfortable, developed-world lives we should fight for women’s
rights and gender-balance issues…

Women make up an average of just 17 percent of the representative political
bodies and governments of the world, and only 13 percent here in Ireland. So
men are making most of the decisions, controlling most of the policies, and
moulding most of the laws for all of us.
Also, a recent report in The Guardian found that within three years of
leaving college most women are paid 1,000 pounds less than their male
counterparts. Most reports generally cite that women earn 20 percent less
then men, on average, and that the glass ceiling hasn’t lifted at all over
the last decade. An argument may be that maternity leave hinders ones
career, but this could be rectified if men were given more paternity leave.
In turn the pressure of child-rearing would be taken off women, and men
would achieve a better balance of career and family.
As Irish women we have a strong history of feminism to draw from. Many
‘First-wave’ feminists, or suffragettes, at the turn of the century, were
arrested and taken to the UK for their actions. Some even went on hunger
strike in protest. Women like Anna Haslem and Mary Hayden printed pamphlets
and initiated a civil rights movement throughout the country in the early
years of the 20th Century.The ‘Second-wave’ of feminism shot across the globe in the ’60’s, rearing strong women like Nell McCafferty or Mairin de Burca in Ireland, and causing many to fight for the reproductive and social rights of women all over the country.

So how about Irish feminism’s contemporary fight? Cue the tumble-weed. Ireland seems to care little for feminism these days, yet not much has really changed since Nell and her friends hopped on that train and started the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in the ’70’s. No one seems to care about the wage gap, reproductive rights, social parity, (political or economic) patriarchal dominance, or the sex trade. Or, indeed, giving a voice to women all over the world who do not have the resources to fight for their own rights. With the odd exception, such as TD Ivana Bacik or small collectives such as Choice Ireland, no one seems to give much of a toss at all.

Gender equality is important for the world, for each society and for every person. Most men are feminists but just don’t see it because the word makes them defensive. Women are not saying we’re better, or men are worse, or that anyone should be anything but equal. It will be a good and stable and sustainable thing for everyone! Let’s recognise it, fight for it, and make sure we all get it… Vive l’equality!!

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