An initiative of the National Women’s Council of Ireland


The Feminist “Tag” – still relevant?

January 19, 2013 at 1:15

In a recent Hot Press interview Lucinda Creighton, Minister of State for European Affairs, expelled her opinion on feminism;

"I don’t know too many women in politics who would brand themselves as being feminist. I certainly don't. I don't feel the need... I don't think that tag of 'feminism' is relevant anymore."

The irony of this statement is, of course, that only the first line can be applied in any meaningful way to modern Ireland, with 85% of Dail Éireann being made up of men – I don’t know too many women in politics either. Feminism is the belief in total equality between all sexes/genders and the need to organise and advocate in pursuit of this equality. It may be quite easy for Deputy Creighton, from her seat in Leinster House; to disassociate herself with a word she feels belongs in the rare old times of discrimination. The lived experience of men and women in Ireland today, however, tell a different story.

In Ireland, indeed in every country in the world, how society defines your gender will dictate your life experience - your experience of harassment and violence, parenthood, bodily autonomy, sexuality, mental health, alongside your interaction with economics, politics and social life. Since 2005, one hundred and seventy four women have been murdered in Ireland, with 99% of the perpetrators being male; one in five women will experience violence from an intimate male partner and the conviction rape for sexual assault prosecutions stands at just 8%, a country where the maximum prison sentence for rape is five years.  In more broader patterns of gender inequality, women are statistically poorer then men in Ireland, women earn 17% less on average then men, they are the primary careers of children in the family and over 90% of single parent households in Ireland are headed by a woman. Gender inequality is harmful for everyone; the performance of masculinity for example, demands adherence to a particular masculine culture which promotes the curtailing of emotional displays, a deafening consequence of this being Ireland’s soaring male suicide rate:

Young women and men need feminism.

We need to challenge the power systems which secure distinctive and repetitive privilege for a small minority whilst producing the exclusion, disadvantage and discrimination of many. We need to challenge and resist the roles and expectations which society expects us to perform as young people and use our voices to oppose a misogynistic and abusive culture which continues to harm and limit our opportunities.  It’s not the word, but the actions behind it which become relevant to our life experience; a rose by any other name would still attempt to de-stabilise patriarchy in all its forms. However the feminist movement has a lot to answer for itself, in terms of exclusion, hierarchy and privilege. There are for example many migrant and working class women living in Ireland who feel absolutely isolated from the F-word as it often encompasses ‘white, heterosexual and middle class privilege’. Feminism and the pursuit of gender equality must focus on the elimination of all power structures, particularly those regarding ethnicity, sexuality, class and disability, constructing a society where social class, poverty and educational disadvantage do not exist. This intersectionality of experience has to form the core aims of any feminist movement; a belief built on the inherent unfairness of power inequality cannot simply re-define who has power and who doesn’t.

Throughout Irish history there have been a multitude of brave, resilient and passionate grass-roots groups of young people, dedicated to conceiving the social change that total equality can bring. Groups like The Abortion Rights Campaign, S.P.A.R.K., Akidwa, Cork Feminista and The Y Factor give us an opportunity to make ourselves and our pursuit for equality and rights relevant. They allow us to demand and shape the policies which affect all of us and ultimately; they allow us to challenge the relevance of those who govern society but do not speak for us at all.

Aoife Campbell