Stand­ing up for the sis­ter­hood

As the #MeToo move­ment grows, so too do the ranks of fe­males who call them­selves fem­i­nists. He­len O’Cal­laghan chats with six high-pro­file women about their views on gen­der equal­ity

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Cover Story - Dr Ciara Kelly, GP and pre­sen­ter of Lunchtime Live on New­stalk

How would you de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’? >> It’s about be­liev­ing that boys and girls, men and women, should have equal rights — the same chances and op­por­tu­ni­ties and sup­ports in their lives. Do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? >> Ab­so­lutely — when you think that fem­i­nism is about equal­ity be­tween men and women, I’m not sure how any­one couldn’t be a fem­i­nist. I have three sons and a daugh­ter. I wouldn’t like to think my daugh­ter couldn’t reach her po­ten­tial as my sons would. What made you a fem­i­nist – event, book, per­son? >> I al­ways thought like this. I went to mixed schools from age four to 17. I had a brother and sis­ter and I was raised by par­ents who didn’t dis­crim­i­nate be­tween us in terms of our ed­u­ca­tion and what we wanted to do — we all went on to col­lege and had careers.

My mum be­lieved it was im­por­tant for women to be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent. It never struck me that I shouldn’t be able to do any­thing that a boy could. Even­tu­ally I came to un­der­stand that the world was harder for women than for men. I knew [deal­ing with] con­tra­cep­tion or the cri­sis of an un­planned preg­nancy fell to women — that women car­ried the can in terms of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in a way men didn’t.

It wasn’t that I was read­ing about the sec­ond wave of fem­i­nism or what Ger­maine Greer was say­ing — it was that some­times the way women were treated by so­ci­ety and the dou­ble stan­dards im­posed ran­kled with me. Like when Jen­nifer Anis­ton broke up with her hus­band, it was ‘poor Jen­nifer, she can’t hang on to a man’. No­body ever said ‘poor Ge­orge Clooney’ — he was just seen as elu­sive. I’ve never sub­scribed to the no­tion of a woman some­how not be­ing com­plete with­out a man and a man deign­ing to take on a woman.

Anna Geary, camo­gie star and fi­nal­ist in Danc­ing With The Stars

How would you de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’?

It’s about equal­ity. We should all be fem­i­nists — men and women. I’d hope there’s a bit of fem­i­nism in my dad, in my brother, in my boyfriend. Do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? >> If fem­i­nism is about men and women re­ceiv­ing equal treat­ment, then I am. But women can use ‘fem­i­nism’ as men-bash­ing. For me, the best way to get your mes­sage across is to put it in a way the other per­son is able to hear. If there’s ag­gres­sion or you’re us­ing it as an op­por­tu­nity to get at some­one, then you lose some­one.

What made you a fem­i­nist – event, book, per­son? >> I grew up in a house where my mum was a teacher, my fa­ther a farmer. It made me see it’s not about be­ing a man or a woman but about how hard you work and how good you are for that po­si­tion.

Both men and women should em­brace traits like as­sertive­ness and kind­ness.

My mother’s very strong but she’s also very kind. She rep­re­sents the woman I am. It’s good to be strong and as- sertive but it’s also good to have a softer side. You can be strong and be­lieve in your­self — and a strong woman doesn’t have to be seen as in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Anna Nolan, head of de­vel­op­ment at Coco Tele­vi­sion

How would you de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’? ■ >> Sim­ply as some­body who be­lieves in equal­ity. Do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? ■ >> Yes, I do. What made you a fem­i­nist ■ – event, book, per­son? >> You don’t sign up to be­ing a fem­i­nist, like join­ing a po­lit­i­cal party. There’s no one to ap­proach and say ‘I to join your of­fi­cial gang’. You’d think go­ing to a girls’ school — Loreto Col­lege in Crum­lin — you’d find out about fem­i­nism. In­stead, in the 1970s and ’80s, you learned to know your place, to be­have a cer­tain way, to mind your­self. You were steered to­wards careers tra­di­tion­ally thought of for women.

For me, fem­i­nism came from home. We were six girls and one boy, a work­ing-class Dublin fam­ily, yet our par­ents en­cour­aged us to be what­ever we wanted to be. My par­ents were proe­qual­ity and we were all en­cour­aged to do things dif­fer­ently. My brother, Kevin, came right in the mid­dle of the fam­ily — he’s a won­der­ful fem­i­nist too. My sis­ter, Rachel, was the first in the fam­ily to go to univer­sity. She got into Trinity— amazing for a fam­ily from in­nercity Dublin.

My older sis­ter, Jane’s a great campaigner. At age 12, in the 1980s, I was taken on the pro-choice marches. I re­mem­ber march­ing along — it was so ex­cit­ing. I re­want

mem­ber mak­ing the posters and learn­ing the chants — ‘get your Rosaries off our ovaries’. My fam­ily made me the fem­i­nist I am to­day. It was in­cred­i­ble to feel you could ques­tion, that you didn’t have to fit in.

I’m not the big­gest and best campaigner out there but I re­mem­ber liv­ing in Lon­don and lik­ing the idea of re­ally short hair and de­lib­er­ately go­ing to a Mid­dle Eastern bar­ber shop. I got a kick out of it. I was the only woman who’d go in there. The men in there, smok­ing their hookah pipe, were al­ways so po­lite to me, this young Ir­ish woman ask­ing for a num­ber two.

It was sym­bolic and sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it was a shop for men only and it was a hairstyle only men had at the time and it didn’t stop me from go­ing in there.

Ais­ling Kee­gan, GM & VP of Dell EMC Ire­land and chair of Tech­nol­ogy Ire­land

How would you de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’? >> Some­one who be­lieves men and women have equal rights and should have equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. Do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? >> I think the word ‘fem­i­nist’ has a legacy con­no­ta­tion of lack of bal­ance. I would re-term it ‘ad­vo­cate for women’. I would con­sider my­self an ad­vo­cate for women, par­tic­u­larly in the busi­ness and tech­nol­ogy sec­tors where you don’t have that 50/50 bal­ance of men and women. I think it’s in­cum­bent on all or­gan­i­sa­tions to pro­mote a cul­ture and a pro­gramme of diver­sity, not just gen­der but eth­nic too and oth­er­wise. What made you a fem­i­nist – event, book, per­son? >> As a lan­guages un­der­grad­u­ate, I stud­ied English and I was a drama stu­dent in sec­ondary school — we did a lot of Shake­speare plays. Go­ing through third level in Ire­land and then leav­ing Ire­land 25 years ago and fend­ing for my­self in the tech sec­tor — a much more male­dom­i­nated sec­tor then — a line from Ham­let stuck with me: ‘To thine own self be true’.

Talk­ing to women [even now], I’ve dis­cov­ered a lot of young women start­ing out are al­most chal­lenged with be­ing them­selves, par­tic­u­larly in a male-dom­i­nated sec­tor. They feel they can’t be them­selves. They’re afraid to take the un­pop­u­lar stance. My ad­vice to them is to have the courage of their own con­vic­tions. Don’t be afraid to take the un­pop­u­lar stance even if you’re in the mi­nor­ity — to thine own self be true. How would you de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’? >> There are many strands of fem­i­nism, but ba­si­cally I would de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’ as a per­son who be­lieves in and strives to achieve gen­der equal­ity. Do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? >> Yes! Very much so. What made you a fem­i­nist – event, book, per­son? >> I’ve al­ways been a fem­i­nist at a very ba­sic level – thanks to my mother, who is her­self a strong fem­i­nist, and who brought us all up — I have two brothers and one sis­ter — in a very equal way. She has al­ways been ac­tive on fem­i­nist causes too.

I re­mem­ber her out cam­paign­ing for con­tra­cep­tive rights when I was a child and we lived in Cork.

But in my na­tional school — Clough­dubh School near Mac­room — girls and boys were not treated equally. I still re­mem­ber feel­ing a real sense of in­jus­tice when the boys were al­lowed out to play foot­ball dur­ing school time and we girls had to sit in do­ing sewing. An early les­son in the need for fem­i­nism — and I’ve hated sewing ever since.

TV host Maura Der­rane

How would you de­fine ‘fem­i­nist’ and do you con­sider your­self a fem­i­nist? >> I don’t know if I’d con­sider my­self a fem­i­nist. I’m very pro-woman but I’m not a la­bel per­son. I don’t feel the need to be la­belled. Men and women should be equal and that’s it. Ev­ery­thing should be about your abil­ity — gen­der shouldn’t come into it. I don’t want to call my­self any­thing. Of­ten, ‘fem­i­nist’ means you’re an­gry about some­thing.

What in­forms your prowoman, pro-abil­ity per­spec­tive – event, book, per­son? >> I like to look at our his­tory, at women like Gráinne Mhaol and their achieve­ments.

When you look back to an­cient times, to the Bre­hon Laws, it seems women had more power — they owned land, could di­vorce their hus­bands, they were very equal. What changed?

We re­cently had Glo­ria Hun­ni­ford on the show. She’s a sur­vivor, a great woman, one of those women om­nipresent on TV and ra­dio for many years be­cause she’s multi-skilled. Her strength is her abil­ity. ‘Fem­i­nism’ can con­jure up that you’re go­ing to be nat­u­rally dif­fi­cult. I don’t like any­thing se­vere.

I like to think I’m [in the words of Face­book COO] Sh­eryl Sand­berg, a “lean in” per­son. It should be about abil­ity — wouldn’t it be great if we could just be a per­son and taken for our abil­ity?

Clock­wise from top left: Dr Ciara Kelly, Ais­ling Kee­gan, Maura Der­rane, Anna Geary, Ivana Bacik, and Anna Nolan.

Ivana Bacik Se­na­tor, law lec­turer, mother of two daugh­ters aged 10 and 12

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