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
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