LOUISE O’NEILL

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - GIRL POWER -

Au­thor For me, the def­i­ni­tion of feminism is sim­ple. It means equal rights and op­por­tu­ni­ties for men and women. I think there can be con­fu­sion around the term, with some peo­ple er­ro­neously be­liev­ing that fem­i­nists want to cre­ate a world where women dom­i­nate men. That’s ridicu­lous. Feminism is try­ing to achieve equal­ity for men and women by dis­man­tling a strin­gent pa­tri­ar­chal struc­ture that at­tempts to force us all to ‘per­form’ our gen­der.

In a fem­i­nist utopia, we would all feel free to be our­selves with­out pres­sure to con­form to gen­der stereo­types; we could ex­press our true selves with­out hav­ing to be ‘mas­cu­line’ or ‘fem­i­nine.’ As I’ve got older, my def­i­ni­tion of feminism has ex­panded. In­ter­sec­tion­al­ity has be­come in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to me — feminism is not some­thing that should be lim­ited to white, mid­dle-class, well-ed­u­cated women. It needs to be in­clu­sive of all races and re­li­gions. The LGBTQ com­mu­nity should feel in­cluded. Trans women and non-bi­nary peo­ple should feel in­cluded. Men should feel in­cluded.

I’ve iden­ti­fied as a fem­i­nist since I was 15 years of age and my English teacher gave me a copy of The Hand­maid’s Tale. Feminism wasn’t some­thing that was dis­cussed at home or with my friends, and that book gave me the vo­cab­u­lary with which to ex­press my bur­geon­ing ac­tivism. I don’t think I re­ally un­der­stood what it meant, though — I still re­in­forced quite strict gen­der roles in my re­la­tion­ship and I still en­gaged in quite com­pet­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with my fe­male friends. It was re­ally only when I turned 26 and I was ‘woke’ (thanks, Tum­blr) that I be­gan to ex­plore for the first time what it re­ally meant for me to nav­i­gate the world as a woman, the pres­sure I felt to at­tain of­ten unattain­able ideals of beauty, and the neg­a­tive im­pact that was hav­ing on my emo­tional and, in­deed, my phys­i­cal health, as it man­i­fested it­self as a se­vere eat­ing disor­der. Once you be­gin to no­tice the sex­ism that af­fects ev­ery part of our lives, from the ads we watch to the movies we con­sume, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to ‘un­see’ it.

I have ab­so­lutely no reser­va­tions about declar­ing that I am a fem­i­nist. It’s an in­te­gral part of my iden­tity now. The fem­i­nist com­mu­nity has given me strength and sup­port, es­pe­cially when I’ve had on­line trolling or had some­one dis­miss my ex­pe­ri­ences of sex­ism by telling me that I’m be­ing ‘over­sen­si­tive’ or that I ‘must have imag­ined it’. Just scrolling through the Twit­ter feed of The Ev­ery­day Sex­ism Project as­sures me that I’m not alone, and that gives me huge com­fort. (While si­mul­ta­ne­ously mak­ing me fu­ri­ous that so many women all over the world are still fac­ing this bull­shit on a daily ba­sis.)

I think we all — man, woman, and every­one in be­tween — should feel com­fort­able iden­ti­fy­ing as fem­i­nists. All it means is that you want equal­ity — how can any­one dis­agree with that?

Gen­der quo­tas are al­ways con­tro­ver­sial, but yes, I do think they’re a good idea. When I say this, peo­ple of­ten try and ar­gue that gen­der quo­tas con­tra­dict the true mean­ing of feminism. “How can it be equal rights and op­por­tu­ni­ties if we’re giv­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties to women?” they say.

But women are clearly not get­ting those op­por­tu­ni­ties, and gen­der quo­tas are sim­ply try­ing to cre­ate an equal work­force. This is par­tic­u­larly true in pol­i­tics. It’s all very well say­ing that we should live in a mer­i­toc­racy, but the stag­ger­ing in­ep­ti­tude of some of our politi­cians would sug­gest this isn’t the case. All of us should want a govern­ment that is made up of 50pc men and 50pc women — surely a democ­racy should re­flect the so­ci­ety it’s rep­re­sent­ing?

I also think that many is­sues that di­rectly af­fect women’s lives are some­times cast aside in favour of other top­ics, due to lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion at a par­lia­men­tary level. The cut­ting of fund­ing to the rape-cri­sis cen­tres and the re­fusal to hold an amend­ment to ap­peal the Eighth Amend­ment are just two of these. Some­times peo­ple be­have in quite rad­i­cal ways in the name of feminism, but it is their right to do so. Feminism is not a mono­lithic, static move­ment. It is in­cred­i­bly dy­namic and every­one con­tained within the move­ment is in­cred­i­bly di­verse — that of­ten means that peo­ple who iden­tify as fem­i­nists might have very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on what it means to be a fem­i­nist. This can lead to dis­agree­ment and, of­ten, in-fight­ing. Ro­bust dis­course and de­bate are cru­cial for the health of any so­cial move­ment, but in­fight­ing and tear­ing each other apart for dar­ing to hold dif­fer­ent opin­ions is not. I don’t want to waste my time ar­gu­ing about petty mat­ters — not when there’s so much work that needs to be done.

I be­lieve that feminism should be to­tally in­clu­sive. I want men to be part of the move­ment, be­cause feminism ben­e­fits every­one. But I also don’t want to for­get that feminism was born out of a very spe­cific need. It was cre­ated to em­power the gen­der that had been si­lenced and sub­ju­gated and ex­cluded from power for hun­dreds of years — women. The fact that we still feel obliged to apol­o­gise for our feminism, to jus­tify it in order to make men feel more com­fort­able, to ex­plain how it ben­e­fits men as well, is yet an­other ex­am­ple of why we do, in fact, still need feminism.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.