Wednesday 23 January 2019


emma watson's un speech grabbed the world media's attention but there are still a host of tired cliches we need to challenge on what it means to be a woman

Feminism has had a dodgy few decades. Born in all simplicity to achieve equal rights for women it very swiftly got a bad rep as being synonymous with man-hating extremism.

Arguably it was just an antidote to millennia of woman-hating extremism but either way, every change from one extreme always brings with it a temporary swing towards the opposite - hence the rise of the likes of Andrea Dworkin.

However, in its essence, feminism as a political and social movement has nothing to do with loving or hating men. Precisely why it got such a bad reputation is not only deeply suspicious but proof of how much it was needed.

It is less than a hundred years since women got the vote in Ireland, and only then if they were over 30 and owned land. There were many laws in place to protect employment as a man's right to be defended. In the 1980s, there was still debate over whether a woman should have a job if a married father did not.

All those mothers who went through the shame and pain of a stint in a mother and baby home, or worse, were punished whilst the men who got them pregnant faced no sanction at all.


Even today many women still get paid less, fewer women get promoted, fewer get elected, more women live in poverty and more are subject to violence, sex crimes, sex trafficking and murder by their partners. In short, the reasons and need for feminism were, and remain, plentiful.

Yet for a time there it all got very ropey. The bad rep won out and younger women, who have achieved much of the equality their older sisters had fought for, forgot what had been gifted them.

Powerful women who were synonymous with the fight for gender equality like Mary Robinson and Hillary Clinton were not as exalted as figures associated with the fight for racial or sexual orientation equality. Somehow fighting for gender equality became slightly distasteful.

There is a website, Women Against Feminism - seriously - where mostly young women post photos of themselves with cards outlining their reasons against feminism.

These include, "I enjoy make up and like feeling pretty", "I love my boyfriend", "My home is not a prison, my children are not a burden", or plain old "Why fight for rights I already have?"

High profile women, no matter how strong and fierce they wanted to seem, rejected the label of feminism.

Beyonce rejected it, telling British Vogue in 2013 that: "That word can be very extreme."

Taylor Swift rejected it, Katy Perry said she isn't a feminist but thinks that they did some great work back in the 70s, Lady Gaga said "I'm not a feminist. I hail men, I love men…" a trend towards mmisunderstanding the definition of feminism which reached its apogee when Fault in Our Stars actress Shailene Woodley said she was not a feminist "because I love men.

"I think the idea of 'raise women to power, take the men away from the power' is never going to work out because you need balance."

If you're going to reject feminism that's fine, but shouldn't you at least have a clue what it is? The one advantage of these public expressions of cluelessness has been a swift recent turnabout in attitude. Joining people like Amy Poehler, Lorde, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Lena Dunham who were happy to be identified as feminists, in the original, straightforward equality for both genders sense, was none other than former rejector Beyonce. Her backdrop at the VMAs in August was a big white sign that said FEMINIST. Then along came Taylor Swift amending her thoughts to, "I realise being pro-women doesn't make you anti-man". Phew.

Emma Watson's recent calm, measured, inclusive speech at the UN wasn't really groundbreaking but in launching the HeForShe campaign she explained, "for the record, feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes."

The link between sex and power is old and well established. To hideously simplify and paraphrase the work of French social theorist Michel Foucault controlling sexuality is the key to controlling humanity. That control can take several forms. The one we know in Ireland for a long time is still prevalent in many societies, straightforward repression.

The key to repressing an entire society is to repress the women most severely. If you can convince women that their virtue is sacred and its loss a moral crime, those women will in turn become agents of repression passing it on to their children, especially their own daughters.

The other means to use sexuality for societal control is to regulate what is considered normal. Set parameters of what is acceptable, objectify, corral, then society will police these itself.

Porn might be synonymous with liberation, but there are few more sexually regulated arenas than porn. It is altering what younger generations consider "normal" but it is not altering the balance of sexual power. If anything it's moving against women. Feminism needs this return to power.

1woman's place is in the home

Home is our safe place so adults who live together need to create that for each other and their children, if they have children. Home is where you can close the door on all the bad stuff. The creation of safety has to be equal albeit in different ways, mutual reliance and support in a way that balances over time. If one person is doing too much for all the others that person stops feeling valued or loved and home fails for them. Who cleans the home is entirely up for negotiation.

2 woman's place is to obey

Obedience is never a virtue. It's a by-product of fear. Society demands that we all go along with certain rules for the greater good: don't kill, don't steal, stop at red lights. Following a rule for a clearly visible common good is not so much obedience as a social contract. Following a rule because someone said so, only eat yellow sweets, eat fish on Friday, that's obedience. And it is not conducive to anything except totalitarian regimes. "Let" and "allow" are dangerous words in any grown up relationship.

3 A woman should be chaste

Forever a woman's sexual virtue has been prized over a man's. Virginity and chastity are seen as the supreme virtues. It is senseless. Is a person who has all kinds of sex with all kinds of people all kinds of times but is super nice, kind and generous really of a lesser moral calibre than someone who never has any kind of sexual contact but is absolutely horrible? Do what you want just be safe and don't get caught.

4 A woman should be ladylike

By virtue of those two XX chromosomes all women are inherently remarkably like ladies.

Admittedly, the term is not often deployed in a biological capacity but any other usage should be dismissed as a rubbishy leftover of controlling patriarchy when it was deemed unladylike to sit anything but side saddle on a horse or be able to count beyond 20. Elegant is another thing entirely.

5 Women are instinctive rather than logical

Logic is excellent for algebra and designing car parks. It is not so useful regarding humans and emotions, creativity, dreams or happiness. We each, men and women, have portions of both logic and instinct, we are just educated to believe there is a gender difference and logic is hailed as superior when it is by far the weaker skill.

6 Women love more than men

Women fall in love more easily and out of love more easily. Men take longer to fall but once they do they tend to stay there. Women might leave a relationship to go find themselves, men only leave because they have met someone else (they don't just want to have an affair with.) It is what it is, work with it.

7 Women are more caring than men

Men can be incredibly caring - they haven't been reared to remember birthdays and to send Christmas cards, but there are tokens of caring and actual caring.

A cuddle is more effective than a round-robin email.

8 Women are bitchier men

Possibly. Because they have a better capacity to genuinely think about nothing men tend to dwell on things less than women do. If women do not have the capacity to think about nothing, they do have power over what they think about and how best to use that brain time.

9 Women shouldn't have to say what they want

If you want it, say it. Sure, it would be lovely if other people "just knew" but they don't, so ask. Then if you don't get it you can feel more righteously annoyed.

10 Women are the weaker sex.

Men can run faster and lift more and hit harder. Women have periods and babies.

Swings and roundabouts.

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