Girl power: We ask four women what feminism means to them

Last month a new website was launched to educate a generation of women who feel they aren’t affected by gender inequality.

Girl power: We ask four women what feminism means to them

Louise O’Neill

Author and Weekend columnist

“I grew up in the era of the Spice Girls so their message of ‘Girl Power’ was embedded at a fairly young age.

"I remember declaring proudly that girls could do anything that boys could do and it wasn’t until I hit adolescence that it became clear to me that not everyone felt the same way.

"This was particularly true when it came to sexual agency. The teenage girls I knew who were exploring their sexuality were ‘sluts’ and ‘easy’, but the teenage boys were simply ‘players’.

" It was only when I was 15 and my English teacher, Ms. Keane, gave me a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood that I began to develop the language with which to express my burgeoning sense of feminism.

“I don’t think I truly understood what being a feminist meant until I turned 26. I was living in New York and working for a fashion magazine when I suffered a major lapse with the eating disorder that had blighted most of my teenage years.

“I started seeing an incredible therapist there and it was she who encouraged me to examine the role in which a patriarchal society that depends a certain level of beauty from women had played in creating and maintaining my obsession with my weight.

"Once the blinkers are off and you notice all of the misogyny that we take for granted in our everyday lives, you can’t unsee it. From then on, feminism became a crucial part of my identity and it’s always evolving and changing.

"There are articles that I wrote only two years ago that make me wince now as my point of view has changed so much.

“I don’t think I ever saw myself writing something as explicitly feminist as Only Ever Yours or indeed, Asking For It.

"The idea for the former was like a bolt of lightning and it was only that I began to flesh it out that I realised how central a theme sexism was to the book, and the more interested I became in feminism, the more that influenced the work I was producing.

“I get shouted at frequently for saying that there is still a need for feminism in Ireland. People cite countries controlled by the Taliban where women are not allowed to drive or war-torn regions where rape is used as a method of torture, and tell me that I’m lucky to live somewhere as liberal as Ireland.

"I would argue that it is entirely possible to feel horrified at these stories, to feel huge empathy for the heartbreaking plight of the women involved, and to simultaneously believe that there is room for improvement in the way in which women are treated here.

“The gender pay gap is a very real thing, as is the lack of childcare options and support for new mothers. The caregiving role is still all too often left to the woman with a paltry amount of time afforded for paternity leave.

“Our rape conviction rates are still dismally low and, of course, the ever more pressing need to have a referendum on the eighth amendment cannot be forgotten. How can we say that we are equal when there is not one operation that a man would be forced to travel abroad to procure?

“More of my friends are identifying as feminists, and I’m having conversations with my own mother and sister about feminism.

"As feminism has gone more mainstream, there seems to have been a shift in people’s attitudes and an awareness that the fight is not finished, that we’re not living in some post-feminist utopia.

“I get abuse online, but often it’s because the person has little understanding of the true meaning of feminism. They think that I’m advocating female dominance, which is nonsense.

"Feminism means equal rights and opportunities for men and women. That’s it.”

Tara Flynn

Writer, comedian, and actress

“Feminism wasn’t a word you heard in Ireland much in the 80s, outside of the odd radical event like the Contraceptive Train, or articles to keep the pressure on from people like Nell McCafferty.

“I didn’t feel very connected to any of that in rural Ireland, with my convent education, though. Only at UCC did I start to learn more.

“But it’s only really sunk in for me recently, to be honest. Living in Britain with full reproductive rights and then moving home was a stark reminder of the inequality here.

“But I had been one of those “can’t we just call it equality?” and “but I like men!” eejits. I’d been sold a pup, and I didn’t realise that was a trap to keep me quiet.

“I see it now, though, and I’m proudly a Feminist with a capital F. I still love men and it is of course still about equality but the F part is really important. It got hijacked by linguistic fibbers a while ago.

“Now feminism underpins practically everything I do. It became impossible not to mention it outright, because we still have such a long way to go, but it’s even more fun to hint at it constantly, more subtly.

“We’re going to need it until we earn the same pay, get the same jobs and have the same rights — including the right not to have our body parts debated in the Dáil.

“I’ve seen a shift recently though. A lot more people of every gender are stepping up and embracing the capital F.

"That’s why it’s important for feminists to look at all the intersections: Transgender rights, women of colour, disability, all sexualities.

"There’s a silencing mechanism where feminists are branded humourless, but the most craic I’ve been having lately has been with feminists of all shapes, creeds, and colours having a good old laugh at an outdated system that so clearly only serves rich old white dudes.

“No fight was ever won without allies and I’m loving the lads who, recently, have been stepping up to stand with, not speak for us.

"The ones who say they see the unequal system we live in — and acknowledging its existence despite benefitting from it themselves — and want to help change it. Now that’s a party.”

Andrea Horan

Founder, The HunReal Issues and owner, Tropical Popical

“I’ve always felt that conversations about feminism in particular and politics in general can be very elitist and exclusive to a certain demographic.

"In the run up to the marriage referendum, when I was shopping or getting my beauty bits done, I’d always talk to the girls about how they were voting and found that they either didn’t know about the election or didn’t care.

“I realised what a powerful army all of these women could be if there was something to mobilise them politically and The HunReal Issues was born.

"If there are more female voices around women’s issues and more female voters highlighting that women’s issues are red line issues for them, I think we’ll see politicians finally making them more of a priority.

“I was privileged to have been brought up to fully believe I was equal and as good as anyone else, regardless of their gender, status or any other factor so I think I’ve always been a de facto feminist.

“But I remember going to my first feminist rally in 2014 and feeling totally alienated as one of the speakers was screaming down the microphone telling the men who had turned up to support that this wasn’t for them, and they shouldn’t be there.

"It was then that I knew I wanted to do something to make feminism more inclusive for everyone with the end goal being gender equality.

“It’s so easy to get complacent when you surround yourself with people who have the same beliefs on gender equality as you.

"I stopped mid-way through a past feminist project I was working on as I thought we’d missed the boat and there was no need for it. But then something happens and the sexist bullshit rears its head in the comments sections online, and the reality of the inequality that still exists shows it’s ugly face.

“I’m only new to this so I feel like a bit of a fraud, and more than a bit intimidated when I think of all the people who’ve been fighting the cause for women like me for years.

“But I think the best thing I’ve realised is that it’s not an exclusive club — every woman is entitled to join the fight and people shouldn’t be afraid to let their feminist side loose.

"I’ve so many friends who feel passionate about equality but are just too afraid to join the conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing.

“It still blows my mind when I think back to the fact that it wasn’t till 1976 that women were able to own their homes outright.”

Sarah Maria Griffin

Author and prolific tweeter

“We still live in a world that is more dangerous for women than for men — and further, more dangerous for immigrant or queer women than for white Irish women.

"It’s our responsibility as artists and makers to start a conversation about solidarity and empathy in Ireland, which, despite how seemingly secular we’ve become as a nation, is still rife with antiquated laws and social constructs that make living in a woman’s body a complicated thing.

"Irish women are excellent at ‘just getting on with things’ — we’ve a history of strength through silence behind us.

"We owe it to our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers, to make change for the next generation of folks who will arrive in the future.

“Twitter is a weird game to play, where we’re rewarded for our clever thoughts with distribution. That can bring back some seriously hard to handle stuff, but it can spread ideas, too. I learn a lot on Twitter, I do a lot of listening.

"When the creeps come out of the woodwork to tell me my opinions on equal rights are deluded, I just block and block and walk on.

“I understand the impulse of women that believe in feminism but are reluctant to declare it. Realising the world is actively stacked against you in order to benefit folks of a particular gender and orientation is a really, really hard thing, because it feels hopeless.

"I get that it’s not always fashionable to be feminist, that it’s preferable to be ‘one of the lads’.

"I’d tell these women that I get it — but feminism is a conversation that they’re more than welcome to join whenever they’re ready.

"I think we can galvanise other people by having the chats. By being sound, offering empathy, asking for empathy.

“These are conversations the women who came before us had — but few of them had the luxury of having them in newspapers for all to read.

"We all just want a safer world to live in, a more equal world, and approaching feminism as an ongoing conversation about equality and lifting up the marginalised is important.

"I know this all takes time, takes generations — but I want to be on the right side of history: knowing what we know about times gone by, how could we be any other way?”

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