Sisters, you don't have to sign up to 'repeal the eighth' to be a feminist
Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30
I once made a complete show of myself on national TV. Well, I have probably made a show of myself on TV on more than one occasion, but the time I want to tell you about stands out in my mind because I still cringe when I think of it.
I was on TV3's 'Midday' (a weekday women's panel programme) and I was asked if I was a feminist.
In my own defence, this was about four years ago when I hadn't done much thinking about feminism. So I fudged the answer because somewhere in my brain I had the idea that feminists were angry women and I was afraid of them. Having just completed a decade as a 'housewife', I felt that I probably wasn't their kind of woman. So I began to my fudge answer by saying that: "Well, I don't know if I am because there is no real definition of feminism."
Yes, I know. I am ashamed now. My cheeks still burn when I think of my stupidity.
Anyway, since that awful day I have spent hours reading and thinking about feminism and what it means. Of course there is a definition of feminism and, to quote from the 'Collins English Dictionary', it is "a doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women".
Fierce simple. Very straightforward and so, of course, I am a feminist.
But I still feel discomforted by my feminist sisters because there seems to be an unwritten set of rules applying to feminism which runs contrary to the very essence of equality.
The recent Rose of Tralee controversy about whether the Sydney Rose, Brianna Parkins, should have used the competition to express her opinion that Ireland should hold a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment is a perfect example. Because in lots of the conversations that followed, feminists decried any woman wanting to take part in the 'lovely girls' competition in the first place.
Now I will admit that the Rose of Tralee competition does baffle and discomfort me personally but I absolutely defend any woman's right to take part if she wishes to do so.
'Ladies Day' at the races is another one of those problematic occasions. I don't fully understand why any woman would get dressed up like they are off to a high society wedding to attend a horse racing event where they then compete with each other for prizes. Not my scene but I have no issue with any woman who wants to so indulge.
So it begs the question - can you be a feminist and be Miss Ireland (where presumably you have to have a lovely bottom as well as being a lovely girl)? Can you be a feminist and be a housewife with no desire whatsoever in climbing a career ladder, much less in crashing through a glass ceiling?
In fact, can you be a feminist and be against abortion on all grounds? I think you most definitely can.
Lena Dunham (creator of the HBO series 'Girls') said "a huge part of being a feminist is giving other women that freedom to make choices you might not necessarily make yourself." I agree and therefore women and particularly those of us who wear our feminism with pride (now that some of us have thought about it) should stop trying to prescribe what is it to be a feminist.
Feminism is not a lifestyle. It is not about making women more like men. Feminism should be about valuing women as women, with all the myriad of life choices we make, but whose value is equal to that of men.
We women have to stop dictating to each other how we should live our lives. We need to stop undermining women who don't conform to our 'feminist' view of the world. Feminism has to look at how we treat each other as women as well as continuing to fight for equality.
I wish I had thought about all of this years ago so that I wouldn't have felt a bit useless when I sheepishly admitted that I was "just a housewife" when someone asked me what I did.
Nowadays I am very comfortable about being a feminist whose heart sings when she has a washing line full of clothes blowing in the breeze.
I won't be wearing a fascinator to a race meeting anytime soon but, sister, if that's your bag I say good for you.
And most controversially of all, I don't think you have to sign up to 'repeal the eighth' in order to call yourself a feminist. Sisters, we have no hope of equality unless we come to terms with the fact that equality must also mean freedom of choice (and yes, I see what I did there).