Thursday 23 November 2017

Being a feminist can be so upsetting when even your iPad playlist is full of misogyny

Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart
Neil Diamond

Barbara Scully

Sometimes, being a feminist is a right pain in the ass. Feminism can screw up stuff and make your head explode. In fact, at times it can be downright depressing. But when it sneaks up on you, right out of left field and smacks you in the gob, when you thought you were having a nice time, well then it really makes you feel crazy.

Emer O'Toole, feminist academic and columnist, described the three stages of feminism as initially having the "scales patriarchy so painstakingly glued to your eyeballs fall away".

She describes the second stage as "a searingly painful period during which all you can see is gender inequality and sexism, where once there was meritocracy and cheeky banter. You feel powerless. You can't shut up about it. No one invites you to dinner parties."

She describes the third stage as when you start seeking out other feminists in order to try to change the world.

I must be a slow learner because I seem to be eternally stuck in the second stage and it is painful.

It is excruciating to suddenly see sexism where you were previously blissfully ignorant.

It happened again recently and left me feeling more than a little mortified in front of my 15-year-old daughter.

The journey from Bantry back to Dublin is, in Irish terms, a reasonably long one and once you hit Cork and the motorway, service areas are scarce until you reach Kildare.

Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond

So, having navigated the windy roads of west Cork, I was aware that I needed to stay focused and wide awake until I reached coffee at Mayfield Services.

Music is the key to good motorway driving but the music must be familiar, so you can sing along. We had recently discovered how to connect my Spotify on my phone to the car's stereo and so I announced to my music-mad daughter that I was going to share with her some of my favourite songs from my formative years. The great music of the 1970s.

Some of this she was familiar with, as she is a big fan of Queen.

So we began by singing (well she sings, I kind of roar) 'You're My Best Friend' and 'Somebody to Love'. Then my playlist shuffled along and threw up Rod Stewart's 'Tonight's the Night'. Daughter was unfamiliar and so stayed quiet while I found myself roaring: "Come on, Angel, my heart's on fire. Don't deny your man's desire" and if you know the song, you will know that the following two lines are even worse.

My brain did a flip as I made a mental note to jettison that ditty from my playlist. In fairness, it was never one of his best.

Some good Motown followed and I bellowed along happily to Aretha and Gloria. Then Dr Hook started warbling: "When your body has had enough of me and I'm laying out on the floor and when you think I've loved you all that I can, I'm gonna love you a little more."

I decided to get daughter to change the playlist from the 1970s and suggested some Neil Diamond as my mother was also in the car and he is one of her favourites (and mine too, it has to be said). First up, yep you've guessed it: "Girl, you'll be a woman soon and soon you'll need a man."

All of this misogynistic awfulness was thrown into stark relief by the fact that before I left Bantry I had spent two hours in a room full of feminists who had gathered to listen to feminist writer and icon, Gloria Steinem.

My head was starting to hurt. And ashamed as I am to admit it, I fudged the issue with my daughter.

Instead of having a conversation about sexual consent, I mumbled something about how you wouldn't get away with those lyrics today.

And as I did I could hear the collective sigh of the sisterhood as they despaired at my letting them all down.

I loved my '70s playlist and most of it is still great. But now I am afraid to play it in case I find more affronts to my feminism. The past really is a foreign country.

It was with huge relief that we pulled into the motorway services in Mayfield. After coffee and some cake to keep our sugar levels too high, we hit the road again for the final leg of the journey home.

I was relieved, knowing that I could soon be able to pick up my favourite radio stations and maybe listen to some talk radio, which, although overloaded with male voices, seemed somewhat safer.

But before that, the playlist threw up Tom Jones's 'What's New Pussycat?" How come it never sounded so creepy before?

Irish Independent

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