Thursday 17 January 2019

The F word: ‘Feminism is a powerful tool that helps women articulate their dreams and ambitions’

On International Women's Day, ladies from the worlds of sport, entertainment and business tell Liadan Hynes what feminism means to them

Believe we can achieve: Footballer Stephanie Roche
Believe we can achieve: Footballer Stephanie Roche

Liadan Hynes

Time's Up. #MeToo. The outing of workplace harassment, personified by the bogeyman-like spectre of Harvey Weinstein. Wearing black. Repeal the 8th. Millions marching for women's rights. Oprah at the Golden Globes, Frances McDormand at the Oscars. Larry Nassar's victims facing him down in court.

It's a whistle-stop tour, but these were some of the greatest hits of the past year, which has seen a veritable uprising in the ongoing battle for equal rights for women which, at its essence, is surely what feminism is all about.

We asked 15 Irish women across various fields what the divisive term means to them.

Stephanie Roche - Footballer

"To me, feminism is about empowering, encouraging and supporting other women to believe that we can achieve. Last year, the Irish women's football team would never have had the courage to stand up for ourselves if we hadn't done it collectively as a group. We are all on the same side and it's important to respect each other and strive for equality."

Alice Tevlin - Chef

"Being seen as a player and not just a spectator, knowing you will be valued even if you are not self-proclaiming your own greatness, that quiet strength can be as visible as obvious force, both physically and emotionally. Knowing we are different but equal. Feminism means being seen for your output and work ethic no matter how great your eyebrows look."

Sheila O'Flanagan - Author

"Advocating for women to be the best they can be and to achieve what they want to achieve without obstacles due to gender being put in their way. Equality and acknowledging differences without judgement."

Lisa O'Brien
Lisa O'Brien

Constance Cassidy - Senior Counsel

"I have always regarded myself as more of a humanist than a feminist. Nonetheless feminism imports equality: that women should be accorded the same rights and carry the same obli-gations as men. Women should not be preferred - they should simply be treated equally. Same pay, same opportunities. I was one of four daughters. My mother instilled in each of us a fierce sense of self belief. I also have four girls and see no reason why they shouldn't earn the same as any other person for doing the same job."

Mary Kenny - Author, journalist, broadcaster

"As feminism grows more successful - everyone claims to be a feminist now - it also becomes more diverse. That means one size doesn't fit all and neither does one definition. Many would say 'equality' defines feminism, but this is complex for those of us who believe that men and women are different. My personal definition of feminism is, primarily, independence of mind. Think for yourself. Decide on your own values and affirm them with confidence. Don't go along with 'groupthink'. Be brave. Be bold. You're entitled to your ideas and your voice, so don't be intimidated by anyone."

Stefanie Preissner - Writer

"Feminism is a simple concept, but mass media want us to be afraid and confused so have made it seem complex. Feminism simply means women having equal rights to men - equal access to money, work, safety, justice etc. It's simple but it's not always easy because feminism looks different for everyone. For some women, feminism looks like being allowed to drive without their husband in the car, for others, it looks like being paid the same as a man for the same work. For some, it looks like being allowed to choose whom they have sex with and for others, it looks like having the right to choose to bottle-feed their baby. Feminism gives women the dignity of choice. One woman's feminism doesn't diminish another's or make it any less valid. I'd like to take the fear out of the word. It doesn't mean we're all going to rise up and emasculate men. It can empower everyone."

Lisa O'Brien - Quantity surveyor

"For me, feminism starts with self-development, to advocate one's self. As a woman in a predominately male construction industry I have never focused on being a woman. I have empowered myself through education and I have only ever focused on being the best I could be. Feminism is about being a strong independent woman who can also be vulnerable and is not afraid to seek support and assistance when necessary."

Rebranding feminism: Susan Jane White
Rebranding feminism: Susan Jane White

Jessica Kavanagh - Singer

"The right for women to receive equal social-mobility to their male counterparts, to not be dismissed due to damaging misconceptions on femininity. For men to have the freedom to be emotionally open without their intrinsic self being questioned. For the damaging dualisms of gender to be questioned into oblivion."

Margaret Nelson - Group station director, FM104 Q102

"Feminism must mean equality. Women deserve the same opportunities as their male colleagues, to make the same amount of money for the same jobs, the right to have control over their own bodies and, finally, a level playing pitch in the home as much as in the office."

Susan Jane White - Cook, author, columnist

"I sure am glad I can secure a mortgage. Relieved I can access contraception. And I guess it's reassuring to know my friends don't have to resign from their careers when they marry a man. But these are basic human rights issues, not simply gender equality issues, right? Let's all agree then that feminism needs to be rebranded because it affects everyone. Feminism needs a byline. Lucy Mangan put it best: 'Feminism: helping women not have their personal or professional lives or reproductive rights borked since approximately 1792.'"

Caroline Kennedy - PR consultant

"It is a way of seeing the world from a better perspective, a powerful tool that helps women articulate their dreams and ambitions."

Fiona Gratzer - Managing director Unislim and founder of Gorge Us Foods

"It's about women being brave and united together to ensure we continue to evolve as a modern society where women and men are equal. But also to live in a society where we are free to live as we choose without prejudice, where we can celebrate our femininity as well as our feminism in equal measure."

Siobhán Parkinson - Author

"Feminism means being your own woman, bringing up your daughters to be their own women and bringing up sons who take it for granted that women are the equal of men. It's about bodily integrity, understanding that 'no' is not a threat, 'no' is not a put-down, 'no' is not a version of 'maybe'. It's just 'no'. Feminism is inclusive. It promotes the rights of women without encroaching on the rights of men. It means ensuring that women are fairly represented in all walks of life without having to fight their way through manipulative, sexist, abusive behaviour from men."

Jessica Harrington - Horse trainer

"I think it's still something to be fought for. I'm not sure we've got social equality yet. But I'm not one of the burn-the-bra brigade. I think we just keep chipping away and proving we're actually just as good, we can hold our own in any sphere."

Louise O'Neill - Author

"Feminism is just about equal rights and opportunities for men and women. I think sometimes there can be a lot of confusion around what feminism means, as if women want to ensure we are the ones that are the dominant gender, and I don't think that's what it is about. It's really just about equality."

Irish Independent

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