Saturday 19 January 2019

Mary Kenny: Take the 'feminist test'

There are many aspects to everyday feminism and not all answers are simple

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Am I a feminist? Are you? by Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Everyone claims to be a feminist these days - Meghan Markle has affirmed her feminist credentials. But feminism is a wide agenda, and that's why I wrote a book to try and clarify, to myself as well as others, what being a feminist now means. Are you a feminist? Take this test…


1. Do you have your own bank account or do you share one with a partner or spouse?

2. Do you believe in solidarity between women in the workplace and elsewhere?

3. If you plan to marry, will you take your husband's name?

4. The title of 'Ms' entered the English language around 1970, coined by the American feminist Sheila Michaels (although it had first appeared in 1901) and has since become standard. But should we always address a woman as 'Ms'?

5. Would you vote to remove Article 41.2 of the Irish Constitution which affirms that "the State recognises that by her life in the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved"?

6. Philosophers say that you cannot have both 'equality' and 'freedom', since once equality is enforced, it must curtail certain freedoms. For example, in the 'gay cake' row, those who ordered a cake celebrating a gay wedding affirmed their right to equality, whereas the cake providers argued their freedom to choose what they baked. Which would you favour - equality or freedom?

7. Are you opposed to the gender pay gap?

8. Is prostitution the exploitation of women?

9. Should there be a law enforcing consent in sexual interchange?

10. In the debate over abortion, does a feminist say:

(a) It's my body and it is always my right to choose;

(b) I support a woman's right to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy - after that the foetus begins to acquire rights; (c) I believe life begins at conception, and mother and baby should not be seen as being mutually hostile.


1. Establishing a married woman's entitlement to make her own financial arrangements was an important issue for Women's Liberation. Yet some women freely choose to share a bank account or credit arrangement. Women who earn more than spouses or partners can be more relaxed about this than women who earn less. They feel more in control anyway.

2. You're supposed to, but apparently it doesn't always happen. Only last week a young woman told me: "Men are more helpful to me at work than other women."

3. There has never been a legal obligation to do so and today all kinds of compromises can be reached. The American solution is sometimes useful, as in Hillary Rodham Clinton, although eventually she seems to have decided that Clinton was a better brand than Rodham Clinton.

4. Surely it's up to the person herself? Theresa May chooses to be called Mrs May, though some still insist on calling her Ms May. Nomenclature variation can lead to confusion, especially where there are children involved. 'Mrs' has the virtue of clarifying that it's a married name and not a patronymic. You can also keep one name for the private sphere and one for the professional. Handy.

5. Many feminists consider this 1937 formula totally archaic. Yet it's been suggested that in divorce or separation cases, this clause may support a fairer deal for homemakers. A compromise might be to amend or update the clause to include respect for all homemakers, who surely do contribute to "the common good".

6. All societies which enforce equality forfeit certain freedoms. People who have less access to opportunity tend to prefer equality; people who have more advantages in life tend to prefer freedom.

7. Almost everyone is (and should be) opposed to the gender pay gap, but it's more complicated than it seems because pay scales are often calculated on 'averages', and women sometimes make choices which reduce the female average. More women work part-time than men. Men often work in riskier jobs (construction workers are seldom female). The best advice to give a daughter would be: go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) - not into care work, the acting profession or the humanities. Also: marry a man in a stay-at-home profession, and support more childcare to provide more workplace choice.

8. There is a long tradition in feminism, going back to Josephine Butler, the anti-slavery campaigner, of helping women get out of sex work, especially where they've been forced into it by circumstances. But there are also libertarian feminists who say that if a woman wants to sell her body, that's her call.

9. Even lawyers concede that consent can be non-verbal, and a non-verbal signal would be difficult to establish in law. Shakespeare wrote: "Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages." No woman should ever be coerced (let alone raped) in a sexual relationship, and a revival of the rule of manners and morals might not go amiss. Yet if we are really and truly honest with ourselves, we know how many layers of complexity there can be in those non-verbal signals, and feminism should also mean taking responsibility for our own actions, inclinations and feelings.

10. Women who identify as feminists have given all of these responses.


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