It was barely past 7am when my phone started ringing, which is never good. In my experience, anyone rousing me at such an hour is almost exclusively sharing bad news or a bollocking. I squinted at the screen and saw the call was coming from a radio station.
It must be about some story I had in the paper that day, I thought. Or maybe it’s urgent breaking news. No. Someone had written a book called I Hate Men and the station wanted me to come on air immediately and debate if this was, I quote, “incitement to hatred”.
With that final straw, I was convinced beyond doubt that my name is on a list of potential radio guests somewhere marked “WOMEN: WHINGERS”. You know women, right? That monolith that thinks, feels and — most importantly — rages as one homogenous group?
I have spoken about “women things” before. Things we keep giving out about, like rape and domestic abuse. This has clearly led to the assumption I’m forever looking for more “women things” to complain about, armed only with a devastating lack of perspective and a hair trigger for outrage. But back in reality I, like most Irish woman, do not care about silly book title debates or if lipstick is empowering or which female CEO is #goals. Somewhere between a time when women’s rights were outright denied and the present day, some have started to use feminism as a vehicle for the most meaningless nonsense imaginable.
Make no mistake: feminism is still as crucial and necessary as it ever was. Take the above examples; the bleak durability of our domestic abuse and sexual violence endemics. Or consider the fact Irish feminist movements have unfortunately so far only managed to mainly serve the settled, rich and white women. Yet the way the media and politics often talks about feminism would make you think Irish women have it so good that we’ve been forced to move on to almost imaginary grievances. Sometimes the kinds of “feminist debates” that float to the top of the agenda, and are most likely to make it on to your breakfast radio programme, are the most ridiculous.
Anything that has to do with tampons and knickers will always make it to air. These are great topics for reminding us all that women have sexy bits, while incensing male texters who want to believe vaginas open exclusively for intercourse and childbirth before politely sewing themselves up the rest of the time, thank you very much. These discussions often have some merit but it’s never proportional to their coverage.
Then there’s the kinds of feminism that permeates mainstream politics or business. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve lost sitting on a misogynistically-high stool, chairing an interminably long panel between a politician and a CEO on “radical” feminism. And surely we’ve all had a workplace brush with a woman who read one too many Girl Boss books, conflating feminism with a girly kind of capitalism that repackages her own material and selfish success as some sort of collective victory for all of us. Any valid critique of women who benefit from powerful but problematic positions are met with woeful pleas to not “drag other women down”.
This kind of candy-floss feminism — pink and full of nothing — bores me to tears. I’m sure if I was willing, there is a very lucrative career available in the role of professionally woke and female and outraged. Equally, the dichotomy of these silly media debates creates an equal opportunity for the not-like-other-girls commentators who make a living nodding along with male presenters who ask gruffly if feminism has “gone too far”.
Unfortunately, I can’t make myself care enough about either side of these utterly inconsequential debates to even feign an opinion. And if these discussions mean nothing to a Dublin-based media type like me, surely to God they mean just as little to most other women too?
If certain sections of the Irish media weren’t still at the incredulous stage of their racism journey — in other words, relying on people of colour to convince them that it’s real — I imagine they would be trying to make black people participate in the same kinds of non-issue debates. That’s because it is always easier to treat genuine and important movements — like feminism and anti-racism — as low-stakes entertainment instead. I look forward to the day that my phone stops ringing.
We are all control freaks now. I admit that I felt an initial sting of frustration when I saw videos of throngs of people on the streets of Dublin last weekend. Covid-19 has some parallels with the stomach-dropping realisation that comes with falling in love: so much of your happiness and even control over your own life is now in the hands of others.
So yes, in a year when I’ve lost so much control I resent the selfish minority, and can’t help but panic that they’re going to make this go on longer than it needs to. Someone should intervene! Someone should stop them! But I then realised that bitter witch hunts are dangerous. Some will always break the rules, and it makes things much more pleasant for you once you accept that and move on. Some things really are out of our control.