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Column: Feminists angry and humourless? Not the ones I know

The feminist movement has a bad name – but its mission is more relevant in these times than ever, writes Linda Kelly.

Linda Kelly

LAST FRIDAY, SUSAN McKay resigned as CEO of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) in protest at the Government’s 35% cut to the organisation’s budget. Her resignation should cause us all to stop for a moment and think. Not to think about the recession, or even necessarily the government and their austerity plan, but the bigger picture of what kind of Ireland we want in 2020.

At the moment we live in Ireland where only 25 out of 166 TDs are women (a trend unfortunately repeated across all spheres of public life); where 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetime (while at the same time refuges have to turn women away because they are so overused and under-resourced); where companies use women to sell the most mundane of products (too lazy to come up with a real advertising campaign); where girls to do better in school and college but still get paid less in the workforce; where women can’t access abortion despite two court rulings in their favour; and where women still carry most of the burden when it comes to household duties and child rearing. And I for one am utterly bored of these statistics.

I want to tell my 11-year-old niece a different story on her 18th birthday. I want her to come of age in an Ireland where she has a better chance of becoming Taoiseach than a glamour model, in an Ireland where her skills and intelligence are valued for what they are not what she looks like, and where she can live her life free from all forms of violence.

That’s just one of the reasons why I’m a feminist. I believe a better Ireland than the one I currently live in exists. That’s why I set up Cork Feminista back in 2010 with Jen DeWan. And we’re not the only ones who want a change – our group is thriving with hundreds of supporters, both men and women. And we all have one thing in common – we want to talk about gender and what it means in Ireland today.

‘No doubt an image came into your mind reading the word ‘feminist”

No doubt an image came into your mind reading the word ‘feminist’, of me as an angry, man-hating, dissatisfied woman with no sense of humour. However that image is as outdated and irrelevant as sexism itself, not to mention simply untrue. The feminists I know are intelligent, beautiful and generally pretty hilarious people. And we’re all doing the same thing – asking the difficult questions about gender, about being men and women in Ireland in 2012.

It’s considered pretty in vogue at the moment to subscribe to the notion that we’re living in a ‘post-feminist’ world. That it no longer matters if you’re a boy who likes blue or a girl who likes pink. And as a result those in power are making gender blind decisions.

But from where I’m sitting we’re a million miles away from anything remotely post-feminist. More importantly we’re doing everyone a disservice by pretending we’ve reached some sort of gender neutral nirvana. It’s fair to say that there are certain trends and events that happen to women happen purely on the basis that they are women. Similarly, there are certain trends and events that happen to men happen purely on the basis that they are men. Now, when the chips are down and we’re rallying as a country, there is a huge opportunity for us to have an honest conversation about gender in Ireland and what it means to us as a society. It also gives us a chance to rewrite the book so that every child, not just my niece, lives in a better Ireland in 2020.

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In cutting the funding to the NWCI, the government has attempted to stifle that conversation when it really should be leading the way. So it is up to us instead to lead the way and have our voices heard. Go home this evening and ask yourself, ask your housemates, your partner, and your family – are we all equal? Do we need to change something? You may never agree with me and my feminism, but regardless I guarantee you will have an interesting discussion.

Cork Feminista was founded by Linda Kelly and Dr Jennifer DeWan in August 2010 to provide a discussion and activist space for feminism in Cork.  It is a collective of women and men who meet once a month to discuss different issues related to gender equality and feminism.

More about us on Follow us on Twitter @corkfeminista or find us on

About the author:

Linda Kelly

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