10 good reasons to be a feminist

Sat, May 19, 2012, 01:00

The Irish Feminist Network holds its first conference in Dublin this weekend. ANTHEA McTEIRNANexplains why she’ll be going along

1 You like being a woman.No, you are not a masochist. Reading this roll-call (role call?) of nasties may make loving your X chromosome hard to justify, but hang in there. Women do 66 per cent of the world’s work and produce 50 per cent of the food but earn only 10 per cent of the income and own 1 per cent of the property. Up to 70 per cent of women are victims of violence during their lifetime.

Women make up nearly two-thirds of the world’s 759 million illiterate adults. In the US in 2010, women earned less than men in 99 per cent of all occupations. In Ireland, only 15 per cent of the Dáil are women: that’s 25 five female TDs and 141 male ones.

So what’s not to like? Well, patently, all of the above. Being a woman can hurt. It can make you angry. It can mess up your life chances. These things are not our responsibility, but they are something we can change. If you like being a woman, you are in for a fight, and the feminist army is the army to join. Because we’re worth it.

2 You like women.“Surely the real question should be, not ‘Why are you a feminist?’ but ’Why aren’t you one?’ ” The answer to the novelist Sarah Waters’s question is a no-brainer. See above.

3 You like men.It’s 2012 and not everything is rosy in those man gardens. In his forthcoming book, The Second Sexism, David Benatar says that men are suffering from a prejudice that dare not speak its name. OECD figures show that boys lag a whole year behind girls at reading in every industrialised country. Globally, men are more likely to be victims of violence and more likely to lose custody of their children during divorce.

Have men just made a bed that they should shut up and lie in? Yes, says the journalist Julie Burchill, men are “paying the price that male supremacy gives them”.

With the inequality facing women, feminists could be forgiven for holding back on efforts to help men out of the hole they have dug. Yet we are trying. Men are cool. I live with three of them. Lots of feminists do. I don’t want them to die young. I want them to be healthy and happy. I want my sons to play a full part in raising their children. Feminists want half the cake. We want men to have the other half. Because they’re worth it.

4 You like a choice.According to the United Nations Population Fund, “reproductive decision-making, including voluntary choice in marriage, family formation and determination of the number, timing and spacing of one’s children and the right to have access to the information and means needed to exercise voluntary choice”, is fundamental to our human rights. Feminists couldn’t put it better themselves. Our bodies, ourselves. Period.

5 You like the way you look.“You know at some point, it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.” Bravo Hillary Clinton. What one of the most powerful women in the world did last week at an official meeting in Bangladesh spawned more column inches than her high-powered diplomatic mission. The barefaced cheek (literally) Clinton showed by failing to apply foundation and relying on a smear of lipstick was commented on in news reports across the globe.

Clinton was flipping the bird to the beauty myth. Feminists like the way they look. Feminists will vajazzle – if they want to. They will wear what they want while remaining cogniscent of the pressures that might have driven them to the Immac.

The young Irish feminist Emer O’Toole caused a stir recently when she stopped shaving her body hair. It was such a shock in a time of bald female beauty that O’Toole – and her armpits – were invited on to This Morning. Good job there wasn’t daytime TV in the 1980s. They would never have fitted us all in the studio.

6 You like children.“No classes without creches.” Cathleen O’Neill of the Klear community adult-education centre in Kilbarrack, Dublin, last week reminded the delegates at the Countess Markievicz School of feminism’s commitment both to women and to children. The Irish Feminist Network’s conference this weekend, at Seán O’Casey Community Centre in Dublin 3, has a creche. Good-quality childcare. Feminist nirvana. Sign up.

7 You like cake.A few weeks ago the IFN lured letter-writers to an event with the promise of cupcakes. Well, cupcakes and a chance to change the world. This was a lovely inversion for more gnarled campaigners, who saw baking as a male conspiracy geared to keeping us in the kitchen and away from the meat and two veg of mainstream politics.

One caveat, though: eat the cakes, but don’t be fooled by vibrant young women such as the Little Paris Kitchen chef, Rachel Khoo. The media gobble her up, and that’s not her fault, but running around in vintage frocks, baking madeleines and looking yummy may just prove to be another sugar-coated cage.

Let feminists eat cake – well, half the cake (see above) – but don’t keep us in the kitchen.

8 You like to play games.“No matter how toughened a sportswoman may be, her organism is not cut out to sustain certain shocks.” Right now Katie Taylor is making Baron Pierre de Coubertin turn in his grave. The founder of the modern Olympics was not a big fan of female participation in sport. Not a whole lot has changed. You’ll need your best fine-toothed comb to locate coverage of women’s sport in the media. The odd leggy tennis player with long blond hair will merit a close-up as she lunges for a cross-court volley; the female weightlifter will only get her picture in the paper if it’s looking for signs of her femininity. Feminists will be cheering all the women at the London Olympics – just not the ones fighting Taylor.

9 You like sex.As good a reason as any to be a feminist. Sex is better between equals. QED.

10 You are a fighter.As we speak, men persist in waging their wars over the bodies of women. The US is dissolving into a chequerboard of pot luck, where women choosing abortions are vulnerable to the whims of the men who govern their home states. Irish women don’t have access to safe and legal abortion in their own country even if it will save their lives. Across the world, rape is used as a weapon of war. Women are trafficked, imprisoned, brutalised and exploited – in a town near you.

So, only 10 good reasons to be a feminist? It’s all we could fit in.

irishfeministnetwork.org