More to play for:Many women are unwilling to call themselves feminists but would be appalled to give up the rights won by their predecessors
Feminism is a “deeply subversive vision”said poet Catherine Phil MacCarthy, who had been invited, in an imaginative move, by the Irish Feminist Network to open its 2012 conference on Feminist Activism in Ireland, Past Present and Future. As MacCarthy spoke the simmering among angry young women in the room was wonderful.
Linda Kelly, co-founder of Cork Feminista, has described the fury with which she and other young Irish feminists hear older feminists lamenting that young women nowadays are just not interested in feminism, and don’t appreciate the battles it took to win them freedoms they take for granted. This despite what Kelly sees as a significant resurgence of activity, particularly among students. “The result is devastating,” she writes. “A generation of excited and passionate activists is slowly being made to feel invisible.”
Kelly says that “our generation is simply figuring out our own way of doing things” with “online connections with well-thought-out branding” as the tool of choice to engage young audiences. Groups “command popular support across new media sites like Facebook, Twitter and their own blogs that get tens of thousands of hits.” They are contending with the flourishing of online pornography, while a kind of retro-sexism has become ubiquitous in mainstream advertising.
Aisling O’Connor of conference organiser Sibéal (a network of postgraduate students working on gender studies) says that young feminists have also taken part in, and initiated protests over, issues like cuts to social welfare support for lone parents (the vast majority of whom are women) and for changes to abortion law. She notes, interestingly, that many of these young people are unwilling to call themselves feminists. It may take more than branding to solve that dilemma.
“So many people think that the women’s movement was born on some mystical date in 1970, like Aphrodite rising from the waves,” wrote Hilda Tweedy, explaining why she wrote the story of the Irish Housewives Association, which she helped set up in the 1940s. In reality, she continued: “It has been a long continuous battle in which many women have struggled to gain equality, each generation adding something to the achievements of the past.”
The fine essays in this supplement will help us rise to what Mary Cullen has identified as the challenge to incorporate feminist history in the mainstream, We must learn from our history. There is much to celebrate, because feminist campaigns from the late 19th to the early 21st centuries have led to, and continue to bring about, huge advances in women’s rights in this country. Make no mistake, we would not have the right to vote, to get a divorce, to obtain contraception or demand redress for discrimination in the workplace, without feminists having struggled.