Forget the X Factor, the Y Factor will get young women talking
A new group aims to help young women to talk about and achieve equality
Sitting on bright pink chairs in the National Women’s Council office in Dublin, Gillian McInerney, Áine Travers and Cindy Njoki are discussing, among other topics, casual sexism, the commodification of sexuality and the relative scarcity of women in Irish politics.
Anybody concerned that young Irish woman aren’t engaging with these kinds of issues need only spend a few minutes in their company to be assured that the future of Irish feminism is in capable and enthusiastic hands.
All three women are on the steering committee of the Y Factor, an initiative being launched tomorrow by the National Women’s Council to empower and support young women and men in becoming leaders for women’s equality.
“The biggest thing that is missing for young women in Ireland at the moment is the space to have these conversations,” says McInerney (23), a student and youth worker with BelongTo, which supports young people of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. A shy child, she was bullied at primary school and deliberately withdrew from her classmates at secondary level only finding her voice when she came out four years ago.
“When I was younger I always had thoughts about sexism and inequality, and gender stereotypes but I kept them to myself until I found BelongTo,” she says. “The Y Factor is exciting because it offers a place where young women will hear that it’s OK to be annoyed by inequalities and get assurance that these inequalities are not figments of their imagination.”
Fear of such criticism is what put McInerney off getting involved or talking to people about equality issues as a schoolgirl.
“I thought I would be viewed as stupid or accused of taking things too seriously. I want other young women to feel comfortable about speaking up about their experiences.”
Travers, a psychology graduate and intern with the National Women’s Council, says there are times when young women struggle to find the words to pinpoint what is “out of sync” in their world.
As she wrote in a recent blog post: “Sometimes when we do find the words, we are made to feel silly and hysterical for it. Irish women have it good, we are told. You have nothing to complain about.”
The 23-year-old is concerned that the conventional ways people have their voices heard are not always accessible to young women. “So a project that young women can take ownership of is really useful in allowing them to talk about the issues that really affect their lives,” she says.
What are the issues? They mention everything from political representation to abortion, safety and violence.
Travers notes that 85 per cent of politicians are male. “So I don’t see myself represented or my concerns adequately discussed,” she says. She believes women should always have a choice when it comes to abortion. McInerney cites violence against women as a huge concern.
Njoki, a 19-year-old student from Kenya, says in some cases inequality is so normal that it’s not noticed. “That’s why I think it’s really important to have a platform like this to raise awareness. I was brought up in Kenya surrounded by strong women who told me I could do anything, so I am very alert to misogyny.”
She had an interesting conversation with a male African friend recently, a newly arrived immigrant, who was convinced her keen reading habit would stop her getting “a good husband”. “He was saying it in a very caring way but he believed that nobody would marry me if I was too intelligent, that it would scare men off. I was taken aback. We had a good debate about it,” she smiles.
Another subject the women bring up is the “victim-blaming culture”.
McInerney believes that scrutiny of women’s clothing or behaviour at night is not helpful when it comes to tackling issues such as rape.
“We are teaching women not to get raped rather than teaching men not to rape,” she says, praising the university-based campaign Don’t Be That Guy, which focuses on the behaviour of men rather than women.
This week the Y Factor steering committee is calling on young women across the country to engage with them on Twitter (@the_yfactor), Facebook and through their website which launches tomorrow.
“And men too,” says McInerney. “A feminist is anyone who believes in equality for women and we have lots of male feminists offering their support.”
A pilot Y Factor programme is being run in a small number of schools and youth groups. Travers, McInerney and Njoki say their message to the young women of Ireland is simple: “Keep having these conversations and if you’re not having the conversations then start them. Your voice matters.”
Rap artist Temper-Mental MissElayneous and others will perform tomorrow at the launch of the Y Factor at the City Council offices on Wood Quay, Dublin, from 5-7pm. For more information or to register for the event call 01 8787248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.