What does feminism mean to you?
For me, feminism means equality between men and women in all aspects of society – social, legal, political, financial, economic etc. The ultimate goal of feminism is to achieve a society where no one individual can be discriminated against, or face any kind of social restrictions, in any sphere of life in which he/she wishes to participate. All of which is as beneficial to men as it is to women.
Hm, a toughie… my mother has always been an ardent feminist, being very politically active in the 1980’s when (primarily) women’s issues were very much at the forefront of mainstream political debate in Ireland. From her (and my dad as well) I was imbued with a deep hatred of all forms of inequality and injustice from a young age. So to answer your question, I think I’ve always been a feminist in one form or another, even if I didn’t really categorise myself as one until about the age of 17, when I first starting to really open myself at the deep injustice of the world around me. Incidentally, that was the same time I became a socialist – go figure!
There are quite a few, to be honest. If I was to narrow it down to one however, it would have to be parity in the economic sphere. Women are heavily discriminated against every single day in the operation of our economy. Very few leading CEOs of companies are women, very few directors of state boards are female, women still don’t earn an equal amount for the same work at the same hours as men, the majority of poorer labourers are women etc. Thus, until our economy is structured in a way that treats men and women equally and does discriminate against anyone just because of their sex, feminism will have a job on its hands and will have to make its voice heard.
After despairing at their ignorance, I take the time to kindly dispel the myth that feminism means replacing a patriarchal society with matriarchal one. This involves asking him/her whether men should be treated the same as men in every area of our society. If the answer is yes, then I ask him/her if it’s fair that women earn less than men for the same amount of hours work. If the answer is no to that, then I ask if its’s acceptable that women are half our population but constitute a fraction of the powerful positions in our society. If the answer is once again, a no, then I ask if it’s fair that men are rewarded for their sexual habits while women are denigrated as ‘whores’ or ‘sluts’ for exactly the same behavior, or if its fair that men, especially those in positions of authority, are never judged by their looks as opposed to what they say/think, while women are regularly judged by what they wear, what their hair is like, what their bra size is etc. I once worked in a bar where a woman was despairing at the legal inequalities that men face during divorce proceedings in Ireland. She was (rightly) appalled and was at pains to say ”I may be a woman, but I’m NOT a feminist”. I had to apply the above treatment to explain to her that she was actually a feminist, as many leading feminists in Ireland have been to the fore in highlighting the issue of fathers’ rights and how the current archaic system is highly damaging to both men and women.
Hopefully from strength to strength, eventually becoming redundant as its goals have been largely achieved. In the immediate future however, until we have structural equality between men and women, feminism will always have something to say. Thus, I sincerely hope that fighting the current regime of austerity will become a central feminist issue as women have once again suffered a disproportionate amount of the economic suffering of the country. This will mean that feminism in Ireland will have to stop the absurd the idea that someone like Angela Merkel is a feminist hero that women should aspire to be as she is someone who has inflicted mass hardship on working-class women and mothers across Europe. But that’s just my humble opinion.