The F Word

A few weeks ago, my nineteen year-old niece asked me if I was a feminist. I wasn’t able to give her a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It’s a question I have asked myself once or twice over the past number of years, and I’m still not sure.

Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, ‘feminism’ was derisively referred to as ‘Women’s Lib’. Those who pioneered it – such as Nuala O’Faolain, Nell McCafferty, Mary Kenny and June Levine were branded by many as nothing more than trouble-makers. And it wasn’t just men who were scathing in their references to these women who were pushing for equal status. Many women, too, were uncomfortable with the changes and struggled to maintain the status quo.

In the house where I grew up ‘Feminism’ was synonymous with disgruntled bra burners who wanted more than they were entitled to. Women who hated men. Women who were malcontent and keen to stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. Women who were not content to be women.

I was always uncomfortable identifying myself as a ‘feminist’. Mostly, when I was asked if I was one, I would cautiously assert myself as someone who was keen on the idea of equality for all; regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, religious persuasion etc. I had no desire to relinquish my femininity for the good of any cause.

With regard to male-female relations, I have a desire for equality – which is not sameness.  I would like men and women to be treated equally, by governments, industries, employers and each other. ‘Equal’ does not mean ‘identical’. Equal means ‘same in status’.

I would dearly like to see women and men same in status to each other. If that makes me a feminist, then I guess, reluctantly, that that is what I am.