I am not your feminist.
The world can seem like a scary place, particularly the world in which we live now. There’s a lot going on to cause us to dismay, to fret, or to even feel like we’re burning with anger. Whether it’s Donald Trump’s trigger-happy tweets aggravating another nation or even reading the news closer to home as scandal after scandal is revealed (I’m talking about you, the Catholic Church), it can all be a bit overwhelming.
I know that I feel that way on a daily basis, to the point that I’ve uninstalled some news apps on my phone so that the first thing I see every morning isn’t a list of notifications signalling impending doom. Some days you just want to pull the duvet around you on the couch and binge watch The Great British Bake Off and pretend that undercooking a cake is as stressful as life can get. But we know that that’s not true.
We have social responsibility. People have power. You have power. More than you realise. Despite everyone over 18 having a vote, we rarely utilise our voices in a meaningful way. The most powerful impact we as a nation have made in recent times has been around water charges because it affected every one of us and we were motivated to make change happen.
But that kind of people power isn’t as common as it should be. We are a nation of slacktivists. Maybe like me, you’ve been guilty of writing a Facebook status or sharing a news article with your thoughts on an issue you, y’know, kind of care about and support, but you’re ‘just not around for the demo that weekend’ or you haven’t sought to connect with others acting on that issue.
When was the last time you visited or wrote to your TD? Do you even know who that is? Have you found yourself talking about ‘the state of things’ with someone else and then doing nothing about it? We are all guilty of it.
Earlier this year I became aware that that was exactly what I was doing after a friend and I mused about, guess what, ‘the state of things’. And I thought to myself, ‘What do I really care about?’. A lot, to be honest. I care about the lack of social housing. I care about direct provision. I care about mental health. I care about our older citizens suffering from loneliness. I care about how many people sleep on our streets at night. There’s a lot. And yet, there is no way that I could dedicate myself to all those causes at once. I’ll do what I can and support those who do, but together with friends, we formed a group about a cause each of us really felt deeply about: repealing the 8th amendment.
With Rebels for Repeal, we’ve put ourselves out there. We are going that extra step and forming a community in Cork for people who do care about this issue. We put our feet on the street, organise events, and give space for discussion and conversation. We’re trying to do our best to make change in our small corner of the world.
At our first event, we held a table quiz in aid of the Abortion Rights Campaign in The Friary in Cork. We were thrilled. The place was jam-packed, anything that could serve as a seat was repurposed, and we had to turn people away. We had all sorts there – men, women, some families, fresh faced university students, people who had campaigned for this in the ’70s and ’80s. There was a real sense of community spirit and positivity and all of us there for the same reason.
During the evening, myself and one of my fellow organisers, Michelle, were outside talking to a woman who is involved in the campaign amongst the Irish diaspora in London. A man appeared beside us, having a cigarette. He listened for a minute and then, interrupting our conversation, came the inevitable question that is often asked by men to women who proclaim their cause and wear it proudly.
‘So, ah, do you consider yourselves feminists?’
‘Yes, we’d consider ourselves feminists.’
‘So, since you’re feminists, what about men’s rights? What about custody rights?’
Smug face. Takes another drag of his cigarette. Pleased with himself.
My first thought? ‘Here we go.’
Why? Because each of us knew where this was going. It’s happened a million times before, most commonly with men who have no intention of budging from their cemented stance. This isn’t the start of a good discussion where we talk about our passions and what we believe in and what we’re fighting for.
This was going to be a challenge, one we weren’t going to be able to meet. How could you when his mouth was open and his ears were closed.
And so, we tried to talk about it. We acknowledged that custody rights is a topic that really affects a lot of people, men and women, and that is does lean heavily in favour of women. We tried to point out that up to the start of the 20th century, women were banished from their homes and guardianship fell to the man. We tried to say that there are lots of issues that affect people, but tonight, we are here to support abortion rights, and that we can’t speak for every cause.
And he continued to challenge us. As if to say, ‘Well if you’re feminists, why aren’t you campaigning for all issues that affect everyone. Why aren’t you doing more, why aren’t you representing me and the issues that affect me, why, why, why, why’.
No question mark, because no real answer was sought.
His voice dominated the conversation and yet again, three women with experience, with stories, with validity, were silenced. At our own event for an issue we cared about. Our small mark on the world. And it made me think, ‘I am not your feminist. I don’t have to be your feminist.’ And it made me want to scream, ’What are YOU doing?’
If you care about custody rights, go forth and do something about it. If you feel passionately about demolishing the stigma around men’s mental health, go forth and do something about it. I’ll be right there, supporting, listening, helping in small ways where I can, an ally.
But how dare you put your hands up, step back and expect those of us who are more than words, who take action to do the grunt work for you.
You have social responsibility. You have a voice. You have a story, You have experience. When it comes to issues that affect you, who better to speak up and share with others who may not know the reality that you face.
Gloria Steinem once said: “A movement is only composed of people moving. To feel its warmth and motion around us is the end as well as the means.” You’re missing out on making real change. So get involved. Embrace your feminism.
We can’t do it alone, but we can do it together.