Monday, August 31, 2009

Feminism. So, like, not a dirty word.

My rant from Saturday's Evening Herald (the online link has gone AWOL)....

GOD bless the Rose of Tralee and all who sail in her.
Some people have a problem with the competition that this week saw a girl wrestle with a snake, another lip sync to Bon Jovi and – my favourite – a contestant who managed to fit her entire fist into her mouth.

The naysayers call the event outdated and insulting to women. They say that it perpetuates the over-rated value of ninny-headed femininity, so brilliantly skewed by Father Ted’s Lovely Girls episode.

I don’t agree. The party pieces said it all: don’t take this too seriously. It’s like the Blarney Stone – a bit of harmless tourist hokey-cokey. Everyone has a bit of a laugh, the contestants included, and the local economy gets a shot in the arm. Fine.

It’s not like Miss Universe or Miss World. I don’t care how many rocket scientists the organisers like to say are in the line-up of lovelies. Let’s face facts: the target audience is interested in what these women look like in a swimsuit, not what they know about nuclear fission.

But then the minute you start complaining about any representation of women, Rose or Miss, you know people are bracing themselves for the word: sexist.
You’re not allowed to use that word. It makes you a throwback, a burn-your-bra harridan, a man-hater. Sure, women are in charge now apparently. Men are emasculated by women who want too much sex, earn too much money, have too much control over the remote. Women in cutaway swimsuits are all they have.

Give me a break. Women are still second-class citizens in any developing country you care to inspect. And that is most of the world. They are oppressed by patriarchal regimes and religions that require them to be obsequious and invisible.

Even in our ‘developed’ society, there is some done, much much more to do. Men still earn a higher average wage for the same work. A survey just last year showed that women – even those in full-time jobs outside the home – still shoulder the burden of domestic chores and childcare.

Women do not have it all.

It makes me so angry to hear some idiot starlet or celebrity banging on about how they don’t like to call themselves a feminist. To them, feminism is a dirty word. They think it makes them sound hard and unattractive, and implies that they wear dungarees.

Well I am quite happy to say I am a big, dirty, unapologetic feminist. I like men – I even let them hold the door open for me from time to time without belting them with my handbag and calling them chauvinist pigs.

True feminism does not wish death to all males and the creation of an uber-race of Amazonian she-warriors. It wants equality for both sexes – and right now, the balance still tips heavily on the side of men.

To say that is not true is to stamp all over the grave of a woman like Nuala Fennell, who died earlier this month. Under her tenure as junior minister for women’s affairs and family law in the 1980s, she righted some of the very serious wrongs against women that were enshrined in Irish society.

The dizzy young things who think that it’s uncool to say you’re a feminist these days have come to take for granted the better lives that previous generations of politically-aware women secured.

And we could so easily slip backwards. Feminists fought for women to have control over their sexuality; now someone like Paris Hilton confuses sexual confidence with titillation for the boys. Just because I don’t have a problem with the Rose of Tralee doesn’t mean I can’t have a problem with Miss Universe.

That boxer Katy Taylor is only now getting the much-belated nod to compete in the Olympics shows that equality war is ongoing.

We think it ridiculous that women were once perceived to be too weak-minded to vote. You can bet future generations will look back and laugh at us.

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