A few days ago on Twitter I noticed a phrase that was starting to crop up. It was the hashtag “Inspiring Women”. People were tweeting the names and histories of women who inspired them. Some of the women were overtly feminist, while others were leaders or pioneers in their particular field. I started to wonder who I could pinpoint as my own feminist inspiration. There was no clear key moment when I began to identify as feminist. I thought maybe it stemmed from my interest in the music of Destiny's Child in my younger years. I enjoyed their lyrics espousing female financial and emotional empowerment. Looking back on it now it seems hard to argue the relevance of these things to a 12 year old living in a pink and white bedroom lovingly furnished by their parents. But I felt that I could identify with the songs anyway, and their image of female friendship and fun.
Perhaps my own moments of real feminist realisation were more mundane in setting, more slow burning. Having a mother who worked, looked after the family, and was organised down to a tee. A father who took an active role in his daughter's emotional lives. Teachers in primary and secondary school encouraged me to take on new challenges. Long before Kathryn Bigelow picked up her Oscar for best director, a teacher encouraged myself and my friends to make our own short films. To tell our own stories. As I grew older I began to look for women that would be both role models and mentors in my creative and professional life.
Watching Dana Scully navigate her professional life on the X files gave me a vague sense that I someday wanted to wear a trouser suit and be very, very skeptical and efficient. But she left me without a roadmap to get there. She was more bound up in fantasy than reality. It was up to female mentors in the workplace to both scare and inspire me with their practicality and confidence. On my first day in an office I saw my new manager on the phone effectively demanding (in no uncertain terms) an improvement to internet service in the workplace. I was in awe. At this stage in my life had I broken my spine I would have dragged myself to the nearest laptop to email for an ambulance, such was my fear of speaking on the phone. Now I have even gone so far as to argue with Ryanair customer service. An essential skill.
To be honest, a love for Beyoncé and co. (Kelly was my favourite) probably did little to influence my interest in feminism. At most it encouraged me to buy into the less than fantastic Charlie's Angels film franchise. Sometimes we want iconic figures like Beyoncé to be more outwardly feminist. We try to push them into our idea of a glamorous, spirited female leader. But feminism doesn't need glamour. It deals with the nitty gritty essentials of life – a gender pay gap of nearly 15%, the fact that 1 in 5 Irish women will experience domestic abuse, racist and homophobic violence on our streets, reproductive rights... The areas of life we tend to shy away from. The dark corners we’d rather not see floodlit. Feminism needs role models who are every bit as down to earth, flawed, friendly and hilarious as “Mná na hÉireann”, our friends and families.
So I guess what I’ve learned is this: Think twice before criticising your own appearance or talents, but don't ever think twice about going for what you really want in life.
Because you never know who might be watching.
- Colette is a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network. She tweets here: @coletteness
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