This piece was originally published on the author’s own blog, Nothing Mentioned Nothing Gained.
My imaginary boyfriend and I have been going out on and off for as long as I can remember. In some ways it’s a perfect relationship. He’s always there when I need him, but he makes no demands of me. There’s no insecurity, given that he’s entirely made up. Unfortunately, the sex isn’t the best, although imaginary sex is generally not the worst either. Imaginary boyfriend exists in the background regardless of whether I have a boyfriend in the real world at the time or not, and all I really know about him is that he is invariably bigger, stronger and meaner than the person I’m describing him to. He is jealous, has anger management issues, and a possible violent streak. You’d think that if you had an imaginary boyfriend he should at least make you happy. But my imaginary boyfriend was born out of sheer necessity, and he’s the kind of man I would never go near in real life.
Recently a Russian lawmaker asked his Parliament to consider allowing women two days paid leave every month when they menstruate. The said Russian is quoted as saying “during their period of menstruation most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort.” He then went on to say that in some cases women are so discommoded they require an ambulance. This rather over egged the pudding and took from his argument somewhat, I thought.
Needless to say, any comments I saw in response to the Russian lawmaker were entirely dismissive of his suggestion, which was regarded as sexist and silly. I mean to say, women are not in any way put out by the arrival of the monthly bleed. Periods are a breeze. Ever since the invention of tampons, we can even go swimming and horse-riding while bleeding. And sure with a reasonable supply of Solpadeine or Nurofen, you don’t feel a thing. Right? I mean, admitting that periods often make you feel really crappy is letting the sisterhood down, right? That would be a sign of weakness, a sign that we are.... well less macho than the guys. Right?
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.
At least 80,000 people killed. Children detained and tortured. Civilian populations targeted. Bread queues bombed. Rape as a weapon of war…
Each of these snippets is enough to make the blood boil. Unless we’ve heard them before… unless we’re warned that accompanying reports may be ‘unverified’… unless we’re too concerned with our own insular issues… unless these atrocities happen in one of those places where women wear hijabs and deaths are approximate numbers, devoid of names or faces.
One of our supporters has written a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent:
"To the Editor of the Irish Independent,
While using your website for my daily news update a sub-heading on the menu took my attention.
Clicking on it, it brought me to a page titled ‘independentwoman.ie’.
As a 19-year-old Irish female I feel the need to question this website and its placement on the Independent website. The website includes celebrity news, fashion, beauty, diet and ‘Love&Sex’. I am sure there are many women who would love these topics but they are not for me. In relation to women I’m interested in women’s rights, women in business and in sport. None of this is featured on the website in front of me. If I had wanted to read the topics provided I would have clicked on Lifestyle.
On Friday, Broadsheet.ie featured an opinion piece about abortion that was published in the Wexford People newspaper last week. While the article has received national attention and astute criticism from the Broadsheet readership, discussions of a woman’s right to choose in forums such as this are a case of preaching to the converted.
The Wexford People should be made aware that opinion pieces such as Walsh’s are not simply inflammatory and biased, but derogatory and potentially damaging to women.
Walsh believes that the availability of abortion ‘on demand’ could create a situation where “women could be free to have an abortion in all circumstances if they unexpectedly became pregnant. For example, a woman might be due to go on an exclusive foreign holiday but an unexpected pregnancy could interfere with her plan and how she might look on the beach. Or there could be an unexpected pregnancy in the run up to a family wedding, ruining the chances of fitting into a very expensive dress.”
On 19th May 2012, the Irish Feminist Network held its first ever conference. The rationale behind the conference consisted of the need to document the current resurgence in feminist activism in Ireland, while also situating this resurgence within the wider context of the history and potential future of Irish feminist movements. The conference was themed “Feminist Activism in Ireland: Past, Present and Future.” In order to do this broad topic justice, we structured the conference in terms of successive feminist ‘waves’ in Ireland, and were fortunate to have an amazing line-up of speakers. There were panels on the first, second and third waves of feminist activism, and keynote addresses by prominent politician, Mary Lou McDonald, and women’s migrant rights activist, Salome Mbugua from AkiDwA.
Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Aren't the Only fruit, was the latest book read by the IFN Book Club. Its main character, Jeanette, talks about her childhood growing up in a Fundamentalist Christian home, with an adoptive mother who isn't emotionally available and a father that hardly speaks. Her upbringing is marked by intense Bible readings, mixed feelings and strong self-belief.
While her mother's voice is dominant in their home, her father is practically mute. This brings up the topic of gender roles. Men are scarce in the novel, with the exception of Pastor Spratt and Jeanette's father. Furthermore, Jeanette is accused of being too male/masculine, which is put down to her wielding too much power, preaching at Church and teaching Sunday school. The mother's relationship with a French boy, Pierre, adds something to the novel’s commentary on male-female relationships. We learn that she spent the night with him and ended up going to the doctor to discover she had a stomach ulcer. That fuzzy feeling wasn’t love after all! Her unwavering decision to follow the path of the righteous was her saving grace. This is a woman determined to have her daughter follow in her footsteps, and avoid falling foul of sins of the flesh. Not like their next-door neighbours who fornicate loudly on Sundays!
In terms of the women represented in the novel, we have the women in the church, Jeanette's friend Elsie, Jeanette's girlfriends, her mother and a very brief account of her birth mother. Jeanette's relationships with Melanie, and later Katy, have the ups and downs of any teen romance but Melanie's betrayal hurts Jeanette intensely – she was able to justify her love for both Melanie and God and saw nothing wrong with loving both. Her church performs an exorcism, their form of gay conversion. Afterwards Jeanette is seduced by Miss Jewsbury, an older member of the church, which leaves her with mixed feelings once again. Meanwhile, one of Jeanette’s only friends in the novel, Elsie, provides support for her inside and outside the Church, and seems to be a genuine, loving and religious person at heart.
The religious fervour of their church, the Society of the Lost, is prevalent throughout the novel, whether it's through the members of the group singing and praying in protest, or converting more souls for Christ. Related to this theme of religious belief, is the testing of Jeanette's own during the exorcism, aiming to rid her of her ‘demons’. She experiences a vision of an orange demon that tells her to make a choice - either continue as she is or make a change. Clearly, her self-belief and faith in God give her the strength to make that decision. Unable to live at home any longer due to her mother's insistence that she’s evil, Jeanette takes a job in a funeral parlour, sells ice cream from a van and eventually moves out of town. After some time away, she returns home to visit her parents. Technology has arrived in the form of an electric organ and new radio but the religious fervour remains.
This book would be good for teens, not just as a coming out story but also as the journey of a teenager who questions the life she's living and searches for a true self. There are some parallels between this novel and the writer's own life, but as Winterson says: "Oranges is the document, both true and false, which will have to serve for my life until I went to Oxford, and after that I daresay that whatever I tell you will be another document, one that is both true and false."
I urge you to read this book. Please give it to somebody you know when you're done – sharing is caring.
Review by Emma Keenan
A chara, – In light of research showing that the most vulnerable groups are already disproportionately paying for the misdeeds of bankers, regulators and inept politicians, Budget 2012 displays a stunning lack of empathy by the Labour-Fine Gael Government.
Cuts in child benefit for large families, changes to the One-Parent Family Payment, and the targeting of young disabled people through cuts in disability benefit are just some of the retrograde measures introduced in this Budget, which further threaten to entrench inequality in this country.
Fortunately though for our political elite, they need not actually learn of the experiences of women, the disabled, and a host of other groups attacked in Budget 2012, given that they’ve also reduced funding to or entirely annihilated their respective representative bodies. As the National Women’s Council, Safe Ireland, and People with Disabilities in Ireland, among others, take the hit, and with them the people they support, it really appears to be true what they say: ignorance is bliss. – Is mise,
Dr CLARA FISCHER,
Irish Feminist Network
November IFN Book Club – Backlash: The Undeclared War against Women by Susan Faludi
What happened to feminism is the 1980s? You might have heard that it finally succeeded, or that it finally failed. In Backlash, Susan Faludi argues convincingly that the setbacks feminism experienced during that decade were due to a cultural backlash against the advances women were making.
At first glance, Backlash may seem like a daunting read, 498 pages of small print, packed with research and stats, full of venom for those who participated in waging ‘the undeclared war against women’. Most book-club attendees agreed that it was difficult to get through, American-centred and perhaps dated. It was published in 1992.
On the other hand, the book provided no shortage of outraging facts for us to discuss. Faludi’s academic approach and comprehensive research (80 pages of footnotes!) lends her a lot of credibility. Backlash bears witness to some grave injustices, like the female chemical plant workers who were told to get sterilized or lose their jobs (to Hell or to Connaught!) due to trumped-up fears over the effects of some chemicals on foetal development. In fact, alongside its facts and figures the book offers real insights into women’s lives, via Faludi’s innumerable interviews with women about their experiences. Thus she compiles an immensely readable and important social history (or should I say herstory).
This relatively recent herstory is vital context for modern feminist campaigners. Faludi paints a full picture of the cultural landscape of the 80s and its effects on women. She analyses the fashion and beauty industries, women in politics and popular psychology among other topics. Members of the book-club were struck by the dated feel of some stories (that would never happen today!), and the familiarity of others. We balked in disbelief at the description of the ‘Women who love too much’ groups, where grown women were encouraged to cuddle teddy bears blame themselves for the abusive behaviour of their partners. Meanwhile we recognised the magazine stories celebrating single women finally being taken off the shelf after forty. In Sex in the City 2 (2010), Carrie’s magazine celebrates her no longer being ‘the last single girl in New York’ upon her engagement to Big. After all, ‘women are more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married after forty’.
This is just one of the multitudes of myths that Faludi exposes in Backlash. Spawned throughout the decade, they are best summed up in tabloid ‘trend stories’. Journalists would handpick a few women with a particular condition and portray this as a condition of all women, for example ‘nesting’ (the return of the domestic goddess) or ‘burnout’ (you can’t have it all). This misinformation explains the confused legacy of feminism in popular culture. Why do most women no longer call themselves feminists? Because feminism has succeeded and we’re all equal now. Because feminism has failed and we’re better off without it. Because feminists are militant wet blankets.
Understanding where this perception has come from is an invaluable tool in reclaiming the f-word. As the story of the latest blimp on the radar of our movement, Backlash illustrates both how far we have come and what’s left to do. I would appeal to you to read this book.
We welcome submissions to the blog, subject to editorial review, please contact us if you're interested. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IFN.