Do You Not Want Gender Equality Too? A Blog by Kerrie Maunsell
Sometimes I find it difficult to express the ideas and feelings I have in my head verbally out to others. I am quite opinionated, but I find it much easier to talk openly and freely with people I know well. I wouldn’t call myself shy, but there’s usually someone else in the room that’s louder, more confident and more comfortable expressing their opinions.
I like pop culture, but it doesn’t consume my life. I admire strong influential people of our time and those who use their influence for good.
The first concert I ever attended was Beyoncé’s world tour in May 2009 and at just thirteen her all-female band struck me. She said in a statement “I just wanted to do something which would inspire other young females”. It was soon after this that I was first introduced to the concept of feminism. I didn’t look too much into the definition and ideologies associated with the term, but I could tell from my older sisters hesitation around the word that there was perhaps a lot of negative baggage attached to it.
In Beyoncé’s new album she incorporates a lot of references about feminism and empowering women. Most significant of which was a passage of speech in her song flawless. At the start of the Gender and Politics module I became aware that this was in fact the voice from a TEDx talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I soon bought the little book adapted from her much-loved speech ‘we should all be feminists’.
A little over two weeks ago my friend’s boyfriend came across the book in my room. Aggressively he questioned the word ‘feminism’, asking why does ‘it’ have to be centred around women? He asked why couldn’t we focus more on humanity? Caught off guard, and not knowing him very well, I fell silent. His rant soon ended. I was ashamed at myself for not speaking up. I had that burning sensation in the pit of my stomach.
During this semester my understanding of feminism has grown and my belief in it has only gotten stronger. I’ve since thought a lot about what I wish I had said.
I don’t believe that the term feminism is only related to women and women’s rights. It’s important to note that both men and women can be feminists. Its aim is to establish political, economic and social equality of the sexes. In a western country like Ireland the challenges and inequalities women face are different to those of the rest of the world.
The 1918 general election was the first time women were allowed to cast a vote in Ireland; however there were a number of clauses attached and these restrictions weren’t lifted until 1928. Up to 1976, women in Ireland were unable to own their own homes (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission). Blatant inequalities that we find almost humorous today were still in place only a few decades ago.
Today, an issue that is at the forefront of politics and the media is that of the gender pay gap. In Ireland women are paid over 14% less than men for the same work. This issue is being addressed across a number of other western countries, with influential people beginning to speak up on the topic. This leads to the question: Are women historically less powerful due to the fact that money is closely linked to power? It’s true that the further up you go the fewer women can be seen. In Ireland we are now tackling the issue head on and the introduction of gender quotas is bringing light to the issue. Gender equality in Ireland would have long-term ethical and economic benefits that would be unparalleled.
Where does the gender inequality stem from? It’s deep-rooted into the foundations of society. People often can’t see the strangeness of it because its ‘woven into the fabric’ of our culture (Lewis H. 2015). Our constitution mirrors our society and the culture in Ireland. We regard working and bread-winning to be the man’s responsibility and the home the woman’s duty. I love my parents but they’re a prime example of this backward mentality, my own father being unable to turn on an oven. This is how people were brought up, adopting their home surroundings and passing them on to future generations to come. However culture does not make people; people make culture (Ngozi Adichie C. 2012).
Cultural pressure is engrained deep in gender. A lot of the population see gender as a rigid binary and not as the vast spectrum, which it truly is. I have a lot of sympathy for the cultural pressures men face, and likewise with the pressures we women face. Hegemonic masculinity is creating a narrow constraint, which individuals feel they should fit into. It restricts the complex possibilities of masculinity. From September 2016, men in Ireland will be entitled to take paternity leave. Perhaps now women won’t always ‘know more about children because they spend more time with them’ as once said by Ruairi Quinn. I see this as a huge leap forward for the culture of Ireland. No longer will women solely be responsible for their children, Irish law will finally recognise fathers care from the beginning. I believe this will have positive affects crossing over to many other issues as they are all intrinsically linked.
When we hear ‘gender issues’, we think female, ‘race’, black and ‘sexuality’, gay. Would veering away from the word ‘feminism’ help with moving forward with the cause? Would adopting a gender-neutral term stop guys, like the one who found my book, from being put off by the cause? I’ve thought a lot about this and I believe that as long as inequalities remain, ‘whitewashing’ them with neutral terms isn’t going to help the situation. A startling 1 in 5 think that being called a feminist is an “insult” (Eleftheriou-Smith L. 2015). “Society and the media have played a role in painting feminists in an unflattering light, depicting them as unattractive, hysterical women or women who possess radical thoughts” (Minori Kitahara, Japan Times). Was I afraid that speaking up passionately about feminism I’d be seen as an angry man hater? Passionate women are used to being told that they’re angry (Lind D. 2015)
‘HeForShe’ is a new UN campaign aimed at ending gender inequality. With Emma Watson as its spokesperson, is it perhaps a regal attempt at rebranding feminism? Creating a new, more palatable modern-day feminist image. As she said in her UN speech in September 2014 “it’s not the word that is important, it’s this idea and the ambition behind it”.
The UN deals with gender inequalities on a global scale. In developing countries the goals and aims are what we in western society often take for granted. The gender gaps favouring males in developing countries are much wider then that of the richer countries. One of the most urgent appeals is to create and facilitate the means for these girls to be able to attend school. Humans have the right to an education. In the poorest regions of the world girls face extra discrimination and barriers simply because they were born female. The UN has tried to implement gender mainstreaming as a strategy to achieve gender equality. When looking at any policy they will regard the implications faced by women and men.
I am a feminist because I believe in equality for humanity. I won’t carry forward the negative attachments and perceptions around the word. I believe what there needs to be awareness around the topic of gender equality in order to see any real progress. There are virtually no differences in the ideologies between humanists and feminists; both strive for a just and equal society. After all it is the cause that matters most.
De Luca I., (2013), ‘Ireland has a long way to go in terms of gender equality’, May 9th.
Eleftheriou-Smith L. (2015). ‘Nearly 1 in 5 people in the uk think being called a feminist is an insult’, The Guardian. November 10th
Emma Watson’s Speech at the HeForShe campaign launch
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkjW9PZBRfk
Ito M. (2015), ‘Women of Japan unite: Examining the contemporary state of feminism’, the Japan Times. October 3rd
Leuptow K. (2014). Feminism Now: What the Third Wave is Really About. January 10
Available at: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/01/feminism-now/
Lewis H. (2015), ‘The Myth of a feminist ‘end of history’, The Guardian, September 30th
Lind D. (2015), Focus groups democratic debate, Vox Policy and Politics
Udorie J.E, (2015), Seven priorities of young feminists today. The Guardian. 29th September
UN gender mainstreaming
My name is Kerrie Maunsell. I’m in my 2nd year of an Economics Major. I undertook the Gender and Politics module as my elective.