I had a really curious conversation with a college friend of mine recently. As we were strolling through Clonakilty on a beautifully sunny afternoon, she suddenly declared that she has been slowly turning into a feminist and now tells her daughter that she should grow up and be a scientist. Laughing in agreement, we both put it firmly down to life experience.
Regardless of the many arguments about abortion – the rights and wrongs, the concerns and double concerns – in recent weeks, I believe that women should have absolute say over their own health at all times. It shouldn’t be to the exclusion of all other considerations, I should add, but the idea that a woman loses control over her own body the moment she becomes pregnant (with her own child least we forget) is horrendous.
I don’t think anyone knows what they might do in any situation in life until they find themselves facing into that challenge for real, and everyone declaring that they ‘know’ this and that for definite needs to take a real look at themselves.
To add context to the ‘F word’ debate in 2013 and all that women face from day to day, I recall two media articles from within the last 12 months. The first – written by Chloe Angyal and published on The Guardian’s comment page - was entitled: ‘I’m glad Jennifer Aniston is engaged. But I’d be happier still if nobody cared‘. Angyal considers why the media has always portrayed one of the most famous and successful actors in the world as ‘Poor Jen’ when she herself seems quite content with her lot.
The second article, in contrast, was utterly ridiculous. It wondered if Kristen Stewart, female lead in the Twilight saga, was gay based on the fact that following a recent break up, she swore herself off men and had been hanging out with her female best friend a lot. I cannot, ever, recall a man’s sexuality being questioned because he was spending time with his mates.
The F Words has lots of negative connotations, of course. When an election member of Dáil Éireann was told she was ‘talking through her fanny’ by someone who once was a leading candidate to become President of Ireland, there were those who argued it was not offensive. But how is it okay to try and dismiss another person’s opinion based on their sex? Or race, religion, sexuality etc for that matter. The fact that Regina Doherty TD is a woman has no baring on how good (or bad) her opinion is, and – simply – shouldn’t come into it.
A quote from another Guardian piece by Polly Toynbee also comes to mind: “One enormous thing still matters more than everything else and it is this simple truth: whatever women do is undervalued, every day and in every way, just because it is what women do.”
Acknowledging the many very positive attributes that women bring to the world is only a starting point. I have been thinking about writing this blog post for some time, but there was also part of me that was reluctant to publish it as I didn’t want to get tarred with the ‘raging feminist’ brush.
I know many wonderful women. All of them have a variety of roles in life – workers, managers, mothers, girlfriends, wives, cooks, housekeepers, academics, business owners, campaigners etc – and the biggest thing holding most of them back is themselves and the perceived limits placed on all women by society and each other. ‘You can’t have it all without sacrificing something’ is the new motto.
Women can be immensely strong in a crisis and carry huge burdens, but we can also be our own worst enemies – and I think that, more than any other reason, is why the F word has become so real to me in recent times. We judge ourselves and get judged by these same ridiculous standards all the times.
Why is being sensitive and showing emotion considered a weakness? Why is a tough female boss ‘bitchy’ and capable of making things personal, but a tough male boss is only doing his job? Why do we say that it’s women that are the care givers rather than men? (who are equally capable)
The first step in changing an attitude is to raise awareness around its existence. The second is to discuss the alternative viewpoints…