I recently updated the Kerry for Choice website to include details on how to access abortion services and found myself close to tears, again. I keep thinking it has finally sunk in, then something happens and I realise that it will probably never feel real. But real it is. For all the faults with the legislation and there are many, people who need an abortion in Ireland can now phone a helpline run by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and be given details of their nearest abortion provider.
I’ve written about how I became a feminist and reading played a significant role in that. I have a list on my phone of all the feminist non-fiction I have read over the last few years.
Books that resonated with me when I first started learning about feminism leave me frustrated now. Intersectionality is the reason for that. It wasn’t a concept I was familiar with then, but the books on this list all deal with feminism from an intersectional perspective.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Me too. Yet, I hesitated typing that because maybe it wasn’t a big deal or I was overreacting. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s all those moments combined.
It’s the fact it starts when we’re so young. It’s the fact we second guess ourselves or consider it “not a big deal”. It’s the fact we don’t talk about it every time it happens to us. It’s the fact I’ve had women pretend to be old school friends while interrupting men who thought “I’m not interested” meant try harder. It’s the fact this happens regularly. It’s the fact I have also pretended to be an old school friend. It’s the fact we’ve likely been warned about certain men or warned other women about certain men. Because that’s what women do. We share information to keep each other safe.
And, yet, here we are sharing our stories and traumas again in the hopes that things will be different. That women are finally believed. That things will change.
Here’s the thing about “Me Too” and “Yes All Women”; we can’t change things on our own. We need men to speak up. Rape culture isn’t going to dismantle itself. Will you have a chat with that friend of yours who is fond of telling rape jokes? Will you stop your friend from getting “too friendly” with the woman in the pub who has already told him she isn’t interested? Will you help prevent future “me toos”?
So, yes, me too because yes all women. But I’m tired of all this talk, that doesn’t lead to action from men.
I haven’t always been a feminist. I don’t think I mean that in the ‘I’m not a feminist, but [insert feminist belief here]’ way. Yes, people called me a feminist long before I called myself one but they didn’t know the reason I knew the word ‘feminist’ didn’t apply to me. I haven’t always been a feminist because I haven’t always been pro-choice.
Is make-up feminist? No. Is make-up anti-feminist? No. Can you be a feminist if you wear make-up? Yes. Can you be a feminist if you don’t wear make-up? Yes. One thing does not negate the other. There are plenty of make-up loving feminists, myself included.
This blog started out as a beauty blog and evolved as my relationship with make-up changed because, well, it’s complicated. For me, the act of applying make-up is as much fun as going out in said make-up. It’s an enjoyable process, despite my inability to blend a decent smoky eye. It was never something I wanted to become a chore. Yet, for a while, it did. I went from wearing it when I wanted, to feeling like I couldn’t leave the house bare-faced. Why? Because that’s what women do, we put on our faces in order to face the world.
Sometimes this is an act of self-care, sometimes it’s what helps you through caring for a loved one with an illness, but sometimes it feeds into a pressure to conform. It was the latter for me, which annoyed me no end because I couldn’t work out when the shift happened. When did it become another stick to hold over women’s heads in an effort to control what’s seen as “acceptable beauty”?
Eh, it was always this way. Of course it was and I knew that. Would not wearing make-up make that any less true? No. But the world wasn’t going to end if I was wearing it, was it? Nope. Overthinking, on my part, much? Probably, but here we are. I told you my relationship with make-up was complicated.
So, yes, I am a feminist with a weakness for red lipstick. Has living in a society that is centred on patriarchal beauty standards played a part in that? Of course it has and owning that is important. But sometimes red lipstick is just red lipstick.
Women have body hair. We all know this. Yet we live in a world that pretends it’s not a thing, while simultaneously aggressively marketing hair removal products to women. Products which more often than not come in pink packaging and cost more than the equivalent product aimed at men. You know that patriarchy thing I keep going on about? Well, this is another manifestation of it.
There are women who enjoy the process of body hair removal, which is great. There are women who enjoy letting their body hair do its own thing, which is great. A lot of women like having hair free armpits, legs and bikini line, but aren’t massive fans of the accumulative time they spend in a lifetime on waxing, shaving, threading etc. Many women shave their legs only when they know they’ll be on show and relish winter because it means opaque tights. Many women don’t have a problem with their own body hair, but do have an issue with how society views them whatever they choose to do.
What a woman does with her body hair is her decision. No one else’s. And if the sight of a woman with unshaven arms or legs offends you, the problem is most definitely with you and not the other person.
My most recent trip to Dublin reminded me how much I dislike walking alone when it’s dark. A friend walked me to the bus stop and went on her way. I missed the bus and there was a 25 minute wait for the next one. There were a few people so I felt OK waiting. After a few minutes I realised I was on edge. Every noise made me jumpy, especially when those noises came from groups of men who were passing by.
I was texting Paul and thought about phoning him, but didn’t want to take my phone fully out of my pocket. I was too on edge to feel comfortable standing around much longer, so I got a taxi. Of course I had to phone my friend and let her know my way of getting home had changed. We chatted until I was home safely.
Was I more aware of it because I’ve been away from Dublin so long? Was my discomfort stronger because I no longer drink alcohol and as a result pay more attention when the people around me are drunk? That’s not to say I feel inherently safer living in the country, because I don’t, but the geography of the place means I always have a lift waiting for me.
I think most women know the feeling I’m talking about. We slow down or speed up depending on who is walking behind us. We spend our time crossing and re-crossing the road to avoid men or stay in places lit by street lights. We change our routes. We have something on hand that can be used a weapon if we need it. We take note of which taxi our friends get into. We arrange to let each other know that we got home safely. Waiting for that text from someone can feel like an eternity.
These things are so ingrained in us that sometimes we don’t even think about them, we just do them. They are second nature to us. This. This, right here, is what I mean when I talk about rape culture. It’s exhausting to feel like this. Yet we do what we have to.
The most depressing thing is that so many women feel like this and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Here’s the thing about the patriarchy, it’s insidious and it’s everywhere. What starts small becomes a big deal; take Trump being elected as an example.
No one is immune from it. We all have the ability to be sexist, misogynistic and perpetuate rape culture. Most of us choose not to be because we know nothing good comes from it. A lot of us are working to ensure others fully understand the dangers inherent in the patriarchy. Some of us are also dealing with our own internalised misogyny, something that takes time and work to fully unpack, learn from and let go. It’s not always easy, but we do it because to do nothing is to allow the status quo to continue unchecked. And that is not an option.
Recently an Irish politician said he had never heard a rape joke. The premise of his tweet was that rape culture doesn’t exist; the only evidence he produced was that he made it to his 50s without ever experiencing it.
Many questioned whether he had, in fact, never heard a rape joke. Some pointed out that he probably had, in the form of “backs against the wall” or “dropping the soap in prison” jokes, but he didn’t see them as rape jokes. Guess what? They are.