say it out loud: feminism and equality

‘I’m not a feminist,’ says Laura Waters, in her Guardian column about women in science. ‘I’m an ‘equalist’.’

In doing so, she resurrects a tedious semantic argument, and one that’s been fought on many shores before now. Waters contends that she is “fully devoted to promoting science to women as a great career choice and [that she] honestly believe[s] we need more women at all levels in science.” She wants to “ensur[e] women actively choose to stay in science and climb the promotional ladder.” She mentions positively the Athena SWAN programme – which gives praise and status to institutions that actively work to promote equal treatment for women in academia.

I’m sorry to break it to her, but that’s a feminist viewpoint. That’s an entirely feminist argument. If she wants it from a better source than me – it’s exactly the feminist argument I heard Jocelyn Bell Burnell give at WITS a couple of weeks ago.

I have no problems with Waters’ viewpoint. It’s one I espouse myself (any reader of this blog will know that). My problem is with her denial of feminism.

I’m a feminist because I believe in equality. Equality is – for the most part – the primary role of practical feminism. Currently society does not view women as being the equals of men. There’s a gap there that needs filling, and feminism works to boost women’s role in society to fill that gap. It’s not inherently anti-men to be pro-women; it’s not anti-equality to say that one group needs more support.

Imagine a bar chart of the gender pay gap. For every euro Irish men earn, Irish women earn 13.9% less (Irish Examiner, Feb 2013). Parity in the hourly wage – the value of an hour’s work – would have men with 100%, and women with 100%. At the minute, men have 100%, and women have just over 86%. Clearly that’s inequal. To make it equal, you have to close that gap – and you do that by helping women, because women are the group that’s worse off in that situation.

Equalism? Sure. Through feminism.

Waters wants academia to be fairer to women. Women need more help than men do to fulfil their academic potential, because currently the power bias in the institutions of academia swings heavily toward men. What do we do? Make things fairer for women. Use Athena SWAN to reward institutions that reward women. Understand that family structures still involve more women than men doing part-time or awkward hours in order to be around for the kids, and accommodate that. Give positive female role models to young women in STEM careers.

I’m almost reciting Waters’ points here, which is actually the key to what I’m saying: this is a feminist argument.

Why disavow feminism? It feels like internalised misogyny to me**. It’s not lesser to be a woman, and it’s not lesser to be a feminist. Throwing your lot in with the boys may get you approval at the time, but in reality you’re cheerily standing over the status quo while inequality happens all around you.

Feminism is the reason you have a job in academia. Feminism is the reason you get to have an opinion and have it out loud. Feminism is the reason programmes like Athena SWAN happen, and feminism is the reason that it’s recognised that the sciences should be more welcoming to women. We are where we are because of feminists, and sniffily casting that aside and pretending you’re more advanced, somehow, is disrespectful to their work and their sacrifices.

No-one is saying that scientific output should be judged separately depending on its author’s gender. No-one is saying that an institution should seek a candidate of a particular gender rather than a candidate who’s best for the job. What feminism asks is that a women who reads the jobs posting should feel as able as a man to apply, or that a woman offered a job should feel comfortable and respected in accepting the place.

I believe in equality. I think a just society would offer the same chance to everyone. Feminism wants that full and fair chance for women.

Be proud to be a feminist! Feminism is the path to equality. We have lots of work to do.

** please note that I say this in reference to mainstream feminism, and women who disavow the label totally. I’m not referring to women who choose to use a different term for ‘believes in women’s rights’, like ‘womanist’, because of minority status or perceived disrespect by mainstream feminism. That’s a matter beyond the scope of this post.


“HORRIFIC” – an anti-choice blight on Dublin’s streets

Walking around Dublin at the minute, it’s very quickly obvious that the city is under siege by an army of bullshit. I’m sorry – I normally try to be reasonably polite about other people’s politics, but up with this I will not put.

I speak, of course, of the anti-choice posters that seem to have been splattered over the city from a paintball gun held by a despotic and artless misogynist. I found out that they’re from the always-reliable Youth Defence, quickly rushing into the breach to spread their moronic gospel – so I feel totally vindicated in my first opinion.


Look here: you are not pro-life. There is nothing pro-anybody’s life about opposing a Bill meant to save women’s lives. You understand that, don’t you? I have a grandmother who’s ninety-one and more Catholic than God, and she understands that. If you let the mother die, not only do you let the foetus you’re so concerned about die with her, you also make sure that she can never have any more children.

I can’t believe there are people in this country who don’t understand that. I can’t believe that people have been pelting the Taoiseach with Catholic paraphernalia, threats of harm, and letters written in blood. I just can’t believe it. I can’t be eloquent about this because I am just so utterly gobsmacked.

I shouldn’t be. I know, like, and respect people who are pro-life. I know, like, and respect many people who are Catholic. The bit that I don’t like and don’t respect is when people who share those views attempt to impose them on my body, my uterus, my liberty.

It’s so strange, this dogged determination that I should have to live by your rules, when you would absolutely agree that I am free to consign myself to Catholic hell if I so desire. If I were to get pregnant tomorrow, I would have it terminated. You know why? Because I’m not ever going to be a good parent. Because I’m not ready to hand over control of my body to an invader. Because I’m mentally ill, and I’d have to change my medication – which would probably land me in hospital, combined with the distress of said pregnancy – and it’s a 50/50 chance whether I’d pass this on to my offspring, and I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, take that risk.

So thank you very much for shouting until my broken, violated, and distressed self would have to get three doctors’ opinions before I would be counted as suicidal enough to require a termination. Suicide kills! Why does no-one take that at face value? Why is it that when several young men kill themselves in a row, they put psychiatrists on the news to discuss the problem, but when women threaten to kill ourselves it’s totally legit to write difficulties for us into law?

Don’t answer that. I don’t think I’m going to like your reasoning.

One of the more vocal anti-choice voices in Ireland is an old lecturer of mine. In person, he’s a genial and intelligent man, who teaches well and greets his students pleasantly when you pass him in the hallway. In the media, he espouses a viewpoint that would let me have a crack at killing myself and a hypothetical foetus, rather than allow me a termination and save my life. The cognitive dissonance there makes me slightly dizzy. I think that’s why anti-choice rhetoric has such a stranglehold in this country – because respectable, smart, likeable people carry a massive conservative bias and don’t seem to see anything wrong with imposing that on (hopefully also respectable and smart) women who don’t share the view.

So I’m pretty bloody angry about this, and every time I have to look at those dreadful posters I get angrier. I’m having daydreams out the windows of buses about having a lovely big bonfire on O’Connell Street – not that I would ever do such a thing, as I have respect for public order and the laws of the state, but a girl can dream. Also ruled out by law would be ‘editing’ them to have a more realistic message, but no-one said I can’t do that on the internet:



This was nicely cathartic, even as rants go. I know this is a sensitive issue, and I really do understand that people can hold a viewpoint I dislike and will do so for reasons they think are morally right. I honestly just cannot deal with the far-right on this one, though. People like this are anti-choice and anti-women, and I am so very tired of seeing their rubbish defiling my beautiful city.

Previous post: a background to Irish abortion law pre-2013.

do right

I keep writing about the internet. The internet is fascinating. I love the maps of its trends, its squalls and storms. I love how opinion shifts and changes, and how, Hydra-like, cutting off one head immediately springs two more into action. It’s like the sea, relentlessly enduring despite its different waves.

I love the internet as an objective observer.

At times, and completely subjectively, I loathe the internet fiercely.

Lots of internet communities, on a large (the entirety of Twitter) or a small (a collective of blogging friends) scale are intensely concerned with being ‘right’. I say ‘right’ in quotation marks, because I’m not quite sure what ‘right’ means in that context. I like being right. I love winning arguments, and I love looking things up and feeling vindicated that I’ve recalled correctly. My boyfriend is a maths student. He loves being right. He loves working out a proof and winding up at a logical conclusion – QED. Those are the ways I understand ‘right’ – you could probably more accurately call it ‘correct’.

This isn’t how I’ve experienced the internet’s version of ‘right’. A lot of the time it feels like internet communities understand ‘right’ to mean ‘not wrong’. You are right if your behaviour or beliefs is in diametric opposition to those you consider to be wrong. You are right if your community agrees with you, and you are right if you can score points off an opponent to your benefit and their detriment.

You are right, and you can continually believe yourself to be right, if your thought plan fits with this, no matter how you go about demonstrating it. You can hurl abuse and bitch or gossip about Those Who Are Wrong, and it doesn’t matter how harsh you are or whether your opponent sees it, because you are right and they are wrong and therefore they deserve what they get.

There is no room for grey areas in the internet game of right and wrong. There is no room for understanding or trying to see things from the opposite point of view. There is no room for stepping back and attempting to reason with those who either don’t agree or can’t express their opinions in a way that pleases you. There is no room for trying to educate gently in a culture that demands proof of your devotion to your cause – your rightness – by shouting as loud as you can and looking around you for pleased reactions.

It doesn’t matter the size of the community doing the shouting: eventually any society that demands agreement becomes nothing but an echo chamber. You become afraid to end up the object of derision, and so you give anything the benefit of the doubt. You start defining yourself by what you’re not: I am not a racist, I am not homophobic, I am not ageist, etc. You become consumed by what you’re not, not what you are.

You are considered as bad as the opposition if you give them any quarter at all, and so battle lines become drawn and peace talks look like appeasement.

I don’t see the point. Quite frankly, I have gone from being one of a community like that to being a party of one, and here I think I shall stay. I don’t see the point in being right if the only benefit of my rightness is not being wrong. I want understanding, not demonising.

I’m not saying everybody needs to become a teacher or an Obama figure, bringing hope and change and co-operation and all that. I’m not saying you need to go find a member of the Westboro Baptist Church and invite them for tea. I’m not saying you need to do anything active at all, actually, because quite a lot of the time, I don’t. I’m not an expert on everything – anything, some might say – and often I learn for learning’s sake. Not to educate and spread the good word, but so that I can tuck some bit of knowledge away in my hindbrain and use it to treat someone better or watch how I express myself. You don’t have to be a frontline soldier. You can just be a compassionate citizen. A few more of those would be very good for the world.

One last thing. I have a good friend with whom I have a tacit agreement that when the world gets too stupid or aggravating or incomprehensible, we can email one another and vent and have it go no further. This is a wonderful situation and I advise everyone to acquire such a friend. However, coming out of a day thinking well, I had a good shout with my friend, that’s done something good for the world is delusional. That’s obvious, no?

So why is it not obvious that doing exactly the same thing out loud on Twitter also does utterly squat for the world?

There is no point in considering yourself right if you don’t do something constructive with it. Write something explanatory. Try making peace overtures to your opposition. Try to see where communication has broken down. Just treat somebody better. Even if you disagree with someone, make your point respectfully without hurling abuse.

Then go bitch with your friend. After all, even entirely correct beings like us need an outlet.

berks to the left of me, wankers to the right

I will be the first to say it: my relationship with the internet is not entirely a healthy one. This is no-one’s fault but my own, really. Sitting around at home feeling like a hermit, a nuisance, and a drain on society all at once, I use the internet for distraction and socialising, as well as a good outlet for my grumpy old lady side. (24-going-on-85, you know what I’m saying?)

Those are good days. On bad days, everybody (including me) hates everything (… including me) and opening your mouth in an argument feels like sticking your head out the top of a trench and shouting ‘looks like they’ve all gone home, sarge!’ in a particularly carrying tone.

Why? Well, for a start, there’s the Internet Fuckwad Theory – or, to give it a slightly classier name, the Online Disinhibition Effect – which tells us that anonymity provides a convenient cover for people to shout all the things that they wouldn’t say to one’s face. It works for good and bad: obviously, people use their internet soapboxes to sling mud in all directions, but you’ll also find that people are more willing to stand up for themselves and what they believe in on the internet too. It’s a great leveller.

Mind you, it’s also a great pile of rubbish, sometimes.

This weekend everybody on the internet watched the Olympics Opening Ceremony, myself included. I wrote about it earlier today, but suffice it to say: it was excellent. Dramatic, heart-warming, moving, and all that good stuff. Months of planning and effort and time on the part of the organisers and the volunteers, which all went off perfectly on the night. Well done everybody.

Which is fair enough, right? Even if you don’t support the Olympics themselves, if you don’t approve of the money they’re costing or the way the British government is handling things or the influx of foreigners to London (look, I’m trying to cover all sides here, including the batshit racist angle), you can credit those people with a job well done.

Wrong! THIS IS THE INTERNET. YOU ARE WRONG. It’s written by the door.

Nobody was happy. The Right thought… well, I’ll let this charming gentleman speak for himself:

(damned if I can find the source of this screenshot – if it’s yours, let me know)

– while the Left argued that we shouldn’t let ourselves bank the fires of our general outrage for an evening to watch a pretty show.

(I feel duty-bound to mention here that although I’m  an equal-opportunity taker of the piss, I’m also a dyed-in-the-wool leftie, and far more sympathetic to the waste of money/misuse of resources argument than I’m letting on. I just don’t think it was Danny Boyle’s, or his performers’, fault that seven or eight years ago the British government – still in the green fields of economic success – thought it would be a good idea to apply to host the 2012 games. I also think that there’s an awful lot of Awful out there in the world, and maybe things that make people happy and inspired are worth more than just their economic value.)

That was far too sincere. Back to piss-taking.

The Onion sums it up very nicely in this mini-article: Man Who Enjoys Thing Informed He Is Wrong. It feels like that, a lot of the time, especially if you spend a lot of your time around people with very strong convictions: it’s fine when you all agree, but every so often an issue comes up where you feel more moderate than your friends, or more strongly, and suddenly you’re facing the wrong side of the high wall that stands between Us and Them.

There’s a Kingsley Amis quote about grammarians, paraphrased here by Nick Cohen:

Just before he died, Kingsley Amis wrote that two dismal groups fought over the use of English: the berks and the wankers. Berks were permissive types who rejected all rules. “Careless, coarse, crass [and] gross … they speak in a slipshod way with dropped ‘Hs’, intruded glottal stops and many mistakes in grammar. Left to them, the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin.”

By contrast, wankers were authoritarians who wanted to impose every possible restriction on speakers and writers. “Prissy, fussy, priggish [and] prim … they speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters not generally sounded, especially ‘Hs’. Left to them, the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin.”

I think of this quote almost every day on the internet, except in place of linguistic argument I’m thinking of who’s offending whom on any given issue. From whatever your standpoint, the unthinkably rude and freewheelingly offensive are one step to your left (berks), and the overly uptight and righteous censors of socially acceptable vocabulary/ideas/happiness are one step to your right (wankers).

And the extra fun bit is that those two categories redefine themselves with every new reader of every new post… which is why you really can’t ever please all the people all the time.

You just have to live with it. You’ll always be somebody’s berk and somebody’s wanker.