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What does International Women’s Day mean to Emer O’Toole?

Author post, Non Fiction

Amy Davies - March 4th, 2015

We invite Emer O’Toole, author of Girls Will be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently, to share some thought about what International Women’s Day means to her in 2015. You can catch up with all our #WonderWomen authors here, and start reading Emer’s revolutionary feminist book here

International Women’s Day is always a good time to reflect on where we, as feminists, find ourselves. In theory, like Valentine’s Day, we shouldn’t need it. All year round, partners should remember that they are lovers too, and feminists should be vigilant about interrogating their activism. However, much as dish-washing and garbage-putting-outing can distract us from celebrating our true loves, so can the mundane day-to-day of smashing the patriarchy prevent us from taking a step back and considering the state of our movement. Thanks International Women’s Day – you yearly arrive like a heart-shaped box of chocolates, eliciting feminist reflection from my sisters around the globe, and I’m never quite sure what I’m going to get.

It’s 2015 and no country in the world has achieved gender equality. In every culture and nation on this planet, women suffer systemic discrimination. Given this, it’s no surprise that feminism in 2015 is such a passionate political sphere. Given, also, that sexism manifests itself differently for women of different cultures, races, religions, classes, levels of ability, sexual orientations and gender orientations, it’s also unsurprising that feminism is a movement characterised by fiery internal debates.

Among the most deeply felt feminist divisions in 2015 are trans-recognition, the status of sex work, and the tensions between multiculturalism and women’s rights. Fights rage; tempers soar; feelings are hurt; twitter accounts are abandoned. But I am surprised by those who consider these controversies to be symptomatic of feminism imploding or becoming toxic. For me, it’s clearly the opposite. These debates are the sign of a movement that refuses to accept orthodoxies, that constantly interrogates its own prejudices, and that cares deeply about creating a community which listens to individual women’s stories yet studies structural oppressions. Our disputes, I believe, are healthy. Not easy. Not fun. But healthy. I wouldn’t want to be part of a feminism composed of docile, dogmatic sheep.

In December of last year the formidable writer Rebecca Solnit began an essay by stating: “I have been waiting all my life for what 2014 has brought.” She was referring to a feminist “insurrection against male violence;” to women’s refusal to be silent or shamed in the face of rape and sexual assault. I read Solnit’s essay as I so often read her work, only barely restraining myself from fist-pumping the air, because this last year has felt similar to me. When I first taught feminist theory at the University of London in 2009, the question “who’s a feminist?” was met by a unilateral stare of disgust. Just 6 years later, albeit in a different institution, I don’t even need to ask the question – my students are gender conscious and actively critical of patriarchy. Feminist, a dirty word when I was growing up in the ‘90s and early 2000s, is a badge of pride for young women once again.  And there’s a sense – nourished by the punky coolness of Caitlin Moran, the no-nonsense accessibility of bell hooks, Laura Bates’ unrelenting internet activism, and Chimamanda Ngozi’s eloquent inclusivity (to name but a few heroines) – that feminism is, if not for everyone, certainly for everyone with the conscience and heart to forge out an egalitarian future.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 3:38 pm and is filed under Author post, Non Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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