As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
I’M tired, I’m tired, I’m tired. Not of lockdown. Well, yes of course I’m tired of lockdown, but I think right now I’m a bit more tired of being a feminist.
Feminism and my introduction to it as a teenager probably saved my bacon on a lot of levels. I’m of an age, where I could have been packed off to a Mother and Baby Home, but “lucky” for me, there were illegal Family Planning Clinics all over Ireland when I was a young adult, which protected some of us from having unwanted pregnancies. Hard to believe maybe, but the last Mother and Baby Home closed its doors in 1998, 24 years after I left school.
I’m also of an age to be required to leave my job and stay home after marriage. But thanks to feminism, in 1973 the Marriage Bar was finally abolished and women were entitled to keep their jobs. That was just one year after I left school, completely unaware that this could have scuppered my chances of a career.
Feminism made an appearance in my life at a time when few women were featured on the weekly panels at the Late Late Show. At first I didn’t get to see these “brazen hussies”. My Father was terrified that they would be a bad influence and I wasn’t “allowed” to stay up that late. Eventually these women were making such an impact that one Saturday night I eventually got to see what all the fuss was about.
‘Lads, it’s your turn. That’s a list of men’s issues as far as I’m concerned. Prostitution, pornography, violence, etc; about 50 years should sort it’
Among these feminists were, Nell McCafferty, Marian Finnucane, Nuala O Faoilean, June Levine and Mary Kenny. Feminism was pretty simple in those days, innocent almost. They had a fairly basic set of rights to discuss and they are now known as “Second Wave Feminists” by academics. First wave were the Suffragettes who won us the vote.
Mostly in those days, young women wanted to legalise contraception. Finally this happened in 1979, but only for married people and only with a doctor’s prescription. Condoms for over 18s were only legalised in 1985. By that stage I was married with a couple of kids and another on the way. As always there were two Ireland’s then and only some of us could choose whether to have children or not. If you were marginalised in any way, then you could forget liberation or equality.
The women on the Late Late Show panels also demanded equal pay for equal work, this was granted in 1977, although the discrimation of lack of childcare and educational opportunities continues to make this a bit of a joke.
Rape in marriage was still legal until 1990. Think about that for a minute and then check how many cases were ever brought to court. The first move on divorce where mariages had broken down, came in 1995.
It’s easy to forget that the women who fought for these rights, were vilified, harassed, laughed at and degraded as “Women’s Libbers.” Looking back wasn’t it all so harmless. Little did we know that at exactly the same time, children were still being abused by the church and state, young pregnant women were ostracised and cheated of their children, and violence against women in the home was still a hidden crime.
So last week, the week of International Women’s Day, I was pretty devastated to learn about the random murder of a young woman in the UK. But to add insult to injury we are still talking about “violence against women” instead of “men’s violence,” talking about protecting girls and still not talking about educating boys. And worst of all putting up with the fact that women are not safe on the streets or even on the rural tracks and trails that I love.
It’s 50 years since those women’s appearances on the Late Late Show. In those 50 years, thousands of us have marched, and written, and become activists to continue to bring about change. You won’t know about most of it until you need help; until you are on your last legs or your daughter is assaulted, until your family needs a service like the Rape Crisis Centre or Women’s Aid.
Last week I was contacted by a number of women about joining up with some new campaigns; sorting out prostitution, pornography, trafficking, men’s violence, gender identity, women only spaces, something called intersectional feminism.
All I could say was, “Listen I’m too old for this s**t!” Do you know what I was told? “It’s us, the older feminists who have to clean all this up, the young women are too woke.” What does that even mean?
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com