Colette Sheridan: Feminism-lite isn't going to win any battles, girls, so wake up...

Feminism-lite is not going to improve women’s lot, so says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Colette Sheridan: Feminism-lite isn't going to win any battles, girls, so wake up...

Writer Impac Chimamanda Ngozi.

“WE should be allowed to wear bottoms that show off our figure, like, I don’t understand what the problem is...what are we supposed to do, like cover our legs from head to toe, come in bin bags.”

So said a pupil at one of the country’s secondary schools last week, supposedly in response to a new dress code stipulation at the school, telling the girls not to wear leggings, not to roll their skirts or tighten their jumpers as it is all too revealing and distracting for teachers.

It was a good story that led to an online anti-sexism petition but it doesn’t seem to be altogether true.

The principal of the school, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, no less, said comments made on social media about the teachers were scandalous and damaging. Seemingly, the girls were just told to abide by uniform regulations instead of turning schools day into a ‘fashion show.’ Nothing inappropriate was said. The leggings story grew legs, so to speak.

Still, it was a good marker of where teenagers/young women are in relation to feminism. Feminism-lite is more like it.

The gals these days can work up a head of steam about their right to wear little more than bandages for skirts and heels that wouldn’t allow them run for a bus — or run from the unwelcome attention of some man.

This is not to say that females should go around in bin bags, covering up instead of showing off their well-toned bodies. But sometimes, the gals can look like hookers as they sashay the streets going from pubs to clubs (at least in pre-covid times), revealing too much.

What is so wrong with a bit of modesty? And besides, we don’t have the climate for going out half-naked.

I shiver in solidarity when I see the girls under-dressed on a night out. Yes, we have the right to dress as we wish but why be a slave to trashy celebrity culture which is all about looking ‘hot’ and available at all times?

In feminist and author Rosita Sweetman’s new book, Feminism Backwards, she says her own two children, the next generation, are “free of the guilt and repression and shame heaped on us.” They and their generation are “educated, informed and international; proud to be Irish, but happy as clams on the world stage!”

Ah yes, shame. That old bugbear that screwed up this country for so long, to such an extent that a pretty girl aware of her sexuality might end up in a Magdalene laundry in the bad old days — days that are not actually that long ago.

Imagine trying to explain to a confident teenage girl today about the horrors of our shameful past. “OMG, YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS” would be her response.

But just because those horrors are consigned to the past and no longer threaten us, doesn’t mean that young women have it all.

Yes, they want it all. But to achieve that still requires a fight, a willingness to call out inequities such as the gender pay gap and other forms of discrimination.

It is thanks to feminists such as Rosita Sweetman, members of the former Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM) founded in 1970, that we now have freedoms that we take for granted.

The movement’s manifesto, ‘Chains or Change’, had six goals: equal rights in law; equal pay and the removal of the marriage bar; the right to contraception and ‘one family, one house’ rights to the family home. We’re still waiting for equal pay but we have progressed hugely in other ways.

Who in the IWLM five decades ago could have predicted that we’d win the right to safe and legal abortion and marriage equality for gay couples?

But there’s no cause for smugness. And feminism-lite is not going to improve women’s lot.

The writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has called out feminism-lite as “a hollow, appeasing and bankrupt idea.” She has written that it is “the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely...

“Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.”

She adds that a particularly troubling idea in feminism-lite is the belief that men are naturally superior but should be expected to “treat women well. No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a woman’s well-being.”

Chimamanda, who is Nigerian, is angrier about sexism than racism. That’s because many people “easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice... But here is the sad truth: Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women.”

It behoves the next generation to ensure that the campaigning work of feminists is continued. Feminism-lite is not the answer.

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