Editorial: Why I Need Feminism

Words: Ellen Desmond

The October issue of Motley Magazine, somewhat unintentionally, has become the feminist issue.  At our most recent Team Motley meeting, it was obvious that the majority present wished to write something to address the situation of sexism in universities and further afield. We came out of that meeting with no agreement that this issue would be an official discussion of feminism, and it isn’t an officially themed edition of Motley, but it is clearly documented within these pages that of the 15 members on our team, many were not okay with leaving the problem of sexism unaddressed at this time.

There are pages of this magazine that are totally unrelated to feminism and there are pages in which it is very obvious that a discussion of equality and women’s rights is at hand; such as the report on female genital mutilation (FGM) and the discussion of Chanel’s recent “feminist protest.” There are other pages, which for me, are all about equal rights, though it will not be so explicit to others.

I wrote an article in this publication which reports on UCC student politics and while the topic it is concerned with is completely removed from my discussion of feminism, for me that article is all about having my own voice heard. It’s my feminist article about nothing feminist.

Reporting on student politics is something I’m very interested in but something I have usually avoided in my three years as a student journalist; it’s something I often write about while hiding behind a pseudonym. I have always thought this was because I was being considerate of other people’s feelings or because I didn’t wish to be dragged into a debate. However, in this issue I left that worry behind because I realised my true fear was that no one would respect what I, as a female student, have to say.

I’ve sat in many meetings in UCC this month. An example is one in which women were outnumbered 6 to 2 by men and while the other female said nothing at all, I was often spoken over or had to try to butt in to have my voice heard. I felt like no one had any interest in what I had to say and I came out of that meeting feeling absolutely worthless. I’ve always known sexism was an issue that concerned me, but I’ve never thought sexism was an issue that affected me so directly. I’m the editor of the university’s magazine and I chair a nationally award winning society – surely I’ve been given equal opportunities here, right? So why was that fear still there?

That fear was there because whether we like it or not, there’s an attitude in UCC right now that puts it there. No one person, or one student group is the cause of that; we all are. The Philosophical Society, among others, recently took a stand against a sexism and so it is obvious the demand for more conversation has already arrived in UCC.

The #HeForShe campaign is one all staff and students could do with taking on board. In Emma Watson’s speech launching the #HeForShe campaign, she highlighted that “we don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes” but the fact is that they are.  She explained the problem so clearly it seemed incredible that it has never been put so simply before; “both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.”

The sad thing about feminism really is that it has become something only women feel invited to take part in and that the word itself truly has become synonymous with man-hating. Like Emma Watson, I too have always felt sad hearing female friends deny being feminists because they think it means something negative, which it does not, and I have heard many friends deny it. When, in reality, by saying you don’t identify as a feminist you are doing nothing but agreeing that a woman should have fewer rights, like getting paid less or not having control over her body.

I was initially afraid to tackle the political story I mentioned above, despite knowing well that there was no other student in a better position to cover the story. I eventually thought  back to Emma Watson’s #HeForShe launch again, in which she finished by saying how nervous she was about making the speech, until she realised “If not me, who? If not now, when? If you have similar doubts when an opportunity is presented to you, I hope those words will be helpful.”

Ellen Desmond