A spectre is haunting Ireland, the spectre of liberal feminism. The most recent anti-woman outburst from this sector was their abject rejection of wearing pussy hats to protest against Trump when he announced his intention to visits this country in November. Now this visit seems unlikely but the reaction to the announcement is still worth considering for what it reveals about the limitations of liberal feminism.
Never mind that women around the globe wore these hats as an easily recognisable symbol of international sisterhood and solidarity, in Ireland we don’t do that sort of thing.
We are repeatedly told by the bright stars leading this movement that ‘Our Feminism’ is different. ‘Our Feminism’ is inclusive and extraordinary in its capacity to embrace the women who need it most. It celebrates prostitution as a career option for plucky young women. It gleefully offers womanhood to anyone who wants to claim it. ‘Our Feminism’ leaves no man behind.
So, if Trump was to visit Ireland, how would we show our disgust for his blatant misogyny? Would we stand with the international sisterhood? Of course not. ‘Our Feminism’ is too special for that. We’d take him down a peg or two with flowers, yellow flowers. Lots and lots of yellow flowers.
How did the top ladies of ‘Our Feminism’ hit on this incredible suggestion? For those unfamiliar with the symbolism of yellow flowers in Ireland, aka the entire world, I will explain.
In the mid-eighties, the body of an infant washed up on a beach in Kerry. At the same time, a woman gave birth on the family farm and buried her stillborn child in a field. This woman was accused of murdering the baby on the beach and when her own child was found, the case against her, which should have ended there and then, escalated instead.
In a mind-boggling display of misogyny, the state pursued her and the case was put that she had been pregnant by two different men simultaneously, had given birth to both infants around the same time and had killed them. Finally, a year later, a tribunal was set up to investigate the Garda handling of this case, to examine how she was accused of absurdities and pursed beyond reason. But instead of delivering some measure of justice, the tribunal put the woman under the microscope. A room full of men in suits pored over all aspects of her sex life, her menstrual cycle, her uterus, for days and days.
As this case progressed, women became outraged and started sending her yellow flowers to show their solidarity. My mother sent some, her neighbour sent some. They were not rabid feminists they were women who were disgusted with how the female body itself was being put on trial through the suffering of one individual. It felt like every woman in Ireland was standing with their accused sister. It felt like every woman in Ireland understood what it was like to be in the presence of men in suits, men in collars, lingering on the shame of the female body, relishing the power they claimed over it.
The yellow flowers represent a moment of solidarity for women in Ireland.
When Trump boasted about grabbing women by the pussy another symbol of female solidarity was born. The hats were immediately and unequivocally recognised as a symbol of the common understanding of women all over the world. Of the knowledge, we hold, that our bodies are simultaneously the site of male sexual gratification and male brutality.
Objection arose almost immediately. By highlighting the fact that our bodies are central to the oppression women endure under the patriarchal system, we were failing those men who claimed womanhood. Because some men would rather be regarded as women, it was no longer ‘feminist’ to refer to the female body in any way. The very site of our oppression could no longer be spoken about.
The organisers of some Women’s Marches took this absurd reasoning on and denounced the hats. Women around the world wore them anyway. The pussy hat endured as a symbol of international sisterhood.
When we got our chance to show our sisters everywhere that we stand with them, that vile male predatory entitlement will not go unchallenged in Ireland, what did ‘Our Feminism’ do? It pulled back to its insular, nationalistic outlook. Desperate that some men might be offended, it denounced the hats. (It also claimed that women who are not white are somehow excluded if the hat is pink, but that’s a whole other set of delusions.)
Instead of pussy hats, the women of Ireland were encouraged to go with the yellow flowers. Because we know what they mean and we like to wallow in matters the rest of the world doesn’t understand. Because liberal feminism’s biggest flaw is that it includes that which will devour it. Because its leaders in Ireland have no understanding of the political significance of international solidarity. Because ‘Our Feminism’ can’t see the irony of denouncing one symbol that represents the exploitation of the female body and lauding another symbol that does exactly the same thing.
This is what comes of confusing femininity with womanhood. This is what comes of having no real understanding of the feminist cause.