Illustration by Francesca Taiganides
On 26 May, Ireland overwhelmingly voted to repeal the 8th amendment, allowing women to have abortions up to 12 weeks into pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances. This is a landmark occasion, and celebrations are undoubtedly in order.
Any steps toward female emancipation can only be a good thing, and the momentum of the Repeal the 8th Campaign and its ultimate success illustrate the unstoppable torrent of anger, frustration and passion that seems to be a hallmark of 2018. I can empathise, because I’m pretty much always mad as hell about gender politics. Women who were barely allowed to whisper are now screaming, and it finally seems that the world is sitting up and listening.
But this is where we encounter the crux of the problem (and by problem, I mean patriarchy). There is no point in women screaming if no one is listening.
It’s not like 2018 is the first time that women have expressed concern, or fear, or disgust at the actions of men like Harvey Weinstein. Through the annuls of history women have been sexually exploited and demeaned. As a rule, women have never had a great time. Someone recently asked me what I thought my career would be if I lived in Jane Austen’s time. As a working class gal, I’d be a maid. If I was rich, I’d probably be married to someone I really couldn’t stand, doing embroidery and going slowly insane whilst being slowly suffocated by a corset.
Women have always wanted more freedom. The patriarchy has always been wrong. These are not new shiny ideas, they are ancient ones that we are dusting off and holding up to the light. We happen to be a living in a time where feminism and the feminist agenda is gaining a great deal of publicity and traction, and I feel blessed to have more choice about what I do with my life, uterus and vagina than any other generation of women in the history of time.
What is happening now is that people are helping. If sexual assault rates decrease, it will be because men stop sexually assaulting people. If more women become CEOs it is because opportunities are being opened up that were once sealed off. Women aren’t getting smarter or braver; people (and mainly men) are starting to accept that women are smart and brave.
The situation in Ireland, in which women were dying due to horrific methods of abortion or being arrested for making decisions about their own lives, never should have happened. Call it the Catholic Church, call it Conservatism, call it fear of change. The pillars of the patriarchy rely upon people covering their ears when women are screaming for help. The idea that the life of an unborn foetus is more valuable than the life of a woman is inherently misogynistic and implies that women are nothing more than carriers. Watch The Handmaid’s Tale if you’re a little lost about this idea. When you break most sexist oppression down, it can only survive if the majority of the population tacitly agrees that women are less human and less deserving of human rights, than men. Women of my generation are not screaming louder, people are just taking out their earplugs.