Way to go: feminism as a shock to the system.

Unpublished letter to The Guardian (expanded).

I cheered Lucy Mangan’s succinct statement of the obvious re. the unnecessary idea of ‘rebranding’ feminism.[i] Dead right. And:

“Everyone just needs to keep at the forefront of their minds the fact that ‘check your privilege’ and ‘intersectionality’ are revolting words but    beautiful concepts, and proceed accordingly”.

Fab, feminist and funny.

But probing the problem of inequality and the obstacles presented by the historical and cultural role of male dominance in so many fields remains itself a ‘problem’, too often the ‘elephant in the room’: unnoticed, unmentioned, unscrutinised, glossed over. For example:

Fergal Keene, Professorial Associate at the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, was in conversation with Professor Marianne Elliott, the Blair Chair, Director of the Institute this week (14 11 2013) to a packed auditorium at the Eleanor Rathbone Building, on the subject of ‘Terror Through Time’ (ahead of his 25 part series for the BBC). He highlighted historical continuities and variations, and responded to questions and comments from the floor at the end with openness, sensitivity and an acknowledgement of the seriousness and complexity of the issues raised by ‘terrorism’, and our responses to it. He emphasised the centrality of the process of talking across differences, hostilities and in the context of violation and violence. And he stressed the importance of “facts” (sic) as a basis for understanding and action.

From the floor, I briefly voiced my concern that over time and across societies, terrorism was overwhelmingly the behaviour and actions of men, and that this fact seemed hardly addressed: i.e. noticed, discussed, critiqued, analysed, theorised and acted upon. My manner was low key and non confrontational.

At the end of the event, as we got up to leave, the woman in the next seat (a stranger) turned to me and asked: “So are you a member of a feminist organisation?” Startled (in the thematic circumstances of the occasion, it felt a bit like being asked if I was a member of a ‘subversive’ / ‘terrorist’ group. . !), I replied: “Yes. Several.” She added: “Those were strong words” and turned to follow her male partner out. I would have been happy to engage in further conversation with her.

That my quiet statement of the obvious but overlooked fact should draw what felt like a sharp (shocked?) reaction, tells us we have some way to go on our feminist journey towards equality and justice. Was she judging me ‘out of order’ / ‘extreme’? It felt like she thought I had lobbed a grenade into this public meeting at the University, and disturbed its decorum. She was tall, white and middle class in manner. Ah well, hurdles remain between us it seems . . . .

val walsh / 16 11 2013


[i]  Lucy Mangan (16 11 2013) ‘Forget rebranding. Feminism just needs to keep its eyes on the prize.’ The Guardian Weekend.

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