Ireland's political magazine Tuesday - Apr 21, 2015

Where are all the young feminists?




By Linda Kelly.


If ever there was a question to raise the hackles on the back of my neck, it is the question ‘Where are all the young feminists?’ A question which is never posed without the accompanying critique that young women simply don’t care about equality or about the path that previous generations of women warriors have beaten down for them. And why does it annoy me so much? Because, in my experience, the critique is simply not true.

Firstly, there are lots of young feminists. Lots! Since the time we (Jennifer DeWan and I) set up Cork Feminista in August 2010, there has been a surge in young feminist groups. As Aisling O Connor of Sibéal says “Feminism is alive and well in Ireland today and there has been a rejuvenation of feminist activism and scholarship in recent years”. For example, there are the Irish Feminist Network, Sibéal, the Feminist Society in NUIG, the new Siren Magazine in Trinity College where the DUGES society also operates and FemSoc in NUIM. And before any of us got started there was the Belfast Feminist Network in Northern Ireland and UK Feminista which was set up by Kat Banyard, author of the Equality Illusion.

Alison Spillane of the Irish Feminist Network points out that “young people in particular seem to be drawn toward the feminist movement”. For me, the problem isn’t that there are no young feminists, the problem is that the myth has been propagated to the point where it is now accepted as fact. The result is devastating – a generation of excited and passionate activists is slowly being made to feel invisible.

Aisling O Connor of Sibéal considers that “The present so-called ‘wave’ of feminism is quieter than those that went before it” and she links this to the fact that many young people are not willing to call themselves a feminist though they still extol a certain level of feminist consciousness.

This is definitely true of many Cork Feminista supporters and many of my own friends. And it is this which is perhaps the divider between feminist generations. Young women often refuse to use the word feminist while saying and doing very feminist things. The sting is that the activists who have gone before often feel betrayed by this and feel it’s an insult to their work and identity. And so begins the vicious cycle whereby established feminists question the activities of young feminists, and they in turn resent being silenced and become even more alienated from the traditional movement.

Does this make the movement quieter? Perhaps. Less effective – not necessarily. The world has changed and activism and protest have changed with it; our generation is simply figuring out our own way of doing things. Online connections, with well-thought-out branding, are our tool of choice to engage young audiences. And it’s working. All of the groups command popular support across social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and their own blogs that get tens of thousands of hits. Yet, for whatever reason, be it that something is not clearly labelled as ’feminist’ or because it doesn’t happen in a physical room, it is often dismissed.

Not only is this disheartening for the thousands who have found a home for their voice online, it also presupposes that this is the only type of activism that young feminists engage in: another myth

All of the groups named hold regular events and activities, organise protests and demos and campaign on feminist issues. In the 20 months that Cork Feminista has been established we’ve had 24 events and spoken at a variety of others. Alison Spillane points out that “young feminists can be found on the streets protesting, for example, against cuts to lone parents and campaigning for long overdue changes to Ireland’s abortion laws”.

Despite all of this great work, I still get asked why the young feminists are not doing anything – more often than not in spaces where emerging feminists should be getting support, like at  National Women’s Council members’ meetings. And it needs to stop.

It shouldn’t be about younger feminists, or older feminists, emerging feminists or established feminists. It should be about all of us focusing on issues and campaigns and learning from each other from a platform of mutual respect.

So I present you with a challenge. To those who have ever wondered where the young feminists are and to my peers who often feel ignored and invisible, remember Saturday 19th May. The Irish Feminist Network is hosting a conference entitled ‘Feminist Activism in Ireland, Past, Present & Future’. It is the perfect opportunity for all of us to bridge the current chasm that has been created by the question ‘Where are all the young feminists?’ I’ll be there. I hope you are too.



Linda Kelly is the co-founder of Cork Feminista and a Director of the Irish Family Planning Association and Hanna’s House Peace Project. @corkfeminista

  • Portia

    Feminism was infiltrated by patriarchs and that was the problem.

    Also what wombman in her right mind wants equality to males?

    Fe+males are complete.

    Males are not.

    It is males who need to work to become equal to fe+males.

    Do women really want to waste their lives being like men, making money,fooling themselves that they are superior, with some God given right to own and possess women and children?

    I see the future of women in Eire as much different.

    I see a return to the Divine Feminine with the empowerment of women, with our own businesses and our own time for reflection.

    I see the few matriarchal males stepping up and putting women in the forefront with the knowing that we compliment each other.

    I hear of a Cork judge who calls a mother despicable, because she is intelligent, educated, powerful and he does not like it, so he punishes her using the same old Inquisition tactics as the witch trials.

    This is what we need to be exposing.

    In Eire we have judges being trained/groomed too see all women as Feeble Minded.

    This is what needs addressing.

    We need to remove the veil and expose all the corruption in our patriarchal Roman ruled island.

  • Jarl Ragnvald

    “In fact, there is no such thing as the “battle of the sexes” because this term suggests there are two equal but opposing forces struggling for power. What is actually taking place all over the world today is men’s oppression of women, otherwise known as patriarchy, “rule of the father”, a social and political structure which has persisted for millennia because of male violence, but which is gradually coming to an end due to women’s relentless and ongoing struggle to be liberated from male dominance.”
    “…Freud, a man whose influence lingers over society still. It took a radical feminist (Kate Millett) to pick apart his erroneous theories, crushing each one like grapes underfoot, before society began to admit they’d made rather a big mistake by taking him seriously. Before that, his work had been seamlessly incorporated into mainstream psychology.
    Even today, Freud is referred to as the “Father of Psychoanalysis” and a countless number of sources describe his legacy in these favorable terms. “Father of Covering up the Sins of the Fathers” would be a more apt description, due to the fact that the basis of his work was to assert that women lied about childhood sexual abuse. Ironically, at the beginning of his career he expressed dismay that so many men had been raping their daughters, and he diligently documented his findings. What surprised him the most was the sheer number of women that were reporting the rapes. But because he could not face challenging an establishment over which the fathers in question had substantial influence, he recanted his original findings and blamed the daughters.
    Freud was another man who didn’t like facts when he saw them, and for that he will go down in history as being nothing but an old fraud.
    It seems to me that as patriarchy falls it is becoming harder and harder to cover up the rot that is concealed within its structures. History is being made. Male dominance is flailing. We are now approaching the age of reason, perhaps the Enlightenment: a new age, in which a man who throws a temper tantrum can no longer use his male privilege to remove a woman from her job, and in fact, where his complaint is openly regarded as ridiculous. CherryBlossomLife

    The major bastions of male supremacism in Ireland remain – the Roman Catholic Church, Politics, and the legal profession including the judiciary. They reinforce daily what men see as their God-given right to have dominion and control over females and children. Such beliefs and attitudes must change. Women and children have human rights to freedom of thought, speech, and choice and Ireland can no longer be one of the world’s major centres of human rights abuses.

  • Laura

    Portia, the female supremacism you preach will do nothing other than tyrannise both men and women. Equality means just that. Who will be customers of your divine female businesses in your jaundiced, castrated world? I see nothing but a police state in such a system.

  • Catherine

    Okay, I’m a few months coming into this comment section but Jaysus, Portia! Way to discriminate there. I certainly don’t want to live in a world without men or where men are repressed; I love men. My father is a man, as is my brother and some of my closest friends. It’s not a case of “us against them”, it’s a case of women having equal rights and opportunities to work, healthcare and education. I don’t know about you but I wanna live in a world free from traditional and religious constraints and social roles that have been constructed to silence or repress me. I want to live in a society where I will be respected for who I am as individual, and will not feel pressured into becoming a mother if it is not of my own individual choice. Seriously misses.