Back in November there was little doubt, with the almost instantaneous reaction it received, the frustration with gender inequality in the Irish arts sector, expressed in a number of tweets by Lian Bell, was at boiling point, and the tweets were the spark that was needed to ignite a long overdue discussion.
Waking the Feminists was born.
I grew up in a household which was 70% female, spanning three generations.
I had a grandmother who, in the 1930’s was the sole proprietor of a pub, long before getting married. She didn’t believe in gender roles.
I had a grand-aunt who was born in the 1910’s, was self-sufficient and always worked. She didn’t need a husband to care for her or to be a “kept” woman. She didn’t believe in gender roles.
I had a mother, who worked in the home but did not let that define her or let her become any less than a man or woman that worked outside the home. She did not believe in gender roles.
I have a sister who has excelled in sports, in science, and many other so called ‘male’ areas. She did/does not believe in gender roles.
And I have a father who treated my mother, and she to him, as an equal. And they supported both myself and my sister in whatever we decided to do; be it sports for her and, at one stage, makeup artistry for me.
Gender roles just didn’t come into it.
So for me it is just a natural assumption that men and women should be treated equally and have the same prospects and opportunity. It’s not too much to ask for.
So back to Waking the Feminists
While the focus may have been initially on The Abbey Theatre and its abysmal record of supporting the work of female writers, the focus shifted to the wider arts and culture sector and issues faced by women in it.
Any fears of the campaign dying out after the ‘big day out’ at The Abbey were quickly allayed with continued campaigning, the extensive list of Nollaig Na mBan events across the country and events outside of Ireland. The appetite for change had not abated.
The call was simple: Increasing the opportunities for female artists across all publicly funded theatre organisations. This call has been welcomed not only by artists and actors, but also those working in, and running venues right across the country.
It is very little to ask for that public money should be spent in an equal manner.
Need for Change
Pay is one of the single biggest factors in gender inequality, not just in the arts, but across society as a whole. The arts is notoriously bad for pay comparative to other sectors due, in part, to uncertainty in funding, the value placed on it by decision makers etc.
The use of zero hour or casual contracts and Jobsbridge is widespread, as it is in other sectors, ensuring individuals remain in a poverty trap with little chance of progression or financial stability. By maintaining this financial uncertainty we prevent those from reaching their full potential.
(CHECK OUT the podcast: 70% of victims of poverty in Ireland are women from Newstalk)
Many of those who are publicly backing the Waking The Feminists movement are in a position to change this; adopting better employment practices, scrapping zero hour contracts and abandoning Jobsbridge.
Bottom line: We will never remove inequality when such a financial precarious position exists for so many.