I don’t think about feminism a lot. Call it male privilege if you like. That’s not to say that I haven’t considered myself a feminist, I’ve just never really considered my opinion important.
Here’s the thing: I’m a white guy living in a country in western Europe. I’m a gay guy with no sisters who went to a boys’ school. There are questions about being a woman, about being a feminist that have never touched me, and I’ve never felt the need to address. Because here, on our little island on the fringes of the Atlantic, feminism is a weird scary thing the weeves in and out of legislation that I just don’t want to go near.
Where is this all coming from? Let’s take a breather: let’s talk about Ireland and TV and summer TV and the fact that Reeling In The Years gives us an opportunity to review the last few decades with an air of knowledge and whimsy. (If you’re not Irish, this might need some explaining, but I’ll try. You know those TV shows they do every year which review the previous 12 months and typically show them around Christmas or New Year’s. Well, Irish TV turned them into a TV series, using their own news footage and popular music (from the year) to create a concise summation of the year in Irish history. It’s quite fun to watch, the kind of thing that they re-release every Christmas for box-set gifting. It’s also the kind of thing that gets shown during the summer after the evening news to fill some airtime. So…stage set.)
Reeling In The Years is a surreal experience for many reasons: it makes you review your life, the country you live in, the things that happened during your life. And some of those things that have happened in Ireland aren’t always nice things to see.
During my lifetime, I’ve seen different referenda on civil partnership, divorce and abortion rights. I was too young to really understand the first couple of abortion referenda, too young to even really understand divorce and civil partnership. They were just parts of life that I had to learn about, that other people got to make decisions on, none of which really affected me.
Yep, male privilege. 30 years of age, and here are all these things that never really affected me and maybe never will.
Because of course, I live in a country which wasn’t really cool with the idea of me marrying my partner of ten years and that was just a given. Because it was the same country where I vaguely remember these things being shown on Reeling In The Years: it was the country where you couldn’t buy condoms, where a husband and wife were tied together, parting only for death (or running away to another country) and where an unborn child’s right to life vastly outweighed that of their mother, no matter the medical danger they were in.
None of those things really affected me: I was too young for them to mean anything, and the Irish/Catholic guilt that still hangs around those things means they’re not really things I want to face. I don’t know many people my age who don’t feel a little bit ashamed (even if it’s just a bit of heat in the cheeks) when buying condoms or even considering having a sex-life.
So I’m 30 years old and truly the very first time I ever feel like this country isn’t a bag of shit, like I’m actually part of this country, part of the human race, is earlier this year, when a majority of people voted and changed the constitution to accept that, yes, marriage is marriage, regardless of who is might be between. Whether those people who are getting married are both men, both women, or whatever gender they choose to define themselves as. (That’s right, Irish law introduced that one too, just a little bit after the referendum.)
All of a sudden, all this shit that didn’t affect me became relevant. It became important. Yeah, I did want to get married; yeah, I did want to get divorced (if I wanted to); I even wanted to consider what it would be like to have kids. (I don’t want kids, but I don’t know if that’s my decision, or this fucked up country deciding that I’d only ever have kids if I were married to a woman and swore that I’d be with her forever and ever and ever.)
A constitutional referendum showed me for the first time in 30 years that I was an equal, that I was a real person and that I was allowed to have opinions and thoughts and…y’know, to think shit. And maybe my thoughts and opinions weren’t queer or fucked up, but were actually in-keeping with the majority of people like me.
Trust me, it’s really fucking weird to turn 30 and suddenly find out you’re a real person. That you’re allowed to think and feel and say shit and you won’t get slagged or teased or rejected. That’s not to say that I was ever slagged or teased or rejected outright, but this is a country and a life where my sex ed class in school (taught by a doctor, to make sure we didn’t get any notions) was specifically to teach us how to have a “healthy normal relationship which would make lots of babies with our future wife.” (I’m sure I paraphrase slightly, but the words were sort of right.) Where a casual comment of “look at the fags smoking their fags” (guys smoking outside a gay bar) still stings 11 years later because it came from a family member.
So now that I’m a real person, I’m allowed to have real opinions, right? My ideas aren’t fetishised or sub-cultural or minimalised. I’m part of the fucking culture for the first time (and maybe I was all long.) I’m a normal guy and I’m allowed to have opinions.
Blah, blah, feminism. That’s where I started, and I guess I better drag myself back to this, because I’m realising that, by being a “real” person, I’m allowed have opinions. I’m allowed be a feminist and I can say that while feminism and gay rights can be unique and individual, they can also be branches of the same tree where they complement each other.
All those times where I didn’t really say anything, or where I acted ambivalent…I’m sort of sorry (only sort of.) Feminists, it’s just because I didn’t think I was allowed to have an opinion. But, I guess what you kinda know exactly what that’s like, so by the very fact of me saying this, I guess that yes, I am a feminist?
Because now that I have an opinion, I look at my life and I go “wow, I’m a feminist.” My mother, strong and brave and funny and not afraid to face fears and be human in the ways that she has to (she only started this recently. Sorry, mam, but let’s be honest.) My musical taste, so often slagged (sometimes by my own tongue) as consisting mostly of “angry lesbians” isn’t actually just angry lesbians: it’s people who are angry and pissed off and left out of things in the same way as I am.
And when I watch a TV show or a movie and I see a woman kicking ass, I guess I admire her, not just because she’s kicking ass, but because she’s allowed to. Because the world that I live in is a world where I wasn’t allowed to kick ass (or I didn’t think I was.) I write books with strong female characters (and some gay ones) because I want them to be strong and to fucking kick ass in their world.
And that’s not to say women and gay men can’t kick ass in this world too: I just fucking wish I could see them do it when I was growing up. Where were my role models, eh? Instead of shrinking violets and camp queers, where were my butch guys who happened to have healthy, honest relationships with other guys?
I watched a lot of wrestling this last few days, and I learned something: watching women kicking ass isn’t fetishising them (not for me anyway), it’s actually watching people kicking ass and being at the top of their game, doing something they love and are really fucking good at.
This particular thought process is brought to you by a lot of things: by my mother and her new car; by watching NXT Take Over Brooklyn and seeing Sasha Banks and Bayley perform in a match more interesting and challenging than any guy’s match I watched; by watching the woman who’s been one of my best friends for the last 25 years becoming an awesome mother to an awesome son; by watching women that I am proud to call my friends kicking ass with their careers and their publishing.
So I guess I’m a feminist now.
Sorry it took me so long to join the party, but I’m only really three months old, so I’m moving pretty quickly in that respect.
Also published on Medium.