Feminist and Women's Issues in Contemporary Irish Society
The peer-reviewed journal Etudes Irlandaises is inviting contributions for its Autumn 2012 issue entitled 'Feminist and Women's Issues in Contemporary Irish Society', which will be guest edited by Fiona McCann and Nathalie Sebbane.
The decline of second wave feminism in Western societies, the legacy of the Celtic Tiger and the emergence of a more liberal society, along with the transformation of the cultural and media landscape, have given rise to a new discourse that can tentatively be entitled postfeminist. Our understanding of this term requires the utmost prudence, however. The postfeminist current posits equality between men and women as a given and the feminist struggle as no longer relevant. However, according to Tasker and Negra (Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture), postfeminism is more a series of diffuse attitudes to be found within the media and related to second wave feminism's attachment to the past than an ideology or a form of activism. Nevertheless, it is not a backlash or a violent reaction against feminism since postfeminism acknowledges the complex relationships between culture, politics and feminism.
The fact remains, however, that one of the characteristics of postfeminism is its positing of a gender equality which is far from being experienced by Irish women, whether in relation to salaries, political representation or access to certain professions, among other issues. Moreover, the secularisation of Irish society and the unshackling of Catholic church discourse have enabled new discursive approaches to the body and sex to emerge. The new media landscape presents the image of a hypersexualised woman, while male discourse tends to converge more than ever towards essentialism and biological determinism. Irish women may rightly have felt liberated from the weight of religion, but don't they now have to struggle against the weight of a consumerist discourse which threatens to annuhilate a fight for rights that they have never really obtained?
The Celtic Tiger and the economic boom which accompanied it provoked an unprecendented wave of female immigration, notably from Eastern Europe. An inevitable confrontation then emerged between Irish women in search of fulfillment and consumerism and a foreign population which was isolated and vulnerable and in search of a freedom that all too often boiled down to psychological subservience and physical violence.
North of the border, the Good Friday Agreement and the period of relative peace which has ensued have enabled women and feminist movements to focus on issues pertaining directly to the amelioration of women's lives in a society which continues to founder on the bedrock of ethno-religious, economic and cultural divisions.
At a time when the Irish government has just rejected UN recommendations which invited Ireland to align its legislation on abortion with the rest of Europe, it seems as though patriarchy is still a force to be reckoned with.
In literature, the 'chick lit' phenomenon, which emerged in the 1990s (with Maeve Binchy as precursor), has been commercially very successful. However, although these novels testify to a desire to shed light on the lives of (Irish) women, they are far from receiving positive critical attention and are often reproached for their focus on consumerism and their reinforcement of a stereotypical vision of women. Other novelists, such as Edna O'Brien, Anne Enright or Deirdre Madden, to name but a few, have offered more nuanced representations of the relationship between women and the changes which have profoundly affected contemporary Irish society. Emma Donoghue and Anna Burns explore lesbianism and the consequences of the Troubles in an innovative and original style. In the theatre, Marina Carr and Christina Reid, among others, represent and thereby give visibility to a disillusioned working class and women who are violent and/or victims of violence. Poetry too has continued to be a privileged place to propose and challenge images of women since Seamus Heaney's 'The Wife's Tale' (1969) and Eavan Boland's 'Mise Éire' (1987) and the poetry of Medbh McGuckian, Sinead Morrissey, Leontia Flynn and Colette Bryce.
These observations, which are by no means exhaustive, invite authors to analyse (post)feminist issues in contemporary Irish society. Contributions could question the very nature of feminism, its evolution and its status in post Celtic Tiger Ireland; they could also tackle representations of women in the contemporary media, cultural and literary landscape. Authors are also invited to focus on the specificities of female immigration to Ireland over recent years. The question of women's bodies, how they are appropriated and violated is also relevant.