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Irish Feminisms

Past, Present and Future
Clara Fischer & Mary McAuliffe (eds)
Arlen House


From the Introduction by Clara Fischer

Irish Feminisms: Past, Present and Future arose from a conference organised by the Irish Feminist Network in 2012, the purpose of which was to facilitate 'discussion on successive feminist 'waves' in Ireland, and what they contributed and continue to contribute to gender equality in this country'.1 Ambitious as this remit is, the conference, and indeed the resultant volume, soon revealed the complexities involved in undertaking such a wide-ranging analysis of feminisms in Ireland. For, an attempt to chart and assess a social movement as diverse as Irish feminism over the better part of a century, will necessarily be partial, incomplete and perspectival. Irish Feminisms: Past, Present, and Future therefore makes no claim to constitute a finished overview or final reading of feminist thought and practice in Ireland. Rather, the aim of the book is to provide a 'snapshot', or series of images, taken during the period of summer 2012-2013, with a variety of contributors offering their particular views on feminisms in Ireland -past, present and future.

Such feminist depictions of past events, of contemporary issues, or of future trajectories, though, need not be neatly separable, if at all. The benefit of presenting diverse feminist agents and topics across sometimes vast timespans lies precisely in the opportunity it affords readers to seek out continuities, as well as discontinuities. What were the concerns of suffrage campaigners (Ward)? Were these concerns met during their lifetime, or do they persist in contemporary feminist subjects, and possibly form future feminist preoccupations? What were the feminist tools and knowledge reservoirs passed on (or not) through successive generations of feminists in Ireland? What do the generational dynamics among feminists themselves look like in a context that now boasts not just the third, but increasingly the fourth wave of feminism (Turtle, Fischer)? On the other hand, what are the unique, and perhaps defining political events and issues of a specific time period? Which achievements have feminists been able to celebrate, and which losses and injustices do we still struggle with?

Throughout the book such questions surface, and resurface, as the text's subtitle is implicitly or more directly interrogated by feminist analyses that focus on the temporal specificity of historical, social, and political contexts, while also offering opportunities for addressing contradictions or confluences across distinct moments of time. The contributions collated here, then, can be seen as reflective of feminist engagement of the wave metaphor, which has itself been problematised, but continues to be used as a marker of feminist temporality. Indeed, early talk of 'waves' or 'tides' to describe social movements is often credited to Irish feminist activist, Frances Power Cobbe. Of feminism she said in 1884:

This movement has stirred an entire sex, even half the human race. Like the incoming tide, also, it has rolled in separate waves, and each one has obeyed the same law, and has done its part in carrying forward all the rest.

Just how and to what extent each feminist wave has 'carr[ied] forward all the rest', is often explored in this book. Relations among feminists across generational lines, but also across ideological lines, are examined by contributors, who provide reflexive insights on feminist movement building and solidarity, as well as on in­fighting and differentiation (McKay). Indeed, as the metaphor of the feminist 'snapshot' indicates, there is a particular need for introspection and reflexivity if one is to assess one's own role in the construction of feminisms past, present and future. Many of the chapters presented here, then, betray a certain self-awareness of the pictures they paint, and are not just outwardly-directed examinations of particular policy problems, but frequently look inward to the private, and to the affective life of feminism itself.