The future of Irish feminism

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Ireland’s history is rich with tales of poverty and emigration. But not in 2007, when Claire Bracken left her native country to teach at Union College.

Until the global economic collapse of 2008, Ireland had enjoyed more than a decade of extraordinary prosperity buoyed by foreign investment, technology and pharmaceutical exports, and a real estate bubble. Immigration exploded, particularly from Eastern European and African nations, and the relatively homogenous country of 4 million almost instantly became more diverse.

Irish feminism symbol

Before it was over, Ireland would be called the “Celtic Tiger,” transformed from a state-run economy into what Bracken calls “a poster child of capitalism … that pursued free market neo-liberal ideology with gleeful abandon.”

Many consider the Celtic Tiger and its aftermath in economic and political terms.

For Bracken, the Celtic Tiger is a story about demographic, social, religious and cultural change. But mostly, it is a story about the future of feminism, which she explores in her upcoming book, Irish Feminist Futures (Routledge, 2015).

Claire Bracken

Claire Bracken, associate professor of English

Irish feminist activism, quite vibrant in the 70s and 80s, was muted during the Celtic Tiger era. “Discourses of post-feminism dominated the Celtic Tiger period,” Bracken said, with “women encouraged to think: ‘we don’t need feminism anymore.’” However, despite this, feminist ideas subtly persisted, something she explores in her book on Irish women’s writing and film in the Celtic Tiger period. It is in this work that we find “women engaging seriously with issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class”, topics pertinent to the late capitalist era of the economic boom.

The recession of 2008 has brought feminist activism back onto the streets in a much more visible way, protesting for change with respect to women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and migrant rights. This new post-Tiger feminism also features social media, which Bracken says “mirrors and contributes powerfully to the kind of struggles that we see among other cultures.”

“I hope the vibrancy evident now online with younger women will continue and get stronger,” she says. “In Ireland there is a more general embrace of feminism more so now than during the Celtic Tiger.”

“The Celtic Tiger may be dead and gone, but neo-liberal post-feminism still remains the primary discourse of femininity in contemporary Irish life,” Bracken writes in her book. For this reason, the feminist ideals explored in women’s writing and film of the Celtic Tiger can help explore and understand the complexities and contradictions of gender dynamics in post-Tiger Ireland, she adds.

Finally, she hopes her book, beyond treating the Tiger period, can help imagine feminist futures at home in her native Ireland and abroad.


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