From #Repeal To #FreeTheNipple, Meet The Women Turning Our Newsfeeds Political
Activism is going off the streets and onto our newsfeeds, thanks to social-savvy users with a passion for change. It’s estimated that around 250,000 Irish people use Instagram every day, and with 600,000 Irish users on Twitter, that’s one big audience for anyone looking to have their voice heard. Here are two women (with four more in the mag) using hashtags and more to make a big difference.
“Enda Kenny invited himself into my uterus. He decided it was his business. So I made it his business.”
Comedian Gráinne Maguire, 35 wasn’t happy with her government telling her she couldn’t have ownership of her own body. So she took ownership, and started telling Taoiseach Enda Kenny about her period. In detail. Live on Twitter. In the end, hundreds of other women joined in, and the story – along with Ireland’s ongoing #RepealTheEighth campaign – made headlines internationally.
“For ages I was trying to think of a way to raise awareness of the abortion rights campaign in Ireland. As a comedian, I talk a lot. If I’m not going to talk about issues like this, then others certainly won’t. The idea to live-tweet my period to the Taoiseach just popped into my head one evening. I thought, ‘Either this is the best idea I’ve ever had, or I’m having a nervous breakdown.’
I never in a million years anticipated the reaction it would get. I assumed I’d get a few sympathy re-tweets and a phone call from my sister. Then it just blew up.
I started tweeting Enda on a Monday. On the Tuesday a few of my friends joined in. By Wednesday night, my Twitter notifications were going crazy and it was getting some coverage on Irish radio. On Thursday I got a call from the BBC. By Friday it was everywhere.
Irish women have reached a tipping point with the abortion rights issue. The whole ‘live tweet your period’ idea gave women a chance to show that they’re not embarrassed, they’re not ashamed, they’re not going to be quiet about it. They have a sense of humour and they have something to say.
Look, at no stage did I think that my tweets were going to somehow change the Irish constitution. But I think the idea spoke to something bigger. Irish women want to talk about their bodies, and they want to be listened to. I think there’s too much squeamishness and shame around women’s bodies in this country, a real patriarchal embarrassment. The fact that in 2016 we should be embarrassed to talk about our periods is ridiculous to me. If we can’t talk about our periods, how the hell are we going to talk about how many women go to England to get abortions every single day?
Enda Kenny invited himself into my uterus, I didn’t want him there. He decided it was his business. I thought, “Well Enda, you’ve decided you’re in charge of my body. You’ve invited yourself in, so here are all the details.”
In the end, I didn’t get a response from Enda directly, but it became about more than that. The issue of abortion rights is so heartbreaking, and so emotional and personal, that the live-tweets got women talking about it in a different way. I loved that other women got the chance to show that they were not ashamed. It was a joke for women, by women. It was a chance for women to unite. Even teenage girls got involved.
Irish women put up with such shite and it was so lovely to have that moment where we just, well… ganged up on Enda Kenny.”
“The phone wouldn’t stop ringing. I was being woken up in the morning by radio stations calling me.”
In July of this year, musician Carina Fitzpatrick, 29 from Meath took her top off at music festival Knockanstockan, as a real-life #FreeTheNipple protest. She was briefly removed from the site by Gardaí, which led others to take their tops off in solidarity. The next day, she shared her story online, and it sparked a reaction far beyond what she could have anticipated.
“There isn’t a law that says going topless in public is indecent. There’s a law that says if someone takes offence it’s an issue. Even that is kind of a silly law.
During the weekend at Knockanstockan, I’d been having a lot of very interesting conversations with different people: about feminism, body confidence, sexual assault. On the Saturday I spoke with one bloke who rubbed me up the wrong way a bit. I was trying to educate him about feminism and he was being, well, a bit of an asshole. When I took my top off, it wasn’t in response to anyone or anything, it was me saying, ‘I’m a human being and I have the right to stand her and be equal to anyone else.’
When the Garda came over, a lot of people were grabbing him or shouting at him. While I was glad of the support, I wanted to solve the issue by simply talking it out if possible. He asked respectfully if I’d put my top back on, and even though I told him he didn’t really have the right, I did put it back on anyway.
After a while though, I reconsidered. Women were approaching me saying they’d love to go topless too, but they felt they’d be judged. That riled me up a bit. Once I get riled up, I just have to do what I have to do.
I wasn’t arrested for taking my top off again, but I was asked to leave the site. I came back in after about 45 minutes, and by that stage the word had spread. People were running up and telling me about what they’d seen and what had happened afterwards. I obviously wasn’t aware, but once I left the site, tonnes of other people took their tops off as a protest. People learned my name and started writing #FreeCarina on their body, and posting pictures with hashtags like #FreeTheNipple to Twitter.
I’m not on Twitter myself so I was just leaving people at it really, but when I got home on Monday I decided to post to Facebook to set the record straight in a way. I was already seeing the story twisted before my eyes and it was getting kind of warped. So I put an album of the photos I had, with a statement explaining the events that led up to it. Next thing I knew, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. I was getting woken up in the morning by radio stations. I was in ten papers, eight radio shows and heaps of other publications online.
I’m not a massive social media user, except for Facebook, but it’s great to see the conversation this has propelled. People have been in touch from all over the world. There’s now a Free The Nipple Ireland Facebook group, there are lots of different events and protests planned. It’s brilliant to see.
Meet four more women doing their bit for online activism in the October issue of STELLAR, on shelves now.
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