What pushed you to start The Hunreal Issues?
Mostly alienation. I knew I was a feminist but there was no Irish media, platforms or groups catering to me. And the more I thought about it, I quickly realised that if I was feeling like that, loads of other Irish women were too. There’s so many different types of women but it felt like the feminism that was being represented was a very typical, closed off group of people and I just wanted to open it up a bit. Initially the concept was for a specific media platform but then websites like Jezebel, The Pool etc popped up and they were writing in a v consumer friendly way that was inclusive and cognisant of a wider audience so it was shelved.
Then the general election came rocking around and so many young women I spoke to had no interest in the outcome of it and I figured if I could try and make more women interested in politics, make it more relevant to them, then politicians would care more about this demographic and hopefully women’s issues would become more red line issues at election time.
Do you think the visuals involved in The Hunreal Issues are important to getting the message across?
I grew up in PR and comms so I understand how important good branding is. It plays such a pivotal role when it comes to messaging – it essentially states your intention before you’ve even uttered a word. My exposure to young women is mostly in Tropical Popical where I work and that was the audience I saw most uninterested in politics so with Hunreal I wanted to target the glam gals and I think that’s what you see the minute you look at all of our branding (lovingly done by Sarah Fox).
You have such a good work/life balance. How do you manage to juggle the two?
I’m so glad it looks like that because it couldn’t be further from the truth! I do however work to what works for me. I’m not into mornings so I don’t start till 11am. But, in saying that, I’m on my phone from 730 or 8 reading the news, filtering what I need to onto social media, responding to anything that’s urgent. The truth is, when you work for yourself you’re never really turned off (apart from when you’re partying!). With the shop as well, I like to make sure I have enough time in there as the whole reason I set up Tropical Popical was to enjoy interacting with people. So when I tell people I don’t work Mondays they forget that I’ll be in Trop over the weekend. If I ever ended up just stuck at my desk on my laptop I’d feel like I’d failed myself or the intentions I set for myself when I set Tropical Popical up.
Everything you do seems to be inspired from providing something for women that wasn’t there previously and making things easier/more fun. Tropical Popical brought a fun new experience of getting your nails done to Dublin and The Hunreal Issues gave women the chance to get involved with topics that directly affect them without the need to be reading lengthy academic pieces every day. Do you think it’s important for women to be able to blend together different aspects of their life, such as getting their nails done while talking about abortion rights?
It’s so funny that this is a question that really only applies to women. Like, you’d never ask a guy if he thinks it’s ok to bring up his politics in the barbers. The fact of the matter is there’s so many aspects of women and we shouldn’t have to compartmentalise them to be acceptable. It’s insanity to think that if we can’t enjoy a more frivolous side to life just because we’re also interested in human rights and politics. And I hate that we have had to almost apologise for enjoying being a woman (whatever that means to anyone) to succeed in ‘serious’ arenas. So yes, if we can talk about women’s need to access abortions over manis, to me that’s perfect.
What sort of affect do you think The Hunreal Issues has had on making feminism more accessible to people? Do you think it's made it more 'okay' to identify as a feminist?
Hopefully we’ve widened the scope of what being an Irish feminist can include. Personally I think there should be room in a movement for different types of people to be able to identify with it and the more inclusive it is the better. Obviously this carries it’s own problems as the essence of it is diluted as it becomes more mainstream and that’s difficult to deal with if you’re a purist of the movement. But if you want to see the movement grow and the effects of the purer beliefs spread you have to make concessions or it will be held back to a core group. So without apology we tried to consumerise it and widen the reach and make it more palatable for a bigger audience, and if in doing that it became more ‘okay’ for more people to identify as a feminist then brilliant.
You’ve spoken before about being annoyed by the only coverage of women and the election was articles such as ‘how to style your hair for the election.’ Why do you think women’s interest in politics is underestimated?
I think we’ve been on a journey as women (cheesy understatement of the year!) and we’ve come from a place where it was unacceptable to work once you got married; you couldn’t buy a house; you couldn’t have a credit card; you couldn’t voice your opinion – or if you did it wasn’t taken seriously! So for a long time politics wasn’t an issue that concerned women for the most part, we were busy in the home (as our constitution so kindly likes to keep us) and our interests reflected that. But once we started expanding our horizons, our interests; knowledge and passions expanded too. And when those interests and passions were nurtured – they became a part of what we expect from women. So it’s taken a while for us to find our voices to let everyone else know that we’re interested too so you can’t blame anyone for the underestimation. But now what you see is a more diverse spectrum of coverage in women specific media. And I think the parallels with this and the growth of women in STEM etc just shows you that if we are exposed to it, we’ll become immersed in it and then our interests will be reflected back to us. But if we don’t know we’re interested in it, how will anyone else!
What do you think of those who look down on women who are interested in beauty and fashion or haven’t done a lot of reading on certain issues as being not ‘real’ feminists?
I can totally understand the frustration. It’s like anything, when you’ve been had clearly defined constraints of what the word means and then someone comes along and moves, or rather widens the goalposts, it’s easy to see how that can be frustrating. It’s like if you’re a huge Take That fan, we’ll call you a superfan. You’ve been to every concert, have every piece of memorabilia, know everything about Mark, Gary, Robbie, Jason and Howard – you’ve practically grown up with them and then someone swoops in and says they’re a super fan but you know they’ve only ever heard their last song. It’s hard to not let that affect and diminish your definition of what being a Take That Super Fan is and not let that take away from how much of a super fan you are. But just because someone is only new to the band doesn’t mean they love them any less passionately.
Why do you think now finally seems to be the time when people are ready to talk about formally taboo topics abortion and fight for their rights?
Specifically for Ireland, I think the hold the Catholic Church has had on us is loosening… and fast. We’re becoming more liberal and logic is prevailing over long held belief systems. Science is advancing and we’re trusting facts over emotionally charged hearsay. And as this power rolls back, people are becoming braver to challenge things and speak out about things that have been swept under the carpet for so long. And the more people speak out about what they actually believe in rather than what they’ve been told to believe, it empowers more people to support them and make their own minds up based on information rather than fear. Fear has held such a powerful role in Ireland for so long and it’s high time we got rid of it.
The Hunreal Issues has given a voice to other views of the Eighth, such as from women who didn’t view their abortion as a traumatic secret, pregnant women who are concerned over the possible consequences of the Eighth during pregnancy or trans men who feared the affect a possible pregnancy would have on their bodies. How important was it to you to a wide range of viewpoints on the topic?
TBH it was simply a case of as I found out about yet another way the 8th was affecting people in Ireland, the more frustrating it became. There was so many ways that I just didn’t even think about so when they came up I wanted as many other people to know about them too. You hear Repeal and the 8th Amendment and instantly you think abortion – which obviously makes sense but for me what the 8th represented was someone else controlling my body and having a say in what life I lead and it felt so restrictive. So sharing these stories illustrates that emotion. And when I came across the ‘Thank God For Abortion’ campaign in NY, it was so startling to me but the more I engaged with it, the more it made sense to me. So I understood Viva Ruiz’ goal of ‘repossessing of our own narratives and pulling it back from the dominant extreme right wing "sin" perspective which continues to justify legislating the torture and death of abortion seeking people. We are broadening the spectrum of this conversation by inhabiting a joyful and authentic place in regards to our own experience with abortion, we hope to inspire others to do the same. We know access to reproductive services are a basic and normal human right.
The Hunreal Issues has spoken about the importance of appealing to those in the middle ground regarding abortion rights and not demonising the opposition, even when/if the Eighth is repealed. What do you think is the best way of achieving this?
I think empathy and understanding are key emotions for anyone who is trying to influence anyone to see their point of view. It’s so easy to get blinded by rage when others opinions affect your life -and I think there is a very important place for rage, it kickstarts action – but in terms of trying to change minds, I always try to put myself in the other persons shoes to understand why they disagree with my point of view. And when you understand that, it’s easier to reach out to them and try and meet on communal ground. Of course there’s the extremes who are just never going to even try and meet you halfway and you just have to decide to leave them to it. That’s why we never engage with trolls or the usual suspects who have no interest in hearing your side of things.
The Repeal campaign has been a huge focus for The Hunreal Issues, what other issues would you like to focus on?
From the outset, our hearts had a vested interest in separating church and state; ending direct provision; our outrageous homeless problem and the corruption in our society.
What plans do you have for the future of The Hunreal Issues?
It’s safe to say it was slightly surprising to find out how much The Hunreal Issues took over my life, I totally underestimated how emotionally involved I would become. So for now, it’s trying to get balance back into my life so that I’m better equipped to continue it and put measures in place to manage it more successfully.
If you could get one overarching message across with The Hunreal Issues, what would it be?
That everyone is entitled to have an opinion and just because it’s not how you’d do it, doesn’t mean that’s not the right way for someone else. Many different voices appealing to different walks of life are better than just one voice appealing to just one group of people.
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