#WTF – waking the feminists, the Irish way

The first Waking the Feminists meeting outside The Abbey, Ireland’s national theatre, in Nov. 2015 to protest The Abbey’s male dominated 2016 programme. | Photo courtesy of Emer O’Toole

The first Waking the Feminists meeting outside The Abbey, Ireland’s national theatre, in Nov. 2015 to protest The Abbey’s male dominated 2016 programme. | Photo courtesy of Emer O’Toole

Simon Fraser University (SFU) Lecture Series presents Waking the Feminists: 2016’s Irish Theatre Revolution on Dec. 1 at the SFU Harbour Centre campus. Guest speaker Emer O’Toole, professor of Irish Canadian Studies at the University of Concordia, will explore Ireland’s revolutionary history and the role of theatre in shaping its politics. 

Ireland’s national Abbey Theatre is being criticized for the lack of female representation in its theatre program commemorating the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising, signifying the independence of the Irish Republic.

The series of theatre productions scheduled for 2016 centennial lacked female representation, which galvanized feminist and ignited a grassroots movement #Waking The Feminists.

Professor O’Toole, PhD, will also share the stories of women’s contributions in achieving independence for the Irish Republic and how these historical events relate to 2016’s women’s movement for change.

“My talk is really about women’s place in Irish theatre and women’s place in the ongoing project of achieving an egalitarian Irish Republic,” says O’Toole.

Crisis in Ireland

Women across Ireland argued that their voices, histories and stories had been removed from the theatre program that was supposed to celebrate the centennial of the Easter Rising. According to O’Toole, 90 per cent of the playwrights and directors were men and it was obvious board members of the theatre had selected very few submissions from women.

“Many Irish women who were involved in the nationalist movement [during the 20th century] were also playwrights,” says O’Toole. “These women helped establish the Abbey Theatre, which continues to be a place for independent thought and controversial ideas that allows the people of Ireland to think about what is possible with a socialist republic.”

O’Toole says the centennial in spring 2016 was supposed to be a year of national introspection for Ireland – to encourage the people of Ireland to reflect critically on the questions that define them as a nation – yet the actions of the theatre suggest that only a male lens would suffice.

“Feminists suddenly realized that they were being told what’s important to Ireland, what would be reflected upon, and where Ireland is going,” says O’Toole.

Taking a hint from the past

Dara Culhane, professor of Anthropology at SFU, has spent over a decade researching the correspondence of women who have moved to Canada from Ireland through historical archives.

“We’re interested in bringing Dr. O’Toole to Vancouver as a leading scholar in Irish studies in Canada,” says Culhane, PhD.

Culhane believes that the crisis in Ireland should be of interest to all women, especially now, as women struggle to reaffirm their position in society after enduring misogynistic rhetoric spread by the President-elect of the United States of America. She is candid about her frustrations with the recent election results:

“… we’ve been plunged back many generations to an era where many of us didn’t think we would return.”

Culhane senses the constant push and pull that women endure to maintain their position and voice in society and says women cannot assume that their efforts in gender equality today will be understood and accepted in the future.

“The announcement made by the Abbey Theatre and the public outcry of feminists everywhere was the impetus for a much larger social conversation that includes women’s representation in Irish theatre. But it also stretches to other areas of the Irish arts like literature, the film industry–which is overtly patriarchal–and it extends to how women are treated socially and politically,” says O’Toole.

For more information about #WakingTheFeminists, please visit www.wakingthefeminists.org