How to advance the role of women: put their names up as street signs – for a week

I was on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ (God, they know how to ram home  a three-counties-erasing  point) this morning with nice Catherine Clinton from Queen’s University. We were discussing ways of marking International Women’s Day ( 8 March) and among the wheezes will be a temporary renaming of some Belfast streets. So you’ll get Joyce McCartan Road, Isabella Todd Road, Betty Sinclair Street, Mary O’Malley Street, Emma Groves Road and Winifred Carney Avenue. 

Can you think of a dafter idea? It’ll be temporary – about a week, I think. Beyond  confusing the postie, that will achieve sweet damn all. At the root of it is the fact that you can’t really honour the dead. They’re beyond honour and dishonour. What you can do is honour their ideas and the causes they struggled for, by giving people information about them and their ideas, and encouraging people  to follow their example. We live in the present and the future, we learn from the past. 
So who’s going to learn by glancing at a street sign – or, more likely, not –  for a week? Nobody. In addition to which there’s this problem of what all these women did. For example, Isabella Todd worked tirelessly until she got Queen’s University to allow women to study there – three cheers. She also worked tirelessly to defeat Home Rule – two cheers, one cheer, loud booing?  Ditto for Winifred Carney – a woman who was keenly aware of the terrible conditions women had to work under, and also the only woman in the GPO at Easter 1916. For some that’d be four cheers, for others null points/cheers. And does a woman’s sex (OK, a woman’s gender) trump everything else? Maggie Thatcher achieved a lot but most of it was appalling: should she be celebrated as the first female British Prime Minister?
Behind all this, of course, is the fact that women have been discriminated against and suppressed for hundreds of years, and that goes for today as well. In politics, in society, in business – you name it. But it’s a complex process, deciding that a given woman is deserving of recognition, Plus it appears to be beyond the thought processes of whoever’s organising things here to see that temporary street names is a misguided, limp and futile gesture.

7 Responses to How to advance the role of women: put their names up as street signs – for a week

  1. Colman March 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Ok, so we know what you are against. Can you tell us what you are for? Over here in the States, we have Black History month, to celebrate the lives of those suppressed and discriminated against. Perhaps there should be a week dedicated to women’s art, literature and music…can you imagine concerts by Sinead, Enya, Mary Black, and the could be a major cultural event and money maker..and it could be another All Ireland event. Why not? Everyone loves a festival.

  2. Jude Collins March 6, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughts, Colman. What am I for? I’m for minimal celebration and maximum information and thought. I’m for women and other oppressed groups thinking about how they are oppressed and planning the most effective ways to get rid of that oppression. Sinead is a terrific singer but a silly person. Enya leaves me cold, Mary has a sweet voice – but how their singing would improve the lot of women I’m damned if I know.

  3. Colman March 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Okay Jude, elaborate on how that can be accomplished. My vision is much like the West Belfast Feile, only more encompassing of the entire community, for activists and proponents of women’s rights to educate on human trafficking, use of women for sexual slavery, spousal battery, rape, discrimination against women in politics, employment and religion, plus the positive roles that women have played in social, political and cultural struggles in Ireland and throughout the world. A week dedicated to highlighting the oppression and subjugation of women. And grumpy old codgers like you can skip the concerts in the eveing time.

  4. Jude Collins March 6, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Sounds good, Colman. Although I’m a bit worried about someone who (commendably) fights sexism but has no problem engaging in ageism. Mmmm….

  5. giordanobruno March 7, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    A codger is defined as a slightly eccentric (but amusing) elderly man. Which part do you take objection to?

  6. Marie Mulholland March 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Cant understand what your problem is with this activity. You say it will acheive nothing.. can you say that someone looking up at those street signs wont be motivated to find out about the woman it commemorates and learn something about who she was and what she did? And as for it only being for a week, well thats not the fault of the women behind it, its the fault of Belfast City FATHERS who have little or no interest in the women that Belfast produced who worked so tirelessly and so invisibly towards progress for women. And these signs are for women who are to a large extent unknown outside of womens and radical circles, so the whole Maggie Thatcher red herring is exactly that Jude. Personally, I think its an inspired idea and hope it spreads and becomes permanent.

  7. Anonymous March 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    As the granddaughter of Joyce McCartan, I think this was a great idea. My grandmother fought tirelessly for what she believed in and I feel it is great that she has been recognised by having a street renamed after her even if only for a week.