March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a day when thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. These events range from political rallies, business conferences and government activities to craft markets, performances, fashion parades and more.
It is all borne from the best of intentions, though it is not without its critics, who ask: if the day is indeed devoted to gender equality, why is dedicated solely to women? Why doe women get only a single day? Does such a day simply perpetuate the gender binary by dwelling on it?
The historical subordination of women surely cannot be debated, however. It was only when university education became open to women in this country that their status could begin to change in earnest. The University Education (Ireland) Act of 1879 made it possible for women to sit the Royal examinations and receive university degrees. Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to female students a quarter of a century later, in 1904.
In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce described the Irish peasant woman as ‘bat-like soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy’. The surrounding darkness, as Joyce knew, was the ignorance informing the attitudes of others to woman. Thankfully, because of greater awareness, these attitudes have changed dramatically. A university education is now both a right and an expectation, as it should always have been, for all that sought it.