The two Bridgets lived in different centuries but have a lot in common. Both are campaigners wanting to make the world a better place by looking at it through the female gaze.
The contemporary Bridget, Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson, believes that focusing on the offer to families to promote a level playing field whereby they can access good affordable childcare is not just a winning formula, but the right one. Workington Man needs to be replaced with Wigan Woman.
According to the campaign group ‘Pregnant then Screwed’ nearly a fifth of all parents have had to leave their jobs due to lack of childcare. Recent research by the OECD singled out the UK as having the most expensive childcare system in the world, with 37.5% of income being spent on it (OECD April 2019). This has mostly affected women’s employment inevitably as they bear the brunt of childcare and discrimination. Joely Brierly of Pregnant then Screwed says, “childcare is infrastructure, our system is failing parents, failing providers and its staff”.
Philipson agrees that infrastructure is not just about donning a hard hat and wandering round a building site – it is investment in our children and early years which will create the growth we need.
Women front and centre
Surely the time has come for the opposition to put women front and centre of their policy-making. Why? Because we are at the cusp of what Phillipson accepts as a 1948 watershed moment of truth, where radical decisions need to be taken and life needs to be seen through a feminist lens.
Many of our hard-won rights are now at risk because of Brexit, and the impending bill of rights which will further erode our equality – all paint a picture of a country in regression.
The historical Bridget
Compare this with what is happening across the water in the island of Ireland, where we have just witnessed the adoption of Phillipsons’s namesake, the historical Bridget. St Bridget’s feast day on 1 February is being included for the first time as a bank holiday in Ireland.
We have all heard of her contemporary and spiritual companion St Patrick, and his feast day is celebrated the world over on 17 March, but how many people know St Brigid of Kildare? She was the patron saint of art and poetry, learning, healing, environment and became an Abbess, founding the abbey of Kildare.
Bridget the bridge
She symbolised women’s empowerment. She was the bridge between the pagan and Christian world, from a pagan father who was a chieftain and servant Christian mother. She converted to Christianity as a teenager but retained much of her folklore. The pagan Goddess Bride and Christian Brigid were held as one in her person. There was no either/or, nor was there any attempt to destroy the other part of her in some kind of power dynamic. Both parts of her were welcome, as she modelled harmony and equality.
Her cross was also one of harmony and motion, and not the tortured Crucifix that Roman Catholicism handed down to us.
One of her symbols was an eternal flame. The campaign group ‘Herstory’ wanted Brigid to be formally honoured and accepted and, during the run up to the bank holiday, there was much celebration.
The light of Brigid
People learned about her and, according to Rita Minehan, Roman Catholic sister and founder of Solas Bhride (Light of Brigid) – a centre that opened in 2015 to welcome pilgrims and foster the spirituality of Brigid – she was not someone who would take us back to the past. Rather, she was a modern saint, much beloved for her essential qualities and interests which are aligned with the concerns of people of today – particularly young people who are increasingly casting off traditional forms of Catholicism.
The centre opened in 2015 to welcome people of all faiths and none. Brigid was known to have travelled, preached and healed, often depicted with images of fire and light.
St Patrick and St Brigid
St Patrick and St Brigid had a deep friendship and were spiritual companions, a bit like Jesus and Mary Magdalene and, like the latter, her power and influence have been lost over time until feminist scholarship was able to remember and reconnect with her essence.
As the divine feminine spirit reemerges around the world, even in places where the patriarchy is still trying to extinguish it – aka Iran and Afghanistan – I believe we are in western progressive societies at the cusp of a revolution as demonstrated in the honouring of St Brigid’s feast day and the radical offer of Labour’s Bridget Phillipson.
The female gaze
Unless we are courageous enough and honest enough to accept that looking at life through a different lens – looking through the female gaze – then we will continue to regress as a nation. How do we counter the online harm being perpetrated by misogynists like Andrew Tate and the ongoing sexist narratives of broadcasters like Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson, other than by offering boys and girls a fundamental new way of understanding the equality between men and women.
Brigid’s story can help us with this.