'I've worn a few hot bras in my time -- but I've never burnt one'
Feminazis take note, girly-girl Katy French tells Brendan O'Connor she's a modern woman who speaks her mind
'I read nearly all the Sunday papers but I find the Tribune a bit turgid" says Katy French, "so I hadn't seen the piece myself".
And so, it was a friend who alerted one of Ireland's most intelligent and outspoken models to the extraordinary attack on her by former newsreader Claire Byrne in last week's Sunday Tribune.
"When I read the piece for myself I was surprised at the irrationality of it -- but mostly I was surprised to hear this kind of stuff coming from a woman. It was the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear from a man who hates and fears strong women. But reading your one it was like feminism never happened. Where's the sisterhood Claire?"
Byrne wrote last week about what a "worrying development" it was to see French's opinions held up "almost as the voice of a generation".
She condemned Katy's "vulgar honesty" about her sex life. She claimed that these opinions being made front page news meant that Katy French now speaks for Irish women as a whole.
"I hesitate to use the word 'hysterical' about another woman, because I think irrationality and hysteria are labels long used by men who don't wish to take women seriously," French says, "But to claim that because my opinions are publicised that this suggests I speak for all Irish women, is actually hysterical. Claire Byrne gets space in a newspaper, albeit the Sunday Tribune, to air her own views about things every week but God knows nobody is suggesting she speaks for Irish women. And if she does, then God help us all."
Katy thinks that Claire Byrne was basically suggesting that because Katy French poses in underwear and has talked about her sex life she is not entitled to have opinions about anything else.
"Look. It's here in black and white," says Katy, brandishing a photocopy of the article. She reads aloud: "'Do you really want to hear a model talking about her sex toys and sexual exploits one week and telling you about the plight of the Third World another week?'
"So, essentially she is saying that because I am sometimes frank about my sexuality I am not entitled to have views on the Third World or presumably any other important matters. She seems to be suggesting that pretty girls should just shut up and look pretty.
"It disappoints me more than angers me really," says Katy with a sigh.
French is at pains to point out that the last thing she wants is some kind of a public catfight with Byrne.
"Look, to be honest with you, I was always brought up to believe that women shouldn't fight in public, that it was just not done. But I feel I need to defend myself against this. I could get into really catty suggestions about why this woman resents me so much.
"It could be that she earns less than me, that her husband fancies me, that she's jealous that I seem to have a healthy sex life, or it could just be that she needed something to fill her column. But I'm not going to get into that.
"Let's just take her rantings at face value. Essentially she is saying that I can't have a brain and a body. She is saying that I can't be frivolous and feminine and girly sometimes and be serious other times. She is saying I can't be a girl and have opinions like the men.
"In many ways she reminds me of what John Waters so memorably dubbed the 'feminazis' -- this notion that if you want to be a strong woman you need to hate men and wear dungarees and eschew femininity.
"I'm sorry, but we're now into the third generation since feminism and I was brought up to believe you can have it all -- that you can wear your make-up and be sexy and be girly and still talk about the Third World, or abortion, or feminism.
"Claire Byrne seems to espouse what Joan Didion called 'wounded bird feminism' -- but I suppose I'm more an exponent of 'sassy bird feminism'."
French was particularly annoyed that Byrne attacked her charity work.
"Maybe she thinks I should stick to the modelling and keep my mouth shut and I know a lot of men feel that way about mouthy women but they didn't shut me up and neither will this Claire Byrne.
"She can say what she likes about me, but for her to sit behind her laptop taking pot-shots at charities who do more for the world in one day than Claire's little column -- or my preaching -- will do in a lifetime, is a bit much."
Katy pointed out that while some of her recent charity work was well publicised, almost daily she does other work for charity which she chooses not to publicise.
"Part of the reason someone might ask me to front a story about the Third World is presumably because they know I might be the spoonful of sugar that can make the medicine of a story about the Third World go down.
"Compassion fatigue is very much alive and well and the reality is that more people will read about Katy French doing charity work than will read dry statistics about poverty and good causes. It's a pretty basic equation and I'm happy to be used in this way.
"But frankly, to knock me for doing something for charity was a bit of a low blow. I would never question Claire Byrne's morality or how she approaches her charity work. I would never take a dig at anyone for helping other human beings."
And then Katy's final word.
"I've dealt with this crap all my life and I really don't need to engage in this any further so this is my final word.
"I don't remotely think I'm any kind of role model for anyone. But I'll tell you one thing -- I think I'd be a better role model for girls than a woman who thinks that women's sexuality should be kept under wraps and not spoken about and who thinks that pretty girls should just look good and not have opinions.
"I've worn a few hot bras in my day but I've never burnt one. But next to this kind of thing, I'd say I'm a raving feminist. Now let's leave it at that.
"And Claire, the next time you decide to pick on some dumb animal, pick on one your own IQ size."