News Analysis

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Sinead Ryan: Nothing silly about trivialising Mad Men sexism during this sensitive debate

Published 11/07/2013 | 12:44

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Fine Gael’s Tom Barry and Aine Collins. Inset: The Dail 'horseplay' incident that has sparked outrage

It might have only been Dail TV but the scene wouldn't have been out of place in an episode of Mad Men – the ’60s cult drama where men were men and women were ... well, play things.

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In an act reminiscent of Roger Sterling, the randy partner who never met anything in a skirt he didn't like, we see an elected TD (male) reach out and pull a work colleague (female) onto his lap.

And then Fine Gael tries to brush off the incident as “silly”.

Newsflash, gentlemen – pulling a female colleague onto your lap isn't silly.

It’s outrageous. It's bordering on harassment, frankly, and deeply embarrassing, not just for the TDs involved, but any woman in any workplace.

That this happened in the national parliament whose proceedings are televised live is appalling; that it happened during a debate on the abortion issue – one of the saddest, most serious and highly contentious pieces of legislation ever put through the Oireachtas, smacks of contempt. And did he actually pat her backside?

Mortification

Just imagine it's an insurance office, or accountancy firm.

Imagine you're walking past and witness such behaviour. What is your reaction? A loud guffaw and slap on the back for the bloke? Or horror and mortification for the woman?

Now, imagine 166 colleagues in the office all ignoring it. I'd say most of us would be hoping HR would step in, don’t you?

There is the smallest number of female TDs in this parliament. At best it's only ever around 15pc. Not hard to see why, is it? And I couldn't care less whether the women, or this particular woman, didn't mind, or care about this incident. It's not the point. There is no set of circumstances under which it is appropriate.

And dismissing it as “silly” means Fine Gael is also

dismissing the objections other women and girls have with workplace incidents of bullying or sexual harassment while buying into the notion that casual sexism is both alive and well and something to be laughed at. If you're a man, obviously. The women are obviously expected to put up and shut up.

Well, thanks very much.

Do they have any idea how difficult it is for a woman to report this kind of thing in the first place?

Do they know how hard it is to say, “Look, I don't want to cause a problem, but Paddy from accounts has been pulling at me, dragging me onto his lap and patting my backside”. Well now, Paddy can use the parliamentary defence. “Look love, I'm only having a laugh – sure it could happen to a TD.”

No – it is not silly, Enda. It is not a laugh. It is not funny.

You cannot, on one hand, agree that the Anglo tapes, full of male machismo and rude bravado, are the unacceptable face of banking, while claiming that an incident such as this in the Dail chamber is merely “silly” and “horseplay”.

When you are in a workplace doing very important work, that kind of nonsense is not on.

It's not a nightclub or bar where, after a few drinks, this kind of thing might go on; even then it's easy to get out of hand.

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