Thursday 29 September 2016

Why do women still have to prove themselves?

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

Entrepreneur Norah Casey. Photo: Tony Gavin
Entrepreneur Norah Casey. Photo: Tony Gavin

An American grandmother aged 68 made world headlines this week because she bravely tried to "power on" and work through pneumonia.

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OK, Hillary Clinton is no ordinary granny; she is attempting to become the first female president of the United States. But instead of being commended for her stoicism and unwillingness to give into illness, she may lose out in her quest for this top prize.

Over on this side of the pond, one of Ireland's best-known businesswomen, broadcaster Norah Casey, was in the news after working through a ruptured appendix, a foolishness which forced her to undergo emergency surgery. The publishing boss sought medical attention only when her 17-year-old son demanded she do so.

You would think someone having pneumonia or a ruptured appendix isn't major news. There are so many other really serious issues in the world. The global refugee crisis and the fall-out from Brexit, for example.

It goes back to the same old story. Women need to appear stronger than men and are constantly having to prove themselves. Whatever we do, we must do it twice as well. And even then, we are often still regarded as half as good.

It is shocking to think in this day and age - when women have fought so hard and have come so far to claim their place in the world - that there is still an assumption we are weaker than our male counterparts and therefore are afraid to admit to illness.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP

We are constantly trying to prove ourselves, and Clinton's albeit unwise decision to ignore doctors' advice and "power on" despite being sick, resonates with most women.

We are well accustomed to men and their 'man flu'. But there is no female equivalent. Working through illness and crisis is what we do, stoically and brilliantly, every single day.

Women are powerhouses and expert multi-taskers. Most working women still do more housework and more of the child care than their partners. Show me the man who does more than his fair share?

Norah Casey is a champion of women in the workplace in Ireland. She spoke movingly in the past about the death from cancer of her beloved husband Richard. She didn't seek pity at the time, she got on with things after his death and was greatly admired by people for this.

Recently she worked through chronic pain for five days to meet her hectic work commitments. She refused to give in and has admitted thinking that "the world would stop" if she didn't continue working.

This could have cost her her life, as she was diagnosed with a gangrene appendix and doctors told her that most people in her position might "end up in the morgue".

Norah said this week: "The difficulty for someone who is made the way I am is that I don't actually think I can ever be sick. I am in denial most of the time. And this time, I was incredibly unwell and I knew it, but there was this big thing in my subconscious that kept saying, 'You are grand, just get on with it and it will all go away eventually', but it was way beyond human endurance."

This mindset is not unique to Norah. This is how most ambitious, working women think. My own mother Kitty became a widow when she was pregnant on her 10th child at the age of 42. She didn't lie down. She "powered on", reared her children, built up a successful international business and dealt with some illness along the way also. She is still "powering on" at the age of 81.

Painting Hillary Clinton as sickly and frail is unfair. Once news broke of her illness her opponents gleefully attempted to disqualify her candidacy.

Hillary's big mistake was not telling the American people of her diagnosis and not following her doctor's advice and taking time off. After all, she is in the public eye and is seeking the highest political office in the land for which one must be in the whole of their health and fitness.

It is disappointing that the focus wasn't on how incredible Clinton was to attempt to work through the illness. Surely this determination, steel and commitment would be a major asset for a president of the United States?

Hillary showed this week that she has balls. Norah Casey does too. I wish them both - and all women out there today who are "powering on" through an illness and going into work and caring for their families - a speedy recovery.

Remember, your stamina is a force to be reckoned with.

Irish Independent

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