Thursday 27 October 2016

'Lovely Legs' lark shows how much of a battle we still face

Lorraine Courtney

Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30

Daithi O Se at the 205 Rose of Tralee. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Daithi O Se at the 205 Rose of Tralee. Picture: Steve Humphreys

East River, a clothes shop in Listowel, Co Kerry, is holding a 'Lovely Legs' competition that looks like it's straight out of Father Ted. The store is offering the leggy winner a prize of €100 and a year's supply of tights. So, how do you enter? Simply upload a photo of your leg on Facebook.

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Now, before all you feminists get your lovely knickers in a twist, East River owner, Pat Lyons, insists it's all in the name of fun. Except that it isn't funny. Not one bit. It's just the same old commodification of women.

Yes, it's 2016 - and, yes, this is actually happening. Some bastion of forward-thinking feminism has decided that the most successful way to promote his shop is to hold a pageant for ladies' legs. Give me strength.

On planet Earth, the fight for gender equality struggles on because the treatment of women in society is still derogatory, discriminative and, for some, dangerous.

In Ireland, Article 41.2 of our Constitution still enshrines the place of the woman within the home (I'm not making this up). Only 15pc of the Dáil is female, placing us an embarrassing 79th out of 134 countries in terms of female parliamentary representation. It isn't possible to choose to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland, and every day a troop of us board planes to access this basic medical procedure.

Women make up only a third of the posts on State boards, 17pc of council seats and 12pc of positions on regional authorities.

At home, women earn less and work more - abroad, women are mutilated, demeaned, degraded and assaulted.

In 2007, a woman's wage was, on average, about two-thirds of a man's, and women are still battling the glass ceiling and stereotypes. We hold just 5pc of the top roles in Fortune 500 firms.

Some 814 female employees were questioned by Peninsula Ireland in 2012; 74pc said they had been frustrated that men had been promoted over them and 49pc said employers should do more for equal opportunity recruitment in higher positions. The Everyday Sexism blog is full of women being patronised, bullied and harassed.

We're fed up - not just with being paid less or having fewer high-powered jobs or less representation in government - but with the images of ourselves we're seeing everywhere around us, and how people are behaving as a result of these images.

Meanwhile, over in a parallel universe that lies somewhere between the Playboy mansion and the 1950s, some absolute eejit thinks that the only way to entice customers into his shop is to judge women by their legs.

Remember when those admirable feminists flung a bucket of flour at Bob Hope during the 1970 Miss World contest?

Nothing much has changed since. We still select a Miss Ireland every year and hold our indigenous Lovely Girls' Competition down in the Kingdom, too.

The Rose of Tralee organisers insist that the event isn't a beauty pageant, but it still requires young, childless, unmarried women to dress up nicely, slather on the make-up, parade around a stage and flirt queasily with a man in a dinner jacket.

True, it omits a swimwear round, but only because a semi-nude beauty pageant would have caused opprobrium from stern Catholic moralists back when the whole farce was dreamed up.

Unlike Father Ted, Daithí Ó Sé is unlikely to say "doesn't Mary have a lovely bottom?", but he's still presiding over an archaic event that ranks women in order of likeability or loveliness - or whatever saccharine adjective the judges are looking for in the event.

I'm very much of the philosophy of picking your battles.

The fact that most people have laughed at the legs competition suggests we're beyond this - that this must be some sort of joke because, surely, we've moved on.

Our conversations around women now should involve becoming presidents, redefining what gender can mean and having utter autonomy over our bodies.

But - and there is a 'but' -somewhere in our country a seemingly sound-minded man decided that this ridiculous competition was a good marketing idea.

These stereotypes about women are so deeply ingrained into our culture and our collective consciousness that often times we don't even realise how offensive they are, and each and every one must be challenged on a daily basis if we're going to have any real change.

We still have other battles to fight in a world where women's achievements are belittled and their bodies are considered more important than their minds. And that thought is almost as frightening as a 'Lovely Legs' contest.

Irish Independent

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