Thursday 19 July 2018

Dearbhail McDonald: Why I won’t be giving up the chance to have my voice heard in push for equality

Dearbhail McDonald
Dearbhail McDonald
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

LAST Friday night, I broke one of my cardinal rules for broadcasting, conferences and speaking engagements.

That was when I agreed to participate, as chair, on an all-female panel at the Dalkey Book Festival, a festival which distinguishes itself because of its healthy mix of male and female voices.  Granted, it was a panel on the #MeToo phenomenon, a long overdue, global reckoning led predominantly (but not exclusively) by courageous women speaking out about the scourge of sexual abuse committed predominantly (but not exclusively) by men.

Yes, there was dissent amongst us women on the topic at Dalkey, notably from the author Lionel Shriver, who thinks the #MeToo movement may have gone too far. But the critical male voice was absent until we threw it open to the audience in a robust Q&A session.

And it rankled with me, well, until our debate was helpfully mansplained back to us later on.

I never lose sight of the fact that, as a journalist – and an outspoken one at that – I  am someone who is privileged to be invited to lead or take part in many public debates.

It is a privilege that I don’t take for granted.

And I have, throughout my career, been something of a “professional pinkwasher” or – as I was described in my salad days in journalism –  the “token chick” deployed by producers and event organisers to spare their diversity blushes.

And yet, that minority status is something I have embraced, if nothing else to improve the visibility – and voices – of other women.

Nobody wants to be the token chick or, indeed, the token anything – young, old, straight, gay or whatever the diversity distinction is – but I’ve found that being a token chick with aptitude has its advantages.

That is because you get listened to more, generating more invites, fuelling a virtuous circle that boosts your profile and, in turn, encourages more women to be heard.

That’s why I’m not pulling out of this year’s MacGill Summer School, despite the furore over the fact that just 25pc of the speakers or moderators are women.

For one, my talk is on the phenomenal role played by women in the recent abortion  referendum, the surge in female political activism and what that might mean for the next general election – a political earthquake, I hope.

And I’m not giving up the chance to declare from the rooftops – as I did in Dalkey last weekend – that 2018 is the Year of Women in Ireland, for all sorts of reasons, good and bad.

I’m not giving up the chance to raise a toast to the mná, just because there are too many men.

Yes, the organisers of the MacGill Summer School have erred in not being alive to the staggering gender gap on this year’s guest list, although I’ve spoken at many gigs – particularly in the corporate world – where 25pc is considered an ambitious target. But will pulling out of MacGill in protest, as Social Democrats Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall have vowed to do, benefit or harm women in the long term?

I’m not so sure.

I’m not convinced that depleting the number of female speakers at MacGill will benefit our cause.

So, I’ll continue to call out the ‘manels’ and rail against equality whenever I can.

And what better place to showcase my aptitude and womanhood than in a room full of silent, attentive men?

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