Monday 10 December 2018

Liz Kearney: Smashing the glass ceiling? This woman's just trying to keep it all together, thanks

Glass ceilings
Glass ceilings
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

TODAY is International Women’s Day so to celebrate, I got up at 4.30am, did my make-up, had a blow-dry, threw on my Jimmy Choos, then attended a 7am city-centre breakfast meeting and did some high-level corporate networking before changing into my workout gear for a quick Pilates session. Then I put in a 12-hour stint at the office, smashing a few glass ceilings with my extremely high stilettos as I went.

Only joking. Today, like I do every Thursday, I will have got up at the more reasonable time of 7am, fed the baby, eaten toast, wiped the encrusted Weetabix from the kids’ breakfast off my jeans, waved goodbye to my husband (who like lots of other modern dads thinks it’s a privilege to do the school drop-off) then hopped on a train to my job which, while very enjoyable, doesn’t actually involve any high-level glass-ceiling smashing.

In other words, I’ll be doing normal things, like 99pc of Irish women. And that’s why International Women’s Day, or more specifically the litany of ever-more ludicrous events designed to celebrate it, is ridiculous.

In the words of my teenage hero Morrissey, it says nothing to me about my life. And before you point out that it’s not about me, well, it’s probably not about you either, unless you happen to be an elite member of the professional class whose idea of empowerment is a business breakfast in a power suit or an “inspirational” talk from a corporate cheerleader about finding your inner voice as a female in the workplace.

Lest we forget, International Women’s Day was originally established to give a voice to women who lived in poverty or who were affected by violence and to improve gender equality. And in the richest of ironies, this event, now so beloved of corporate Ireland, had its roots in the trade union movement.

It’s worth pondering just how far we’ve come: to mark the big day this year you can attend a Beyoncé-inspired fitness class and brunch in Dublin city centre for the tidy sum of €38, or you can fork out €300 to abseil into Croke Park (for charity, obviously), or you can attend a post-networking Pilates class at Bank of Ireland’s CityWest event this morning. All in the name of equality, ladies.

Liz Kearney
Liz Kearney

The Beyoncé brunches and abseiling are harmless enough, I suppose, but the business-breakfasts and corporate networking opportunities are where it really falls apart. Events like these cherry-pick all the rubbish bits of patriarchal workplace culture, like weird exclusive single-sex business events and family-unfriendly timetabling, and repackage them as progress for women.

But these are the very deterrents that drive women out of the workplace, so why would we want to co-opt them for ourselves in some sort of bizarre tit-for-tat equality offensive?

Our failure to re-imagine workplace culture in a way that accommodates the complexities of modern gender politics is precisely the reason we’re making such little progress on the equality front.

Not all of us fit the mould of inspirational corporate go-getter, but many of us want to work and have families and friends and lives outside the office and not feel constantly demented with trying to keep up.

Here are a few ideas for International Women’s Day (and every day): Refuse to attend any or all crack-of-dawn breakfast meetings on the grounds that what you can’t do in a normal working day isn’t worth doing.

Eschew ‘women-only’ anythings, on the grounds they’re as hypocritical and pointless as men-only events.

Embrace the idea that while some of us want to smash ceilings, many of us are just doing our best to keep it all together in Weetabix-smeared jeans.

Now if there’s an event that celebrates that, you can sign me up any day.

Meanwhile ... Breakfast or Tiffany’s?

The Irish mammy is alive and well and sticking like glue to her time-honoured philosophy of strict self-denial, if a new survey is to believed.

A Mother’s Day poll carried out by the makers of Caldesene found that what we really, really want as a gift this Sunday is not an expensive watch or fancy diamond earrings, or even a nice gift voucher to spend on ourselves.

Instead, us mums would be happier with more homespun offerings like breakfast in bed, a lie-in and a handmade card.

And nearly half of mums – 48pc – agreed it was the thought that counts and not the gift, thus cementing their selfless status, according to the press release which accompanied the survey.

Which leaves me wondering about the other 52pc who didn’t agree that it was the thought that counted.

For them, presumably, nothing short of a Tiffany’s box or a BT’s voucher will suffice. Did they miss the memo about being an always-grateful and never-complaining Irish mammy?

Are they planning on spending this Sunday in a blind rage if all they get is a poached egg on toast and a misspelt card from their offspring? Sadly, we weren’t told.

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