Colette Browne: Frat-boy Dail can't see Lucinda for the clever woman she is
IF you thought European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton was making a principled stand on the abortion issue, willing to sacrifice her ministerial role because of her deeply held pro-life beliefs, then think again – she's just kowtowing to hubby.
That's the rumour that is swirling around Leinster House, where, if Chinese whispers were given credence, one would think the minister calls her husband, Senator Paul Bradford, to ask his advice before ordering lunch.
The theory is that the endorphins that flooded Ms Creighton's brain, as soon as she said "I do", permanently erased her capacity to form an independent opinion, devoid of her husband's imprimatur. She walked down the aisle a smart and successful young woman, but walked back up a simpering, fawning acolyte.
This chauvinistic canard has gained traction despite the fact that Ms Creighton has written at length, honestly and openly, about the evolution of her position, from pro-choice advocate to pro-life stalwart. Instead of taking her at her word, her bona fides have been questioned.
The gossip is hard to fathom. Love her or loathe her, there is no denying that Ms Creighton has enjoyed a singularly stellar career. She was elected to Dublin City Council aged 24; called to the Bar aged 25; won a Dail seat in her first general election outing in 2007, becoming the youngest TD in the last Oireachtas; topped the poll in Dublin South East in 2011; and is now the youngest, and some would say the most ambitious, junior minister in government.
Despite this dizzying array of professional accomplishments, she possesses one crippling Achilles heel. She is a woman and must therefore be beholden to a man.
The sexist Dail suits, who inhabit an alternate political universe where women comprise just 15pc of the population, may pay lip service to gender equality, but, deep down, many cling to 'Mad Men'-style stereotypes about a woman's proper place in the workplace – preferably, nowhere near it.
While Ms Creighton is understandably furious at the suggestion that she's a glorified ventriloquist's dummy, relaying her husband's views when she proffers an opinion in the polarising abortion debate, she can take some degree of comfort from the fact that she's not the only high-profile professional woman who has to deal with a daily onslaught of misogynistic innuendo.
Women in the workplace may no longer have to cope with the unwanted advances of male colleagues, groping them at their desks, or derisively referring to them as "honey" or "darling", but a latent, pernicious sexism still persists. Because it's not explicit, it's harder to eradicate.
Women can't win, in a catch-22 called the "the backlash effect" by psychologists in a recent Stanford University study. It found that the traits considered successful for managers are self-confidence, assertiveness and dominance but when women exhibit those traits their careers suffer.
Decisive men who demand high standards are seen as exacting champions of industry, but women displaying the same characteristics are derided as socially inept harpies and passed over when it comes to promotion.
Demanding? You're a bitch. Attractive? You're an attention-seeking air-head. Frumpy? You're lazy and disorganised. Passionate? You're too emotional. The list of pejoratives is endless.
In order to counteract this paradox, researchers have suggested that women use the right blend of "male" traits but cautioned that they must always be vigilant in case their behaviour is deemed too aggressive. The advice in that case is to "tone down" any overtly masculine characteristics.
However, short of developing an acute case of paranoid schizophrenia, it remains to be seen how one can be expected to intuitively adjust behaviour in order to account for other people's base prejudices. It is also deeply depressing that the advice from researchers, at an Ivy League college, is that the very people who suffer from workplace sexism – women – should be the ones tasked with facilitating it by augmenting their behaviour to accommodate it.
Perhaps this impossible standard, that professional women are expected to meet, is the reason that just 21pc of senior business roles and 19pc of board directorships in Ireland are filled by women – a deterioration of the position four years ago.
Ms Creighton, as a young woman working in the frat-boy environs of a male-dominated Leinster House, where work practices are as outmoded as the attitudes to women, is at more of a disadvantage than most.
One can only hope that the imminent introduction of gender quotas, and an influx of smart and capable women into the body politic, will consign these cave-men attitudes, finally, to the history books.