Sunday 20 January 2019

Ian O'Doherty: Forget the gender pay gap - it's the class divide that should worry us all

Class act: Christopher Eccleston says he would not have made it as an actor if today’s middle-class domination of the profession prevailed when he started out
Class act: Christopher Eccleston says he would not have made it as an actor if today’s middle-class domination of the profession prevailed when he started out
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman - apparently.

I say 'apparently' because I was brought up by women. Both my nanas came from a generation that could still remember the aftershocks of World War II and the impact it had on this country.

As I grew older and closer to this pair of tough old birds, I began to learn some respect and a sense of awe for the two of them and what they went through.

I learned just how hard it was to be a strong, independent woman in a time when women were treated as little more than a possession - a trinket to possess either because she might have some property or, in the world I came from, a good looker.

They were great. They were cranky. They were supportive. They could cut you down with one withering stare (my family sometimes say I get Nana Joan's 'look' when I'm pissed off, which I always take as a huge compliment) and they could make you feel like you were 10-feet tall and ready to take on the world - even if that world was only the local football pitch.

They were kinda dark and kinda bonkers and I miss both of them.

They made me who I am - for better or worse - and there hasn't been a day since they died when I haven't thought of them. In fact, every time I have a moral quandary I get an image of either Nana Kate or Nana Joan telling me to cop on.

These were women who had to deal with the kind of things that women today, thankfully, look on as horror stories from past. We can all laugh about the ludicrous idea that women were still barred from certain pubs, but I also remember the time my aunt wasn't allowed to travel to Lourdes because she had a joint passport with her husband and he wasn't on the trip.

It was by any standards, completely insane.

It was the behaviour of a society which viewed women with contempt for their intellect and fear of their sexuality.

Nana Joan and Nana Kate have been on my mind a lot lately in terms of the so-called gender pay gap.

These two old buzzards would have laughed at such a notion - not because they thought it was wrong, but because they saw themselves as part of a class struggle to make things better for all people, not just professional whingers.

They would be sneered at now by many self-anointed feminists but, ultimately, they were right - as an impediment, economic class trumps gender and identity every time.

I thought about this the other day when reports began to emerge of RTÉ not properly paying young journalists who work on their digital service.

The defence, according to various RTÉ bosses, is that this is a way for younger people to get their foot in the door; a handy entry route into the exciting world of being a journalist.

And you know what? Being a journalist is an exciting job. I love it. I feel privileged to be one. But it breaks my heart when I feel morally compelled to tell eager, bright, curious working-class kids to pick a different job.

That's for one simple reason - unless your parents are wealthy, you won't have the option of working for nothing for a year. You won't even have the option of going to college.

You'll be told to know your place, stay in your lane and watch helplessly from the sidelines as the children of the middle-class occupy a media landscape which is off limits to you.

That's the point which all the gender pay gap nonsense is missing. The issue isn't a gender pay gap, it's a class divide and it's a divide which is doing serious damage to the quality of the media we consume.

Nanas Kate and Joan would have scoffed at young, university-educated women from the most affluent areas of south county Dublin complaining that they weren't getting a fair shake. Where is the fair shake for the working-class lass?

There is none - zero, zip, nada.

Because, to them, the working class are the people who serve your drinks, or fix your car or clean your house - they're great, but they're not equals.

Instead, the identitarians will spend their time in high dudgeon over the slightest thing, thinking that anything which pisses them off is also oppressing them. In other words, the identitarians have the luxury of obsessing over childish nonsense while the rest of us worry about paying the bills.

This isn't just an Irish thing, nor is it confined to the media. The great Christopher Eccleston (with whom I once enjoyed a remarkable, Guinness-fuelled afternoon which became an evening that then became a riotous night) makes the cogent point that he wouldn't be an actor today if the current middle-class domination of his trade was in existence when he started out. Instead, as he put it, the stage and screen would be left to graduates like "Benedict fucking Cumberband".

The more we allow the broader culture to obsess over the minutiae of middle-class identity politics, the more skill, brains and balls we lose from those working-class kids whose parents can't afford to pay for internships, or college, or year-long gap years.

So, will we see any parity of esteem or sympathy or hashtags and social media campaigns from the usual bunch of coddled, cosseted, privileged lemmings who think Lena Dunham is the voice of their generation?

Well, to use a phrase we don't see often enough in the papers - we will in our bleedin' hole...

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