Wednesday 21 August 2019

Women alone can't make equality 'happen'

Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her husband, former US president Bill Clinton and running mate Senator Tim Kaine, concedes defeat to Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her husband, former US president Bill Clinton and running mate Senator Tim Kaine, concedes defeat to Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Mandy Johnston

Tomorrow, for one day only, the world will turn on its head. Gender quotas go out the window, and women just take over. On Christmas Day, the burden of responsibility to recreate a scene befitting a Christmas TV commercial largely lies with the female of the species. Those hoping to live out their fantasies of festive cheer, bouncy dogs and good-humoured grandparents expect women to deliver their dreams. Men play but a small bit part. It's a stereotype I know but hey, that's what Christmas is all about!

I have never favoured gender quotas. I can't speak for every member of my sex but I can say for certain that I know no one (male or female) worth their salt who would like to be appointed to any position simply to fulfil a statistical target.

Let's face it, as a female in a wicked man's world, there are enough stigmas, barriers and benchmarks set for us already. So being parachuted into an organisation to simply make up the numbers is about as professionally satisfying as superimposing your head onto Naomi Campbell's body for your LinkedIn profile.

Ultimately, neither fallacy will work - eventually you will be exposed.

While I have never considered myself a feminist, I do fundamentally believe in equality for all people. On reflection, I realise that I am just one of those women who believes that equality between the sexes should and will happen eventually. Things will level out.

Recently, I have changed my mind about both feminism and gender quotas. I have realised that the advancement of female equality will not just simply "happen". Real change requires radical initiatives, like gender quotas.

The equality agenda for women has not progressed to the level many of us like to believe it has. Numerous positions that females aspire to are not solely a gender issue, they are also about competency. Sometimes it seems even when a female is more competent they still lose, as we saw in the recent US election.

Although Hillary Clinton will go down in history as the first female victor of the popular vote and the first defeated female presidential candidate, the historic milestone of a first female president awaits another woman. In addition, and perhaps more harrowingly, she does have to suffer the ignominy of being beaten by Donald Trump.

The result is on Americans, not on Mrs Clinton. Not just on the female population, but on men as well. They had an opportunity to address an imbalance and inequality at the highest level but they did not grasp it.

Mrs Clinton herself shares some of the blame. She failed (or refused) to craft a narrative about the importance of her position as an aspiring female, in the way that Barack Obama successfully did for racial minorities when he first ran for office.

In the aftermath of the election, many have focused on introspection and finger-pointing, most characterising Mrs Clinton as a failed candidate whose past suffocated her chances before she even began. It was Americans, however, who chose to elect a man who was manifestly less qualified and less capable and, most importantly, who treated women badly.

Feminism is not just about moving women forward, it is about achieving gender equality for an entire society. Sadly, that is a role that until now is left almost exclusively to women. But the sisterhood that we often take for granted is merely a fiction; the creation of an era seeking to compartmentalise women's concerns.

Heap feminism all in to one neat category, and if other women disagree they are not part of the sisterhood. The reality is there are vastly different and varied demographics of women with little civic support from outside the female community.

Women all over the world do not just fight for their own interests. They work on pro-environment issues, anti-war issues, anti-racist campaigns and pro-LGBT causes. Where are these groups when women argue for gender equality?

Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum in 2015 taught us several valuable lessons. Firstly, that campaigns will not be won simply through the support of the vested interests. No one group can successfully change a nation's mindset, behaviour or laws.

Another thing we learned from the marriage equality referendum is that we cannot simply categorise the LGBT community as 'gay'. Within that grouping is a diverse fluidity, a complex community of differing life choices. It is the same for women.

We are not all professionals; neither are we all home-makers. We are not all good, not all right, not all wrong, not all heterosexual, not all strong, and not all weak.

All that feminism asks is that we are all afforded the same rights and given equal treatment. Somewhere along the line, that became women's responsibility. It is not our responsibility, just as was the case with delivering change for the LGBT community - it is everyone's responsibility.

The movements of social change within civic society have evolved. In line with those developments, the face of feminism is changing. But have women's causes reached out in the same way to progress work on gender issues? Perhaps that is where feminist energies should be focused now.

Astute businesswomen and strong civic representatives have crafted a new narrative. They have decided that the way to change things is from within. A development which the last government recognised, supported and influenced greatly by introducing gender quotas for political parties.

No one is going to burn their bra because they cannot get onto the management board of a sporting body like the FAI or the IRFU. Yet there is something refreshingly progressive about Junior Sport Minister Patrick O'Donovan's ambition to introduce a 30pc gender quota for sporting bodies. Although initially shot down by his senior minister, Shane Ross, he may yet find substantial support from above.

To date, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has appointed several women to important senior positions. He has successfully introduced a 30pc gender quota for all political parties, when many thought it was impossible. When taken collectively, it points to a genuine attempt by Mr Kenny to progress the cause of equality for women.

When the history books are written, Mr Kenny may wish for his legacy to be centred around economic recovery. Perhaps a more enduring and meaningful legacy would be to continue to pursue the female equality agenda.

While you are mulling over all of that, I must dash, there is a TV commercial to recreate. Happy Christmas.

Irish Independent

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