Sunday 20 October 2019

Barbara McCarthy: 'Women should rely on their own abilities to get ahead, not patronising tokenism'

Kathryn Thomas
Kathryn Thomas
Inspiring: Black Mambas Nkateko Letti (28) and Cute Grace Mhlongo (30) speak to students at Modume Primary School about protecting wildlife. Photo: Getty

Barbra McCarthy

IN A bid to tackle gender imbalance in the anti-poaching world, head warden at the Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa Craig Spencer founded the Black Mamba all-female anti-poaching unit in 2013.

I went on dawn patrol with four of the 36 Mambas earlier this year and they informed me about how, since its foundation, the number of rhinos lost to poaching in the Balule has gone down dramatically. And snaring is down 75pc.

The now world-famous female role models, who all come from nearby townships, have inspired other all-women anti-poaching units across Africa.

Though some might dismiss their gesture as "tokenism", their example was beneficial to the Mambas and their communities.

But is it good for women everywhere?

The push for "equality" has ballooned globally. The female agenda is thrust into the public domain ad nauseam.

This week, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan even announced €5.8m funding to support "women's participation in the workforce", some €1.5m of which will go to entrepreneurs as "women are also less likely to own or manage their own businesses".

Last year, the Government promised to fund dozens of women-only professorships to help "eradicate gender inequality" in higher education institutions.

Just last week, female Irish TV personalities presented pilot shows to RTÉ to battle it out for the chance to present their own Saturday night chat show.

The coveted prime-time slot is currently held by Ray D'Arcy - whose run could end prematurely to make room for either Kathryn Thomas, Angela Scanlon, Doireann Garrihy, Jennifer Zamparelli or Stefanie Preissner.

There have been female-led shows on RTÉ such as 'Women On The Verge', with Sharon Horgan, 'Finding Joy', written by Amy Huberman, and more recently 'Comedy Showcase', which features mostly female cast members.

The urgency is ferocious.

But why the leg-up? Can women not succeed without what I would regard as patronising tokenism, as if someone just delivered an "all female" memo.

We're being treated like we can't tie our own shoelaces together and need help.

Then again, when I look at female-friendly offerings on TV, I wonder, are we being robbed?

Gender balance matters, but so does merit and talent - and we've been served up drivel.

In the 1980s, we had 'Dynasty' and Alexis with shoulder-pads and cat fights, then there was 'Sex And The City', and now we  have Bridget Jones-type one-dimensional characters, who pride themselves on their fat rolls, toilet humour and being useless.

Ironically, there is nothing diverse about it.

During World War II, the WASP US air force women flew more than 96 million kilometres, transported every type of military aircraft, simulated missions and transported cargo.

They were trailblazers, heroines, who looked hot, were sassy, smoked - but 70 years later, we seem to only get by on quotas and shortcuts.

Not just that, we need to be told by women's groups, politicians and Katy Perry that women need other women to succeed, thereby perpetuating a climate of victimhood.

Where would we be without constant empowerment from Oprah, Michelle Obama or Melinda Gates, who travel around the world with saviour complexes, saving "women and girls" who can't help themselves? It's grotesque in its narcissism.

In the Alps this summer, there was a huge push for gender balance in wingsuit flying - one of the most dangerous sports on the planet, with a one-in-500 chance of dying - while #climbingforequality has been encouraging women to climb, as if the mountain cares.

Sure, around a third of FTSE 350 companies have very few women either on their boards or in senior leadership roles.

In Ireland, Leo Varadkar thinks: "We fall very far short of that, and the current pace of change and the current rate of progress is too slow."

But what about personal choices and such things as legacy?

There simply weren't as many women in the workforce 20 years ago to be CEOs today.

The push for gender diversity comes at a cost. Whether you're a Black Mamba, a CEO of a company, or on the front line, you give up your kids' childhood and a chunk of family life, and it's not worth it for many women.

For the sake of equality, we should just start with a clean sheet and be equal already.

But first, we will have to get rid of the giant chip on our female shoulders and start the race in line with everyone else - fair and square.

Irish Independent

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