Tuesday 20 August 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'If we want women to be taken seriously, we should dump 'Love Island' and Ladies' Day'

Feeling the heat: Maura Higgins from Co Longford has appeared on this year’s ‘Love Island’
Feeling the heat: Maura Higgins from Co Longford has appeared on this year’s ‘Love Island’
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

From beach bodies to Ladies' Day and defuzzing our armpits every morning, summer has always been misogynistic.

This year, the Government is adding to our long list of summer woes by refusing to nominate a female candidate for the European Commission.

Leo Varadkar has defended the decision not to nominate a female candidate for the European Commission alongside Phil Hogan.

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The new EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has asked all member states to nominate two candidates, one man and one woman.

Asked last Friday what this decision said about gender balance in the Irish Government, Varadkar answered that Fine Gael had more female councillors, TDs and MEPs than any other Irish party. "We are practising what we preach," he said.

The truth is, they aren't. In 2017, Varadkar was heavily criticised for his ministerial appointments - a total of seven out of his 34 ministers were women, at a time when international leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron were committing to more gender-balanced cabinets.

And claiming you have a higher number of women than other parties isn't something to crow about when the bar in Leinster House is so depressingly low.

Meanwhile, the CervicalCheck controversy rumbles on. The latest outrage involves a computer "glitch" - and yes, glitches happen. But the decision not to communicate this to the women involved is yet another blow for women's health in Ireland.

All year long, society sends us women messages about how we should look, but summertime turns up the volume on gender differences.

The idea that a woman's worth lies in how she looks is more pronounced in summer and it seems like everyone is telling us how we need to improve ourselves if we're planning a day at the beach.

This is very slowly improving, and fashion magazines have started to present more radical and inclusive versions of beauty that say boo to the old ghosts of fat- shaming and a squeamishness about bodily functions.

But as we get complacent and think it's all grand, along comes another fashion slot on the telly about how to dress for Ladies' Day.

There is something very uncomfortable about a competition where the judges are judging women on their outfit at a sporting event, and the contestants are ordinary women who don't always opt in. I've already heard and read too much sartorial advice on what Irish women should and shouldn't be wearing to the races this summer. There is no room in modern feminism for any kind of competition that evaluates women based on their looks or head gear.

Then there is 'Love Island' on the television every night, and even if you wanted to, you can't really get away from it.

It's a dangerous dose of sexism about a dozen or so impossibly ripped young men and semi-clothed young women co-living in a Spanish villa and encouraged to hook up with each other.

New contestants are thrown into the house to test the strength of each couple's love and affection. Exhausting? Of course - but also just another way to remind us that reality TV isn't exactly the best place for women.

Over the past two years, it has become a summer pop culture event - last year's series had average per-episode ratings of almost 150,000. Apparently, more people applied for 'Love Island' this year than to Oxford and Cambridge. Sigh.

Harmless escapism, you say? No, a show where every girl is a Barbie doll and presents a dangerous and unattainable vision of womanhood.

There are questions about the show's portrayal of gender and the fact that it only presents one body type - toned, tanned and artificially amplified.

We've all been shouting at photographs of airbrushed women in fashion magazines for years, so why on earth are we watching a show where every female contestant must wear a bikini and glue other people's hair to her head?

And let's not even talk about whether the show passes the Bechdel Test. The test asks two simple questions: Does the film/ television programme have at least two named female characters? And do those characters have at least one conversation that is not about a man?

It doesn't matter that the sexual objectification of men is also rising - 'Love Island's glistening brown pecs show us that it is - but that is just another travesty, this time against men.

What are young girls supposed to take from watching 'Love Island' and seeing women parade around a ring at the races?

Neither is compatible with any respectable form of feminism. Where is our consistency? How can we expect girls to play the game if the rules keep changing? We tell our children they can do it all, but we then embrace worlds that are backwards and in high heels.

If there is any hope of dealing with the relentless sexism aimed at women, and if there is any hope of getting the Government to take gender equality seriously, don't we have to be clear what we mean and say no to 'Love Island' and Ladies' Day?

Deeds, not words, as Emmeline Pankhurst would say.

Irish Independent

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