Money and mysogyny behind the popular criticism of women
Be optimistic for this backlash against women tells us society is on the cusp of great change, writes Sarah Carey
My friend the psychoanalyst gave me great advice once: "Name It". Dr Ciara Kelly - in a fine piece in the Irish Independent last Monday - extracted some shrapnel from this BBC/Kevin Myers incendiary device. Struggling to answer Myers' question - why is there only one female chess grandmaster? - she Named It: Expectations.
That's when I remembered when we girls from the Convent were sent down to the Christian Brothers to try Honours Maths. On the first day, the teacher declared that he expected only half a dozen of the class to sit the paper in the Leaving Certificate. He looked at me meaningfully and I knew straight away I'd never make it. And ever since I've deferred to men I thought were smarter than me because they did Honours Maths.
So with expectations of Us and Them set hard in my psyche, I cheerfully laughed off the drunken groping because hey, they're only lads, and isn't a sense of humour the trick to getting through life and sure, some things you just have to put up with? And then you watch, in broad daylight, as the King of The Office actually grabs an intern, right in front of you, and you don't even know what you're looking at any more. Was that a friendly embrace or an assault? And it was the wonderful Barbara Scully who Named It for me: "But imagine if a woman did that? It simply wouldn't happen. We put up with this stuff and that's how they get away with it."
Or the years I spent arguing against gender quotas because I didn't want men to hate us any more than they already did, and sure, if you were good enough, there wasn't really anything stopping you getting that nomination to the ticket or the board.
Then I sat as the formidable Edel Clancy, director of communications at Musgrave's, grimly read out the percentages of women parliamentarians at the Women in Media Conference in Ballybunion in 2014. There was just no arguing with the numbers and I knew I was on the wrong side. I met her there again this year and belatedly admitted my error.
The pity of it all is that I adore the company of men. I don't want it to be like this. But then you read all the studies and there's just no hiding from it. Take two identical CVs. Put a man's name on one and a woman's on the other. He'll get better job offers.
Take a piece of computer code: label it his or hers. Programmers will rate the "female" code worse. Ask men to estimate the amount of time women spoke in a classroom or meeting. They will always overestimate the women's talk time. They so fundamentally believe that the airtime is theirs that every word we speak is one too many.
And then the BBC Names It and I realise my cheerful stoicism is simply enabling the nonsense. Misogyny is not an anachronistic attitude. Misogyny has been commercialised. How do I know?
I have three sons. I've never simpered that I wouldn't like to be called a feminist. In my house, feminism is justice. My husband cleans up and hangs out clothes, so they see what we preach. But then they mock me with jokes like: "Woman! Get back in the kitchen!" And when I rear up and object, they laugh even more, shouting: "Aha! Triggered! Feminists!" They stop laughing when I lock up the PlayStation, but I'm left wondering where it's coming from. My sons are being indoctrinated. By whom and why? It's not about me any more, but them and the realisation they are being manipulated by the industry in which I work.
This is popular culture. This is mainstream in a world where even world champions like Serena Williams still have to defend themselves against ridiculous arguments about the relative merits of women's sport. It's quite obvious that the popularity of any sport - irrespective of who's playing it - is in proportion to the money spent supporting and promoting it. Take a little bit of success, add some cash and the audience figures are the self-fulfilling yield on investment.
If you spend it; they will come.
But money-men put the money behind the men, and then declare it is the men they have come to see. Drowning in their confirmation bias, the feminist case for equal treatment is demolished not through morality or science, but unapologetically: cash, even as mainstream media collapses under disastrous loss-making.
But all is not lost. I am optimistic for four reasons.
Backlashes strike when society is on the cusp of great change. As America is discovering, these can be the times of greatest danger. But it's temporary: the historic trend is moral progress.
Second, there are enough men who know that the polarisation of sexual politics is not working for them. As those sons of mine emerge into adolescence, I've warned them that as they walk down the road with their pals: they are no longer boys but suspects. Male suicide remains an appalling tragedy, which is clearly connected to the horrible gendered pressures that oppress them just as much as they do us.
A male friend wanted to stay at home with his new baby while his better-paid wife went back to work. But he was refused parental leave, even though every woman in his workplace had been granted it.
And most disgracefully, single fathers have yet to get their referendum to give them natural parental rights over their own children. In other words, in the gender wars, the good guys are losing and they've had enough.
Thirdly, younger women aren't taking it either. Fewer women still sit Honours Maths in the Leaving, but it's closer to 50/50 than ever. They shall not defer.
Finally, I loved the argument made by Susan Sarandon who found one reason to welcome Donald Trump's election: "What we have now is a populace that is awake."
The BBC published that list and Named It and now, the women are awake.