Opinion

Friday 24 January 2020

To achieve equality, we'll need fewer feminists - and more female activists

‘Rock the system, not the cradle’: former President Mary Robinson
‘Rock the system, not the cradle’: former President Mary Robinson
Ita O'Kelly

Ita O'Kelly

During his election campaign for the leadership of the Fine Gael party, Leo Varadkar, one of the two male candidates, said: "Women are just as bright as men. They're just as capable."

The fact that he even said this speaks volumes about where we are at in terms of equality in Ireland.

The National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) recently ran an AGM conference titled 'Feminists are Everywhere' - and it seems they are.

The NWCI, which has done sterling work for women, posed the question: 'Why are you a feminist?'

The answers ranged from interesting and thought-provoking, to those verging on the ridiculous.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin opined on social media: "I'm a feminist because I know girls and women have to battle harder and longer for what men take for granted."

Please. Spare me. I am sure it was well intentioned, but it was patronising in the extreme.

The problem with feminism being everywhere is that its potency and focus will inevitably be lost. And it will crash under the weight of those jumping on the bandwagon.

I propose we focus on the term equality rather than feminism, which has become a bit fuzzy for my tastes.

What do women want?

We want equality in our wallets and not Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald spouting platitudes at a feminist gathering about the gender pay gap being "unacceptable in this day and age".

Talking the talk is easy. Delivering real results on something as important as equality of income is what women require.

The gender pay gap here currently stands at around 16pc. Over a lifetime, that amounts to a lot of money.

It is discrimination, plain and simple, to pay women less for the same work.

Women are also overly represented in the areas of low-paid and part-time work and this must change to achieve economic equality.

I sense that a lot of young women feel that by calling themselves a feminist, they are being radical and this will deliver results. I am not so sure.

Marches and gatherings raise morale, but they don't deliver results.

We hear very few women's voices on radio. I'm tired listening to male presenters and male guests on radio. It's a turn-off, literally.

If I choose to watch an Irish current affairs programme, the likelihood is that I will see a 'manel' rather than a fair gender mix.

And I don't buy that old chestnut that women are unwilling to appear on television programmes.

Women are seriously under-represented in Irish boardrooms, with around an 18pc participation rate.

In Irish academia, men significantly outnumber women in senior positions in spite of a 50/50 staff divide. This is simply wrong.

Irish theatre also has a significant gender imbalance problem. And those theatres with the highest State funding - the Gate, the Abbey, the Druid and the Dublin Theatre Festival - have the lowest levels of female representation. Totally unacceptable.

Less than a quarter of TDs are women. This is not a representative parliament.

This has to change and young women in particular need to step up to the plate and get off Twitter.

The gender quota system has delivered some results. We now have 22pc of TDs who are female, and 32pc of senators.

Women make up 50pc of the electorate, yet male and stale it remains.

In 1990, when Mary Robinson was elected President, she urged Irish women to instead of "rocking the cradle, to rock the system".

And she was on the money.

Gloria Steinem, the great American feminist, stated that US President Donald Trump has galvanised more activists than the Vietnam War, many of whom are women.

Ireland needs more female activists, rather than feminists, to deliver equality to women.

And I mean activists, not online 'hashtivists'.

And, no, men are not the problem. The problem is the system. Currently men control the system and operate it to their own advantage.

Surely feminism, a belief in equality between the sexes, is a given for all women.

The next stage is activism, but perhaps that is a term that we as women are less comfortable with.

Irish Independent

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