Archive for June 28th, 2010

On a day when the weather finally appears to have broken I find myself in one of those office discussions you can’t win. This morning the usual tirade against the unfairness of our nation’s over enthusiastic rainfall has been momentarily swapped for sulky mouthed speeches to the effect that it’s too hot, the pollen count is too high, everyone is a mass of blisters due to ill-fitting summery footwear; all a sweaty huff of rash and sunburn. The flip-flop slip slap on office carpet is annoying some while the incessant whirring of a distant grass trimmer proves to be the urban vuvuzela of the soul to the rest.

And my meteorological delight is not going down at all well.

I am an unashamed fan of hot weather. I love it all – the smell of warm concrete and that slight pebbled graze you get on the back of your thighs from sitting on it on long summer evenings in light cotton dresses. Sun tightened skin and damp hairlines, baked earth under bare feet and the unexpected unseen thistle in the otherwise perfect lawn. And those summers when we were kids; licking dried ice-cream off the back of our hands and tasting sweat and sun cream. Poking tar bubbles on roads with bits of sticks and getting it all over your sandals. Blue Mr Freeze stained mouths and forgetting your cardie outside all night where you’d used it as a goal post.

Horrified at the office negativity and their ungrateful responses to the good weather I slump off back to my desk. Amazing how a change of a few degrees can cause such vehement discussion.  Warm weather – another great divider of humankind, where do you stand?

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The recent appointment of Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has provoked debate in the international media around the issue of women’s representation in politics and, in particular, what it means for women when a woman ascends to a position of political leadership.

A number of journalists noted that politicians such as Gillard, Angela Merkel and even Margaret Thatcher are a source of inspiration, encouraging women to aspire to positions of power, in politics and elsewhere. But unlike Thatcher, who never included a female MP in her cabinet, Gillard is a vocal advocate of increased representation for women in the Australian parliament, in which female politicians number some 27%.

In Ireland, where women politicians make up only 13.9% of the Dáil and 22% of the Seanad, our achievements in parliamentary equality are a long way behind those of Australia. In a table of international assemblies compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Ireland ranked joint 80th with Cameroon in terms of women’s political representation. Nevertheless, in March of this year, a Fine Gael proposal to impose quotas of women candidates of 20-25% for local and European elections was voted down by the parliamentary party. The proposal was vehemently opposed by Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton, who stated that:

“[politics] is a boys club, where women who speak out can be swiftly deemed to be ‘cranks’ or ‘whingers’. The reality is that by introducing tokenistic measures such as quotas, we will only fuel that perception.”

Creighton also argued that the “patriarchal culture” of politics in which “women are regularly discriminated, patronised and bullied in politics at all levels – in their party’s organisation [and] by fellow politicians” cannot be solved by a quota system. In fact, studies, such as the one commissioned by the International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance, have repeatedly shown that it is only when women have reached a critical mass in parliament – 30% or over – that the political environment really starts to change. Unfortunately, given that only 17% of candidates in the 2007 general election were women, the continued opposition of TDs and Senators from across the political spectrum to the introduction of quota legislation may mean that it will be many years before we discover what any such change would involve in an Irish context.

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I love men. From the time I was a little girl – in a co-educational Catholic school in New York – I learned the boys were the ones who presented me with the REAL competition on the soccer pitch, in the football card trading stakes, in political and current affairs discussions and later, in the workplace. I have always worked in male-dominated fields (Wall Street and business journalism) and enjoyed good support from (most of) my overwhelmingly male bosses.

Dating – and moving up the business ladder – was a different story altogether. Many American men don’t want a girl with a brain (no matter how tiny) and ambition. Some Irish guys still physically shrink away from me when I’m friendly, assuming I’m making a pass at them. (I’m not. I’m married to a great guy.) Others finds the bolshie Yank an amusing distraction.  To some men, a woman with strong opinions and the willingness to voice them is, well, incredibly distasteful.

They believe in the “Women know your limits” school of thought parodied here by the brilliant Harry Enfield on the BBC:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w 

A UK Independent article this week, pointed out by RTE broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan on Twitter @MiriamOCal, also decries the “noise” created by women on television. It claims the new “boss-class” of women makes men feel bad. The author, Amol Rajan, claims many women on tv are bossy, bullying, preachy and patronising. Read it here and weep:

Too much interference on our televisions

There’s also a myth, taken as fact, in Irish broadcasting that women’s voices are grating/ irritating to the listener. I have not been able to find any research that backs this up. The research I did find says women’s voices are more musical and complex. So, why is Irish journalism such a male-dominated profession?

Una Mullally wrote an interesting piece on the gender imbalance in radio in the Sunday Tribune in May 2010 and found that ” Eighty percent of RTé Radio One’s regular programmes are male-led and 80% of 2fm’s programmes are male-led. Newstalk has 10 weekday programmes, none of which are presented solely by women, although Claire Byrne co-presents Breakfast. The weekend schedule is a little more female friendly, with three of the 11 programmes presented by women. Overall, 84% of content is presented by men. On its weekday shows, Today FM has just one daily female presenter, Alison Curtis. The station has 16 weekend shows and just three are presented by women. Overall, 90% of its programmes are presented by men. Over on 4FM, just one of that station’s 25 programmes is presented by a woman.” Article here: http://www.tribune.ie/magazine/article/2010/may/02/final-edition-radio-gaga-where-are-all-the-women-o/)

In the print media, the draining away of women from the business and (some) news desks is shocking. It wasn’t always this way. The Irish Times and Sunday Times business desks were fairly equal gender-wise when I worked on the desks (1996-2006).  At the moment, the Sunday Business Post seems to buck the trend with a higher ratio of female to male by-lines in the paper.   

Why has this happened? Are women less skilled as “hard news” journalists or do they opt out of journalism to have children? Or, as Carrie Bradshaw might say… “Could the real reason women’s voices are not more widely heard in the media be because women should not have opinions?”

What do you think? @margareteward

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In 2008, four journalists including Anna Carey, Sinéad Gleeson and Edel Coffey set up the anonymous blog The Anti Room as a place to talk about everything from fashion to feminism, sex to sport, music to politics.  The blog was nominated for Best Group Blog at the Irish Blog Awards in 2009. The blog returns and has expanded to welcome a wide range of regular contributors including founders Anna, Edel, Sinéad; journalists Tanya Sweeney, Nadine O’Regan, Lauren Murphy,Jude Leavy, Susan Daly, Aoife Barry, Fiona McCann, Margaret E. Ward;  bloggers Suzy Byrne, Lisa McInerney, Megan McGurk and Naomi McArdle; documentary-maker Aoife Kelleher and writers Arlene Hunt, Nuala Ní Chonchúir and June Caldwell.

We’re on Facebook and on Twitter if you’d like to keep in touch.  Or get in touch at theantiroomATgmailDOTcom.

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