Archive for June, 2010

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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Anyone who has been within earshot of me in the last year will know I’ve been constantly going on about Evie Wyld‘s debut novel, After the Fire, A Still, Small Voice. It won the the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and Wyld is a talented writer, not just of fiction, but of memoir/non-fiction prose.  She contributed to Granta’s Sex issue with Woman’s Body: An Owner’s Manual and in today’s Observer, she talks about being ill as a child. I think it’s her eye for detail that really strikes me.

My father says that the first inkling that something was wrong was when I sat at the top of the stairs not talking to anyone at my second birthday party. I don’t remember the party, but I remember those stairs. They were steep and there were lots of them. I remember pushing myself down those stairs often, head first and on my belly, I remember the rough weave of the carpet and the small burns you’d get if you went too fast. I remember that spot on the landing at the top of the stairs, where the light didn’t reach, a small part of that house you could get afraid of if you thought about it too much, a place that was dark and somehow remote.

You can also read her blog posts for Booktrust where she is currently writer in residence and I can’t remember the last author whose second novel I’m looking forward to as much.  You can also follow her on Twitter, @eviewyld.

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Marian Finucane’s weekend radio show is something I try not to miss. Yesterday she interviewed Melanie Verwoerd, partner of the late Gerry Ryan, who spoke movingly about their relationship and his death. It reminded me for many reasons, not least because of her honesty and the palpable rawness of how she is feeling, of a recent interview that Stephen Gately’s husband gave on The Late Late Show. Both interviews included details of finding dead loved ones, of the moment of realising that they had passed away. This is extremely private information, and Finucane and Ryan Tubridy are certainly not at fault for asking. It’s clear that both presenters were aware of the sensitivities, perhaps even been reluctant to ask, but knew that we live in times when the public demand they ask scrupulous details about the most private acts. There’s an almost gruesome curiosity here, but should these moments be up for very public discussion? Maybe, but I don’t need to know about which room someone breathed their last breath in or how they were curled up vulnerably on a couch. It’s disrespectful to the dead who aren’t here to sanction talk of their last minutes, and nothing but harrowing for their loved ones to recount.

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Walking uptown today to get some lunch from Blazing Salads, I screeched to a cartoonish halt as I passed the window of Chanel in Brown Thomas.
Chanel. Wellies. Or should I say ‘rain boots’.
With quilted soles and interlocking C’s.
Le sigh!

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The stars of the film...lots of expensive designer items

By now, anyone who wanted to see it, has surely seen Sex And The City 2.

By now, anyone who cares (and a few who don’t) will have heard or read the mostly awful reviews of the film.

Back in the day, Sex And The City was the HBO television series that ran from 1998 until 2004, detailing the lives of four best friends and their dating adventures in Manhattan.

It is credited with revolutionising the way modern women perceived their own sexuality, attitudes to dating, sex, marriage and their friendships with women.

The show was enormously successful and came to a timely end, just as it was running out of steam.

I loved every single episode (although must admit if I watched too many in a row I quickly turned into a dissatisfied and demanding person who felt she deserved more).

While the film version lacked a lot of the TV series’ edge, it was a huge success (grossing $415million worldwide), so it’s no surprise they made a sequel.

I went along to see it on the opening night a few weeks ago. The story has moved on two years. Carrie and Big (or John as he’s called now) are settled in their luxury Fifth Avenue apartment, Charlotte is raising her two daughters, Miranda is happily living with Steve, her housekeeper Magda and son Brady, and Samantha, still single and on the prowl, and somewhat hampered by the side-effects of the onset of menopause.

After some gratuitous glitzy fun (which sees Liza Minelli do her version of ‘Put A Ring On It’), Samantha announces an all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi (which is really Morocco, as Abu Dhabi wasn’t keen on having a Sex And The City film made there). And so we’re whisked away from the fifth character of SATC – Manhattan.

The plot is light and fluffy and hard to find beneath the overwhelming amount of product placement. Essentially it amounts to Carrie grappling with married life and the fear that she and Big are becoming a boring old married couple (earth-shattering problem); Samantha is trying to maintain her legendary libido; Charlotte is still struggling to be perfect, in the face of two not-so-perfectly behaved children and a braless, hot nanny. (It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Charlotte, a full-time mother, with full-time help, who complains about coping then wonders aloud, ‘what must it be like for those moms who have no help?’ What, indeed?); Miranda gets the bum deal in the script, with very little function here except to drop the one-liners and offer advice.

These are all valid issues for lots of women, it’s just that they’re all dealt with in such trite fashion that they can’t really be taken seriously. The film is really just a giant excuse for advertising a long series of handbags, shoes, cars and hotels and nobody wants to pay for a big ad. If this was the case, Vogue would have have ditched their editorial a long time ago.

In the TV series, the shoes, dresses, clothes and lifestyle were always present, but they were never the main story. In the film, they are and that’s just vacuous.

For this viewer, it felt like the starting assumption was ‘women are stupid’ and we’re fed a series of heavy-handed messages about Abu Dhabi, a place where a girl can’t even have a snog without getting arrested and women are made to eat chips under their veils. And guess what, they also like to wear the latest Louis Vuitton collection under their Burkhas – just like you and me. It’s simplified and dumbed-down in the extreme.

One of the least enjoyable aspects of the film was what felt like a new undertone, a sarcastic, meaner edge to some of the representations of Samantha that made her look a little pathetic, seedy and desperate. Her character veered close to ridicule at many points and it just felt mean. And SATC was never mean to women in that way.

Perhaps one good thing to come out of the films is that they have given women an opportunity to get dressed up and go out together in an unashamedly girly, frivolous and flippant way, which they might otherwise not have the excuse to do.

Personally, I’d rather host an Ann Summers party.

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