Archive for February 18th, 2011

With 6 out of 67 candidates female running throughout Cork, the odds are certainly not stacking up at 50-50. As Mary Minihan wrote in yesterday’s Irish Times, Mná na hÉireann are losing ground.

But that’s all set to change, if a new group set up in Cork before Christmas has its way. The 50 50 Group has been set up to campaign for equal representation for women in politics and they’re not going to go away. We’ve been promised that. At the group’s media briefing with Cork’s seven female candidates yesterday morning, member Mary Roche said determinedly “We’re going to see this through to the very end”.

Founded late last year, the group has not had time to get properly to grips with this election, and that is being acknowledged from the off. But they are determined to be in this for the long haul, and are seeking members, money and ideas to ensure that women can be seen in political life.

The target – suggested by both elected female TDs in Cork, Deirdre Clune and Kathleen Lynch – should be the local elections in 2014.

‘It would be more in my line to be at home minding my children’

Attended by a range of journalists (including a few men), the group met for a Q&A with media and the female candidates. Some of the answers made grim listening.

Cork North West Fine Gael candidate Áine Collins, who has never held any elected office, and has two young children, said she is finding women toughest to deal with on the doors. “I’ve been told it would be more in my line to be at home minding my children”.  Deirdre Clune, also Fine Gael, and a TD since 2007, agreed: “I get that all the time”.

Difficulties for women, including the five Cs identified by the 2009 Oireachtas report into Women’s Participation in Politics (cash, culture, confidence, childcare and candidate selection procedures) were discussed, with Labour TD Kathleen Lynch suggesting that confidence really was the bottom line among both women voters and women politicians.

As a reporter, I have shadowed a number of candidates in Cork (all men) this election and have been rather startled by the difference in responses of men and women. I asked the panel whether they had found women were more likely, even in this election, to say “what will you do for me”?

Cork TD Kathleen LynchIn my unscientific straw poll, they were, almost uniformly so. The men we met knew party policies, knew party ideologies, and had largely thought about the possibilities of their votes contributing to a government, and how that government would stack up. Women were influenced by direct personal contact with the candidate, whether they knew them personally, what they were like as a person and as a worker, as well as whether they would do a job they were personally asked to do.

Kathleen Lynch’s answer was insightful.

“It’s a confidence issue. Women are managers in their world and confident in that world. Women manage their families, their children, their elderly parents, their lives.”

It’s a long-term project to extend this confidence, she said, but pointed out that it proved how differently women think, and how crucial it is that the thinking of 50 per cent of the population is reflected in its representation. “Historians have mostly been men, and they report on big events. The women have been at home trying frantically to make the bread, while he was off saving the world. We have no record of that lived experience in history. Women’s concerns are more immediate but that doesn’t mean they’re not worried about the future.”

‘Girls believe that politics is what boys do’

Lynch also said that a Minister for Education with this mindset, and the teaching of politics in schools,  would change things. “Girls believe that politics is what boys do,” she added. She and Deirdre Clune TD had been in a local secondary school recently, and it had clearly been an eye opener for girls to see women on the podium. “When the two of us walked in, there was a lift in the room,” added Deirdre Clune. Both acknowledged that there was far less “what will you do for me” in this election than in any previous election.

Notably, there is no female Fianna Fáil candidate throughout the five constituencies in Cork. Fine Gael has two – Deirdre Clune in Cork South Central, and Aine Collins in Cork North West. The Greens had one, Jennifer Sleeman in Cork South West, who was found to be ineligible due to British citizenship (at the age of 81, she was a self-acknowledged paper candidate and was rather horrified at the prospect she might get elected), but she has been replaced on the ticket by a man.

People before Profit has one, Áine Foley in Cork North West. She said at yesterday’s meeting that gender is a key focus for People before Profit, and four out of their nine candidates are women (a fifth had to drop out to look after her elderly mother).

Sinn Féin has one, Youghal Town Councillor Sandra McLellan, in Cork East, and there is one Independent, Claire Cullinane, in Cork East, who is running under the banner of new democratic movement CPPC.

Labour has two – Kathleen Lynch in Cork North Central and Paula Desmond in Cork South Central.

‘It’s tough going, but it is doable’

Desmond has been a councillor for 25 years and her mother was a much-respected Labour TD in Cork. Her outlook on women in politics is clearly heartfelt and borne of long experience within her own life. “We can’t let society tell us that politics is too hard for women. It’s harder, but it’s doable. We have to have a vision of the kind of Ireland we want to live in, a vision of how it should be as a woman living in Ireland. It’s tough going, but it is doable.” There were more women on Cork City Council in 1985, the year she became a councillor, than there are now.

I was born in 1985, and my first political memory is one that was evoked by Kathleen Lynch yesterday; Mary Robinson wearing a purple suit in a sea of black-clad men.

But that first hopeful political memory has not been borne out by many women of Mary Robinson’s generation, or of my own. Yet.

For more, see 50: 50 or find them on Facebook.

Deirdre O’Shaughnessy is editor of the Cork Independent newspaper, Cork’s largest circulating free weekly newspaper and a regular contributor to Newstalk 106-108fm. She blogs about society, politics, and media at http://www.deshocks.wordpress.com and makes up for a very short attention span with youthful exuberance, sometimes. @deshocks

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Yesterday, bored and stuck in traffic on a no. 47 bus, I started reading the advertisements. There were only two – one an ad for building your confidence and becoming successful through the wonder that is Scientology and the other for a cash-for-gold operation (‘Beat the Recession!’).

Now, how’s that for a picnic?

Image copyright: Natalie Dee

Before this nasty recession, there were ads for tracker mortgages (remember those?) and buying a property in the sun, not only on the buses but everywhere we looked. Don’t get me wrong – I can see that these ads were just as cynical. They asked you to part with your money for a ‘better’ life; they promised happiness. These current ones promise happiness too – but they have a much harder task. They offer success and money in exchange for your mind and your memories. I exaggerate, but not much.

We are a nation floored by disappointment. Despite the ugly trappings and the blatant opportunism of the boom years, we had the possibilities and opportunities back then to create a good life for ourselves, however we defined that. We took institutions, companies, newspapers and money for the arts for granted. They would be there and we would live our lives around them, using them to give ourselves a foot up to achieve what we wanted in life. The loss we are now experiencing has something to do with money and not having a lot of it. But the overall feeling, I think, is disappointment.

The word disappointment has a certain innocuous tone to it, kind of like ‘unfortunate’.  It appears to gloss over catastrophic events, life-changing events.

But ‘disappointment’ is really a heavyweight bruiser. Even the phrase ‘I’m not mad, just disappointed’ is about disappointment being milder than anger, in terms of immediate consequences, but also deeper and, boy, does it linger.  Disappointment can knock the wind out of you and leave you like a flat, flabby balloon.

Disappointment involves the loss of something you took for granted or something that contributed to your happiness. It could be hearing that the job you really wanted went to someone else; that the person you thought you knew is actually someone else. It could be having your fiancé walk out on you a month before the wedding; it could be the death of someone close to you. It could be that you expected to have a pension fund waiting for you when you retire and now you don’t. Disappointment happens when the world you had built up in your mind, where your expectations are fulfilled and life ticks along within your control, has been undermined or shattered. Disappointment comes down on you like a sledge hammer, along with its minions – sadness, grief, anger, even despair.

I have recently been subsumed in thoughts about disappointment, due to a personal experience of having an achievement I’d been aiming for almost handed to me and then taken away (the recession again).  It’s a bitter pill and its effects take ages to fade. But you’ve got to have perspective.

So, what better way to gain perspective than to whip out that old faithful – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory in psychology which is often displayed as a pyramid. Working from the bottom to the top of the pyramid, Maslow explains human needs, from the basic and essential to the need to reach our full potential in terms of intellect and talent. On the lowest and widest level of Maslow’s pyramid are our physiological needs – food, shelter, water, sex, sleep, etc. Just above that is our need to be safe and secure − employment, health, property, resources, morality, the family. Then there is our need for love and belonging –friendship, family, intimacy. The top two levels are esteem (confidence, achievement, respect) and self-actualisation (creativity, problem solving, etc.) respectively.

While my personal disappointment has to do with the top part of the pyramid (if it was a food pyramid, my disappointment would be buns with icing and cherries on top), the disappointment in households and families around the country is linked to loss at the more essential and basic levels.

An interviewee on Prime Time the other night, a teacher in the West of Ireland where the exit turnstile is constantly turning, admitted that she felt ‘let down’. Rural communities are diminishing. Families who always assumed they would be together, working and living in close proximity, are now watching loved ones emigrate.

You’d think at this point I’d turn this piece around and start looking on the bright side. Sorry to disappoint, but sometimes it’s good to tell it like it is and to chart this part of our history for what it is.

Elizabeth Brennan works in book publishing as a commissioning editor. She likes books. She also likes writing (mostly fiction). She was pretty much the only person in the National Library on Valentine’s night.

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