Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

My little lad is a huge fan of Lego. In fairness who isn’t? Although our house is overrun with the stuff and I’ve sustained multiple injuries by standing on various sharp little pieces in my bare feet, I love it too. It’s an excellent, durable, creative toy and has given him, and consequently us, hours and hours of pleasure for several years now.

Lately he’s been wary about showing me his most recent purchases – a series of top quality, mystery mini figures that come in sealed packages and are well within pocket money range. “Great idea”, you say. “Yes”, I agree BUT my objection is that in a world where half of us are women these cute little figures are overwhelmingly male. I know I may well be accused of carrying feminist thinking to its extremes in this instance but hey you have to get ‘em young! What does everyone else think? Is this merely coincidence, a non-issue, or yet another example of marginalisation? At less than 20% representation for women are they merely reflecting real life? Yes, I know I should lighten up (before anyone says it) but the pervasive invisibility gets me down.

Series 1

Look at them. Aren’t they cute! Amongst the first 16 the girls get to be nurses and cheerleaders. The boys have a lot more choice and can be zombies, magicians, clowns, deep sea divers, forest men, ninjas, spacemen, wrestlers, tribal hunters, cowboys, demolition dummies and cavemen. Even the robot is referred to as “he”.

Series 2

Things are improving. Next 16 figures and the girls get to be lifeguards (a la Baywatch), pop stars and witches. The men get to be explorers, karate masters, maraca men, mime artists, traffic cops, pharaohs, ringmasters, skiers, Spartan warriors, vampires, surfers, weightlifters and disco dudes.

Series 3

By now my lad has taken to hiding them from me. In the latest series the girls get to be tennis players, hula dancers and snow boarders. The men get to be samurai warriors, sumo wrestlers, rappers, fishermen, tribal chiefs, elves, race car drivers, pilots, baseball players, mummies (the bandaged variety), space villains and gorilla suit guys. The alien is not assigned a gender so perhaps we can claim her too!


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There’s an interesting new interview with Kathleen Lynch over on Mediabite, in which the UCD Professor of Equality Studies

Professor Kathleen Lynch

discusses inequality in Ireland, her treatment on Tonight with Vincent Browne, and why some female politicians are so scared of feminism. Here’s a taster:

What do you think are the main obstacles to gender equality in Ireland and would you agree that Ireland still has a deeply chauvinist culture and that this too is a major factor underpinning the meek acceptance of gross injustice as a solution to what is essentially a crisis of and by the richest people?

KL: Ireland has an extremely chauvinist culture. I travel abroad a lot – in Northern Europe and have a lot of contacts outside the country. I have been a Visiting Professor and I work with many people in Germany and in France – which isn’t exactly devoid of sexism either. I also work in Brussels. I would say that we are going backwards because in terms of political representation it is self evident. We have only 16%. The two main parties have only 15% each and it’s almost nothing. The smaller parties have more. I think there are so many factors at play. Women are too polite. We have been socialised not to offend as women – don’t be too strident, don’t be too this or that. I suppose the backlash that you mention when I raised things that people don’t want to hear is one of the reasons that women will not put themselves forward because they are abused in a different way than men are abused. Men are abused for their ideas but they are not abused in terms of their appearance in the media if they dissent. Women are subjected to sexualised abuse. I think the political class in our society has no interest in this issue and women have not been resistant. We have been too conciliatory and accepting. My view is we should have marches on the Dáil – we should sit down in the middle of Dublin and stay there until something changes. We have no proper childcare, we have no infrastructure. Quebec in Canada has a very successful, non-profit childcare system because the women went out there and organised it. The Irish Women’s Council has no money, for example. There is no-one to organise it here. There have been all kinds of backlashes in the media against women who have dissented. The have actually been called nazis – or ‘feminazis’. A lot of women are afraid of that kind of abuse and it’s a form of violence against women that is accepted in Ireland.

MC: Lucinda Creighton recently felt the necessity to preface something she said with the qualifier “I’m no crazed feminist but…” – as if it would be a terrible thing to be thought of as a feminist.

KL: There are lots of sociological reasons that can explain that but if you have a young woman going into politics who is so fearful of that, what will she ever do? If she can’t defend herself as a woman, I’d be worried about what she will ever defend. You have to stand up for what you believe in and women are not equal to men in this country. For many, many years we have had second class citizenship. I’m not saying that I want a whole group of middle class women coming into politics. I’ve always said this – if we want gender balance we want it of men and women from different backgrounds which I think is as big an issue as gender. There is research from Norway and from a number of countries where they have gender balance, relatively speaking i.e. 40% and which shows that even women from conservative parties actually promote health, education and social welfare. It’s because they are closer to the vulnerable in society. It isn’t because women are morally superior to men – I would never say that, I think that’s nonsense. Or that men can’t care for children as well as women – of course they can. But because of the way our society is, women are the primary carers and a lot of the vulnerable people in society are cared for by women most of the time. Therefore policies that affect the vulnerable are more visible to women and they are more likely to vote for policies that are supportive of childcare, disability, healthcare and education. That is a simple empirical fact – observable from countries that have large numbers of women in their parliaments. I believe we will never get women in politics in sufficient numbers in this country without some sort of a quota system.

MC: I’ve argued before that in any other circumstance where you have such an obvious imbalance or social lack it’s only natural for some sort of remedial action to be taken to restore the situation to health.

KL: We need only have it for a period of time to overcome the problem, otherwise it’s not going to happen.

MC: And yet very disappointingly women in the Dáil – over half of them – are saying they are against gender quotas.

KL: Well you only have to look at who they are, a lot of them. Many of the women who succeed in politics in this country have family associations in politics and they get selected on the basis of their family connections – and that in my view is a form of a quota. They have already benefited from the family quota and they should remember that. And many of the others have benefited from their money. I’m sorry, but there are some women with wealthy backgrounds and that has greatly helped them. You’ve probably been to privileged schools and enjoyed all the privileges of your class and therefore of course you don’t need a quota because you belong to the privileged upper middle class. So bully for you! The vast majority of women do not. Any woman from a poor community down the country hasn’t a hope.

You can read the whole interview here.

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How is #Ge11 for you?

A political boys' club?

How is the election campaign for you?  Feeling anyway inspired or reminded in a positive way about the role of  women in Irish society?  The role that women will have in renewing Ireland, One Ireland, Real Ireland, Getting Ireland working again?  (Yes I’ve swallowed one too election slogans – I promise to lay off them for a bit).

I could spend a few hundred words talking about the 15% of candidates who are female, the lack of consideration of gender by many parties in their manifestos despite the wringing of hands saying that we must do something about it.  But anytime I try to raise these issues I get shouted down or endure mild abuse for daring to point out all male panels, the lack of inclusion of women’s issues never mind women’s voices, the cheek of thinking that there might be women’s issues in the first place – you get the picture. Or maybe you don’t.

Anytime I ponder on the fact that the Ireland I see in this election campaign is not reflective of my life, my society, my friends or my view of equality and inclusion in society, I am told there are far more urgent problems to be addressed and ‘we are all people’.

If we were all people then the people we were seeing running for election would be a mix of genders, abilities, ethnicities and abilities.  The issues we would be discussing would be about all of us and all our opportunities and not those who happening to be able to pay income tax or want to do so.  Those who can’t pay tax because they don’t earn money or can’t earn income are not represented or talked about in this campaign. The women who don’t have their own incomes are not talked about in this campaign, the women ‘at home’ raising children or caring for others, or the women without homes.

I don’t feel like talking about political reform because I believe that debate to be elitist and disillusioning.  I would like my political representatives to acknowledge the crisis that is our society and its lack of visibility of anyone other than male economists, politicians and bankers.

I don’t want to hear about quotas and how good or bad they are – men won’t let them happen, many women don’t want them to happen.  And it does not actually show how much of a crisis we are facing and ‘existing’ in with regards to the lack of female leadership in the other ‘crisis’.

Before February 25th I would like to hear leaders talk about women without patronising us or forgetting us, about the many different cultures who live in Ireland who are not being heard in this debate (notice how white and male we have become suddenly?)

The campaign linguistics are all about leadership and gendered leadership, about being aggressive or not aggressive enough, about appearing presidential (which is now code for male) about turning up for debates (code for being macho).  Women where we do see them are pointed to and mocked for being screechy, fighting to get heard and not being macho enough.

Male, pale and stale.  And unlikely to change anytime soon and that’s before we think about the devastation that the EU/IMF deal will have on our public expenditure and the women who work within and rely upon for so many supports.  Because we are not supposed to look at things in a gendered gaze anymore, that’s the message I’m picking up in #GE11 and it’s not an Ireland I want to be part of.

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I’m Not Your “Mummy” Boo

About six weeks ago, I got myself a puppy. A black cocker spaniel, whom I have named Boo. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to have a dog, but unfortunately, my dad – a lovely dad in every other way – is not keen on animals. So no dog as a child. No dog later, either. Student life, followed by years of travelling, more years of living abroad, then more years of shared living, apartment and no-pet living, and then a cottage with no garden all meant I couldn’t have a dog.

But I do now finally have a garden, and hence I am finally able to have a hound. I don’t have the dog long, but she’s cute and smart: she can sit, lie down, give the paw, stay, and walk on a lead pretty well. So far, so predictable.

But what has surprised and annoyed me in these weeks since I’ve had a dog is the number of people – all women – who look at the dog and look at me, and say things along the lines of, “Oh, she knows who her mummy is!” or “where’s your mummy? (never, I note with dry interest, ‘where’s your mammy?’)

I’m flummoxed by this figure of speech. Boo is a dog, not a child. At the vet, where I brought her for a booster injection, two women declaimed thus. Female strangers on the street, admiring her, all say the same. Every single day when I’m out walking her. Even friends who call to my house also use the same term, until I ask them not to, because, frankly, it makes me cringe.

I have a dog. I am not her mummy. I’m the dog’s owner. Her four-legged golden cocker spaniel mother resides in rural Galway. My puppy Boo – sweet and smart as she is – is a dog and not a human being and will be treated like the dog she is. Of course I’ll take good care of her, but I am baffled as to why people want to humanise an animal, or automatically assume that your role of owner makes you that animal’s “mummy”. If it is simply a figure of speech, it’s a weird and uncomfortable one, and I wonder why it is only women who use it?

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Patrick Holford’s appearance on the Late Late on Friday was televised to the nation as a gospel proclamation: come see my magic works and repent, oh ye of little scientific understanding. I presumed that this would be the part of the show where RTE trot out someone to allow the audience to snigger at their conspiracy theories or visions. Not so with Mr Holford, who was introduced as a world leading nutritionist.
Lets start with the title and work our way downward, Patrick Holford, or, to give him his proper title, ‘pill salesman’, has no qualifications. He has built a business on selling supplements to anyone that will buy them. He is not a medical practitioner, scientist, researcher or expert for a number of reasons.

1: Qualifications from a recognized third level institution :0
Most people agree that qualifications from recognized institutions are a prerequisite to taking medical advice from somebody. The letters after your G.P.’s name denote years of study and examination, something Mr Holford has conveniently sidestepped.

2: His peer reviewed publications : 0
Part of being a scientist is putting your findings out there within the scientific community for peer review. This involves having every minute aspect of your findings interrogated, criticised and if necessary; rejected. It’s a soul destroying process, and why would anyone willingly submit to it? The reason scientists do this is to protect the public, to produce work based on the best evidence available and to advance understanding.

3: Nutritionist is not a protected title; in other words, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. I can call myself one and recommend daily snickers and bottles of Lucozade to beat the winter blues. My next bestseller will be ‘The Barbarians Nutrition Bible’, brought to you by Creme Eggs.

4: His ‘honorary diploma’ was awarded to him by The Board of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, which is an educational trust that HE founded in 1984. The same as if I opened ‘The Barbarian Center for Barbarian studies’  and awarded myself a PhD from it. That’s Doctor Barbarian to you.

Moving swiftly on, his first contention that women have less serotonin than men and thus are far more susceptible to depression. That’s quite a statement there Patrick, so let’s see what you left out?
What he fails to mention is that serotonin –which he refers to as the ‘happy’ chemical’  – is also serotonin the ‘aggression’ chemical. So yes, we have less of that particular chemical than our larger male counterparts, evolution has yet to catch up on the need for greater amounts of serotonin in males. But to claim that this is why women present with greater rates of depression ignores the under-diagnosis of male sufferers, it ignores the greater pressures and burdens on women in society and it ignores the social aspects of women’s as opposed to men’s lives. Outside of the fact that the serotonin hypothesis of depression is but a part of the neurochemical reasons for depression and correlation should not be read as causation. There are other chemicals at play in the depression etiology, but Patrick did not feel like talking about those.

Why would he say this? As stated earlier, Patrick Holford is a pill salesman, carefully targeting the audience at home, in particular the ladies. They might be sitting there on a Friday night patiently awaiting the next ‘cure’, ready to go out shopping for it on Saturday. By appealing to women with half truths he reached his market, EPIC WIN for Patrick, 100 points off the bat, uncontested by the host. At this stage I was having a full John McEnroe freak out, hollering ‘you cannot be serious maaaaaannnnn’ at the TV. Holford was allowed ride roughshod all over Ryan, his facts, cherry picked from obscure sources, citing trials but failing to mention participants, full findings or financial backing involved. For, as Mr. Holford loves to points out, there are forces at play in big pharma, forces that want to manipulate the facts to suit themselves, but that’s not the way science works. The slow but steady erosion of confidence in science continues unabated, with the portrayal of massive organisations working to keep you hooked, unhappy and dependent. As opposed to ‘Alternative Pharma’ with such constraints. No one mentions how the humble supplement is now a multimillion pound industry in its own right.

The problem with manufacturing medicine is all the damn procedures! Peer reviewed publications in general science are open to criticism and stringent testing and retesting before they can be marketed to the general public. If you want to manufacture a supplement it’s much simpler:  all you need is one small link between two things, causal or correlation-we don’t care. Bang them in a bottle, stick the ould ‘may help’ claim before any claims, and bob’s your uncle.

Minute effects based on the interaction of cells in petrie dishes are lauded as proof of the efficacy of drugs. None more disturbing than Mr. Holford’s marketing of Vitamin C as a cure for AIDS in Africa. Ah yes, Tubs, you forgot to ask him about that, forgot to mention that inconvenient fact.

For facts have very little to do with Mr. Holford’s business. For a man who claims to be interested in improving the lives of people, of making people happy, could you really ignore that this man was recommending that people avoid using tried and tested drugs for the treatment of AIDS?.

I leafed through one of the few remaining copies of Holford’s book in the local bookshop Saturday evening, with chapters about how medicine is out to get you and how his pills will cure you. While a small minority of people will achieve placebo effects from Holford’s claims, the majority will not. Yet more will be negatively biased towards medicinal treatments for depression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as favorable as the next person to proper help and supports as well as environmental and social interventions to aid depression recovery. I am not, however, about to throw the baby out with the bath water; your G.P. is not there to dispense items which they know don’t work.

I only wish that our esteemed Late Late show host could find time in his busy schedule to read the background check on his guests and ask hard questions. One can only hope that a scientist turns up with Tubs next week to redress the balance. Learning a little about science can save you a fortune, it can save you from false promises and it always strives to save lives. I heartily recommend Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science; it’s a tenner you won’t waste, as it will pay for itself 100 times over when you find yourself reaching for the next ‘magic diet pill’ or ‘collagen rich cream’.

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Upon reading about the death of Rachel Peavoy from hypothermia in her corporation flat in Dublin, I was filed with dread for the future of those living in poverty in Ireland. When we look to what values a society holds dear, Ghandi’s contention that you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members seems particularly poignant in light of this young woman’s senseless death.

The fact that this young woman’s death failed to make the news in our national broadcaster speaks volumes about what is important in Ireland. Why is one young woman’s death treated with hourly updates bordering on the macabre while another’s is blithely ignored? While the structural and societal cause of this tragedy will hopefully receive considerable interrogation in the coming weeks, I was particularly motivated to write about it due to the report of her death in the Irish Examiner and the Herald. The closing line in the piece on Rachel’s death was ‘The victim, who had a borderline personality disorder, also suffered from back pain.’ Why had editorial chose to include this piece of information on the young woman given that it has nothing to do with the circumstance of her death?

The individualist understanding of this case will be that Rachel in some way facilitated her own demise, that she was in some way culpable or responsible for freezing to death in her own home due to lack of heat. The insinuation created by the addition of information on Rachel’s mental health is noteworthy on a number of levels.

Firstly, mental health is still, despite efforts, heavily stigmatised in Ireland. Borderline personality is not the defining criteria for anybody’s life, no diagnosis is; it adds nothing to the story. The story is that of a young woman, a mother of two children, who froze to death in substandard accommodation. Her mental health had nothing to do with it. By including this information in the piece it serves to legitimize the treatment of this tenant. Irish media is particularly good at picking up at any perceived psychological shortcomings in those whose stories do not make for easy reading. I have yet to read anything of the psychological health of those who ran our economy into the ground.

Secondly, a diagnosis is just a label, and it is a label that for some facilitates access to services and support that can help. A diagnosis does not define a person; there are many labels that Rachel could have had applied to her life: a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, all of these as important or relevant for the piece as the snide inclusion of her mental health diagnosis. It was a parting kick to the article, to remind readers that all is well in the world as long as ALL are well.

Mental health is not a static entity, it fluctuates, it ebbs and flows, it is a process not an end game; a past difficulty does not denote a flux at the time of her death, she was competent enough to bring her children somewhere warm and safe, but thought of herself as stronger and more capable. When she put the key in her door she was returning home. Who among us does not prefer our own bed? To drop the remark about Rachel’s mental health in the article serves only to widen the gulf between those who do and those who do not have to strive for flow and balance in respect to their mental health.

Rachel died from freezing to death in her flat in Ireland in 2011.

Ann Cronin

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A recent Saturday morning’s scroll through Facebook updates and something caught my eye. A friend who has recently moved to Dubai to be with the person she loves had posted some happy festive photos. And she’d dyed her hair brown. What with her being a stunning looking girl, tall and blonde and having moved to a country with some questionable attitudes towards women, I immediately put two and two together and made about 5000. On came the feminist hat and conclusions were jumped to Grand National Steeplechase proportions.

My god – did she have to do this to fit in somehow or to discourage male pestering? Was this a way of coping in her new life in Dubai, did she feel she had to tone down her look and try not to attract ‘attention’? How shocking! Still musing over these questions when I caught a glance of myself in a mirror. I had spent the previous twenty minutes scrubbing the en-suite and was wearing only my underwear (a well-known method to avoid getting bleach splashes all over ones’ clothes as we all know) and had thrown a short silky red dressing gown over as the morning was chilly. In my underwear, scrubbing the bathroom – next stop ‘barefoot, pregnant in the kitchen’. Ah. Hardly a spectacle of liberated modern feminist womanhood.

I still don’t know the reason why my friend coloured her hair. Perhaps I’m right and its something she felt she had to do for whatever reason. Perhaps she just fancied a change. And truth be told if she’s done the same while in her native Australia I’d not have batted an eyelid. But I it was a reminder that just sometimes things are not necessarily how they seem and many situations may in fact be other than how they appear.

Anyone else ever catch themselves in mid-rant only to realise they may not only have gotten the wrong end of the stick but only realised it after administering a damn good proverbial battering?

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