Posts Tagged ‘Women’

Radio producer Helen Mc Cormack offers a producer’s view of the lack of women on the air…

Veronica Walsh is absolutely correct when she points out in her Antiroom post that there is a large gender imbalance when it comes to discussion panels on current affairs programmes.

What are the reasons for this? Let’s not be so simplistic as to presume that radio producers have a bias against women and are determined not to have them on. In fact, my experience in the commercial radio sector is that the majority of people working in radio production teams are women.

I’m not here to make excuses for the lack of female voices but as someone who has worked as a radio producer at both a national and a local level, I would like to make a few points before we go screaming up and down and calling for heads to roll.

I have worked in current affairs and lifestyle programmes and have found it much easier to get women on lifestyle programmes. When I started as a researcher on Orla Barry’s morning show on Newstalk, Orla was particular about not having female only panels and would encourage us to have a good gender balance but there was never a problem getting women. Then I did the Breakfast show (in the Claire Byrne and Ger Gilroy days) before moving on to produce Tom McGurk on 4FM. With both Breakfast and McGurk, men were in the majority and we were making a concentrated effort to get women on at all. Now, producing Gareth O’Callaghan on Saturday mornings, I am finding, once again, it is incredibly easy to get women on. There have been several occasions when all the guests were female.

So why is this? I don’t have an immediate answer. Is it because current affairs programmes are using politicians, political correspondents, economists etc and within these groups themselves women are underrepresented? It’s 4pm and a political story is breaking and I have a show going to air at 5 and a worried presenter demanding to know who will cover the story. Who are my options as regards senior political correspondents? I can mentally count sixteen people, five of whom are women. So right from the start the odds are that a man will be the one to make it to air because honestly, I’m going to take the first person who agrees to do it.

Perhaps at this point, eyes are being rolled by women who are thinking “Try harder! Search out new voices, don’t just go for the old reliables!” Fair point. But I don’t have a massive staff. There’s me producing and a researcher. Two hours to fill every day with just the two of us (eventually, it was just me.) It’s the same for pretty much every commercial station out there. The Right Hook has, I think, a producer and two researchers and with two and a half hours to fill every day that’s not a lot. It takes an hour to go through all the papers / news sites etc before meeting to plan the show and divide out segments. Then you’re ringing around and people aren’t getting back to you. You have research to do, briefs to write, your presenter arrives in and may want to scrap a piece or something breaks and you’re back to the drawing board. You’re trying to get audio of the events of the day, pin down guests, get answers from Press Officers. You do find some new voices – I’m very proud to say we were the first show to put the excellent Andrea Pappin on the air! – but it takes a lot of time and effort that producers often don’t have.

To return to my point about it being easier to get women on lifestyle programmes – is this because the topics often have a female slant? It is more likely because they are conducive to family life in that they can give you a day’s notice whereas current affairs is more likely to be, at best, a few hours. Are men in general more confident in their ability to go on air and ‘wing it’ without doing copious amount of research? I have to say I generally found that they were. It’s not necessarily the right way to look at things but at the same time very often that’s what is required on a fast paced news programme. I know that on McGurk on 4, we found it far more difficult getting women to come on the panel. Not all women but we couldn’t use the same ones over and over again. I know our researcher used to literally have nightmares about not finding a woman in time for the Friday panel! Men used to get in touch with the programme regularly to offer themselves as guests or panellists (I’m excluding people who wanted to promote a product or event here) but women very rarely did so.

When Margaret Ward (one of the fabulous women who always said ‘yes’ to coming on the programme!) set up Women On Air, I was delighted to get involved because I thought it was a great way to encourage women to put themselves out there and for me as a producer to meet those women. I hope that many of those women go on air and knock socks off but for a really visible (or audible!) change to be made, women need to become more prominent throughout society. Veronica asked if current affairs programs discriminate against women. My answer to that would be no, they don’t discriminate. I really believe that the problem is deeper than that. When there is equality in boardrooms, in government, in lecture halls then there will be equality on air. But if we were to follow through on Veronica’s suggestion that “we demand some kind of gender balance be applied in the media pundit world”, I think, sadly, that current affairs producers would find it nigh on impossible to do their job.

Helen McCormack is a Freelance Journalist and Radio Producer who has worked in several radio stations including Newstalk, 4FM and Q102. She blogs at http://helenmccormacksblog.wordpress.com/ and is on Twitter: @HelenMcCormack

Read Full Post »

A few years ago a good friend of mine talked me out of my customary sloth and into agreeing to run the mini marathon with her.  Seems a work colleague of hers was involved with a charity called Ruhama and was keen to raise much needed funds. I’d never heard of them but agreed to participate more for the laugh and the much needed exercise than for the worthiness of the cause. As it happens the cause is worthy in the extreme.

Along with tens of thousands of other women a small group of us donned the tee-shirts and took to the streets to raise what money we could whilst enjoying a really great day out. Later, as we rewarded ourselves with chilled white wine and barbequed food in Lynn’s back garden she chatted about her involvement as a volunteer with Ruhama (Hebrew for renewed life) and the practical, no-nonsense and dignified approach that this non-judgemental organisation takes to supporting women affected by prostitution and human trafficking in Ireland.

Lynn regularly volunteers with the Ruhama outreach service operating in Dublin city centre and the Dochas Centre and providing a safe haven for women working on the streets. A small group of women volunteers travel by dedicated bus offering their clients respect, cups of tea, advice and practical follow-up support. She herself has taken bewildered young Eastern European girls into her own home, providing them with shelter and safety as they tried to break free from the horrible, sinister situation they found themselves in whilst alone, far from home and often unable to speak English.

Although established in 1989 as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters (and I must admit that as a committed secularist I am deeply suspicious of and resistant to all things religious) the organisation appears to be not in any way proselytising in nature and in fact may well embody all that is good and laudable about a Christian ethos. As such it is a welcome antidote to the repugnant underbelly of organised religion that has been exposed here in recent years.

Taking the stance that prostitution and the social and cultural attitudes which sustain it are deeply rooted in gender inequality and social marginalisation, Ruhama unequivocally affirms that prostitution represents violence against women and a violation of human rights. On a macro level the organisation engages in vital advocacy work directed at legislators and brokers of change and also liaises with the various drug and housing services that their clients will come in contact with as they move towards a safe and stable life.

On an individual level the approach is more nuanced. Ruhama engages in befriending women involved in prostitution and supporting them practically and emotionally as they attempt to move on and reintegrate successfully and happily into mainstream society. Treating women with dignity and working with them in a way that best suits their personal circumstances is a core principle. For example Ruhama volunteers will often accompany their clients through our intimidating and adversarial courts system; offering them legal advice, friendship and solidarity as required.

Education is a cornerstone of their vital work and Ruhama offers classes ranging from basic literacy and English to financial support for those participating in third level education. Holistic therapies afforded to women including art therapy, stress management and relaxation.

In recent years this organisation has had to adapt to the changing nature of prostitution in Ireland, most notably the increase in the number of migrant women, most of them trafficked into prostitution. When my husband, inspired by my stroll around town, ran the marathon for Ruhama in 2005 he raised €2000 and received a lovely letter telling him that he had paid the bill for their vital interpreter services for that year. How wonderful to know that you have made a real, tangible difference to the betterment of people’s lives!

The roll-the-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in approach adopted by this organisation has impressed me greatly ever since I first encountered them almost a decade ago. However, they still have the capacity to stop me in my tracks. Just when I thought that they were doing all that is imaginably possible to help women caught in the mire of prostitution, including shaping government policy, they surprise me yet again.

“5th Year boys from Belvedere College visited Ruhama today. Great to see the men of the future interested in combating the sex trade”

Last week I received a tweet from @RuhamaAgency (I urge you all to follow them) outlining a new and incredibly laudable initiative. It read “5th Year boys from Belvedere College visited Ruhama today. Great to see the men of the future interested in combating the sex trade”. This represents yet another forward-thinking and utterly practical policy. In my experience the vast majority of young (and not so young) men are incredibly respectful towards women and have a strong sense of the injustice of discrimination. Helping women find their way out of prostitution in no way represents a battle of the sexes. More fundamentally it is a battle of the right thinking against those who would profit from the misery of others.

So if you’re looking for a cause to fund or even one to rally behind then don’t forget Ruhama. Every cent raised will be efficiantly and effectively used for the betterment of the lives of women who really need our help.

Read Full Post »

The W-Word

For my first Anti-Room post, I’m going to let loose a small rant that surfaces, on average, every few weeks.

I kind of assume I’m carping to the converted, here, but even if not … well. This is my bonnet, and these are my bees.

Here we go.

Forget the L-word, the F-word, the C-word. Why, I wonder, is it so hard for some people to say the W-word?

You know the one? Five-letter noun, meaning “adult human female”?

Yes, that’s the one: Woman.

I don’t know what it is, but some people just won’t say it.

Recent example: Henry McKean on Newstalk (look, I know), in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (I know, I know!), tells George Hook (I know – Jesus, would you lay off?) what a turn-on it is when a girl irons his shirts. Clearly (I hope to god), this is a tongue-in-cheek, wind-them-up type of remark, but I sweep past the intended fatuous sexism and leap squarely onto my hobby-horse.

(My hobby-milk-white-steed.)

“Henry,” I growl at the radio, “you’re a grown-up. Physiologically, at least. So if you find that you’re turned on by girls you might want to talk to someone about that before it gets out of hand.”

I’ve never felt comfortable with the notion that “girl” is a cool label for an adult. I just can’t separate it from the infantilisation machine that operates in our culture. Youth is superior to age, smooth skin is better than hairy, females are at their most valuable when innocent and unsullied by the vicissitudes of life – all that harmful nonsense.

Anybody is of course free to label hirself “girl” if it floats hir boat, but I won’t. I’ll never be “one of the girls” – and I won’t call another adult “girl” either (I’d have a hard time doing so even if I knew it was hir preference). Phrases like “a girl I work with” make my teeth itch.

That, or I picture Father Ted judging the Lovely Girls contest (they all have lovely bottoms).

I used to grumble about this a lot at choir rehearsal. Our conductor, an adult human female a few years younger than me (and, incidentally, one of the very best conductors I’ve ever worked with), for years had a habit of saying “men” when addressing the tenor and bass sections, and “girls” when addressing altos and sopranos. Men. And girls.

You see the problem.

I don’t know if it’s down to my disgruntled mutterings or just the passage of time, but she doesn’t do it any more.

Now it’s “men” and “ladies”.


It’s a thing, though, isn’t it? I’m sure most of us can remember when we made that transition – you’re out and about, and somebody’s toddler barrels into your legs, or reaches for your exciting scarf tassel. “Mind the lady!” says the child’s adult, and after the initial urge to look around and locate said “lady”, you feel … well, I felt like my mother’s maiden aunts when it first started happening. Your mileage may vary.

For me, “lady” doesn’t jar quite as badly as “girl”, perhaps because it’s merely elitist and inappropriately judgemental, rather than actually squicky. But I’m enraged that these two are so firmly entrenched as the preferred terms – particularly because in choosing which word to use, the speaker is making an (unconscious?) assessment of my age and/or status. I don’t like living in a world where people feel entitled – or, actually, kind of obliged – to do that.

Another radio snippet, from several years ago, has stuck in my mind (not to mention my craw): I don’t know who the presenter or guests were, but they were discussing the very issue of what to call adult human females. Everyone enthusiastically agreed that you can’t say “woman”, because – and this is what stands out in my memory – it sounds like she just crawled up out of a bog or something.

Until then, I’d lived in a bubble where “woman” was the neutral counterpart to “man”. It was dispiriting to realise that this tiny plank of linguistic equality was an illusion.

When I’m speaking to my two young children (who both seem male so far), I consciously try to refer to strangers as “person”, with “man” or “woman” as alternatives if the context calls for them. But I confess I sometimes stumble. I don’t actively want to give offence to individuals (earnest though my wish to dismantle the kyriarchal order may be), and in some cases, it seems easier to mumble “lady” than to make a point.

And so I shunt the problem on to the next generation. But inconsistently, at least. Baby steps.

The problem, of course, is that “female” is a marked category within the kyriarchy. There is no neutral word for “adult human female” because it isn’t a neutral space to inhabit.

Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to personal choice – which of the available words we adult human females feel most comfortable with. Do you choose youth, respect, or the uncharted barbarism of the bog?

Me? I’m thirty-six years old, with two university degrees, two children, a marriage, a mortgage, and a couple of career changes under my belt. I’m entitled to vote and buy alcohol; I have crow’s-feet, varicose veins, and (about bloody time!) one or two grey hairs. In short it’s a long, long time since “girl” was an appropriate descriptor for me. And you can fuck right off with the “lady” thing, too, with its implied judgement of my behaviour and character.

I’m in touch with my boggy roots. Please refer to me as a woman. Thank you.

Read Full Post »

Once upon a time, during the mid-1980s, I was a fresh-faced and enthusiastic young undergraduate and subsequently post-graduate student at UCD. In 1987 I, along with 300 of my peers, two-thirds of them men, graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Back then, as now, many graduates from my class entered the big accountancy firms around Dublin and were delighted to have the opportunity to gain experience and carve out a lucrative career as an accountant. I, along with about a hundred others, decided to stay on at UCD and study for a master’s degree, an MBS in marketing in my case.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

We were intelligent and eager and we operated in a perfect meritocracy. Those that worked hardest and proved to be the brightest would graduate with the best degrees and, perhaps more significantly in the midst of a deep recession, would have the best chance of securing employment here in Ireland.

I thrived in this environment. I enjoyed the subjects I was studying and found that the combination of written exam and thesis based research suited me well. I graduated first in my class and was awarded a research fellowship for my thesis on the policies and strategies adopted by financial institutions in attracting lump sum investments. I was for that brief time first among equals and it felt good. I was hired as a business consultant by a small Dublin firm and all was well with the world. Then reality bit hard.

My male bosses were very fair & decent blokes. They treated me very well and if there was a tendency at the end of a working day for “the lads” to head down Leeson Street then I didn’t really mind it. I was happy to go home or meet with my own friends to be honest. However, some of the clients were an entirely different matter. I frequently attended meetings where I was simply ignored. I was criticised for “my” choice of biscuits. I was even complimented on the “typing and presentation” alone of one business plan that I had compiled in its entirety. I was rarely spoken to directly; clients always addressed themselves to my boss or any random male colleague that happened to be in the room. Once when I went on a business trip with my boss, who was at least a decade my senior, our bags were put into the same bedroom. He at least had the grace to look as mortified as I felt.

It came to a head one evening when I arrived at a client meeting and the male client handed accounts spreadsheets out to everybody in the room – except me; I was the lead consultant on the account and it was not an accidental oversight. I walked out. I didn’t care about the consequences and I fully expected to be fired the next day. I was called to the boardroom – and given a pay rise. The guys I worked for were genuinely decent and valued my input. However, I needed more varied experience and left to work for a major multinational. There, I was on the receiving end of a disguising, filthy phone call from a male colleague in relation to something I was wearing one day, I had to campaign to have a “girly” calendar taken down from the wall of the warehouse – a place I had to visit every day, and on one memorable occasion I found myself alone with a male business associate in what I believed to be a very compromising, dangerous situation, one  in which I felt the need to beg to be taken back to my place of work.

After a couple of years I applied for a job in the female dominated market research industry and there I thrived. I rose to the position of Client Service Director in the London office and my success there took the sting out of the occasional casual incident of sexism perpetrated by older male clients. I can honestly say that Irish men were far more prone to this behaviour than their very professional UK counterparts in my experience. One particular star in the Irish business community used to refer to myself and my female colleagues as “the spice girls” and reply to his emails during our presentations. As I progressed I was responsible for many younger male members of staff and I was always conscious of treating them with respect. I strived to never make a casually sexist remark or pass them over in favour of my female co-workers.

Therefore, and bearing these experiences and many more like them in mind, you will perhaps forgive me if I just can’t see the “funny side” or “bit of craic” in the treatment of these 13 unfortunate women working for PWC in Dublin. It’s tough out there in the testosterone fuelled business world. In my experience by merely being young and female (yes ageism is alive and well too) these women will start out at a disadvantage and will need to strive to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. This horrible, undermining, casually sexist behaviour must be taken seriously and cannot be condoned. I am perfectly prepared to be accused of being a humourless old harridan if that’s what it takes to raise awareness of this issue and eradicate such inappropriate behaviour from the workplace. I really hope we succeed but we’ve not come very far in the past twenty-five years sadly.

Read Full Post »

Every dog in the street knows that expenditure has to be shaved and shaved till the bony bits show through, but what is happening in the UK with reforming the administration of child benefit is alarming. The entitlement to child benefit is to be taken from the families of earners up to a threshold. There’s no joint assessment – so families with a single earner of more than £44K will lose the child benefit, though couples on a joint income of over £80,000 will keep it.

I”m not saying child benefit shouldn’t be means tested – in fact in principle I agree that it should. I’m not amused by those high earners who take their child benefit (“oh it just comes automatically” – no it doesn’t, you have to apply for it) and put it into a savings account so that when little Marjoram or Sinbad reaches 18 it adds up to a deposit on a flat, or travelling gap year at the State’s expense.

But I do think that a woman being the wife of, or a child being the child of, someone who earns £45K doesn’t necessarily mean they can in practical terms go without their child benefit. Where the woman stays at home to look after the children and lives off her husband’s salary she is still likely not to have free access to money, and the child benefit is frequently a bridge to basics like food or clothes shopping. I’ve come across plenty of women who are allocated a less than adequate chunk of the monthly or weekly wage and have to make up the difference whatever way they can. It’s not exactly their dream world but that’s reality’s bite.

I don’t think the State should be signing the chit willy nilly. The child benefit system is not some sort of departmental golf trip, after all. Marjoram and Sinbad can do without it. A family with a single income of £44k and three children will feel the loss badly. And single parents and women whose husbands control the family cashflow will feel it too, as will their children. A woman running from an abusive relationship, let’s say, might well factor in her child benefit payments when wondering whether she can manage to escape at all.

There has to be a more tapered system, a better way of guarding the exchequer’s piddling pot of money. We all know we’re going to be hit over the head with a cosh come December. We’re braced. Child benefit cuts are likely to feature, but it’s two months away still, which is plenty of time to sit over a pint in Buswell’s and do some sums on the back of your fag packet, so I hope when it’s done it’s done carefully.

I know shag all about economics. I’d not only hate to be Minister for Finance, I’d be rubbish at it. But I know from what I see around me that this cut, when it comes, will hit vulnerable women – and those men who are at home and dependent on a spouse’s income – and children and I don’t like it.

Read Full Post »

Self esteem can be a fragile thing. While some people have a strong, inbuilt sense of self-confidence and self-worth, others struggle to see the true beauty in themselves, unable to see the good, and instead focusing on the negative. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes all that is beholden is a messed-up, backwards, magic-mirror image.

Women who may to the outside viewer appear to ‘have it all’ (that loathed phrase beloved of lady-mags) can in fact feel as though they have nothing, are nothing, and all because they are fixated on what they dislike about themselves – be it a physical or emotional aspect of their self.

One woman who is on a crusade to promote a positive self-image amongst people worldwide is Caitlin Boyle, an American food and fitness blogger. One day in 2009, while feeling utterly down in the dumps about herself, she had a lightbulb moment: why not do something that would make not only herself feel better, but other people too? So she scribbled an affirmation on a post-it-note, stuck it to a mirror, and with that, a movement was born.

Operation Beautiful became an almost overnight success, with Caitlin receiving email after email from women who had stuck post-it notes in offices, on toilet doors, at traffic lights, inside magazines and on scales. Women told her that Operation Beautiful helped them feel more beautiful – inside and out.

As a follower of Caitlin’s blog for the past two years, I was intrigued by the concept of Operation Beautiful. Reading health blogs changed my attitude to myself and my health in an overwhelmingly positive way (even motivating me to start my own food blog) and I loved that Operation Beautiful harnesses the goodwill and positivity of strangers to help others.

For me, the ‘beautiful‘ in the name doesn’t mean being classically beautiful on the outside – it means the inner beauty and spirit that radiates from those who are truly happy in their own skin.

Operation Beautiful started off as one post-it note, turned into a website, and was released as a book two months ago. Wanting to know more, I got in touch with Caitlin (pictured below) and asked her some questions about Operation Beautiful.

Hi Caitlin, for those not familiar with the concept, what is Operation Beautiful, and what inspired you to start it?

Operation Beautiful involves posting random notes in public places for other people to find.  These notes typically encourage a positive body image or outlook and include phrases like “You are beautiful inside and out” or “Scales measure weight, not worth.” I was inspired to start Operation Beautiful after having a really bad day; I wanted to do something small and simple for someone else to make me feel better!

Were you surprised at how quickly Operation Beautiful became popular?

The idea definitely went viral. I was surprised at first, but in hindsight, I see why it’s been so successful.  We need this type of positive messaging in society, and Operation Beautiful is simple, quick, and effective – both for the note poster and the finder!

Why do you think a note from a stranger can have a positive impact on a person’s self- esteem?

I think it makes people smile when they realize how much goodness there is in the world.  The idea that someone would do this for a stranger is so uplifting.  Also, people place these notes in locations where negative self-talk often occurs, such as the bathroom mirror, the scale, or the changing room at the gym.

What’s your favourite Operation Beautiful note story?

My favorite story is Vit’s.  A teenager in Canada, Vit was in a treatment center for severe anorexia.  Her doctors were concerned that it was going to eventually kill her.  She slipped into the bathroom to throw up her lunch and found an Operation Beautiful note on the stall.  The simple message – “You are good enough the way you are” – made her pause and reconsider her destructive behavior.  She followed up with me a few months later and said she was out of the hospital and healthier than ever.  Vit knew a stranger posted the note, but she felt like the timing was a message from God.

Why do you think so many women struggle with self-esteem issues?

There is a lot of negative messaging in our society.  The biggest mistake we make is beating ourselves up for not looking like models or celebrities.  99% of images in magazines are photoshopped in some way.  It’s time we stop emulating or striving for a type of perfection that doesn’t even exist in the real world.  It’s OK to look like a human!

Your other blog, Healthy Tipping Point, is hugely successful – what drew you to blogging in the first place? What do you think makes Healthy Tipping Point so successful?

I had been a healthy living blog reader for about a year before I joined the community with my own blog.  I loved the sense of community between bloggers and readers and wanted to participate on a bigger scale. I think HTP is successful because I’m upbeat, relatable, and keep it real.  Plus, my fun recipes are simple!

Blogging has become a phenomenon, and blogs have given women a new space where they can express themselves in their own way. What do you love about blogging – and has it changed your life?

I wrote a post about this subject before. Check it out: http://www.healthytippingpoint.com/2010/08/blogging-changed-my-life.html

What keeps your spirits up and helps you feel good about yourself?

I really love running.  Training for races helps me stay motivated and positive.

I believe that many Operation Beautiful readers and participants have said the movement has changed their life. How does that make you feel?

It feels amazing to know that I am part of something so much bigger than myself.  The site wouldn’t exist without all these wonderful people who want to make the world a better place.  It’s awesome to be the one who gets to write about it everyday.

What has the press tour for Operation Beautiful, the book, been like – any highlights?

The highlight of my press tour was being on The Today Show [click for video link]. I was so excited to get to talk to millions about Operation Beautiful and the response has been so positive.

How did you find the transition from blogger to writer – was it always your intention to write a book? When did you decide to write a book about Operation Beautiful?

No! I never thought one post-it would become a website and a book.  I think it’s the natural progression of the site though because the book gives more details on how to lead a truly positive and healthy life – the Operation Beautiful lifestyle, if you will!

What’s next for Operation Beautiful?

I hope the site and book can really change the way we see ourselves and redefine what beautiful is about.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

Maybe 🙂 Wait and see!

Readers, what do you think of this initiative?

Read Full Post »

Vaseline. Prized for thickening eyebrows, healing cuts and aiding shoehorns, but a rabid pest if lobbed into rookie hands. It was 1988 and I was emigrating to London in three days and thought it might be a good idea to have sex before I left. It was all a bit new to me, the sex thing, and Random Paul seemed like a grudgingly safe bet. “It really turns me on if The Girl pretends she’s blind,” he smirked, twisting open a giant jar of the finest petroleum jelly. An hour or so later I was stuck to the bed, jellied tripe, while Random Paul bungled off into the sunrise, never to see his faux-blind harlot again.

Last night in Temple Bar, five of us well-watered journos began fly fishing for stories of bad sex and general mortification. As my fellow beer flunkies winced and hemmed and hawed and strained and moaned (and sang Michael Jackson tunes) to avoid coughing up the goods, Generation Game conveyor belt music starting going off in my head. There it was: the toaster, the golf clubs, the cuddly toy, a whole line-up of crap sexual experiences, sliding by as a consumer job lot of lousy shags.

A year after the blind-fantasy-vaseline man I was in the throes of my first serious relationship in London and apparently I was terribly frigid. “You’re not like other Irish girls I met, they were really dirty!” he protested. It was, of course, the start of a long line of gobshite men. To spice things up, and only because he owned a scooter and my flatmate’s boyfriend also owned a scooter, I suggested we try having sex with helmets on our heads. I thought it might be fun. In truth I wasn’t experienced enough to know what ‘spicing up’ meant? There was always helmets in the hall, broken umbrellas in the sitting room and booze in the kitchen. At first it was just sheer hilarious, we had to open up the visors that were steamed-up from laughing. We looked a bit like giant humping flies. But after a while when we really got into it, things got a bit road-crash hectic. Our heads were smashing into each other in full missionary force, my neck auto-whiplashing and the heat inside the helmet made it extremely difficult to breathe. By the time we abandoned our efforts there was nothing left for it but to get pissed and never mention it again. We broke up a few months later.

The London Years (1988-1995) were loud with all kinds of carnal clatterings. The jazz singer with the half-moon penis that he inherited in a bus crash, the Clapham barman who tried to ‘dry ride’ me when I was asleep and got his Winkle caught in his jean’s zip with disastrous ‘bloody’ consequences; an ensuing trip to St. Thomas’s Hospital where I had to pretend to medical staff I was his wife. The manic-depressive whose post coitus musings included a desire to fling himself off a motorway bridge. A Sikh guy who used to put my hand down his trousers and say: “Sikh and you will find.” I was desperately, painfully, saturated in unrequited love for him. There was also an Italian IT expert who could only get turned on after watching National Geographic – stuff like wildebeest stampeding on  the plains and open woodlands of Africa. He’d smolder out his nostrils and demand we head to the bedroom for animatistic sex as the programme credits were rising. It was a miracle I made it back to Ireland intact.

So there I was in my early 30s in a pub in north inner city Dublin totally infatuated with a sooty-haired musician with a cheeky grin and those West of Ireland certifiable green eyes. For months I gave him crab-sideways libidinous stares, come-hither smiles and ‘look at me, aren’t I just the dog’s bollix?’ belly laughs. I also made sure he’d hear snippets of personal details and how great my career was progressing, when I was chatting to some of the local deadbeats. I’d lost four stone so amazingly men were glaring back for the first time in aeons and West of Ireland man became so brilliantly reciprocal I had no choice but to bite the bullet and ask him back to my plywood apartment. This was my first blatant seduction and I was sheer delighted with myself.

The next bit happened so fast and so non-passionately that by the time I could say: “Do you want a can of Miller?” he had his cock out in my purple sitting room, demanding to know what I thought. This is still very hard to describe, even now, but there was a foreskin problem of sorts, well most definitely…the full details proffered by him there on the spot. His Ma admitted that she should’ve got him circumcised when he was small but that she really couldn’t bear to “hurt her baby” and ever since he’d started “doing the business” years later, he had to manually fold it over, his nuclear mushroom cloud, and tuck it in like an overgrown pastry lid, before he could get it inside a lady. The entire thing was so shocking that I wish I’d had the guts or gall to utter that famous Wickerman line: “Oh, God! Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, my God! Christ! No, no, dear God!”

If bad sex doesn’t lead to a good heart, it will certainly lead to a good sense of humour. Last night as the Anti-Room meetup came to a prudent close, five  diehards posed a question no-one with even a quarter of a reputation would ever want to answer: I kept my gob firmly shut. Some things are just better off left dead in the bed, world without end, Amen.

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog: here:

Read Full Post »

Guess what? Scientists reckon they can now predict when a young woman will start into the menopause by testing her for levels of a particular hormone. Well, so it would seem anyway from reports like this one. A study of 266 women in Iran aged between 20 and 49 measured their levels of anti-mullerian hormone (AMH, it’s made by the ovaries) over a number of years as well as finding out about their reproductive and family histories.

From all this, the researchers came up with a formula to forecast when menopause would start, and apparently they claimed their model could predict whether a woman in her 20s would have an early menopause (before 45). Now before we go wondering whether we want to gaze into that particular crystal ball, can I just point out that these results were presented at a conference – the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology – so they are not in the gold standard of a peer-reviewed paper for starters. Plus the study itself is pretty small, so any rush to extrapolate to half of the human race is probably premature.

But it raises the intriguing notion that some day a woman may be able to waltz into a clinic in her youth and find out at what age she will start the so-called ‘change of life’.

Would you want to know?

Claire O’Connell

Read Full Post »

L’Oréal loves to talk up the science. From its skin-and-hair labs in Paris to Jennifer Aniston steadying her gaze into your living room and warning that “the science bit” is coming, they revel in the white-coatedness of it all. But it’s not just the men in those white coats, no. The cosmetics empire also wants to give women a nudge along scientific research trajectory.

And so two Dublin-based women are packing their bags to go to London tomorrow to represent their dreams of advancing a scientific idea.
Dr Lourdes Basabe-Desmonts, a research fellow at Dublin City University, is developing a surface-based technology to measure how stem cells develop in the lab. Meanwhile Dr Rachel Evans from Trinity College Dublin is looking at a new way to create small-scale organic electronic devices.
They are among eight short-listed candidates for this competition, of which four will receive a 2010 L’Oréal UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women In Science Fellowship that provides £15,000 in funding to further their work.

Now to those of us living in NAMA-land whose ears are tuned into the millions and billions, that amount doesn’t seem very much. But it all counts. And the prestige that goes with a L’Oréal UNESCO award is not to be sniffed at. A 2009 winner of one of their international fellowships (they only gave out 15 worldwide), Dr Lydia Lynch, now divides her time between University College Dublin and Harvard. She is looking at how obesity messes with the immune system and can put people at higher risk of developing cancer. Lynch is definitely on my ‘one to watch’ list and best of luck to the two candidates in the Ireland and UK competition tomorrow.

Claire O’Connell

Read Full Post »

So, someone has a crush on us. That’s deadly, so it is. Right back at ya, Rosie. Though I’m not sure what Twenty Major would make of our little love-in.

Still and all, where would we be without our girlie crushes? Here are some of mine:

1. Dawn Porter

Truth be told, I never had much time for the Balls Of Steel-era Dawn Porter, but my appreciation for the Porter really took flight when she got her own BBC 3 seriesof documentaries last year. Unapologetically candid and real, the documentaries explored lesbianism, being single, childbirth, nudity and the much maligned Size Zero debate. Dawn is, quite frankly, a lethal combination of doe-eyed sexiness and quirky, unassuming sass. On top of all else, she rides a folding bike and is an Aquarian, therefore rendering her pretty much perfect in my eyes. Arguably one of the most natural and charming TV presenters out there, Dawn is the sort of girl that would make truly drinking company. Good old Dawn would be the saucy, bat-yer-lashes yin to my violently smutty, X-rated yang. I’d be going on about my gagging-for-it cuntflaps, curved cocks, gay porn, double penetration and the like; she’d blush, peer coyly over the rim of her Pimms & Lemonade and in her cute, posh Veruca Salt voice, say something cheeky like, ‘Actually, they’re called fanny-flaps, Leigh’. You can tell I’ve had a think about this, right?

2. Diablo Cody

You can’t not have a girl-crush on someone whose name is Diablo Cody. When the opening credits started for Juno – hands down, the best film of last year – I couldn’t wait to get out of the cinema and Google the heck out of this person on the strength of her moniker (her real name, Brooke Busey, makes her sound like a prissy, bitchy prom queen in a John Hughes film). Imagine my delight, surprise (and, oh Jesus, cold-blooded envy) when she turned out to be a foxy babe in the LA-rockabilly vein. I love those kind of broads, all jet-black fringes and tatty leopard print coats. Not only is Diablo a sort of glamorous, old-Hollywood throwback; her writing kicks serious ass. Say what you will about its Degrassi Junior High teen speak, but Juno has as whip-smart, perfectly-pitched and touchingly funny a script as you’ll find anywhere. Still, as much as I love Diablo, I do have to take points off for her watery Oscar acceptance speech. That’s the other thing: I really was downright jealous of her Oscar dress, and indeed of her Oscar win. She didn’t even have to fuck sing with Glen Hansard to get it.

3. Immodesty Blaize

Dita Von Teese me hoop…Immodesty – sturdily created in the original burlesque tradition – is a proper ridebag. Much like me, this lass – born Kelly Fletcher – has plenty of junk in the trunk. (Hell, what am I talking about? I have junk in the backseat, the bonnet, the glove compartment. Fuck, even my air fresheners have junk on ‘em. Anyway). On top of being endlessly sexy, Immodesty has a devilish glint in her eye that suggests that she too might be a rather fun girl to down cocktails with. What’s more, in addition to becoming the world’s most smoulderingly sexy burlesque dancer, she’s also written two novels. Is there no end to the wagon’s talents, I ask you?

4. Julie Burchill

The one thing I adore about Julie Burchill is the fact that she could – and readily would, without much provocation – eat a young one like me for breakfast. Seriously, The Burchill would probably pick a fight with her own shadow – you have to dig girls like that. It’s not so much Burchill’s colourful and strong opinions that do it for me – girls who rail against boys and Daily Mail readers are a dime a dozen, after all – but it’s the way she undercuts her vitriol with this puny, girly voice. It’s incredible, really. Float like a Minnie Mouse, sting like a motherfucking bee. Still, imagine getting on the right side of The Burchill though…how incredible and gratifying an experience would that be? One of my favourite Burchill rants was aimed at housewives who bang about making ‘a contribution’ while watching Jeremy Kyle all day: “it’s just tidying up after yourself!” she once squeaked. Brilliant. Yet for all those perfectly-pitched pot-shots, Julie came a little unstuck when she became particularly vocal while defending chavs, and celebrated her own chav existence. Yet surely she knows that marrying boys called Cosmo and writing for the Guardian does not a chav make?

5. Peaches

Good old Merril Niskel. I love the fact that Peaches used to be a schoolteacher and coined the phrase ‘hermaphrodite envy’…what’s not to like? Also, can you believe this girl is 41? Hot feckin’ dang! There’s something about her caustic , tough-as-boots sexuality that really cranks my proverbial chain. I should imagine that going down on Peaches would probably be not dissimilar to sticking your tongue on a car battery. And I do mean that in the best way possible.

6. Floria Sigismondi

You can keep your Zadie Smiths and your Cate Blanchetts…Floria Sigismondi is, bar none, the most talented person in possession of a fanny out there. You may know some of her music videos: she has directed ‘Untitled 1 (Vaka)’ for Sigur Ros, ‘Obstacle 1’ for Interpol and, famously, ’The Beautiful People’ for Marilyn Manson. In fact, she’s largely responsible for much of the latter’s imagery.

Her elaborate books of photography are like crack-fuelled space shuttle trips for your eyes. The daughter of Italian opera singers, this Canadian is responsible for some of the most incredible goth/Victoriana imagery out there. Steely, original and uncompromising, Floria describes her images as “entropic underworlds inhabited by tortured souls and omnipotent beings.” Oof! On top of that, Floria is a bit of an imposing babe herself. Some girls have all the luck.

I think I’m beginning to see a pattern to my girl crushes – they are all multi-talented, alpha-females who can (probably) drink like fish, curse like sailors and might go off like a pocket of firecrackers in the scratcher. Being from Canada and having a sexy fake name: optional.

Over to you peeps…got any girl crushes you might like to share?

Read Full Post »