Maybe we aren’t so racist or misogynistic after all. Perhaps it is strength, hard work, and decency we value above hate, writes Joyce Fegan
WE DO not live in a hate-filled world populated solely by racist, homophobic misogynists.
As Boris Johnson took the political throne in Britain this week, appointing cabinet ministers who oppose such things as same-sex marriage and who have publicly supported things such as the death penalty, I take solace where I can.
In a worldwide survey released this week, in which 42,000 people were polled, Michelle Obama was voted the most-admired woman in the world.
Bill Gates, a man who supports such organisations as Planned Parenthood and who has given away nearly $50bn (€44.8bn) in his lifetime, has been voted the world’s most-admired man.
YouGov, the global public opinion and data company, carried out its survey in 41 countries, with Ireland being one of them.
In Ireland, Michelle Obama was also voted the most-admired woman, taking home a 12.17% share of the overall vote and for Irish people, environmental activist David Attenborough is the most-admired man, receiving a 17.56% share of the vote.
When people such as Michelle Obama, David Attenborough and Bill Gates top these carefully-compiled lists, what does that tell us about ourselves?
Michelle Obama was reared in the southside of Chicago, in a house owned by her grandaunt. Michelle and her family, her brother and parents, lived upstairs in the small house. Her father Fraser, worked for the city, tending to water boilers. He was sceptical about home ownership, the former first lady of the US wrote in her internationally best-selling autobiography Becoming. Her father didn’t want to be “house poor”.
She said he taught her about hard work, him never missing a day, nor ever being late for work, in his life, despite having multiple sclerosis.
Michelle’s mother Marian, on the other hand, taught her to use her voice. As a child she took her mother to task over eggs. Michelle, a lawyer-in-the-making, was freed from having to eat eggs every day for breakfast, and instead got to make herself peanut butter sandwiches.
Years later, when Michelle Obama would find herself in the White House, meeting people who called her husband names in public, but who also wanted their photo with the Obamas for their mantelpiece, she learned to stomach and swerve the hypocrisy and hate that so often pollutes our world.
And so came her famous line — “when they go low, we go high” — one she employed so as to avoid being called an “angry black woman”.
And so globally, as well as in Ireland, this Chicagoan southsider, who ended up not only in Princeton but in Harvard too, is the most-admired woman in the world.
So maybe we aren’t so racist or misogynistic after all. Perhaps it is strength, hard work, and decency we value above hate.
As climate activists hold up traffic and get labelled with that most sticky of words, “extreme”, David Attenborough gets voted the most-admired man in both Ireland and in Britain.
Last December, the 93-year-old naturalist took to the world stage and delivered an extreme message.
“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate change,” he said.
As with all movements of change, or of social justice, noisy detractors are aplenty. As some people despair for the future, others ridicule their activism and label it as “extreme” and them as “extremists”.
Detractors of this nature want the public to agree with their narrative and to believe it is the popular position.
With David Attenborough being voted the most-admired man, both in Britain and in Ireland, it shows that maybe the public do not see climate activists as extremists after all.
At a time of feminist resurgence where more sexual assaults are being reported, with a 10% rise in Ireland alone in 2018, it can still seem at times, that feminism remains a dirty word, associated with “shrill”, “angry” women.
Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, has received death threats. The threats related to her campaigning to keep the image of Jane Austen on Britain's £10 note. She’s also been dismissed by some doctors as a “bloody stupid feminist”.
With extreme responses like this, it can feel that the world isn’t so keen on people who seek equal rights, who want to eradicate the pay gap, and who wish to iron out things like the heavy burden of free domestic labour.
But if you make enough noise online, use strong enough language, and get fake accounts to jump on your misogynistic bandwagon, you’ll start to make people believe that being a feminist is not a good or popular thing.
And yet US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg comes in second as the most-admired woman in the US, after Michelle Obama. This is the judge who could not get work as a lawyer upon graduation, and who went on to take gender discrimination cases to Supreme Court level, winning all sorts of equalising rights for women.
Actress and feminist activist Emma Watson also features heavily on the national lists of most-admired women. In the US she comes in 12th, in the UK she took 11th place, and in Ireland she came in 12th. She came in 10th in the United Arab of Emirates and 14th in Saudi Arabia.
The results of the survey, contrary to the noise on social media and of who’s in political office, is a bit like the polarisation report that was published last November.
More than 8,000 Americans were surveyed by More in Common and results demonstrated that unity was far more pronounced than division.
Their data showed 75% of Americans support stricter gun laws, 82% believe that racism is at least a somewhat serious problem in America, and 79% favour providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought here as children. And crucially, 77% of Americans agreed that their differences were not so great that they cannot come together.
The data seems at odds with the cultural climate out there. It just goes to show you can’t believe everything you read on social media.
It’s like what social scientist Brené Brown says. You need to “move in” and get to know people, because “it’s hard to hate people close up”.