‘Y’ is sexism rampant here?

Hollaback, the US website that highlights sexism, has arrived here.

And there are other Irish organisations joining its crusade, reports Jonathan deBurca Butler

PRIOR to an All-Ireland senior camogie final years ago, a television station interviewed the teams’ captains. The item closed with the two captains running and pushing lawnmowers along the sacred turf of Croke Park.

“What do you think of that?,” I asked my girlfriend. Without anger, she said: “They wouldn’t ask the men to do it.” The scene had nothing to do with camogie. It did not show these women’s skills. By running up and down the pitch in their shorts, they were made to look like ‘silly little girls’. It was sexist.

Aoife Campbell says examples like these are endemic; and not just in sport. “I can only speak for myself, but being called ‘young lady’ when you’re getting served in a bank, for example, is really uncomfortable,” says the 22-year-old. “It skews the balance of power. It’s making you feel uncomfortable, so that you remember your place.”

Campbell is part of a new initiative, the Y-Factor, which is being run by The National Women’s Council. Launched on Feb 1, the Y-Factor educates young people about sexism in Ireland.

Siabh, 16, is a student at a well-known private school in south county Dublin. It is a co-educational school. Although the numbers of teachers, administrators and students are equal, sexist comments are rife.

“For a while there, in my school, it became sort of fashionable, if a girl had made a mistake, to say to her ‘oh, go make a sandwich’ or ‘go to the kitchen’,” says Siabh. “The boys found it hilarious. But the interesting thing is, I don’t know how they came up with it. Most of their mothers are working, so it’s not as if they go home to a mother who does those things for them.”

Such behaviour is hardly surprising when you have male members of the Dáil commenting on the looks and dress sense of female colleagues: last year, Mick Wallace referred to Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor as ‘Miss Piggy’ .

“I think it was pretty typical of how men in groups speak in general,” says Campbell. “It’s the same with Sinn Féin. People can feel whatever way they want about Sinn Féin, but when Mary Lou McDonald gets up to say anything, everything is about her look and her hair. As for Gerry Adams, people might criticise his politics, but not how he looks. Nobody would ever dream of commenting on how he looks, or look at him in a sexual way or comment on what he wears.”

For Campbell, such examples confirm the acceptance of sexism and the objectification of women in society. This objectification is most prevalent in certain sectors of the media, advertising and socialising.

“There was one nightclub that said in their blurb ‘if you have a boyfriend don’t come, if you’re not up for it, don’t come’, and come was spelt ‘c-u-m’, by the way. The ‘if-you’re-not-up-for-it-you- shouldn’t-be-here’ mentality is there. If you dare go to a nightclub, then obviously you are up for it and men can harass you, touch you, follow you.”

“That’s why the Y Factor is so important, because I think younger women feel insecure,” says Campbell. “If you have somebody in your class getting at you because you’re not doing something, you might feel you’re the only one. We spoke to some girls on Henry Street about what it was like to be a young girl [these days]. Initially, they’re looking at their feet, but then they opened up and started telling us things they had experienced. So when young women come together and examine it, they end up saying ‘hold on a minute, this isn’t on’.”

Another group no longer accepting of everyday sexism is Hollaback. Set up in New York back in 2005, by four women and three men, Hollaback invited female victims of street harassment to post stories of their experiences, such as groping, public masturbation and general intimidation. Last November, their Dublin website went live.

“There are four of us involved,” says Aimee Doyle. “And all of us had experienced street harassment in Ireland. So, we just felt that something had to be done about it. We’d heard about Hollaback in America, so we got in touch with them and things went on from there.

“Street harassment is something we all experience on a daily basis. I’ve never spoken to a woman who hasn’t experienced it.”

Doyle says before the launch the media were negative. The group was accused of exaggerating the harassment. One media outlet used the term ‘hysterical’. The response to the site since its launch has been good.

The posts make for tough reading. In one story, a girl was spat on for telling a guy not to grab her, while another tells how a group of lads shouted they would rape her while she was waiting for the LUAS.

“When the stories started being published, I think people realised that it’s not a joke,” says Doyle. “I know, for example, that a lot of men, on reading the stories, have actually realised that it really is an issue.”




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