The silly season, that very phrase is enough to send shivers up the spines of all politicians.
Once a controversy takes hold in the usuallynews-dead month of August it simply refuses to disappear, well what actually happens is the media doggedly hangs on to it in the absence of anything else to concentrate on. Just ask Kevin Myers.
Irish women should be grateful to Kevin this week for yet again highlighting the misogynistic crap that has passed off for so long as legitimate commentary. Crucially though he mixed it up with a right dash of antisemitisim, for which there is thankfully zero tolerance, in turn putting the spotlight on the woman hating stuff, which would otherwise just have been passed off yet again as: “Shure that’s Kevin for you”.
I gave up reading his columns quite a while ago. Ultimately it was an easy decision given the constant deliberately offensive anti-female themes.
There were times when he could write beautifully, and championed important issues, but these were overshadowed by all too frequent bilious outpourings. He and I both wrote for the Irish Independent a few years ago.
I remember he wrote a column on “date rape” which he said was a situation “in which an unwilling woman finally submits to non-violent coercion”.
I wrote saying his description would almost make you laugh if it weren’t so serious. It was like he was describing a scenario of rape by nagging, the eventual acquiesence on the part of a female worn out from the pleading of a male looking for a bit of sexual action, as opposed to an actual crime.
In recent days, by way of explanation for last Sunday’s column in The Sunday Times, he said it was the careless throwaway line that always ended up getting him into trouble — as if they appeared on his computer screen somehow by accident. But a professional button pusher such as Kevin had a cupboard full of just such lines, and their use was not careless, but habitual and deliberate.
In this coarse and abrasive era of Trump and Brexit, he found himself more recently back swimming in the very warm waters of professional controversialism, a man whose brand of offense was back in style. His mistake last Sunday was to pick on people outside of Ireland, capable of fighting back.
Despite the upsurge in feminism in recent years it did seem, up to that point, as if Kevin Myers could say anything he wished about one half of the population and it would be printed with barely an eyebrow being raised.
In actuality eyebrows were being subsumed into hairlines everywhere on those particular Sunday mornings. But since the brow raisers were seen as the bra-burning types the outrage didn’t rate.
So that’s the favour Kevin did us last weekend, going off on one as he usually did, but dragging into the controversy a group of people who, for entirely legitimate and understandable reasons, are on the alert for public expressions of anti semitisim.
This time the throwaway line, as it all too frequently did, targetted women.
Not only that, he chose to name two women on the BBC list of it’s highest paid stars — Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz.
It was admirable that Kevin said he did not wish anyone else in The Sunday Times to lose their jobs over this controversy. During the week he also said that he had many weaknesses, but was not an unpleasant person. Even further back in my career I worked with Kevin in The Irish Times newsroom and yes, he was usually pleasant company.
But it was also clear that while intellectually very bright, he had a views on women, men, and sexuality that appeared to have been forged in a teenage school boys locker room and had remained at just that level — for expressing those views in print he has been rewarded rather handsomely by three Irish newspapers for decades.
So it’s a lovely irony that along with the massive offence he caused to Jewish people he has also managed to keep the fire burning under the gender pay gap controversy which has, wonderfully, been to the forefront for weeks now, first in the UK and then here.
There is a momentum now that must be grasped. Here the focus has been on RTÉ. What a good place to start given that it is a public service broadcaster and in receipt of public funding. The station is to conduct a review of ‘role and gender equality’ across the organisation.
It was interesting to hear the little titbit that around 60 people attended a recent NUJ meeting at the station to discuss the gender pay gap and only around seven of those gathered were men.
What kicked all of this off was the publication by the BBC of it’s highest paid stars and the extraordinary dearth of women on that list who earn more than £150,000 — only a third of its 96 top earners were women, and the top seven were all men.
As we saw on Wednesday RTÉ’s top 10 list features three women — Miriam O’Callaghan, Marian Finucane and Claire Byrne — with the three best paid on the list being men. It says so much too about RTÉ’s failure to promote females to presenting positions that after reading the list the only woman whose absence you’d wonder about is Drivetime presenter Mary Wison.
How is it that a woman presenting a highly successful radio show for more than a decade, with consistently high ratings, did not make that list? There aren’t any more women in Montrose who have been allowed reach “star” level, where you can be outraged at their absence from the top level pay grades, but you’ll find so many of them behind the scenes making the men out front look good.
On a political level there is a commitment to publish wage surveys included in the 2016 Programme for a Partnership Government, as well as that the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 containing a proposal to promote wage transparency in companies of 50 or more employees. Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is said to be championing this proposal.
I attended an International Womens Day event a few months ago and a young woman in the audience asked how best, with her future career in mind, to address the tricky issue of a possible gender pay gap in her company. At the time no one on the panel had a good answer.
Despite the jabberings of Kevin Myers and others the gender pay gap is utterly unjustifiable but it has been a very difficult issue for women to know how to tackle. But that’s what this year’s silly season has gifted us — the mainstreaming of the gender pay gap issue, and if the Government is made press ahead with its transparency plans the improvements will be remarkable.
Kevin Myers’ mistake last Sunday was to pick on people outside of Ireland, capable of fighting back