Our moment has arrived and we need to grasp it with both hands

The wimmin’ are gone entirely mad. Losing the run of themselves. Nothing will ever satisfy them now. 

Our moment has arrived and we need to grasp it with both hands

The days of an Irish woman knowing her place (in the home, not laying down the law at some summer school or other, and certainly not on the altar of a Catholic Church) are tragically gone.

The abortion referendum was just the start of it and don’t even get started on the #MeToo movement.

We’ve smelt the freedom. The door has opened. The blood is up. The expectations have been raised. We are in danger of losing the run of ourselves and it feels just the tiniest bit magnificent.

It is going to take some getting used to. By this week, for instance, I had started to feel sorry for the director of the MacGill Summer School, Joe Mulholland.

The former managing director of RTÉ was in hot water with what have effectively been his quotas for middle-aged male speakers, actually operating over many years.

But matters were compounded by the school’s website this week listing two men as the main speakers on a panel to discuss why there weren’t more women speaking at summer schools.

I’ve done a small bit of the summer school circuit myself — not MacGill, I was never asked. Just as you’d imagine they are, more often than not, stuffed with blokes, most of a certain age, most never for a moment questioning why men are always the ones whose “expert” opinions are called upon and heard.

My favourite take on this, and one which I will never tire of, comes from UK Turner Prize winning artist and transvestite Grayson Perry. He compares asking men about what its like living in a masculine culture as like talking to fish about living in water.

Perry has singled out a group he terms “Default Man” — white, heterosexual, middle class, high earning, well educated, usually middle aged, with a “strong grip on the keys to power”.

Another way of describing this group is the summer school habitues who return to the foray year after year, often to the same location, and never once appear to notice that women are absent from the stage.

So even the bleedin’ obvious has to be pointed out and done so loudly, by women. The difference now is that this “moment” is happening. We have to grasp it with both hands. It’s been a long wait.

It’s not that women want to take over the world just to have a better, and eventually equal, part in it. We’ve learned that this will not happen through wishing for it — persistence, support and strategy, in abundance, are needed.

A version of this is the establishment of a women’s caucus in the Oireachtas. The brainchild of Green TD Catherine Martin, it was established at the beginning of last year.

The caucus includes women from all parties and none, although strangely Sinn Féin said it didn’t wish to join, saying the caucus should also include female party workers based in Leinster House.

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy is the vice chairwoman. So when the men are doing laps of the corridors of power, swimming in their own rock solid masculinity, the women are doing things like this, and making moves to develop their own strokes.

Delighted to have been elected in 2016, Catherine Martin went from the female dominated profession of teaching to Leinster House.

“There had been so much media coverage about the number of women elected, and I was delighted to be one of the 22%, but when I got in there and took my seat in the back row of the Dáil Chamber and looked around, my first thought was: ‘Where are the women?’

“We had all those votes on electing a Taoiseach, and it was the old-fashioned way of voting, up through the lobby, with all these men back-slapping. It was quite the awakening,” she remembers.

Realising the Dáil has been like a male caucus for the past century — at present it is 78% male and 22% female — she decided to take some action.

She decided that trying to get women politicians of all hues together was a good start. The caucus is open to current and former female members of the Oireachtas with a number of aims, but primarily strengthening their political impact as women.

Things have moved on quickly and in what will be an exciting first, and hopefully a sign of real change, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail has agreed to allow the Oireachtas women’s caucus to sponsor legislation introducing gender quotas for local elections.

It’s hoped the legislation will be in place before next year’s poll. In order for that to happen one of the political parties will have to offer up some of their time — but that’s hardly going to be a problem, is it?

In the 2016 general election, for the first time, political parties were threatened with serious financial penalties (forgoing half their state funding for the next full parliamentary term) for not having women make up 30% of their party ticket.

Now though the caucus is examining ways of “incentivising” political parties — using a carrot rather than a stick — possibly rewarding individual councils around the country for the improved gender representation among their public representatives.

Elsewhere the women’s caucus will host a major conference in Dublin in September celebrating 100 years of Irish women having the vote.

Female parliamentarians from at least 20 countries will attend, with Afghanistan being the first to sign up. It is the intention that a “Dublin Declaration” will be signed by participants on what direction women parliamentarians globally wants things to move in over the next 100 years.

Among the interests of the caucus are a more work-friendly atmosphere in the Oireachtas, the introduction of remote voting, and the carrying out of a survey to look at sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviour and bullying that may be occurring in Leinster House.

At the behest of the caucus, the Oireachtas commission, overseen by the Ceann Comhairle, supports the idea for such a survey.

The former leader of the Labour Party Eamon Gilmore once said that the testosterone-filled Leinster House reminded him of his all-boys boarding school.

Except, of course, boys in boarding schools do not find themselves in positions of national power or with a party

machine to back them up, or the ability to close ranks when there is a “problem” that needs to be

contained. This survey is an excellent idea, and the sooner it is carried out the better. The results, I imagine, will be very interesting.

Anyone who follows UK politics will know that the #MeToo movement has ended up in a raft of allegations emerging from Westminster about inappropriate behaviour by MPs. I suppose there is a possibility that Leinster House hasn’t had somewhat similar behaviour, but I doubt it.

What all of this illustrates is the fact that things do happen, but only when women act together and take action and when, as said earlier, a “moment” has arrived and is there to be grasped.

None of it comes easily so men can relax for a while yet — the prospect of world domination remains all too remote.

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