An Cailín Rua
I have always been drawn to the media, particularly radio and print; the fast and adrenaline-laced nature of breaking-news media, the more considered work of analysis, feature and opinion writing, the richness of topical expert-panel discussions. It is important work that needs to be acknowledged and valued in a society where most of us can now easily create platforms to get our opinions heard.
For years I listened, read, wrote and formed opinions, based on what was presented to me in the media. But what has always struck me was the relative lack of female voices on air. The norm has consisted of suited men giving their opinions on things. With the emergence of a strong feminist movement in Ireland in recent years, this lack of diversity eventually had to be highlighted. Other women also became frustrated at the lack of diversity on our airwaves, and decided to do something about it. Enter Women on Air, ‘a community of like-minded women and men who want to hear and see more women on the airwaves’. Formed as a voluntary networking group in 2010, it has gone on to run a number of seminars, workshops and events aimed at empowering women and giving them the skills and confidence they need to go on radio and television, thereby working towards achieving a greater diversity of voices on air.
Going on air does require confidence, and it became clear that the fault did not always lie with producers and researchers, who in fact reported great difficulty in getting women on the airwaves. Women, even experts, tend to be more reluctant than men to state their opinions on air. This can be attributed – somewhat anecdotally – to things like a lack of preparation time (often, such opportunities are offered at very short notice), a reluctance to engage in conflict, and sometimes, simple logistical issues like childcare requirements – all things that probably impact disproportionately on women.
Attending Women on Air events when I lived in Dublin taught me a simple lesson that stuck with me. If ever offered the opportunity to go on air, do your bit to get more female voices heard, immediately say ‘yes’, and figure out the logistics after; in other words, to feel the fear and avoid using it as an excuse.
Over the years, it has resulted in me taking part in on-air interviews and discussions about the serious, the sublime and the ridiculous – rural development, travel and tourism, festivals and events, being a redhead and, my favourite, being a football fan. Women on Air gave me the confidence to barrel through my first national radio interview during which I froze with terror on air, but found my feet and learned a valuable lesson about preparation.
A few years on, it is clear to see that gender imbalance on the airwaves is well on the way to being addressed, though we’re not there yet. Personally, I will be forever grateful to the people – men and women – who gave up their time and shared their knowledge to empower so many women and to help tackle this glaring disparity.
Contrast this great work with the recent decision by another group, Women in Media, to invite Bertie Ahern to be a keynote speaker at its annual conference. The event describes its aim as to ‘further champion the positive affects (sic) that pioneering women have made throughout the Irish media’. What better way of doing that than by inviting a former (male) Taoiseach, who has never demonstrated a shred of remorse for either his own behaviour, or his role in the economic crash that devastated so many people’s businesses and wellbeing?
The decision has been met with derision – and absolutely not just because Bertie happens to be a man. Those defending it (“He’s great on Brexit”) tend to hail from the establishment media that gave him such an easy ride in the first place. As a woman, I feel strongly that this movement to get our voices heard should also aspire to offer a platform to decent, genuine role models, and should focus on values like hard work, honesty, leadership and, generally, not being corrupt. Women in Media, you can do better.
An Cailín Rua