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Mini quip, maxi sexism

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

MAYBE her mini-skirt was so short the story disappeared up some misogynistic vortex. And I am not referring to the ould coote who dryly commented after seeing Yoko Ono land in a helicopter at Westport Quay with John Lennon back in the 1960s that: “Her skirt was so short you could see Louisburgh between her legs.”
That was funny. It was droll.
No, what I am offended by is another story that has largely flown under the radar. I refer to  the recent comments made by a Fianna Fáil councillor in the county council chamber, Áras an Chontae, to guffaws from many of the elected members.
Castlebar-based councillor Martin McLoughlin thought he was so funny when he compared his party colleague Al McDonnell’s speeches during his tenure as cathaoirleach to mini-skirts.
“Your speeches reminded me of the mini-skirt of the ’70s. Your speeches were short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the essentials.”

‘Not very funny’
FORTUNATELY there was one woman in the chamber, during the meeting of the local authority, who had the courage to voice her distaste. Sinn Féin’s Cllr Thérèse Ruane described the remarks as ‘very sexist’ and ‘not very funny’.
When she called on Cllr Mcloughlin to withdraw the remarks, he quipped: “Absolutely not.”
Indeed, his party colleague from Ballina, Annie May Reape supported him, observing that: “You have to take it,” adding, “I have taken it for years.”
Er?  You have to take what? Everyday sexism? Sexual jokes about women and their body parts?  
Okay, we all know that everyday sexism is part of our culture. And sometimes – yes – we women have to laugh. Indeed, we give as good as we get. But it is different, is it not, when it takes place in a public forum? A political forum that is supposed (yes, supposed) to represent all its citizens equally.

Wolf whistling
AS I write there is a debate on Newstalk’s Seán Moncrieff show about sexism. Should men never wolf-whistle at women? Once the women don’t feel threatened, is it fine? After all, in the week that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has been made into a sex symbol by the Irish media, is it not just a bit of what’s good for the gander is good for the goose?
All one has to do is look at how women pose and preen themselves – like soft porn stars – on social media to gasp in disbelief. So, is it no wonder some men feel they are fair game?
Despite wave after wave of so-called women’s revolutions the age-old nugget of sexism pervades. All it does is change its clothes and strut down the catwalk to the stride of a different designer.
Social media – the new monster that dictates our every waking hour – has simply proffered new opportunities to present sexist behaviour … with the aid of photoshopping and algorithmic machinations.  
So is it a surprise that everyday sexism continues in all sorts of situations? Or that we have a local government institution tacitly allowing its indulgence during official business in a formal and public forum?

Gender balance
IN her rather solitary position, Cllr Thérèse Ruane said: “I feel strongly that the comment was not appropriate under any circumstances. We need to ensure that this council is not a place where sexist comments like that are made.
“They may not have been intentional but they are not good enough.
“At a time when we have to promote the participation of women in politics, we need to protect the working environment and ensure it is an inclusive and non-sexist one.”
The only overt support she received was from Independent Cllr Gerry Ginty, who advised his council collegaue to ‘leave comedy to Brendan Grace’.
Providing gender balance in the corridors of power seems to be an ongoing and uphill struggle. Even though our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calls himself a feminist, he didn’t show much equality to the fairer sex during his recent Cabinet appointments. While speaking at a press conference last week with Justin Trudeau, he said he was ‘very impressed’ by the Canadian prime minister’s approach to gender equality.
“Diversity leads to better decision making,” said Leo.
Past time to put your money where your mouth is, then, Leo.



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