International Women’s Day

Speaker's Corner
International Women’s Day

“Over-subscription to political correctness is boring enough, add in a gender dimension and it’s a downright dose”


YOU can just imagine the frisson of starched shock when a young female student streaked through Callan Hall in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, during a mid-1970s Rag Week. What jezebel would dare defile the hallowed halls of the National  Seminary? My, my, my. Wasn’t it perfect proof that the bastion of Catholicism should have kept its historic doors firmly shut to that curious species, commonly known as the female.
What next? Some bra-burning feminist called Evelyn Conlon had already foisted a creche on the cassocked campus. Now rumours of the setting up of a Feminist Society were, quite frankly, enough to cause a surge of novenas in the Gun Chapel. Where would it all end? Contraception, divorce, women priests. Perish the thought.
It’s difficult to believe that a woman working in a Chinese sweatshop would have to work for 15 hours a day, seven days a week for 700 years to earn what the Chief Executive of Nike, Mr Phil Knight, earns in one year.
On second thoughts, maybe it’s not difficult to believe, maybe it’s just too shocking to contemplate, to dwell on. It’s also uncomfortable to even try and comprehend that, despite a global commitment following a 2002 UN special convention, there is still an estimated three million girls in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East being subjugated to the barbaric practise of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The genesis of International Women’s Day (March 8) may be traced to a number of industrial protests, one of which occurred in New York in 1907, when women working in clothing industry sweatshops, in extremely unsafe conditions, organised a hunger march and called for better wages and a ten-hour working day. Despite the fact that police quelled the protest, it would symbolically impel future generations to action towards enfranchisement and socio-economic liberation.
I remember arguing (to no avail I might add) at my first Feminist Society meeting in Maynooth that we must invite men to partake in our efforts to change the gender imbalance in our society. What was the value of excluding them? Retribution. An eye for an eye. Television Producer, Aideen Kane, perfectly encapsulates this view in an article elsewhere in this week’s Mayo News when she suggests that the Women’s Movement won many battles but lost the war.
I believe two major flaws in women’s battle for equal rights were our failure to embrace and empower our distinctive traits, our apparent and subtle differences, and, also, a chronic inability to maintain a sense of humour. Over-subscription to political correctness is boring enough, add in a gender dimension and it’s a downright dose.
What was the point of all those 1970’s feminists growing (metaphorical) hairs on their chests when 30 years later their off-springs have become slaves to silicone implants. And what’s this whole metrosexual male malarkey about? Personal hygiene is great, tweezing eyebrows or having facials is a bridge too far. So, are these the spoils of the feminist movement? Hope not. Of course not. The many dividends achieved are evident in the choices we have and charter of rights we now take for granted.   
However, the fact is that the relatively well-off and highly-educated women of Europe still earn just 74 per cent of male earnings, still perform more than 80 per cent of household chores, only represent 18 per cent of decision-makers in  EU institutions and number 27 per cent of members of the EU parliament.
Weeks before the young female student streaked through the Maynooth lecture hall, leading feminist, Nell McCafferty, along with a coterie of women, attended a public lecture by a well-known contemporary bishop. Their heckling was hilarious. The banter with the clerics in the audience was for adult ears only. But maybe they would have achieved more if they had listened, instead of shouting each other down.