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Madigan’s tokenism far short of the mark

An Cailín Rua

GAFF PRONE Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan apologises to the Dáil for comparing children with special needs not attending school to the Mother and Baby Homes controversy, and for referring to children without special needs as ‘normal’. Pic: oireachtas.ie


An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Far be it from me to find much common ground with Michael Healy Rae, but such is the state of the world at the minute that nothing makes any sense anymore.
When I heard Minister Josepha Madigan last week suggest that Kerry women who read The Kerryman newspaper would appreciate a change away from a ‘masculinised title’ under the guise of inclusivity, my eyes rolled back so far in my head that for a few minutes, I enjoyed an unfettered view of my own brain.
I suspect my own disdain was for reasons different to those of the Kerry millionaire, but he was certainly correct in suggesting that people have better things to be worried about.
Women, for example, have slightly more bothersome things like unequal political representation, poor childcare provisions, lack of employment equality, unequal pay and their own safety to worry about.
Only a few days previously, the pregnancy of one of Minister Madigan’s own colleagues was in danger of causing a constitutional crisis, because of the audacity of the Justice Minister’s insistence on taking maternity leave to look after her newborn baby. Minister Helen McEntee’s pregnancy is the Cabinet’s first in the history of the state. Let’s worry about how that lack of representation of women’s experience in the decision-making arena affects us instead.
Last week, thousands of Irish women – yet again, for what seems like the millionth time – shared their stories of harassment and abuse by men on social media in the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard in the UK. Predictably, they were met with a chorus of ‘Not All Men’, in probably the most impressive attempt yet to state the glaringly obvious. It appears that the fragility of the male ego outweighs either the need to listen and learn, or the very real need to address the reasons women must regard men with caution in order to ensure our own survival. (The stats prove it doesn’t always works out that way. That’s probably something else we should be more worried about.)
“Small changes can be important in transforming societal norms and unconscious biases,” said the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, apparently with a straight face. She is, of course, correct. Language is important; if the words we use in our everyday language are excluding or hurting people, then it seems quite obvious that we should try to use better language. It hurts nobody to make the change and serves to make others feel better, yet there is still resistance to the notion.
Michael Healy Rae, for instance, in criticising the Minister’s suggestion, couldn’t help himself from reverting to that lazy old trope, ‘political correctness gone mad’. ‘PC gone mad’ is a term that powerful, insecure people use to undermine and discredit any movement towards kindness and inclusiveness that might threaten their own disproportionate authority and influence in society. See also ‘snowflake’ and ‘woke’, terms used to ridicule people whose crime is usually considering the feelings of and including other people, particularly those in minority groups. The use of these kind of terms, of course, tends to say more about the people that use them, than about their intended targets.
However, the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan, wasn’t too worried about addressing her own biases when in the not-so-distant past she referred to a proposed development of Traveller accommodation in her own constituency as a ‘dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money’. She wasn’t too concerned about the feelings of young people with disabilities or their families in the even-more-recent past, when she described children without additional education needs as ‘normal’, mere weeks ago.
Perhaps her apologies were sincere, but in taking on such an important role, an attempt to at the very least learn what language is appropriate – or not – might have been worthwhile.
Small changes are indeed needed, lots of them, if we are to ensure a more equal and inclusive society for women. If Minister Madigan is sincere in her feminism, then perhaps she can bring some solid proposals to the cabinet table to address the inequities and the risks women suffer on a daily basis.
And leave The Kerryman alone. Women have far bigger fights ahead. There is no place for cheap tokenism on the battlefield.