I love International Women’s Day. It fills me with all the feels – pride, solidarity, hope. In the early days it was a weird, cringe-worthy and condescending nod to the weaker sex. A bit of gas really. “Sure, every day is women’s day”, some of the lads said, “When is man’s day coming up?” many cracked – queue elbow poke to the ribs. I didn’t know what to say – the last thing I felt we needed was ‘special treatment’, we needed to earn respect each on our own merits… something I now know is a total cod because we’ve been attempting this since the dawn of civilisation, biology is a killer (particularly within a man-made world structure) and, in fact, ‘special treatment’ is exactly what’s needed in order to redress the awful imbalance between the genders that exists today at work, in power, in the decision making process etc. Gender quotas, equality of parental leave, equal pay, equal access to work and education – whatever guise this ‘special treatment’ takes, I’m in, because I’m over the general crappyness of the gender divide.
What’s changed? Time, maybe; #MeToo isn’t just a hashtag, it’s a way of thinking; we suddenly woke up to the gender pay gap; and there’s been a renewed sense of girl power with Malala, Greta, Derry Girls, Taylor Swift all storming the world. Or… and I’m probably being presumptious here… am I possibly becoming ever so slightly… empowered?
This makes me blush. Because I’m a good Irish, Catholic girl who should know her place. I, and women like me, don’t like being all bolshy and sure of ourselves and demanding because, well it’s not particularly ladylike. Apparently. And we want to be ladylike, of course (right?), and not upset anyone. Because that would be up there with… I’ll have to come back to that.
I don’t know if any of the rest of you saw the Super Bowl Half Time Entertainment this year featuring – nay, starring, because these ladies are true stars – Shakira and JLo. My goodness those ladies rocked the show. The dancing, the outfits, the songs bringing back all the dance floor memories… I watched the performance online, mesmerised, trying throughout to work out if what they were doing was empowering. There were a lot of skimpy shorts, but good for them I say! A fair share of bottom wiggling, which was both hypnotic and lovely. And also some pole cavorting by Lopez, which I felt was erring on the less empowering side, but I decided to put my doubts to the side because, overall, they were utterly fabulous.
That evening a clip of the show came on the news. I begged Alan to look over his screen to watch the two ladies in action for a couple of minutes. ‘Aren’t they fantastic?’ I asked – he was visibly cringing to Jenny From The Block; ‘Do you think that’s empowering?’. ‘They’re good’, he answered, ‘But that is not empowering’. He was quite certain.
I checked in with a friend of mine. Again, she thought they were really great. But the bottom wiggling was all a bit much for her – and the pole most definitely a step too far; ‘Definitely not empowering’. She was not for moving. ‘What about yer one, Billie Eilish? Is she empowering?’ I asked my oracle friend. ‘God no. Have you heard her lyrics?’
I was losing heart.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. I vaguely felt that the show must be empowering – the two ladies (aged 43 and 50, remarkable in itself) were belting out a string of hits that they had written, recorded and made a lot of money from. They sure seemed in control and confident in themselves, and overall looked to be having a whale of a good time. And yet, I had to agree… the empowerment that I wished I could have seen – that I particularly wished the millions of young people tuning in had seen – was lacking.
And then there’s Mary Lou.
I’ve always loved current affairs. In my teens I’d be glued to Questions & Answers and Scrap Saturday always accompanied us on our weekend morning spin to ballet classes. When Bertie Ahern had a ‘makeover’ just ahead of his assencion to Taoiseach, I cut out the Irish Times cartoon which depicted him emerging as a butterfly from a crysilis. I could name every Minister, every TD. I loved all the commentary, the debate. I found it fascinating. I always fancied myself as a political commentator or a speech writer for one of the major parties. That never materialised. But I also thoroughly enjoyed the shenanigans of PJ Meara, so perhaps a career in PR wasn’t too far off the mark?
Now, I’m a tad more cynical. Aren’t we all? The leader’s debates are, at best, disappointing and I rarely watch them in full, if at all. Party manifestos and promises asserted no longer fill me with interest and optimism – more suspicion and pessimism. And the fact that we continue to float in a Government-free limbo with man-heavy benches debating around in circles, is hard dispiriting in the extreme.
Politics seems to be a very tricky one for women for many well documented reasons – it’s time-consuming and therefore family-unfriendly, although the men seem less effected by this; women in politics seem to attract more negative commentary and harassment – especially online; they find it harder to retain their seats, to get nominated in the first place, to make it to Ministerial appointments or to the Seanad. It’s a dogs dinner, basically, and I have no idea how they’re going to solve it. But if there’s one person who could start the ball rolling, it might just be Mary Lou.
Look. I don’t agree with her politics. At all. I think Sinn Fein are a pretty disdainful political party on many levels. But the woman herself, I’m starting to find kind of awe-inspiring. I had even started to day dream about a woman Taoiseach – imagine! A woman I find to be admirable, articulate, humane and clever, she appears to float above gender bias because in so many ways she bucks the usual trends. She has a knack of avoiding commentary over her hair or her dress sense or her family life or the sound of her voice (remember poor Joan Burton?) and the usual stuff other women get annoyingly embroiled by. She is challenging the political status quo and totally shaking it up. For me, she’s a lady who appears empowered and I really like and admire her! If only she were with a different political party I might even vote for her.
Hang on a minute – I’ve just seen Rosín Murphy on The Tommy Tiernan Show. WOWSER! Another empowered Irish woman. Knowing our country, we have them in their dozens. Rise up women of Ireland – show us all what it means to be empowered, I’m only learning.
Roisín & Mary Lou for Super Bowl 2021. The Yanks won’t know what hit them.
My youngest daughter and baby niece – here’s to the next generation of empowered women