One subject which fascinates me is that concerning the demographics of our society – It is clear that this world is changing and gender roles are not as assigned as they once were. In Ireland, this past century and further back, women have been living in an open-air prison. Life for women has been a continuous and consistent case of having to handle drunken men, prepare meals, raise children, tolerate abusive behaviour, foster a religious ethos in offspring and to suffer – Yes, indeed, to suffer, as Irish society has always ensured. During centuries of British imperialism, women and children were sold off and consigned to the depths of Australian jails, in a Cromwellian fashion. Of course this also happened to men, but they at least did not have to suffer gender discrimination, on top of what was also an anathema back then – being ‘Irish’. As Connolly highlighted then, the working-class are slaves, with women being the material slaves of slaves.
Many women were leaders during the Easter Rising, with the rebel Countess being the first Female MP elected to the British House of Commons, around the same time as the Suffragettes strove, via words and violence, to assert women’s rights to vote. Although not all those involved in this era were pro-Women and equal rights – Indeed, Minister for Home Affairs in the nascent Free State Government, Kevin O’Higgins, once remarked that it was ‘a mistake for women to ever have gotten the vote’ via universal suffrage. This was the sort of narrow minded, right-wing, paternalistic nationalism which transpired in partitioned Ireland. The Free State was the proverbial man’s world, ensuring a sexist paradise emerged whereby women were considered the property of either their fathers, brothers or husbands, like a commodity to be bartered and traded.
Then of course came the election of Eamon DeValera in the 1930’s, with his ”radical republican agenda”, presiding over a Fianna Fail party deemed only ”slightly constitutional” in methods. Indeed, the Countess was a prominent Cabinet Minister under DeValera, who married a woman several years his senior, respecting her as an authority in her own right regarding the Irish language. But unfortunately Dev’s Ireland was not a rose-garden of milk and honey when it comes to the plight of our sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces, cousins, girlfriends, wives, daughters and female peers. The 1937 Constitution which Dev enacted, was a far-cry from the 1916 Proclamation, giving the Catholic Church as seminal a role it would otherwise occupy in a theocracy. Church and State were one, single entity in the Free State, with many male politicians being members of secret societies, like the Knights of Columbanus. This meant of course that men entrenched their hold of the whip over women, with social teaching emphasising the woman’s place to be at home.
The horrors which were perpetrated against women, in the Magadelene Laundries, in the Church-Schools, in the hospitals and even in the house-hold, were among the vilest crimes in our existence, which this nation need never wash it’s hands of nor forget. This cold, relentless, authoritarian and prejudiced attitude dominated Irish life until recent times, with vitriol being spat over the election of Mary Robinson as President. Given the example and standard set by Mary Robinson and the Mary who succeeded her, it highlighted to me what I have always known in my heart from an early age – that women are better than men at any job and everything.
Yes, women generally, are smarter than men. Think of the professions now dominated by successful women. Think of the studious, hard-working, self-aware, industrious and ethical, female types which occupy many more positions in society than before. Look at the school-results of girls and boys, and notice the trend which has consistently emerged. This century will not only see full gender equality but will also see the rise of women, with more and more females as Heads of Governments across the globe. Employers prefer and desire the qualities which women display and exhibit best. Industry and the domination by men, is gone. In an era of development and gadgets, the role of men has been burned up by the ”white, hot heat of the technological revolution”.
I know some of you will think the decades-old prejudice that women cannot handle power well – citing examples of Thatcher in Britain, Mrs. Gandhi in India and Golda Meir in Israel. Yes, these three were women biologically. But as authoritarians, they behaved just like men have done, emulating all of the prejudices and stereotypes which the age in which they came to be had nurtured. They knew nothing else than to govern with as much emphasis as possible on being ”as hard as a man” would be – as a direct result of a male-oriented society demanding that from them. There was no room to be themselves, they could never be perceived as ”soft” in mettle. When you look at the traits they asserted a pattern emerges: tough-mindedness, egotistical, violent, aggressive, narcissistic, cold, unrelenting, unyielding, Machiavellian, authoritarian personalities. These are of course the same traits which criminals and maniacs exhibit predominantly. And overwhelmingly statistics show that criminals and maniacs tend to be men.
So society, despite all the change which has occurred, still has a journey to walk in acknowledging full and real gender equality. Maternity leave in France is over two years, with an unlimited number of sick days for mothers, in recognising the caring duties women are expected to balance alongside a career. We need greater regulation of the employment market to ensure that the private sector cannot discriminate against women in the employment selection process, on the basis of having to afford them maternity leave and other rights. But what we really need to do is to examine the role, persona, attitudes and consciousness of men in light of such statistics. Men need to change to accommodate women, not the other way around. Men also need to change to meet the changing nature of employment criteria and the modern world. Being authoritarian is not the same as being authoritative, being ”tough” is not the same as displaying resilience, being a ”lad” is not the same as being a gentleman.
This gender debate has possibly decided the destiny of Europe’s next leader. German Defense Minister, Ursula Von Der Leyen (a mother of seven, Doctor and Economist) was almost sacked from the Federal Cabinet for struggling to ensure minimum gender quotas in company boards and executives. This didn’t go down well in the male-dominated, conservative Christian Democratic Union which leads Germany. But in the end, Chancellor Merkel gave in and recognised that, like it or not, she won’t be the only important female leading Europe in the current era.”