It’s interesting to see that Frances Fitzgerald is still talked about as a potential new leader of Fine Gael, although most commentators continue to have Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney as favourite.

No doubt the Irish Times and its cohort of battle-hardened female journalists will do all in their power to keep her name in the frame. They must feel that this is the least they owe to somebody who was Chair of the Council for the Status of Women from 1988 to 1992.  You may recall the embarrassingly obsequious profile that the IT’s Kathy Sheridan produced in November 2014 and on which I commented less than favourably in this piece.

Now Frances Fitzgerald is certainly not the least capable of the Government frontbenchers, and I don’t think we need to feel unsafe in our beds at night just because she’s Minister for Justice and Equality. But she doesn’t strike me as having the energy or drive which a real reforming Minister would need for tackling (for example) the corruption and dysfunction that currently seems to infect An Garda Síochána.  She certainly doesn’t seem to have done much about it in the 3 years for which she has been responsible for them.

Incidentally, a wicked friend of mine went so far as to suggest that if either our Minister for Justice or our Garda Commissioner were a man, then the latter would have been pushed aside ages ago as a result of the whistle-blower controversy, but (his outrageous theory goes) the sisterhood values loyalty so highly that Frances Fitzgerald will give Noirín O’Sullivan whatever space she needs.

Her 3-year tenure as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, from 2011 to 2014, didn’t seem to be a resounding success either, although in fairness it did coincide with the depths of the recession. At the time of the aforementioned flattering Irish Times article I wrote: “… she, as Minister for Children for the past 3 years, might have been slightly embarrassed by the proximity in the Weekend Review of another article, this one about child poverty, which starts with the words ‘Before the recession, Unicef ranked the State as one of the 10 best places to be a child.  Now it is one of the worst, ranked 37 out of 41 countries.’”

Now that I think of it, she was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, was established with much fanfare in 2014. Yes, that’s the same Tusla that has been so much in the news recently as a result of their “administrative error” which led to spurious child-abuse allegations being created against whistle-blower Garda Maurice McCabe.  Small world, isn’t it?

This is the same Tusla which, on its launch 3 years ago, asserted boldly that “This Agency will tell it as it is”.  A bit unfortunate, that claim.

That’s also the same Tusla which, like all State agencies, believes it needs more resources if it is to do its job properly. Now I don’t know enough about the details of their work to know if 4,000 employees and an annual budget of €600 million is skeleton-level funding or otherwise.  But it seems like a lot of resources in a country having a total population of 4.8 million, of whom maybe 1.2 million are aged under 18.

The promotional brochure for its launch has further hostages to fortune, all sounding hollow in the light of the Garda McCabe embarrassment:

Respect – We will always treat everyone — children, families and colleagues — with dignity and consideration.

Integrity – We will be reliable and trustworthy in the way we carry out our work by: Adhering to the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and personal responsibility. Placing a high value on the importance of confidentiality. Acting with conviction and taking responsibility for our decisions.

I don’t particularly want to knock Tusla, as it is doing a lot of fine work, and any failings it has are probably replicated in most other State agencies. I cite all the above merely to suggest that actions, or lack of action, by Ministers should have consequences in the real world.  And anybody who wishes to be considered as a potential Taoiseach should expect that their past record and achievements will be held up to the light for the public to judge their ability fairly.

That goes for women, too.

 

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Genderised Book Reviewing

6 December, 2016

When I mentioned my favourite writers some years ago, I was taken to task because I didn’t include any female authors. I confess I hadn’t even considered gender when assessing whose works I liked to read, but you could say that the criticism “raised my consciousness” about the issue.

Recently I did a survey of the last 100 books I read and found that only 19 were authored or edited by a woman. I was a bit surprised at this low number.  My guess is that this may be partly because I tend to read multiple books by favourite male authors such as Anthony Burgess and Paul Theroux, while female authors (for some as yet unanalysed reason) are generally represented on my reading list by single examples, and the results are thus somewhat skewed.

However, it seems that I shouldn’t have been surprised, as a survey by Goodreads found that, of books published in 2014, male authors accounted for no fewer than 90% of men’s 50 most-read titles.  Before everybody jumps up and down about men being sexist, be aware that female authors accounted for 92% of the 50 titles most read by women!  (I have included Robert Galbraith as a female writer, as it’s in fact J. K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym).

Historically, men have been published much more than women and so, unsurprisingly, we find that in “100 best books of all time” lists, women feature far less than men – the Guardian’s list, published in 2002, for example, has only 14. The 2010 Time magazine list  (which includes only books published after 1923) has 22.   Esquire Magazine’s “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read” includes just one book written by a women (Flannery O’Connor – maybe the name fooled them…).

So it was with the aforementioned heightened awareness that I approached last weekend’s Irish Times annual review of favourite books, chosen by selected luminaries.   As might be expected from such a feminist organ, the “paper of record” was scrupulously gender-balanced, with 17 male and 17 female reviewers asked to contribute.  I analysed the gender of the authors of the books mentioned, excluding a few that were compendia of works by both genders, to test the extent to which males favoured male authors and female favoured female authors.

Overall, there were 142 recommendations, with some books being represented more than once within this number. There was a respectable gender balance, with a 60/40 split in favour of male authors.  No need for quotas then (or was this outcome itself the result of a quota being imposed?!)  In fact, I suspect that this outcome probably reflects the gender balance of the authors of all books published in the English language these days, with males outnumbering females, rather than any bias or quality issues.

But when recommendations were further analysed by gender of the reviewer, the position is a bit different. In the case of male reviewers, 73% of the books recommended were written by men.  The women were a bit more balanced, but still favoured books written by women, by 58% to 42%.

So the Irish Times interviewees were still favouring their own gender when it comes to book selections. I’m not surprised that the extent of this bias (if that is the appropriate word) is far less marked than that shown by the Goodreads survey mentioned above – after all, those who write for (and read) The Irish Times are an educated and sophisticated lot, and are less likely to favour crime novels (written largely by men for men), science fiction (ditto), or chick-lit (written largely by women for women).  Biography, history and literary fiction are much more gender-blind.

The attached graphic suggests that I should amend slightly the third of my Rules for Proper Feminists:

“You should accept that job quotas apply both ways.  So if you want fair representation in politics, business, the arts, the professions, and in other such desirable occupations, then you should accept that women should shoulder their fair share of lousy or demanding OR DANGEROUS jobs – in the army, as road sweepers, bike couriers, potato pickers, mine workers and so on.”

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It’s not going to happen, of course.

I notice a tendency for some self-proclaimed feminists to behave not as true, objectively fair, feminists, but as one-sided gender warriors in what they see as a never-ending battle to cut men down to size and to avenge perceived historic injustices.  They seem to think that current day men should be punished in some way for the behaviour of their fathers, grandfathers and other male antecedents, even if that behaviour was the cultural and societal norm in its day.  In the process, they are running the risk that their cause will be discredited.
As a true feminist, I like to be helpful to the sisters in these matters.  So here are a few guidelines, rules (commandments even), adherence to which will allow feminists to be taken seriously by society at large.
There is no charge for this service.  Pass them on.
  • All men are not rapists or idiots. Have respect for both genders in your utterances. Stop portraying men as universally stupid or primitive e.g. in advertising.
  • Please recognise that there remain significant differences between how the sexes behave – due partly (or even mainly?) to inescapable and unconscious evolutionary forces. In a dangerous world the survival of the human race once depended on the specialisation that these differences facilitated. We can’t expunge these traits from our DNA overnight, even if we all wanted to do so (and many people of both sexes wouldn’t want to).  In other words, men are more aggressive because they are built that way, not because they want to be.  Cut us some slack.
  • You should accept that job quotas apply both ways.  So if you want fair representation in politics, business, the arts, the professions, and in other such desirable occupations, then you should accept that women should shoulder their fair share of lousy or demanding jobs – in the army, as road sweepers, bike couriers, potato pickers, mine workers and so on.  I just don’t see this happening.  And while we are at it, should men not have quotas too? Where are all the male nurses, primary school teachers, chick lit writers?
  • Judge other women objectively: stop biting your tongue or giving them free passes when they deserve criticism or generally screw up.  Irish Times journalists, please note.
  • Stop focusing on soft targets (e.g. men-only golf clubs) and ever-smaller issues (e.g. so-called micro-aggressions) when large ones have been achieved or appear just too tricky to deal with (e.g. the attitude of many refugees/immigrants to women). And avoid mission creep.
  • Islam should be your number one enemy. Not Muslim people, but their religion and how it subjugates women.  If you turn a blind eye to this issue, then you don’t deserve to be taken seriously as a feminist.  If you don’t wish to speak out against it, then please shut up about other alleged sources of gender discrimination.
  • The Roman Catholic Church isn’t far behind.  So have a go at them instead of attacking (for instance) Portmarnock Golf Club.  Yes I know it isn’t as much fun, and your Mammy probably won’t like it, but then you want to seen as a serious feminist, don’t you?
  • Please recognise that most women, relative to their male counterparts, spend huge amounts of time and money trying to appear or remain sexually alluring.  This is a fact of life.  Men should be allowed show appreciation for such efforts.  Or are women only doing it to enhance their own self-esteem, or even to show up their less attractive sisters?  I don’t think so.
  • Take on board the fact that, when you control for relevant variables (occupations, qualifications, length of time in workplace), the alleged wage gap narrows to effectively nothing.  So stop going on about it as if it’s a wicked plot to subjugate women, and stop using its alleged existence to justify your misandry.
  • And so on…..