Well over a month – nearly two – into the Covid crisis, and it’s now becoming tiresome to muse upon the reality of it, or assess the impact it’s had on our daily lives and the fear it’s injected into the hearts of our communities. It has been ruminated upon at length; to the point of pure saturation; it’s now a case of adapting and turning our faces towards the future as we mourn the loss of loved ones, livelihoods and the sense of invincibility most of us were probably guilty of possessing until early March.
Category Archives: Mayo News Columns
The legacy of Christmas ’87
Christmas morning, 1987. A cold one, I recall. Condensation on the windows, and a hint of your breath in the air. Dark and dreary the morning might have been – indeed, it was probably still the middle of the night – but that didn’t matter. Santa had arrived!
As my father laid the fire and cleaned the bould Mr Claus’ footprints from the hearth, I vividly remember tearing open the presents. The yields were modest. A yellow-covered hardback storybook; tales from which I still recall over three decades later. A black-haired, floral-bedecked doll, immediately named Caroline, who would remain a loyal companion for years, despite the subsequent subjecting of her lustrous curls to some unfortunate butcherings behind my mother’s back. And a couple of coloured plastic necklaces. That was all. But it was enough.
Five things we learned from the elections
There’s nothing quite like a good election, and the last couple of weeks have given many of us food for thought and conversation. Is the Green Wave real? How do we encourage greater female participation in politics? Will the Big Two dominate forever in West of Ireland politics, or does anyone have an interest in taking them on? How do new candidates persuade people to vote for them and not incumbents? Is the loss of posters a good or bad thing? And are “they” really “all the same”? We could talk all day about it and it wouldn’t get any less fascinating, but here are a few things that jumped out at me throughout the election campaign and count.
Our World View – Through the Looking Glass
They say you should do at least one thing a week that scares you. I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but there is nothing like a good dose of paralysing nerves to make you feel alive, so when I was recently invited to open an art exhibition, it was not without some trepidation that I accepted the opportunity to be flung out of my comfort zone. Public speaking and media work has been a part of my working life for over a decade now, and while the fear of making an idiot of yourself in front of an audience never truly deserts you, I’ve reached a point where I’m relatively comfortable with and almost enjoy it. This however was something I’ve never done before, and it brought with it a sense of responsibility, given the special nature of the project.
The damage of diet culture
Happy new year, readers! It’s that time again, when the tinsel and Christmas jumpers have vanished from the shops, to be replaced by a range of items designed to make you hate your body. Lycra, dumbbells, kettlebells, diet pills, skinny tea, diet books and magazines, protein powders. To turn on the TV or open Facebook is to be bombarded by images of skinny, muscled humans advertising weight loss programmes. Just like the relentless fake-happy-clappy magic-of-Christmas advertising onslaught since October, there is no escape. And this writer is having none of it.
What if a woman wants her place to be in the home?
Because one referendum this year just wasn’t draining enough, the slow, painstaking journey to make our Constitution fit for purpose in the modern era presents us with a new conundrum – whether a woman’s place really is in the home, and a vote on Article 41.2 is imminent in the next few months.
When the political gets personal #8thRef
This article originally appeared in The Mayo News on Tuesday, 18th April 2018.
A relationship with a close friend came under strain a few years back, when he was adamant in his opposition to the marriage equality referendum, and I was just as adamant in my support for it. We talked, we debated, we argued, we cried (well, one of us did) and ultimately we fell out. He went his way and I went mine and we each cast our votes according to our consciences. Afterwards, we reconvened. We didn’t talk about the issue ever again. And things have changed. I see him differently now, even though he’s the same person. He sees me differently too. And I miss the way things used to be, but we can’t go back.
Belfast Rape Trial – three small steps to change
I tried really hard this week to write about something else, something other than the verdict from Belfast last week and the subsequent reaction. But I couldn’t. Truth be told, I’ve thought about little else since the verdict.
I won’t dwell on the verdict; it’s been done to death by the amateur lawyers on Facebook. However, it has rightly been acknowledged that “not guilty” does not equate to “innocent”; and in a complex case like this, proof “beyond all reasonable doubt” always felt like a bridge too far. The only positive outcome – if there is one – is the conversations that have been started, but the time for conversation has long passed.
Don’t forget to smell the roses
May, for me is an odd month. Traditionally the time of year when the flowers appear, the languid summer evenings kick in and the sense of rebirth is strong; in all of the loveliness, there is a bittersweet pang. It’s a month of anniversaries, laced with memories of loved ones lost. The sense of time passing, like water flowing, punctuated only by the numbers on the calendar, flicking by faster each year. This year, there are some significant anniversaries. Like a birthday or a wedding date remembered, only a different type of milestone. Though none less significant.
Withdrawal of SAVI funding an insult to sexual abuse survivors
This article was originally published in The Mayo News on 24th October 2017.
Last week, amidst all the talk of inclement weather and hatch-battening, it was reported by Ellen Coyne in the Irish edition of The Times that Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had quietly reneged on a promise made by his predecessor, Frances Fitzgerald, to fund an updated report on sexual violence in Ireland. The first Sexual Assualt and Violence Report (SAVI) was carried out in 2002, and was groundbreaking both in its methodology and the insights it provided into the dark and murky world of sexual violence, as well as estimating the prevalence of the problem. (Hint: a lot more prevalent than many would like to acknowledge).
2017 – A Pace Odyssey
Greetings, readers of this blog. Real life has been so, so busy of late that blogging has really taken a back seat.
Funnily, when I moved back to the west, I somehow imagined that life would be much less busy; that I would have more downtime. I even harboured quaint notions of writing a book. However, that’s looking more like a pipe dream at present, and in fact the opposite has proven to be the case. Continue reading
Volunteers – the people who make the world go round
Working in the tourism and development sector over the past year has taught me a lot. It has taught me that when dealing with public bodies, everything moves agonisingly, achingly slowly. Patience is a virtue. It has taught me that diplomacy is the greatest untaught skill you’ll ever need, and it has taught me that in the West of Ireland, no-one ever reads emails. But most of all it has reminded me that frequently, good things happen because good people make them happen, and more often than not, in their own time and without payment.
Asking For It?
I’m aware that it’s been months since I last updated the blog, but I have been doing a bit of scribbling elsewhere, mainly for work and for the paper. There will be a day of retrospective column uploading happening soon. In the meantime I wrote this a couple of weeks back about consent. It was published in The Mayo News on Tuesday 16th November 2016.
Many of you will have seen Louise O’Neill’s excellent documentary, “Asking For It” last week on RTE2 (Irish Times review of Asking for It here). The documentary sees the acclaimed author explore the issues of consent and sexual assault in Ireland. O’Neill’s documentary is significant, in that it is probably the first time a conversation on consent has gone truly mainstream, and moved away from the feminist arena, where it has, of course, been talked about for decades.
The great name-changing debate
Recently there’s been some talk in the national media about the practice of women taking their husbands’ surnames when they marry. A few days ago, two similar and thought-provoking articles in the Irish Independent by writers Barbara Scully and Dearbhail McDonald – both self-declared feminists – examined the merits of the custom, with each expressing some surprise that in this enlightened age of feminism, women should be taking their husbands’ names at all.
For women in Ireland, historically the practice of changing name after marriage has almost been a foregone conclusion. However, the sands as ever are shifting, and there has been a quiet, but growing resistance to the custom. The aforementioned articles generated much debate on social media – including Twitter, where people just love a good argument – and the exchanges threw up some interesting perspectives on the tradition.
Many women who had kept their names said they did so to retain their own identity. For some, it amounted to a political statement; a public rejection of traditional patriarchal structures and notions of submission and subordination. Professional women argued – many from experience – that name-changing can negate years of work put into building a strong reputation or personal brand. Some, rather less optimistically, maintained that they wouldn’t want to be still called by their ex-husband’s names when – when! – they got divorced.
On the other hand, there were women who for various personal reasons embraced the chance to rid themselves of their old name and make a fresh start with a new one. More enjoyed the unity symbolised by their family all having the same surname, while others had happily adopted the double-barrelled system. Some declared that they just liked the novelty, or simply the old-fashioned romance of it all.
Men also contributed to the debate, many of whom declared it wouldn’t bother them either way. However, as McDonald herself mentioned, once the subject of children was broached that perspective tended to change. A small minority had taken their wives’ surnames after marriage, while others visibly balked at the notion. (The very idea!) Men and women alike wondered how the process would work within same-sex marriages. All in all, the exchanges demonstrated once again that nothing is ever black or white; the beauty of it being the freedom that exists for people to make the choice for themselves. Indeed most women were adamant that the decision should be theirs; not dictated by husbands, families or interfering in-laws, and that their preference should not be assumed by others, either – something to bear in mind when addressing your Christmas cards!
On that note, such was the interest in the topic that following McDonald’s article, the Irish Independent even ran a poll on the topic, asking “Should a woman take her husband’s surname?” And therein lies the rub. Women are constantly dictated to – how they should behave, how they should dress, the body shape they should behave. As feminists, surely we should be asking why on earth should a woman have to do anything? Why would anyone assume they have the right to dictate to women what they should – or should not – be doing with their own names? Why are we not asking why more men don’t offer to make the change? But ultimately, whose business is it, anyway?
Scully’s article suggested that we follow the leads of jurisdictions such as Quebec and Greece (you won’t hear that too often these days) in actually outlawing the practice of wives taking their husbands’ names. This restriction also applies in countries like Netherlands, Belgium and France. Japan, on the other hand, legally requires couples to adopt either one of the spouses’ surnames when married – but unsurprisingly and somewhat disappointingly, this means that 96% of women make the change.
What seems ludicrous in all of this is the idea of the State having any say either way in what is a private matter.
Implying that women who change their name are somehow damaging the feminist cause is a contradiction in terms. While the feminist argument appears in the main to be that women who take their husband’s names are complicit in preserving a patriarchal structure, surely true feminism means promoting the freedom of women to make their own choices – including taking their husbands’ names if they wish – and supporting and respecting that freedom, even if the outcome contradicts your own philosophy? Judging women for making this choice is unnecessarily divisive, and . once again assigns women with sole responsibility for changing societal norms.
There are plenty of battles yet to be fought by women in the quest for equality. This should not be one of them.
This column first appeared in the print version of The Mayo News on Tuesday 4th August 2015
Service with a smile … it works both ways
With a month of country living under my belt after the move back west (God, it’s great to be home), the boxes are finally unpacked and I’m readjusting to the easier pace of life in the homeland. There’s plenty to love, but a constant source of joy is just how little time it takes to get from A to B. Because Dublin has approximately 94 sets of traffic lights per kilometre, sometimes the drive to pick up a litre of milk and a few spuds entails more braking than driving. Here, you just turn the key in the ignition and you’re there. Dorothy and her red slippers ain’t got nothing on life in Mayo.
It also strikes me daily how much friendlier people are. That’s part of our charm, but importantly, in a region depending so heavily on tourism, it’s also an essential business attribute. Hand in hand with that comes good customer service, which, it’s fair to say, is probably the norm. That’s why, when confronted with a bad experience, it jars all the more. But while the majority of encounters are positive, if truth be told, we could still sometimes do better.
As a customer, when you go to the shop to buy a litre of milk, or to buy a stamp in the post office, what are your expectations of that experience? Do you like to be greeted with a hello, some eye contact, a chat? Do you prefer to be handed your change, rather than it being slapped on the counter? Entering a clothes shop, do you expect a friendly greeting and an offer of help? On your weekly shop, do you prefer it when the cashier talks to you, not their colleagues? Most of all, is a smile important? Most of us would probably agree that these are the most basic tenets of customer service. Having someone go the extra mile thereafter is just the icing on the cake.
When the basics aren’t met, there is a knock-on effect. Chances are, if your experience in a shop is an unfriendly, unhelpful one, you’ll bring your money elsewhere next time. As a local, if you experience poor service in a restaurant or café, you’ll probably tell ten people about it. As a tourist, add TripAdvisor into the mix and tack on a few zeros. Poor service and lack of warmth in a business make for a poor tourist experience, and colour their entire impression of an area. Meanwhile, among locals it discourages loyalty. And whoever deals with customers is the face of that business, regardless of the name over the door. If that face is a scowling one, you’re onto a loser from the start. Little things, big implications.
There are, of course, two sides to every argument. Working in the service industry and dealing with the public can be no picnic, and years of retail management in a past life taught me that contrary to popular belief, the customer is most definitely not always right. On the contrary, they can be rude, confrontational and frequently downright mad. Working in fashion exposed me to all sorts, from the “I know my rights” brigade (they generally don’t) to those who think it appropriate to use your fitting rooms for their bodily functions (yes, even that one). Once, I went home with a black eye, the result of a shoe thrown at me by a gentleman I can only describe as being overexcited. So there is little doubt that facing the public on a daily basis can bring its challenges. If you’ve just been eaten alive by an irate customer, it can be hard to plaster on a smile to greet the next one.
But good service is essential for business to thrive and survive. Taking pride in your business will garner respect from your customers, and not just in the hospitality industry. Visiting tourists become part of our landscape for a while, using our supermarkets, our filling stations, our corner shops. Their experiences help to build their impressions of our county, as well as building our economy. And for those of us at home, service with a smile can brighten the day. But remember, it works both ways!
This was originally printed in The Mayo News on 15th July 2015.
‘Yes, I said, yes I will yes’ – why ‘Yes’ x 2 is the way to go this Friday
With a mere few days to polling day, you’d be forgiven for being under the impression that we were voting on just one issue on May 22nd. Coverage of the marriage referendum has been so comprehensive, relentless and so repetitive, that it’s all the more surprising that media haven’t been focusing on the other choice being presented to voters – the proposal to lower the age of presidential candidates to 21 – if for no other reason than to just give us all a bit of light relief. But it’s highly likely a significant proportion of the population aren’t even aware they’ll be handed two ballot papers on Friday week. A fine example of democracy in action.
As fatigue begins to set in though, it’s likely we’ll see some half-hearted efforts in the next few days to publicly debate why we should allow 21 year-olds – people who may not even yet have started their first job – to run for President of Ireland.
The reactions to the proposal to date have tended to be predictably dismissive and a bit disparaging, which is disappointing. Granted, this isn’t the most pressing change that needs making in Ireland, but at a time when politics is crying out for an injection of youthful enthusiasm, the scorn that’s been instantly heaped on the suggestion without any detailed consideration subtly demonstrates how we really regard our young people. Surprisingly, even youth organisations have been relatively quiet on the matter, instead preferring to focus on the marriage referendum – which ironically, is a campaign with which young people have thus far engaged on levels rarely seen before. But perhaps they’re just being smart by not channelling their energy and resources into flogging a dead horse when there’s a far more pressing issue on the table.
Why is this amendment even being put to the people? Well, the issue arose during the Constitutional Convention, a forum of 100 citizens established in 2012 to discuss amendments to the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention had also sought amendments on housing rights, social security and healthcare services, but this was somehow deemed more appropriate. It’s a funny one; but it’s likely that the government felt backing a contentious, divisive and ground-breaking Constitutional amendment such as allowing two people in love to officially declare their commitment to each other a risky enough manoeuvre without creating further havoc. Best to play it safe on this one, because let’s face it, this government is already all too familiar with the sensation of egg drying into their whiskers.
So, what discussion have we heard to date in #PresRef, as it’s known in the online sphere? Well, the main assertion is that no-one aged under the age of 35 could possibly have the life experience, capability or maturity expected to carry themselves with dignity in this position of great importance. The majority seems to concur. Apart from perhaps the fact that allowing someone to become President in their twenties means you might get landed with paying the Presidential Pension for a few extra years, that, incredibly appears to be the sum total of the debate. Pretty incredible for something as important as a Constitutional Amendment.
The debate has failed on any level to counteract this argument by pointing out the inherent ageism, laziness and unfairness of it. We are not voting on whether or not we will have a 21 year-old President, though given the level of opposition to it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a Yes vote would automatically propel one of Jedward into Michael D’s still-warm seat in the Áras come 2019. I can tell you, however, I’d far sooner see either one – or both of them in there – than the likes of Dana.
The key argument for voting YES to the Presidential amendment is that the current system is anti-democratic, because young people don’t even get the opportunity to present themselves to the electorate. They are currently automatically excluded based on an arbitrary number, rather than getting the chance to be elected or rejected on their merit, or lack of. There is no good reason for this, but plenty of good reasons for our young people – many of them perfectly talented, hardworking, intelligent and capable – to be given the opportunity to put themselves out there. They deserve, at the very least, not to be excluded from this process. And in fact, the key objection to this referendum should be that it proposes to continue excluding adults aged 18-21 from running for Presidential office – the only justification apparently being that it will then mirror the age at which you can become a TD.
So it’ll be two emphatic Yeses for me, because I want to see Ireland becoming a place that’s fairer and kinder, and it strikes me as more than a little hypocritical to be voting for inclusiveness in one referendum while simultaneously opposing it in the other. But the joy of democracy is that we all have our say, so on Friday week, wherever you stand, be sure to have yours too.
An abridged version of this post appeared in The Mayo News on Tuesday 12th May 2015.
Gender Quotas – a necessary evil?
This article was originally published in The Mayo News on Tuesday 9th April 2015.
Spring is in the air, bringing with it longer days and glorious sunshine. But mixed with the scent of fresh cut grass and cherry blossom, there’s the distinct whiff of a general election, and while in theory, we’re nearly a year away from returning to the polls, politicians are already in full-on electioneering mode. One intriguing element of the next election will be the influence of gender quotas. All political parties will face losing half their funding unless at least 30% of candidates put forward are women.
A drastic measure? Consider this. 566 candidates ran in the 2011 General Election. 86 were women. 25 won seats, meaning that under 14% of our TDs are women – abysmal by international standards. Women’s skills and experience are therefore not proportionally represented in decision-making that affects everyone. This, despite acknowledgement that balanced political participation by both sexes means fairer, more effective democracies – something, surely to which we should all aspire?
So why aren’t women running for election? Commonly cited as barriers to proportional female representation in Ireland are the Five Cs: Cash, Culture, Childcare, Confidence and Candidate Selection. These five factors are interlinked, each impacting the other to create barriers to female participation.
Take cash, to start. Running for election is expensive. Women are economically less well-off then men (this is a fact!). Employments rates drop significantly when children arrive, and many women – who generally still bear primary responsibility for family life – balance this by working part-time, restricting public involvement. Last year, Mayor of Tralee, Pat Hussey resigned from Fine Gael, citing gender quotas. Women, he claimed were being “pushed in” by his party, excluding more experienced members. Mr Hussey, incidentally, claimed to have no problem with women joining councils, but felt factors like babysitting would make it prohibitively expensive for them – an attitude which sharply undermines the role of men in childcare. Which in turn, leads me to culture – the core of it all.
Women battle culture all the time. They’re expected to do more. We have higher expectations of them. Female politicians aren’t just judged on performance, they’re also critiqued on image, appearance, even their voices. When are male politicians subjected to such scrutiny? You can see why confidence, the fourth C is a factor. A key objection to quotas is that women will be selected purely to “make up numbers”; not because they are the best possible candidate. Essentially, a fear that quotas will elect incompetent women at the expense of good men. The economic crash doesn’t say much about the competency of those running the country at the time. Where was accountability and meritocracy then? Why are we now suggesting that women need to prove competency, where men never had to?
Finally, while all of the above contribute to candidate selection difficulties, there is a supply and demand problem. Parties select election candidates, so selector attitudes can contribute – if male candidates have been the norm, breaking the mould can be hard. However, a lack of supply of female candidates putting themselves forward (for the reasons above) restricts those who do want to run women. The vicious circle continues!
So is imposing gender quotas the means of breaking this cycle?
I’m not fully convinced. Quotas are a crude measure, which ignore the issues underpinning the problem. Rather, we need to address barriers that dissuade women in the first place. Childcare, for example, should be viewed not as a female issue, but as a family one. Family-friendly policies may help, but however – and here lies the critical argument! – unless women are adequately represented in the first place, who will drive the change necessary to attract more women into politics?
Evidence also suggests that increased visibility of females in politics can mobilise women, resulting in greater involvement. So while gender quotas aren’t in themselves the answer, I can’t help feeling that – as a temporary measure – they’ll help fast-track some reform necessary to encourage involvement, and so are worth a shot. I therefore reluctantly find myself in favour. Recognising and addressing the issue is a vital first step, so here’s hoping that the outcome of quotas can prove that this is more than just tokenism, and will result in solid, positives outcomes for society as a whole.
Media still too quick and willing to stigmatise depression
This column was published in The Mayo News on Tuesday 31st March 2015.
It was difficult last week to miss coverage of the Germanwings plane crash that claimed 150 lives in the French Alps. A catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, it embodied every private fear we’ve all tried to bury when getting on a plane. The horror experienced by the 150 passengers on board as it dawned on them what was about to happen is the stuff of our worst nightmares, and the proximity of the tragedy undoubtedly cast a chill over us all.
Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is now, sadly, a household name. Remarkable by his ordinariness, his Facebook page depicted him as a smiling, leather jacket-clad sportsman interested in travel, music, and clubs. Apparently popular, he appeared well-known and respected in his community. By all accounts, a perfectly normal young man who happened to fly planes for a living.
So what made Lubitz decide to commit, apparently out of the blue, such an abhorrent act of violence in such a calm and calculated manner?
The simple answer is that we don’t know. No-one could, at this point, claim to know with certainty. But at the time of writing, on Friday morning, the majority of the tabloid newspapers claimed to have the answer.
It was depression, they screamed. It emerged that Andreas Lubitz is said to have sought psychiatric help for “a bout of heavy depression” six years ago, which necessitated a break from his flight training. After he was cleared to resume he passed all subsequent tests – including psychological tests – with flying colours, and was subject to regular medical checks.
These last details appear to have been overlooked by many of the tabloids, who, high on outrage, published screaming headlines such as: “German who deliberately crashed Airbus had a long history of depression – so why was he let anywhere near a plane?”, “Why on earth was he allowed to fly?”, ”Depressed pilot crashed jet” and charmingly, “Cockpit maniac”.
While the families of the deceased should be prioritised and respected in the analysis of this disaster, responsible media reporting should not be overlooked, and the messages emanating from those headlines demonstrate that while we might think we have progressed when it comes to normalising mental health, ultimately, the willingness to stigmatise those with problems is never far away.
If depression is being touted as the primary reason for Lubitz’s actions, it any wonder there is still a reluctance to talk about mental health? In particular, is it any wonder that there is a particular reluctance to disclose mental health problems in the workplace? Nearly 6 in 10 people believe that being open about a mental health problem at work would negatively affect their career prospects. Reading headlines like this, is it any wonder?
Discourse like this perpetuates the damaging myth that those with mental illness are more likely to be violent. Should no-one who has suffered depression in their lifetime be permitted to hold positions with responsibility for the safety of other people? If that were the case, we’d have a lot of people sitting at home. As someone who has, should I be forbidden to get behind the wheel of a car, lest I get a murderous urge to plough it into someone? While everyone’s experience is different, many will understand that when depression strikes, it’s often about as much as you can do to get out of bed in the morning, let alone murder 150 people.
We can speculate endlessly on what drove Lubitz to do what he did. Mental health issues may have been a contributory factor, but it is impossible to attribute them as a cause. Too frequently, when a violent act is committed, the tendency is to point to mental ill-health as the primary reason. And when the media presents it in such a way, it’s not just hurtful to those of us who have experienced problems, it’s damaging and it’s irresponsible. It’s also downright lazy.
At the time of writing, investigators claimed they had found a ‘clue’ in Lubitz’s home that might shed some light on why he did what he did. For the families and friends of the deceased, we can only hope that such answers are forthcoming. But they will be cold comfort.
Are you really entitled to your opinion?
This column was published in The Mayo News on Tuesday 3rd February 2014.
“It’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.”
How often have you heard that conversation-killer trotted out during an argument? If you’re like me, hearing it will have the same effect as nails on a blackboard. It makes me wince, but then, I do love a good argument.
However, I have some news for you, opinionators. You’re more than entitled to your opinion – if you can defend it.
No longer confined to boring long-suffering friends or family in the pub or at the dinner table, modern communication channels ensure that the argumentative among us have soapboxes from which to orate all we like. (Whether anyone’s listening is another matter.) We’re accustomed to a variety of rants, whether about the government, sport, or the horror that is inadvertently biting into one of the coffee-flavoured Roses. No matter what our expertise, everyone has an opinion, and sure, we’re all entitled to them. But having them one thing. Considering the effects that stating them might have is another. That’s where we also have a responsibility.
Words are powerful. We should never underestimate them. We should also be aware of our audiences when using them. Sounding off about a local politician, for example on Facebook, sounds innocuous. After all, it’s your page, right? You’re entitled to your opinion, yes? But consider the effect your words might have on that politician’s family.
You don’t believe gay couples should be allowed to get married? That’s your opinion, of course. But can you explain why not? Because you think it will harm society? Have you evidence to support that? No? Well, my friend, perhaps you should examine your opinion in more detail. You might learn something about yourself.
An openness to having our opinions challenged is one of the cornerstones of a healthy democratic society. Unless you can provide an argument, saying “I’m entitled to my opinion” really implies “There’s no depth to my argument, and I can’t be bothered justifying it.” It’s self-entitlement to assume we can just say whatever we want, consequences be damned, regardless of whether or not we know what we’re talking about. It also suggests that we’re either too lazy or too closed-minded to contemplate the possibility that we might actually be wrong.
“I’m entitled to my opinion” is frequently used to justify attitudes that should have been abandoned long ago like racism, sexism and homophobia. Without censoring – which may just drive these dangerous beliefs underground – we should instead calmly challenge them with facts and evidence.
In the context of public debate, scrutiny of ‘opinion’ helps to prevent the blurring of the line between it and ‘evidence’. For example, if someone argues for banning fluoridation in our water, despite a lack of scientific evidence that it’s harmful, it is in the public interest to challenge this opinion and debunk myths. The same applies to social and health issues. The media has responsibilities in this regard to ensure that evidence presented in debates is robustly interrogated, and in turn to ensure that when opinion is challenged, when necessary, it’s challenged by people qualified to do so. And we need to be sure that equivalence is not being granted as a rule between experts and non-experts in public policy debates.
Having our opinions challenged can be uncomfortable. Often, our views are so tied up with our self-identify that having them challenged can feel like personal criticism. But wouldn’t the world be a very dull and indeed dangerous place if we agreed on everything? And surely our opinions should evolve as we grow as human beings in age and maturity? If flaws in our thinking are pointed out, in an ideal world we really should try not to get immediately offended or angry (or in my case, sulk), and instead embrace the opportunity to learn. To that end, including subjects like philosophy on the curriculum is worthwhile, in order to foster thoughtfulness and an eagerness to construct, interrogate and defend arguments from a young age. And of course, to help us be comfortable with being wrong once in a while.
Changing your mind is not weakness. Refusing to open it is.
But there’s one thing on which I’ll never entertain a challenge. Those blasted coffee-flavoured Roses have got to go.
New Year, New Me? Let’s be realistic …
My New Year intentions, as published in The Mayo News last Tuesday 6th January. (I won’t comment on how I’m progressing …)
Every New Year’s Eve I get out the notepad and pen and sit with furrowed brow to try and come up with some realistic New Year’s resolutions. Every New Year’s Eve, I also look back 12 months to see how I’ve fared previously. The latter exercise usually serves as an annual reminder of what a failure I am and demonstrates that the former is nothing more a waste of a good hour of my life.
So for 2015, in order to avoid this painful and disappointing process I have thrown off the shackles of convention, liberated myself from the inevitable cycle of self-flagellation and decided not to make any resolutions for the next 12 months. The year, therefore already looks like one lacking in any ambition whatsover. But on the bright side, the December 31st review already looks promising by default.
New Years’ resolutions are an interesting exercise, though. It’s good to start with a heart and mind full of virtuous intentions, but it can be demoralising when you flounder mere days into the process, and the more you struggle, the more tempting it can be to throw in the towel early on. That said, it’s still good to have things to aim for, right? With this in mind, I’ve decided to cheat and set myself some aspirations for the year ahead. Aspirations are softer and more forgiving than resolutions, being as they are, little more than good intentions. They are also, of course, an absolute cop-out. But if there’s one thing I’m determined to do this year, it’s to not set myself up for further failures. So without further ado, I have below outlined some of my 2015 aspirations, so they may inspire you too.
For 2015, I aspire to …
… Take time out. At least 30 minutes daily, to walk/run outdoors, without music, screens or conversation. Going outdoors is of course fraught with such terrors as rain, low-flying pigeons and potential alien abductions but I’m told taking such time out works wonders for your physical and mental health, so on balance this is probably worth a try.
… Reach out more to others. We all have good intentions, but having personally felt a bit low heading into the Christmas festivities, it made a big difference when someone reached out to me. In the daily grind it’s easy to forget that those around us might have their own struggles, and a kind word might make all the difference. (The exception being if you’re a Meath or a Chelsea supporter on the bad side of a result, in which case I shall unashamedly take joy in your misery.)
… Be a better-behaved driver. This will essentially mean refraining from behaving like a deranged fishwife when someone else is a being bad driver in my vicinity. This is mostly for my own selfish benefit, to ultimately avoid expensive coronary interventional procedures, but also, charitably, for the benefit of innocent passengers who may unwittingly find themselves privy to such outbursts. (This aspiration would of course be unnecessary if you people would just USE YOUR INDICATORS.)
… Try more new things. In 2014 I tried Spanish, kickboxing and writing a newspaper column, with varying degrees of success, but each taught me something new, and some resulted in unintentional hilarity for others, so everyone’s a winner. (On that note, do keep an eye out for my new Morris Dancing column, coming soon.)
… Be a Better Loser. This means not sinking into bitterness and despair (again) for the winter when Mayo don’t win the All-Ireland. I’m obviously writing this in a shameless effort to reverse-psychology the hell out of the 2015 season. Having had lots of practice, I can cope with being wrong, so feel free to throw this in my face on 20th September. I’ll be too busy doing the congo around Croker to care.
I’ll keep you posted on my modest endeavours, but jesting aside, dear readers, all that remains is to wish you and yours a happy and healthy 2015. Be safe and be kind to each other, and – just as importantly – to yourselves. Here’s hoping it’s a good one for us all.
Bishops’ arguments against same-sex marriage don’t stack up
This article appeared in The Mayo News on Tuesday 9th December.
Last weekend, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland distributed a 16-page document to all 1,300 parishes in the country, outlining their opposition to same sex-marriage, in light of the imminent referendum on same-sex marriage due to take place in Spring 2015. In this lengthy tome, the bishops suggested that same-sex marriage is contradiction in terms, because marriage, by its nature is a “committed relationship between and man and a woman which is open to the transmission of life.”
The debate on same-sex marriage has been rumbling away in the background on social media and the airwaves over the past year and is set to ramp up after Christmas, when campaigning from both “sides” will begin in earnest. Let’s call a spade a spade; it hasn’t been pleasant to date, nor will it continue without causing considerate, disproportionate hurt to many. I can’t cover the entire discussion here, but some of the arguments are questionable, so within the constraints of this column let’s lay some facts on the table.
First things first – the same-sex marriage referendum is concerned with granting civil marriage to same-sex couples, not Catholic marriage. That’s an important distinction. While many wedding ceremonies take place in churches, those that don’t hold exactly the same legal footing – it’s all about that little piece of paper you sign at the end. (And of course, the small fee.) So while Catholic bishops are perfectly entitled to express their opinion on same sex-marriage, the passing of the referendum will – reasonably – not oblige the church to facilitate it.
Secondly, who defines marriage? It doesn’t fall within the Catholic Church’s remit to do so – in fact, claiming it is a little cheeky given its existence outside Catholicism, and given that the first recorded marriage contracts pre-date Jesus himself by about 600 years. Marriage can mean different things to different people – for some it’s about love, other about taxes (both equally troublesome, if you ask me). For more, it’s about children, for others it’s not. To suggest that procreation is central to marriage doesn’t reflect the reality of many marriages today, and is unfair, even hurtful to those married couples who don’t want children and those would love to have children, but can’t.
Children – the big one. One of the central tenets of the Catholic argument against same-sex marriage claims it could effectively “deprive children of the right to a mother and a father”. Now, let’s get this straight (no pun intended). This Referendum is not about parental rights. Many children currently don’t have a mother or father, or either. Others live in unsafe homes with both. Gay people routinely have children, gay couples in Ireland can foster children, and gay individuals can adopt children. The imminent Children and Family Relationships Bill provides for allowing same-sex couples in civil partnerships to jointly adopt, thus protecting those children should something happen to one parent, and is likely to be passed before the referendum takes place. And the obviously, unmarried people – gay, straight, whatever – have children all the time. So this argument simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny on any level, I’m afraid.
Finally, for those who would suggest that civil partnership in its current form is sufficient protection for gay couples, there are over 160 statutory differences between it and civil marriage, many centering around finance, taxation, even the home.
The fact is, allowing lesbian and gay couples – our own families, friends and colleagues – to pledge their love and commitment, secure their futures and those of their children won’t change or affect any existing or future marriage of a man and a woman. Other people’s finances, family lives and bedroom activities are their own business – nothing to do with a Church that with all its own problems, can surely find something more constructive and Christian to do with its time. Ultimately, if you don’t like gay marriage, no-one is forcing you to have one. But if you believe in equality, it surely stands to reason that everyone should have the same opportunity to be miserable.
I’ll be voting ‘yes’. Will you?
Driving Me Round The Bend
Some useful tips to help you become a good driver, as published in the Mayo News on Tuesday 14th October.
I often wonder whose idea it was to start designating certain days and weeks as National Awareness ones. Whoever it was, I am truly grateful to them, because otherwise, I’d have nothing to write about. Last week was National Road Safety Awareness Week, so it feels timely to talk a little bit about driving.
Driving to me is a necessary evil; to be endured, not enjoyed. I do a lot of it, and because I am some kind of sadist who likes to make life as difficult as possible for myself, my commute takes me across Dublin city every morning, from Rathfarnham to Clontarf. This daily penance has made me wonder at times whether I am in fact actually Super Mario, trying to navigate a course with threats and obstacles appearing unexpectedly from all directions.
We all know bad driving, and sometimes we even drive badly ourselves, but I can confidently say that eight years of driving around Dublin has made me the best driver in the country, unlike everyone else around me. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you some useful lessons I have learned over the course of my driving career. Only when you have successfully mastered all of the below are you considered a competent driver on the country’s roads.
ONE: Headlights are installed on your car as a means of decoration, and occasionally, they can help you to see when driving at night. They are not, of course, in any way meant to help you be seen by other motorists. This is why, under no circumstances, should you use them on a wet day while travelling on a three-lane motorway at 100kmph. This might mean that other motorists attempting to change lanes actually have a chance of seeing you. The key thing to remember about using your headlights is that as long as YOU can see where you are going, nothing else matters.
TWO: Indicators have a similarly decorative purpose, and are to be used at your own discretion. Times to consider using them could include: changing lanes on a motorway, exiting a roundabout (in this case, it doesn’t really matter which indicator you choose) when overtaking, and pulling out of a car parking space into moving traffic, but these are all optional. Most Irish drivers are telepathic and already know your intentions, so don’t feel under any obligation to help them out. (I often marvel at the fact that there is as yet, no universal hand signal for “USE YOUR BLASTED INDICATORS! I think I might invent one.)
THREE: It is a prudent and efficient use of your time to continue your grooming routine behind the wheel of your car on your morning commute. This can include, but is not limited to, applying a full face of makeup, plucking your eyebrows, squeezing your spots, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Paying attention to surrounding traffic is optional while you embark on this crucial process to ensure that the sight of your 8am face does not scare the living bejaysus out of your colleagues.
FOUR: Good news, cyclists! You are completely exempt from adhering to any of the Rules of the Road. In fact, just do the opposite of everything the rules say and you’ll be grand. In particular, be sure to treat red lights as drivers treat green ones, and in what is a growing trend, cycle to the right of traffic so that you have double the chance to be indignant when they fail to spot you where they would normally expect to see you. Apply the logic behind tips 1 and 2 above to the use of bicycle lights and hand signals. And treat drivers as The Enemy. (I cycle myself, so this of course gives me the authority to be judgemental of and self-righteous about other cyclists.)
FIVE: When you occasionally break free of the city and head west, ensure to bring the exemplary driving habits you have learned with you to the streets of Ballina and Westport. What Mayo needs more than anything is an influx of angry, impatient drivers, rolling their eyes and giving out about hesitant tourists and elderly pedestrians. In particular (and this is tried and tested), when driving around the dual lane system that blights the bridges of Ballina, be sure to use your horn liberally at anyone who does not understand the term “lane discipline”. This will surely result in a positive outcome and endear you to your fellow drivers.
So now that you have absorbed all of the above, you should now in theory be one of the best and safest drivers in the country. Off you go, do the opposite of everything I have written above and remember, once you are behind the wheel, you are never, ever wrong.
F*m*n*sm – a dirty word?
Some light-hearted thoughts on feminsim I wrote for the Mayo News a few weeks back.
Readers of my online rantings will know that on my twitter biography, I describe myself as follows: “Trying to figure it all out, secretly hoping I never succeed. Researcher, feminist, dreamer, Mayo GAA nut, Mayo Club admin team, Mayo News columnist.” That pretty much sums up most of my existence in less than 140 characters, which is actually a bit alarming when you think about it.
But regardless of my Mayo and GAA allegiances, it’s the “feminist” part of my bio that seems to provoke the most reactions. Recently, before a game in Croke Park, the real world collided with the virtual and I was approached in by a beaming jersey-clad gentleman with an outstretched hand. “Howya Anne-Marie”, he said. “You probably don’t know me, but I follow you on twitter. I’m @MayoMan5000.” I’m always a bit embarrassed when I meet people from the internet in real life, because I give out so much on there, but sure enough, I recognised MayoMan5000 from his photo and we exchanged some niceties. (Incidentally, MayoMan5000 is not his real virtual name, and fortunately not his real name either.) We had the usual GAA pre-match chat. He predicted a 15 point win, I went with a more conservative two points; we were both sadly mistaken. Then the conversation veered wildly into the unexpected. “I hope you don’t mind me saying” says he, (proceeding regardless), “but I see on twitter you call yourself a feminist. Now, I must say, you don’t strike me as much of a feminist at all!” Surprised, and, I’ll admit, a little put out, I asked why on earth not. “Well look at you here”, he says. “Above in Croke Park, cheering on the men. Sure I thought all feminists hated men!” And with a loud guffaw, he was on his way back to the middle of the Cusack Stand to rejoin his companions, leaving me more than a little bewildered.
Feminism is one of those words that’s grown itself a bit of a bad reputation over the years, and has somehow managed associate itself with all sorts of ludicrous activities such as bra-burning and man-hating. Now let’s face it, anyone who has ever shopped for women’s underwear will know full well that bras are far too expensive to be setting alight at will, and frankly, man-hating is too impractical, given the amount of men hanging around the place. Feminism also tends to be labelled as “whiny”, “stereotyping”, “unglamorous”, “unfeminine” and “aggressive” to name but some. Really, being a feminist sounds deeply unpleasant. Why would anyone want to be one?
In reality, feminism can be as simple or complicated as you want to make it. Call me old-fashioned, but in my eyes, ultimately it boils down to this: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. Now, that’s not so outlandish, is it? It’s hardly radical, and doesn’t merit the fear and contempt associated with the word, among men and women alike. It’s true that feminist debate can be contradictory and complex, sometimes even aggressive, and is intrinsically linked with all sorts of other issues such as gender, race, age, class, religion. Ultimately though, it’s about simple equality.
The fact remains that women are still not equally represented in either industry or politics. We are systematically paid less than men, and our childbearing potential is a barrier to career progression. Objectification of women is more common than ever, yet we are routinely prevented from making decisions about our own bodies. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t object to these facts, yet there is a real reluctance among us to identify as feminists. But the discussion must also acknowledge the tendency among women ourselves to judge each other – our bodies, our clothes, our life choices – we don’t make it easy for ourselves, either
There’s a very simple test you can take that determines whether or not you’re a feminist. You might preface it with, “I’m not a feminist, but …”, but if you’re asked the question “Do you believe that all human beings are equal?” and you answer “yes”, well then, my friend, I hate to break it to you, but I’m afraid you too are a feminist.
Welcome aboard, there’s nothing to be scared of – but do leave the matches at home.
We all need to help each other to prevent suicide
Wednesday 10th September was World Suicide Prevention Day. There are now lots of days and weeks designated for mental health awareness, so much so that it’s starting to become a bit confusing, but I reckon there’s probably never a bad time to be reminded to mind your mind. Next Friday October 10th is World Mental Health Day. With these two dates in mind, I wrote this column for the Mayo News on Tuesday 16th September.
Last Wednesday was World Suicide Prevention Day, a global day designated for raising awareness of suicide and suicide prevention. Traditionally shrouded in silence and shame, the stigma with which suicide was traditionally regarded in Ireland is being slowly cast aside. But as welcome as that is, it makes the consequences no less devastating, and indeed it is an occurrence with which many of us are all too painfully familiar. Recent statistics from the World Health Organisation suggest that at a global level, someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Ireland has the fourth highest suicide rate in Europe, and 475 people died this way last year. Over one a day. That’s a lot of grieving families, partners and friends.
Suicide is complex, as are the reasons behind it. There is, however an established link between suicide and mental ill-health, and we are finally starting to talk about it. The conversation has developed significantly in recent years, and we are slowly but surely moving towards a point where it is just as normal and acceptable to talk about your mental health (or ill-health – there is an important distinction) as it is your physical wellbeing. However, it truly is a case of a lot done, a lot more to do.
Crucially, the question people are starting to ask is “What can we do?” This is a welcome development, given the countless campaigns to raise awareness of suicide and depression. At this point, I think it’s fair to say we’re all well aware of the problem. Now what we need are solutions, and the truth is, every single one of us can make a difference. To put it bluntly, it’s high time we all looked in the mirror, and stepped up and took some responsibility for suicide prevention.
It’s all very well advising people struggling with their mental wellbeing to “reach out”, “get help” and “talk to someone”. That’s the overriding message, and yes, it’s good advice – more often than not, it will help. But as someone who has suffered in the past with mental ill-health, the fundamental problem with telling people who are struggling to “get help” is that it places all the onus on someone who is unwell to take that first step. What if, for a change, those who are well started doing some of the reaching out? When you’re in that dark place, when you’re so unwell that you’re starting to believe that not being alive at all would be preferable to living with unrelenting darkness, it’s common to withdraw and isolate yourself. “Just talking” to someone can seem like a mammoth task. When I experienced my first bout of depression over fourteen years ago, I didn’t leave my house for nearly two weeks. I needed someone to reach out to me, and I was one of the lucky ones – somebody did. I will forever be grateful to that person, because I owe them my life.
If we are serious about tackling suicide, we all need step up to the plate, and start being kinder to each other. We need to be cognisant of the fact that 1 in 4 of the people around us will be suffering from a mental health issue (mild or major) at any one time. Every single one of us at some point will experience emotional difficulties. We don’t know what others are dealing with in their day-to-day lives, and there may not be any signs. But there are lots of little things we can all do. A phone call, an email to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while; even a kind word to a stranger can make the world of difference. When you ask someone how they are, listen to their reply. Remind your loved ones that you love them.
If someone comes to you for help, it can be daunting, but don’t panic – you don’t need to be a professional to help; neither do you need to solve the problem. Just listen. For as little or as long as it takes. Hang in there; don’t give up on them. Believe me when I say that simply being there can be enough. [Update: If you do wish to equip yourself, the HSE ASIST course is an excellent free resource – read my account of it here.]
Let’s look in the mirror and take some responsibility here. Let’s as a community educate ourselves and be more thoughtful, supportive and kinder to each other. And let’s end this scourge on our society for once and for all.
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
My latest Mayo News column, published on Tuesday 2nd September.
Many years ago, as a newbie, I made a bit of a boo-boo at work. Now, it wasn’t a major catastrophe, but it was enough to cause me a sleepless night, and render a few days’ hard grind worthless. Crucially, it also meant that someone else had to intervene and help me clear up my mess. Only months into the probationary period of my new role, I decided that the obvious, clever thing to do was to absolve myself of as much responsibility as possible and just deny everything. Unfortunately, doing so meant that the problem took longer to fix, inconvenienced my colleagues and ultimately, earned me a bigger slap on the wrist.
It took me about 10 years to be able to laugh about it, but the biggest lesson I learned that day was that honesty is, in the long run, probably the best policy, and that admitting you’ve made a mistake can sometimes solve the problem faster.
That incident sprang to mind last week amidst the furious reaction to the GAA’s decision to stage the All-Ireland Semi-Final replay in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds. Because a lucrative American Football game had been scheduled for Croke Park, Mayo and Kerry footballers found themselves booted out of their national stadium and dispatched off west to replay the drawn game, like the inconveniences they apparently are. As the storm raged, the reaction of GAA HQ, and in particular President Liam O’Neill struck me. “It would be in Mayo’s best interests”, O’Neill proclaimed, “to get on with it and play the game and qualify for the final and hopefully, for them, end their barren spell.” This dismissive, incendiary statement added more fuel to the fire, and suddenly, all eyes were on O’Neill’s stewardship. On the back of the SKY deal and the Garth Brooks fiasco, the GAA – an organisation that prides itself on the fairness of which it distributes its funds – was suddenly looking like it was embracing its unofficial moniker, the Grab All Association, with O’Neill the Mr. Burns of the narrative. And the controversy raged on.
Imagine the alternative. Just think for a second, an imagine if O’Neill had come out, held his hands up and said “You know what? We messed up here. We’re sorry.” Two little words, too difficult to utter. Two little words, that might have quickly poured oil on troubled waters, placated two angry sets of supporters, absolved O’Neill and reassured players that contrary to what they might reasonably think, they are not at the bottom of the food chain. But “sorry” was a bridge too far.
As we know, however, the GAA are not alone in being sorry-shy. Government after Irish government has had to be shamed into apologising for past wrongs. (We’re still waiting for a heartfelt apology from the last one for derailing the country.) Indeed, in 2008, when they tried to whip medical cards off senior citizens in an effort to clean up their mess, the only person whose apology felt genuine was the Green Party’s Ciaran Cuffe (for all the good that did). More recently, it took James Reilly a year and a local election to apologise for the hardship inflicted on thousands of families in the wake of this medical card debacle. Ex-Justice Minister Alan Shatter was particularly resistant to the word. Both men are no longer in their roles – coincidence? Luis Suarez apologised for ‘BiteGate’ No. 3 only when he had exhausted all his other ridiculous excuses. RTE Radio 1 were recently forced into a half-baked apology when a tweet painted them in a homophobic light. (Incidentally, “We apologise if you were offended” is not an apology. “We are sorry, we made a mistake, and this will not happen again” – now that’s an apology.)
It often feels that as a society, while we teach our children that “owning up” and saying sorry is better in the long run, as adults, we ourselves are conditioned to avoid apologising.
It seems that sorry really is the hardest word.
Women – still the poor relation when it comes to sport?
My second column for the Mayo News, published on 19th August 2014
Two weeks ago, prior to the Mayo vs. Cork All-Ireland quarter final, I took part in a pre-recorded interview on a local radio sports show. The conversation covered a lot – the game, our prospects of victory and the role supporters might play on the day. After the interview was aired, a panellist on the show expressed his delight at a woman offering a strong, constructive opinion on sport. It was good to hear, he said, because for too long we’ve been in the background, making the tea and sandwiches. It was time we were heard. I’m paraphrasing here, and it made me smile as I’ve no doubt it was said with the best of intentions, but it got me thinking. In a supposedly equal society, have we really only come this far?
Discussion of women in sport has come to the fore recently, due in no small part to the Republic of Ireland reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA U19 Championships, and the heroic passage of the Irish Women’s Rugby team to the World Cup semi-final, beating New Zealand en route. Ticking a box the Irish men yet haven’t, you’d have anticipated that the achievement would merit serious coverage. Indeed, there were features, interviews; they even made some front pages. But what garnered the most publicity for female rugby during this period was a breathtakingly puerile article published in the Sunday Independent, laced with the same stereotypes and tired sexual innuendo that women in sport have endured for decades. Dispatched to a club training session to report, the writer started with some infantile titillation, and enlightened us by insisting that her teammates for the evening were “not butch, masculine, beer-swilling, men-hating women” (a cliché most of us thought had died sometime in the 1980s) who would never dream of gracing the field without make-up. No reference to training schedules, dietary requirements, competitions – anything that might have given the public an insight into the world of women playing competitive sport. Another opportunity missed.
The status of women in the sports world is depressingly predictable. Like in so many other spheres, the primary focus is typically appearance. Women are expected to look well while excelling on the field; and this focus on women’s bodies as opposed to athletic prowess is representative of a damaging societal norm outside sport, where women are constantly objectified. Even as supporters, you’d think women existed purely to enhance the scenery, as the relentless pick-a-pretty-face-in-the-crowd shots during Wimbledon and the World Cup demonstrated. (PervCam, I called it.) It’s actually a miracle there were women at the World Cup at all, given the plethora of advertising aimed at “World Cup Widows” in June. You’d be forgiven for thinking that football was an oestrogen-free zone, despite the fact that global viewership of the last World Cup was over 40% female.
Speaking of which, media coverage of “women’s sport” is tiny, relative to “men’s sport”. (Incidentally, isn’t all just … sport?) It’s a chicken and egg argument. Some will maintain that without media coverage, it’s hard to attract people to the games and build an audience. The counter-argument insists you can cover as many women’s games as you like, but you can’t force people to care. Part of the attraction of sport is the shared experience – being part of a crowd or community. Therefore until crowds and interest grow, women in sport will be battling for coverage. How do we find out what actually works, unless we try? Though, when so much coverage centres on aesthetics over sport, is there even any point? Indeed, perhaps it’s not even up to the media to promote. Should sporting bodies themselves not be marketing their own games? Then we’re back to a funding and resourcing argument, and we all know how that goes.
It’s not always easy to put your money where your mouth is, either – take the GAA for example. As a an eternal optimist, I’ve had the men’s semi-final weekend in my diary for six months, so barring a disaster, I’ll be in the Cusack Stand on Sunday supporting Mayo. Last Saturday, when the Mayo Ladies played Cork in the All-Ireland quarter final in Tullamore, the time and venue were announced on Monday, just five days prior to the game. Not ideal.
But times are changing. More female voices are talking sport on our airwaves. Respect and regard is among the public is growing. It was heartening to see the furious backlash against that Sunday Independent article, when a mere five years ago, it would barely have raised an eyebrow. Even more heartening was that many of the objections came from men.
Sisters may have being doing it for themselves for a long, long time, but it’s good to see we’re finally getting somewhere.
You must be logged in to post a comment.