ARCH CON­STRUC­TIONS

Baf­fled by the re­ac­tion to his ir­refutable truth, David Quinn tries to keep the cor­ri­dor of ac­cept­able opin­ion open. Later, Ciara Kelly, who can feel his pain, dis­cov­ers it may be open a bit too wide

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO REVIEWS - MICK HEANEY

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, ac­cord­ing to the well-worn pop psy­chol­ogy trope. But what planet is David Quinn from? Lis­ten­ing to the con­ser­va­tive colum­nist’s in­ter­view about gen­der dif­fer­ences with Jonathan Healy, stand-in host on The Pat Kenny Show (New­stalk, week­days), one won­ders if he is quite of this Earth, so un­rooted in re­al­ity does he sound at times.

Quinn ap­pears on Tues­day’s show to dis­cuss a tweet that caused much so­cial me­dia out­rage when he posted it on his Twit­ter ac­count the pre­vi­ous day. For the ben­e­fit of his lis­ten­ers, Healy reads the full tweet at the out­set: “The built world around you; men did that. Your house, car, street, plumb­ing, elec­tric wiring etc. Men. Let’s say some­thing nice about men today.” (Healy isn’t to­tally ac­cu­rate in his read­ing. The orig­i­nal tweet mis­spells “some­thing” as “sonething”, but let’s not quib­ble.)

The re­ac­tion to this state­ment was, Quinn says, “al­most uni­ver­sally hos­tile”. His own on-air re­sponse isn’t one of de­fi­ance, en­gage­ment or even anger. Rather, it is one of wounded baf­fle­ment. Ex­plain­ing the ra­tio­nale be­hind his tweet to Healy, Quinn says that with men “un­der­stand­ably” get­ting a hard time at the mo­ment, he wanted to high­light “a good that is over­whelm­ingly done by men”. To this end, he was in­spired by a (con­sid­er­ably longer) post by mav­er­ick Amer­i­can fem­i­nist Camille Paglia about men be­ing mainly re­spon­si­ble for phys­i­cally build­ing the world’s in­fra­struc­ture.

Hav­ing framed his tweet as an act of big-hearted gen­eros­ity, Quinn sounds a per­plexed note at the back­lash. He thinks it strange that “you’re not al­lowed to say some­thing good about men that is an ir­refutable fact”. Whether male pre­pon­der­ance in the build­ing trades is due to phys­i­cal or so­ci­etal rea­sons, men con­structed our “mon­u­men­tal” cities. “Can we just not say some­thing with­out caveat?” he plain­tively asks.

Quinn main­tains this in­jured tone through­out, as though his in­no­cence has been shat­tered by the an­tag­o­nis­tic re­ac­tion to his “ir­refutably true” state­ment. At this stage, one be­gins to won­der if this is the same David Quinn who has force­fully held forth against fem­i­nism, sec­u­lar­ism, lib­er­al­ism and mar­riage equal­ity, or whether he has some­how been re­placed by an oth­er­worldly dop­pel­ganger, In­va­sion of the Body Snatch­ers-style. Af­ter all, it’s either that or be­hind his hurt per­sona he’s trolling his op­po­nents.

Healy plays along, gamely mus­ing how many women work in con­struc­tion, but even­tu­ally says what we’re all think­ing. “You knew you were pok­ing a bear,” he says. Quinn con­cedes this, sort of. “In the western world we have a nar­row­ing cor­ri­dor of things that are ac­cept­able to say,” he says. “I want to keep that cor­ri­dor of ac­cept­able opin­ion open.”

Sure enough there are times host and guest en­gage in a con­struc­tive de­bate where dis­agree­ments are aired and grievances recog­nised. Quinn talks about the im­pact of “toxic mas­culin­ity” and ac­knowl­edges that “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” aims to re­dress his­tor­i­cal im­bal­ances in gen­der and race, but also feels “it for­bids you in an ex­cess of zeal from say­ing things that hap­pen to be true”.

One may ar­gue with this view­point, but it is more en­gag­ing than a tersely phrased tweet. That the con­ver­sa­tion turns into some­thing more thought­ful is largely down to Healy. As a pre­sen­ter, his lib­eral in­stincts take sec­ond place to an ami­able style that masks a qui­etly rig­or­ous ap­proach and strong sense of ci­vil­ity. He is able to con­duct two thor­ough in­ter­views with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent sides of the amend­ment ref­er­en­dum, John McGuirk of the Save the 8th cam­paign and pro-re­peal ob­ste­tri­cian Louise Kenny, which surely val­i­dates his be­lief in “civil con­ver­sa­tion”. Sim­i­larly, Healy nudges Quinn’s po­si­tion by us­ing emol­lient words such as “ac­cep­tance”, prompt­ing his guest’s em­i­nently rea­son­able con­clu­sion: “You’ve just got to treat peo­ple with equal re­spect.” He sounds like he means it too.

Wider con­text

Dis­cus­sion of Quinn’s tweet con­tin­ues on

Lunchtime Live (New­stalk, week­days), with host Ciara Kelly talk­ing to Labour Sen­a­tor Ivana Bacik about the wider con­text to the state­ment. Bacik, very much the ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­site of Quinn, says she is “flum­moxed” at the post, point­ing to women work­ing in the fac­to­ries in the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion.

But Kelly’s treat­ment of the is­sue is more strik­ing. She de­clares her­self “some­what sorry” for Quinn: “I can feel his pain.” She goes on to sug­gests he is “strug­gling with the fact that the po­si­tion he was hop­ing to have in the world has been some­what eroded”. When Bacik deems this view “very noble”, Kelly ex­pands her point. “Men may have all the money and the power,” she muses, “but should we be prais­ing them too?” Kelly posits this with no au­di­ble in­di­ca­tion of irony, which of course only in­creases the face­tious­ness of her sen­ti­ments.

On one level, it’s not a par­tic­u­larly il­lu­mi­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion. Kelly and Bacik talk about slightly off-topic is­sues such as the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of young men, but both are ob­vi­ously irked by Quinn’s at­ti­tude, even if the pre­sen­ter plays the hon­est bro­ker in arch fash­ion. But the re­ac­tion their dis­cus­sion draws is in­struc­tive, not to men­tion dis­turb­ing, as Kelly reads out the irate texts she is re­ceiv­ing from lis­ten­ers.

One tex­ter de­scribes Ir­ish women as “lazy, fat and over­paid”, while an­other char­ac­terises the con­ver­sa­tion as “silly school­girl tit­ter­ing”. One sim­ply calls Kelly a “fem­i­nist bitch”. The pre­sen­ter draws her breath but keeps her com­po­sure. “Ob­vi­ously these guys are up­set,” she says, with ad­mirable re­straint. Bacik is more ac­cu­rate, call­ing the texts “trou­bling”.

It’s an alarm­ing piece of ra­dio, vividly il­lus­trat­ing a vi­cious strain of misog­yny that can bub­ble up in pub­lic with ap­par­ent ease. It’s hard to imag­ine a male pre­sen­ter – or colum­nist – be­ing sub­jected to abuse so de­signed to be­lit­tle or me­nace. Peo­ple should of course be treated with equal re­spect. But, to coin a phrase, men did this.

‘‘ One tex­ter de­scribes Ir­ish women as ‘lazy, fat and over­paid’, while an­other char­ac­terises the con­ver­sa­tion as ‘silly school­girl tit­ter­ing’. One sim­ply calls Kelly a ‘fem­i­nist bitch’

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AI­DAN CRAW­LEY

David Quinn: “a good that is over­whelm­ingly done by men”.

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