Jobs for the girls: sex­ism in pol­i­tics

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS -

‘YOU should be at home and not be tak­ing a job from a man,” one woman told Gemma Hussey as she can­vassed for elec­tion in 1981.

Martina Fitzger­ald’s in­ter­views with the liv­ing 17 out of 19 fe­male cab­i­net min­is­ters in 99 years, is a painful re­minder of how women are dis­dained in the work­place, not just in pol­i­tics, and how they are in­tim­i­dated by men, who are nei­ther as qual­i­fied or skilled as many of the elected fe­males.

De­spite the fact that Count­ess Markiewicz was the first Ir­ish woman to hold a cab­i­net po­si­tion in 1919, it took 60 years be­fore an­other fe­male, Maire Geoghe­gan Quinn, was ap­pointed to cab­i­net; the first woman since the foun­da­tion of the state in 1922. From 1918 to 2018 we have had 114 fe­male TDS (9 per cent) serv­ing in Dáil Eire­ann com­pared to 1,179 male TDS (91 per cent).

The neg­a­tiv­ity of the var­i­ous com­ments and the jour­neys these cab­i­net min­is­ters un­der­went should not im­pact on women to­day to run for elec­tion.

Rather than in­di­vid­ual chrono­log­i­cal sto­ries, the chap­ters fo­cus on as­pects of elec­tion cam­paigns, at­ti­tudes in Le­in­ster House, get­ting into cab­i­net, the pres­i­dency, sex­ism, #politi­cianstoo and, as if the de­ri­sion in the Dail was not bad enough, there is ref­er­ence to me­dia com­men­tary on ap­pear­ance, weight, hair­styles.

The fi­nal chap­ter is the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor that these ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful women re­lied upon; fam­ily and friends.

Con­de­scen­sion goes back to the 1970s when for­mer Pres­i­dent Mary Robin­son started can­vass­ing. She stood for Dail elec­tion twice and was not elected. As a young mother, she was told sev­eral times that she should be at home mind­ing the baby. Dur­ing her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign she was called a ‘Marx­ist les­bian bitch’ by a mem­ber of the Catholic clergy.

Her pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy was op­posed by the cur­rent pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins. Dur­ing a cam­paign visit to Hig­gins’s base in Gal­way she says, “He didn’t warm to me… he was one of those who re­gret­ted that I had got

Lead­ing Oireach­tas women cel­e­brate the 90th an­niver­sary of the 1918 elec­tion, the first elec­tion in which women had the right to vote, in Le­in­ster House in 2008

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