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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 27, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

    Is everything hunky-dory for women in politics?

    Mary Minihan

    I paid a rare visit to the (very beautiful) Seanad chamber this week because the topic under discussion was one I’m interested in: the low number of women in Irish politics.

    The Green Party’s newish Minister of State for Equality Mary White was delivering quite a thoughtful speech, saying Ireland had made no measurable progress in relation to women’s participation in political life in the last 15 years.

    But nevertheless I found my attention wandering. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I felt when I saw a series of billboard, bus-stop and online video advertisements for what I consider to be a snack food consumed mostly by young girls and boys: crisps.

    Weirdly, despite what I would imagine to be the target market, the ads feature gorgeous grown-up women playing rugby while wearing the type of skimpy outfits normally seen on female beach volleyball players. The sort of thing Benny Hill, the late English comedian, might have designed in the ’80s had he been an advertising executive: lots of cleavage and partially-revealed bottoms.

    There’s a logo claiming the product is a proud sponsor of Irish rugby – whatever that means.

    Now I don’t know much about rugby culture (despite my former colleague George Hook’s best efforts!) but I have female friends who do. So I called one and asked her to check out the ad online while I waited for her reaction. She didn’t like it. She said how she felt at that moment wasn’t at all typical of how she feels at rugby matches.

    What’s this got to do with politics? I’m not sure. But back in the Seanad, as the Minister said Ireland, “for such a progressive country”, was lagging very far behind others in regard to what she described as women’s role in political decision making, I was thinking about…crisps.

    I can only tell you how the ads made me feel: a little bit sad, slightly stunned and very embarrassed for those who produced them. Am I being illogical? I must be supposed to think it’s all hunky-dory.

    • Niall says:

      What exactly makes you think that Hunky Dorys are eaten mostly by children?

      Did you despair when you encountered the Aero and Diet Coke ads where men are used as sex objects, and not even in a way that’s supposed to be funny?

      The ad is only slightly more funny than it is unusual, but it’s hardly worthy of comment. It was intended to be silly, and achieves that goal.

    • Colm says:

      I wish there were some *good* people in politics. Their gender is irrelevant. I don’t see why women don’t have a “level playing field” in politics of all places – or have we somehow removed the vote from half the population?

      That said, I detest the bland sexist assumptions and lazy victim mentality of articles such as this one.

      Mary: run for election!

    • Fergus says:

      So you are stunned that someone used sex to sell a product because maybe you thought that as a society we had moved past doing this. Well we haven’t.

      To be honest I’d take your sentiments a whole lot more seriously if you looked at advertising in general and how it portrays both genders. You probably don’t even notice that any product marketed at women will unfailingly portray men as some combination of incompetent, stupid and unimportant. Sometimes men are portrayed as sex objects, although nobody bothers to comment on that. On the other hand, apart from the very occasional Hunky Dory campaign which gets lots of attention, women are portrayed as intelligent, driven and successful.

      Yours is the typical emotional response to one poster campaign without realising that there’s a bigger picture here. Both genders are badly served by the advertisers, so maybe if we as a society stop buying products that advertise themselves by portraying either gender negatively then the problem will go away and our children, both boys and girls can grow up without being bombarded with negative stereotypes.

    • marks says:

      Its not about gender balance, but ethics.

      No-one in this government has the latter, male or female.
      When the price is paid by these creatures, then gender will not play a balance in their punishment.

    • Seán says:

      Tell me I have wandered into the “Education” section of the website, where opinionated 15 yr olds are invited to talk on matters close to their hearts. i.e. not paid journalism. Please.

    • XXfactor says:

      Shock! Horror! Hold the Front Page!… Women s/exploited to sell products…take it you haven’t seen your colleague Clifford Coonnan’s piece on the Beijing Car Show…Physician heal thyself!

    • Elaine Byrne says:

      Hmmm. Of the six comments, five are from men (unless xxxfactor is also male) and all of them hostile to the idea that women would be offended by the ad. One even suggested that Mary’s post was “a typical emotional response.”

      Go figure.

    • Niall says:

      Elaine, play the ball not the man.

    • XXfactor says:

      Elaine the clue is in the name i.e. XX factor so no I am not ‘male’, heaven forfend, at least not last time I looked…!
      Re your hostile comment:gender point, just cast your mind back to the IWD blog and the ratio of rabid ‘male’ responses there…! Nuff said!
      For some reason my comments in reply to yours are not being posted by ‘moderators’ of this blog…wonder why…Hmm!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Aren’t women as much part of the problem as men are? I mean, ok chances are the group that sat around a table and who thought it was a good idea to sell crisps based on the connection with women exposing themselves and some Benny Hill innuendo were mostly men and had a great laugh and then went to a lap dancing club to celebrate.

      However, all – certainly nearly all – women’s advertising is pushing the idea that you have to wear makeup etc or wear high heels or do whatever to improve your looks and women buy into this hook line and sinker – who is that for – their own empowerment or to please a man.

      Why does a women wear a certain form of clothing which is designed to draw attention to whatever part of her body – is that to empower her as a women or to attract the attentions of a male – so why then moan that men don’t take women seriously?

      Women can’t have it both ways and the creative industries, such as fashion and magazines are controlled by women and gay men – not straight men – so it is women and gay men who are the ones undermining getting proper equality as they keep pushing the agenda of a woman must look a certain way, be a certain weight, wear certain clothes and act a certain way.

      With regard to politics, it’s a myth that there are blocks in the way of women getting involved in politics. Certainly how politics is carried out is still a bit 19th century and a lot should be changed and updated but if you choose a career then you are making a choice and you should accept your choice – you can’t have a career and be a fulltime mother or housewife anymore than a man can be a full time father – only man don’t make other men feel guilty for that choice.

      If you want to be a politician, you get involved, you put yourself up for selection (it’s not that hard to get through a selection convention) and then you stand, if elected you bring forward changes you want – name a single female politician of any party who has published a serious document setting out reforms – and you get your home life in order – you arrange a child minder, you get someone to do the washing and ironing and cleaning etc. You get your husband to do his fair share – don’t refuse to get help and then moan that you have to do everything.

      We all make choices in our life and settle for things. So if a women wants to get to the top of their career then, just like a man, they will have to accept they need to get their personal life in order so they can devote their time to the career – for which they will be well paid.

      Also, all the men who are sexist pigs had mothers and the mothers are just as responsible for perpetuating those sexist attitudes as the fathers are – how often do you see some mother who doesn’t teach her son how to cook and clean and change his bed and iron – so if you are a full time mother and housewife and doing those things is your job then fine but don’t abdicate your responsibility to train and educate your children to look after themselves and be able to contribute fairly to running a home and then if at a later stage they face choosing to be a house husband or to support a wife who wants a full career or to have their own full career (and pay someone to do the ironing and cleaning) then they have the skills to help in whatever choice is made.

    • Elizabeth Geraghty says:

      It is worth buying the Irish Times just to read John Waters articles. He is fair, straight and honest and devoid of hypocrisy.

    • Shivaun Huggard says:

      Men make these ads to make them feel in control over women. Sad sad people these particular men. You can only feel sorry for them and the other male commentators who are in agreement with the said ad.

    • dealga says:

      It may be worth pointing out (to Shivaun in particular) that the Marketing Director of Largo Foods – the owner of the Hunky Dorys brand – is a woman, one Rita Kirwan.

      The ad is simply lazy to an insulting degree with the unwritten subtext: “Irish lads love rugby and tits, yeah?” “Yeah – go for it.”

      As an aside I’ve often been curious just what it is about rugby that draws a larger female fan base to it than football (which is a clearly superior sport in history, evolution, skill and global reach). Nothing to do with all those big feckers pulverising each other, I’m sure … we’re a more primal species at heart than we like to believe.

      As regards women’s participation in politics there are two things worth noting – first, at the last Euro elections, about twice as many women were on the ticket as men in Dublin, yet men took all the seats. Mary Lou McDonald, thankfully, lost hers in the process. Was this event ever studied?… Second from the few women we do have in the Dáil and Seanad we have no evidence that the quality of decision-making is improved. How many are happy with Harney in Health, and Coughlan in Enterprise was laughable.

      Focusing on balancing the gender alone will just result in more women from the same parish pump / family dynasty / single-issue campaign backgrounds that the men currently come from, resulting in the same piss-poor political discourse.

      Until we are able to attract the best of talent into public representation, regardless of gender, religion, colour and the rest we’re just rearranging the same tatty tinsel on the Christmas Tree.

    • XXfactor says:

      In 1980 the United Nation Reported:

      Women Constitute half the world’s population
      Perform nearly 2/3 of its work hours
      Receive 1/10 of the world’s income
      Own less than1/100 of the world’s property

      I doubt those statistics have changed much.

      In Ireland I understand there is only ONE woman Equity partner in Dublin despite women outnumbering men in the Legal Profession…well the Solicitors’ wing anyway.

      Proof as if it were needed that women must do twice as well to be considered half as good as a man.

      Level playing field..?

      And you mean to say they are not teaching their sons to cook and clean make their beds and sew blah blah blah..well how the f*ck are they managing to teach their daughters to do it then? By osmosis?

      And where are the sperm donors in all this?

    • TAFKABO says:

      Whilst it is undoubtedly true that males are ill served by advertising, the fact remains that it’s women who are the ones being raped and assaulted at a massively disproportionate rate compared to men. So yes, it does bother me to see men portrayed as nothing more than buffoons but I know that when I go outside it is unlikely that this image will affect my life, being white and male in a world run by mostly white males. the same cannot be said for women, when the objectification of them in advertisements and the statistics for sex crime are both so high.

    • XXfactor says:

      @15′Men are ill served by advertising/treated as buffoons’..where?
      @13The fact that one woman colludes in her own oppression or even if every woman did doesn’t make it right!

    • dealga says:

      Who said anything about it being right XX? It is merely a statement of fact and a fact that doesn’t sit comfortably with the easy narrative.

    • XXfactor says:

      It’s implied…i.e. because a woman s/exploits women that somehow makes it OK…and the sexual politics can be ignored…if anything it makes it worse…what Marx would call ‘false conciousness’ i.e. colluding in your own or oppression or the oppression of…in this case…your sex.
      I don’t agree it’s an easy narrative…as I think the UN stat’s…and suspect have not changed to any great extent… illustrate.
      ‘One swallow does not a summer make’!

    • XXfactor says:

      I expect many of the rugby women are W&G’s,
      For me the attraction is the ‘Goys’ good looks…!
      I’ve often wondered what Martin Johnson will do if he loses his looks!
      I think Hurling is more exhilarating as a spectator sport and many of the Irish rugby players (and soccer players in UK e.g. Damian Duff) incorporate Gaelic football skills into the Garrison Games…Kearney’s got a few other attractive qualities…but RO’G is ‘the man’ in imo.
      So it’s not all about the pulverism!

    • Niall says:

      Having many female friends who have an interest in rugby, it’s fair to say that while it’s not the sole reason for their interest in the sport, the opportunity to perv on a few athletes is an important part of their attraction to it.

      Are they treating the athletes as sex objects? Of course they are. But that’s just a part of life. Believe it or not, most of us, if we’re lucky, will be a sex object to some other person at some point in our lives, though most would hope our relationships with these people will not be solely limited to sexual status. The fact that we sometimes treat models, actors, sportsmen and other public figures almost solely as sex objects does not mean that we’re going to extend this habit into other parts of our lives with “real” people.

      What some people don’t seem to get is that there is a difference between fantasy and reality and that most of us have no problem understanding that difference.

      Even if we ban ads like the ones for Hunky Dory and Aero, humans will still treat each other as sex objects because that is what we’re designed to do. Learn to accept humans for the animals they are.

    • XXfactor says:

      @ 20 That is not what the term ‘sex object’ means…!

    • dealga says:

      XX, I even reject the accusation that it was implied. It was a post in response to, in particular, “Men make these ads to make them feel in control over women”. Who beyond the conspiracy theorist or militant really believes that?

      It is exactly a lazy narrative because it states that men have a level of control that they can leverage to somehow act as one to keep women downtrodden. In the context of western European civilisation and culture that’s nonsense.

    • Kynos says:

      Man d’ye remember those old Flake ads? Was anyone complaining then?…40 years she was on the go and only lately ended due to talk of sexism. I mean how do you stimulate a target market? You appeal to primal instincts. Normal ones i.e. those within ranges we don’t deem perverted appear to excite more annoyance than perverted ones when it comes to advertising the various lettered invitationals displayed on young women’s and ladies’ jeans on the arse posterior wink wink and so forth. Padded bras for 8 year olds and such. Yes it’s softening them up to become consumers…it’s also appealing to elements of human instinct habit and behaviour that is so appalling in its effects upon not just one person not just two but thousands potentially limitless because it is a vampirism a real and deadly sort and we go encouraging it and elicit n amount of outrage where n is a small number. Then, along comes a campaign eliciting normal human reactions i.e.male and indeed why not female interest in powerful sexy good looking fierce women about to get down and dirty bring on the mud and the odd shaped balls I think it a normal use of human sexuality vis a vis abnormal use of human sexuality in a form of communication that has long since appropriated human sexuality arrogated it to it as an industry’s needs i.e. profit and there’s been little objection to date and suddenly there is but its against the arrogation of normal as opposed to abnormal human sexuality that gets the largest amount of outrage.

    • eeewwh! says:

      I am a women and I have to say there’s rarely anything better then seeing “powerful sexy good looking fierce women” However this is not it! Models being squeezed into outfits that push cleavage(bum and boob) in our faces are hardly showing us feminists in action. The fact is that these ads have caused a reaction, alienating and degrading some while titillating others. That’s the real argument, do we allow for the degradation of some for the pleasure of others?

    • Ms Rita Kirwan, “Marketing Director”, shame on you. Are the “big boy” influening you or are your trying to impress them???

    • Aidan says:

      @ Elizabeth “It is worth buying the Irish Times just to read John Waters’ articles.”

      Not when he’s talking about religion.

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