Women encouraged to be more open about their ambition

Inaugural Women in Media event hears told of special place in hell for `women who do not believe feminism matters today'

A file image of broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan, who was presented with the inaugural Mary Cummins Award for Outstanding Achievement in Media. Photograph: The Irish Times

A file image of broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan, who was presented with the inaugural Mary Cummins Award for Outstanding Achievement in Media. Photograph: The Irish Times

Mon, Apr 29, 2013, 10:43

Hell was mentioned twice this last weekend in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, where the inaugural Women in Media event was held. It was first evoked by Sinn Fein TD, Mary Lou McDonald, one of the speakers at the Saturday morning symposium on the topic of “Women in Politics; climbing the career ladder in a male-dominated environment.”

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” she told the audience, echoing former US secretary of state Madeleine Alrbright and more recently country singer Taylor Swift.

Broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan, who was presented with the inaugural Mary Cummins Award for Outstanding Achievement in Media on Saturday night, also referenced the Biblical destination of fire. In her acceptance speech, she declared, “There is a special place in hell for those women who do not believe that feminism matters today.”

The weekend was planned and organised by Joan and John O’Connor, of Kilcooly Country House, as a way of establishing a landmark event that they hope will bring much-needed visitors to the town each spring. Ballybunion is the town where Mary Cummins, a social affairs journalist with this newspaper, lived for many years. It’s also where journalist and novelist Maeve Binchy spent many summer holidays. The O’Connors decided to theme the weekend Women in Media due to the late journalists’ links with the town.

Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister for Arts, opened the weekend on Friday evening. Talking about Maeve Binchy, he said, “In her writing, we could see ourselves reflected - our way of speaking, of working, of living, of dying.” The Minister said that the impact of Mary Cummins’ journalism, “reverberates to this day.” He acknowledged the presence of her daughter, Daisy, and other family members. As Daisy Cummins later told the audience, “If Mum was here, she’d be thrilled - and she’d be outside smoking.”

There were capacity audiences for all events over the weekend. The key part of Saturday’s programme was the morning symposium on Women in Politics, chaired by broadcaster Katie Hannon. Panellists were TDs Mary Lou McDonald and Aine Collins, and journalists Alison O’Connor and Catherine Halloran.

“Women are asked to go on air to talk about their own experiences, rather than policy,” O’Connor stated. “There are so few voices from women on panels that men’s voices become privileged and more authoritative than women.”

“I work in an environment that is oppressively male in its composition. Ireland has to be the only country in the world where you’re called, ‘An awful woman’ by a man, and it’s meant as the height of praise,” McDonald said. “One thing I’m always asked by women is ‘how do you do it: how can you be on all the time and have a family?’ I can’t wait for the day when men are asked, ‘how do you do it?’

Maeve Binchy was remembered by a series of readings from her work. Irish Times journalist Roisin Ingle, Irish Examiner journalist Jimmy Woulfe, Treasa Murphy, head of news at Radio Kerry, and Joanna Keane, teacher and daughter of the late playwright, John B.Keane, all read extracts from Binchy’s journalism and fiction.

Terry Prone encouraged women to be more open about their ambition, and to stop “trying to be liked by everyone.”

Gender quotas were mentioned several time over the weekend, both in the Dail and in the media. “I’m not in favour of percentages or quotas for anything,” guest speaker columnist Mary Kenny told the dinner guests. “Many of the women who progressed in my generation were encouraged and promoted by men.”