Women in the media give each other hell at landmark event

A gathering in Kerry celebrated the success of women in the media

“There is a special place in hell for those women who do not believe that feminism matters today,” said RTÉ’s Miriam O'Callaghan

“There is a special place in hell for those women who do not believe that feminism matters today,” said RTÉ’s Miriam O'Callaghan

Mon, Apr 29, 2013, 22:32

Hell was mentioned twice last weekend in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, where the inaugural Women in Media event was held. It was first evoked by Sinn Féin 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.

Broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan, who was presented with the inaugural Mary Cummins Award for Outstanding Achievement in Media , also referenced it. 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 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 gave the weekend the theme “Women in Media” because of the late journalists’ links with the town.

Maeve Binchy
Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister for Arts, opened the event. 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 the impact of Cummins’s 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. The key part of Saturday’s programme was the morning symposium on Women in Politics, chaired by broadcaster Katie Hannon. The panellists were TDs Mary Lou McDonald and Áine 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 said. “There are so few voices from women on panels that men’s voices become privileged and more authoritative than women.”

Oppressively male
“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?’”

Binchy was remembered through a series of readings from her work. Irish Times journalist Róisín 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 her journalism and fiction.

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

What the inaugural Women in Media weekend was really trying to do was very simple: bring together women working in the media, and who are interested in the media, for rigorous and challenging discussions. It worked.