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who has forcefully held forth against feminism, secularism, liberalism and marriage equality, or whether he has somehow been replaced by an otherworldly doppelganger, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style.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.
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.
Radio Moment of the Week: Fodder for thought
City dwellers may gripe about rain disrupting traffic, but Countrywide (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) gives a sharp reminder of the crippling effects of the long winter on agriculture. Broadcasting from a Co Laois farm, presenter Damien O'Reilly mixes interview and reportage to paint a portrait of nationwide desperation as the ongoing bad weather prevents cattle from grazing while fodder supplies run low. It's a handy primer on the Irish agri-food sector – grass-feeding is the Irish cattle industry's selling point – and offers practical advice for farmers. But the underlying air of despair is palpable. Unless conditions change soon, says Co Limerick farmer Tom Flynn, "it's going to be a disaster". It certainly puts forgetting your umbrella in perspective.