The riddle of the gender quotas: Councillor smells skulduggery and its name is Woman

Kathy Sheridan: ‘As if smothering all that mighty male talent wasn’t outrageous enough, it will be done by weak females’

Is there something in the water in north Dublin? Suddenly two councillors from there, Tom Brabazon of Fianna Fáil and Keith Redmond of Fine Gael, are popping up to challenge gender quotas. Cllr Brabazon smells skulduggery and its name is Woman. Under the headline "We should be blind to gender when electing our politicians" (remember that), over a Northside People piece, he opines : "Setting up a glass ceiling against men and thereby stifling male talent, simply on the basis of gender, is utterly perverse and fundamentally antidemocratic."

As if smothering all that mighty male talent wasn’t outrageous enough, it will be done by weak females. “I have heard rumours suggesting that some parties are proposing to add weaker, ‘sweeper’ candidates where a strong male candidate is to run in a general election constituency. Circumvention could be the order of the day where we will see token women candidates, not expected to be elected, fielded around the country.”

Don’t you just want to cuddle those terms “weaker women” and “stroooong males”?

It’s not that he’s against women candidates. He’s a great supporter of Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick actually. She’s “a very talented woman and does not need the patronisation of tokenistic legislation to get her to where she is. She got there because she wanted to.”

I bow to no one in my admiration for Fitzpatrick’s breadth of experience and grit in the teeth of the Drumcondra mafia. But Cllr Brabazon neglected to mention that her father was a long-standing Fianna Fáil TD, that she worked on his campaigns and was immersed in politics from childhood, as often happens with politicians’ offspring. The quota scheme was not designed for the Mary Fitzpatricks.

Cllr Brabazon is also worried that under the quota system the women who succeed will be “no more representative than what has gone before” since “they will be those without families”. No, no – please stay with me.

"We should want real [my italics] women with real-life experience of the education system, the workplace, childbirth, childcare, managing money in tight situations and general life," he says. Is this an admission that Cllr Brabazon – a "real man" presumably – represents only other "real men" in his ward? Is that allowed? And where does a young politician such as Simon Harris, say, fit into his thesis?

Gender-blind elections

Hah – bet you’re scratching your little womany head trying to figure out how Cllr Brabazon’s desire for “gender-blind” elections squares with wanting “real women” who’ve had babies and stuff?

Enter Cllr Redmond, a dentist and prolific tweeter, who agrees entirely with Cllr Brabazon's views on quotas, tweeting: "Aren't they the very definition of sexism at the next general election?"

If Cllr Redmond's name is familiar, it's because he's the one who tweeted "Good work feminazis, you just made lots of fellow women unemployed because their work offended you", about the semisuccessful campaign to drop the Page Three girls in the British Sun.

Redmond is also the public representative who in response to a column by Victoria White (mother of two teenagers, one preteen and a child with autism) about the one-parent-family payment, tweeted: “A bizarre column from Victoria White who thinks raising her child is a job taxpayers should pay her for.”

To which White replied : “Please tell me, Keith, how you would run your society without the care work done by women?”

So here’s the science. Before babies, the number of men and women who work is about equal at about 85 per cent. Once babies arrive, the number of men who continue to work falls to 79 per cent. For women, it falls to 58 per cent.

For the mothers who must/want/need to continue to work, "superhuman efforts" are involved, in the words of Clare O'Hagan, author of the just published Complex Inequality and Working Mothers, from the University of Limerick. They do a full month more a year of unpaid housework and childcare work than men. Many women also care for elderly relatives, including in-laws, since men don't feel the same pressure to do this.

So in which universe does Cllr Brabazon think that all those “real women” with families will suddenly spring forth to stand for election, as he so earnestly desires? If, as he believes, only women without families will succeed under the new system, why does he think this is so? Could equality issues be involved perhaps?

If Cllr Redmond believes the idea of paying women for care work is bizarre, will he now provide (a) his costings for running a society where women do the same amount of care work as men, and/or (b) his proposals for levelling the playing field for those who want equality of opportunity?

Finally. The usual arguments against gender quotas, it seems, are (a) they’re a shiny toy designed to distract women from pursuing all the real issues that hold them back and (b) that no woman worth her salt would accept such a leg-up.

The answer? You untangle a ball of string by starting with the end you can grasp.