Una Mullally: Men should stop whining about gender quotas
In the hypothetical ‘How To Get Elected To Office In Ireland’, the ‘merit’ chapter is pretty small
“Irish male politicians, in that typical Irish fashion, seem to be okay with quotas unless they personally get caught in the crossfire: gender equality nimbyism.”
There’s something particularly annoying about male politicians giving out. Is it their voices? That high-pitched whining? Or is it just their general air of hysteria? I mean they sound pretty hysterical to me. I can’t even understand what they’re saying! It’s their emotional nature I suppose, and their fragility.
I’m not sure how we expect these delicate creatures to make tough decisions. Particularly if it’s that time of the month. They’re probably more concerned about what they’re wearing than actually being politicians. Let me tell you something, you have to be very wary about ambitious men. And don’t they kill each other too with pure bitchiness? Sure they’d stab each other in the back before they’d shake a hand. You know what? Sometimes I think other men are men’s own worst enemies.
The ear-piercing dog whistle-level of men whining ruptures ear drums when it comes to the discussion around gender quotas. On current affairs television programmes and radio shows, the merits of gender quotas in politics are still being debated. Why? Quotas for candidates in the next election are already in place. As much as the media may have a misplaced desire for a confrontational bunfight on this topic, the “debate” is an extinct one. It’s already happening, and the reasons are pretty obvious.
There should be equal opportunity for everyone to succeed in the fields they wish to succeed in. And if there are barriers to succeeding due to age, race, gender or sexuality, those barriers should be broken. The exceptions of individuals succeeding within an unequal playing field (and fair bloody play to them) certainly provides role models, but it doesn’t necessarily break institutional barriers. Therefore, we have to come up with interventions to make things fairer for everyone. In areas that don’t self-regulate when it comes to equality of opportunity, quotas range from useful to necessary.
Caught in the crossfire
The term “merit” is tossed around a lot too, although I’m not entirely sure how many Irish politicians get elected “on merit”. In the hypothetical handbook, How To Get Elected To Office In Ireland, there are chapters on being your father’s son, going to funerals, helping constituents skip queues, undermining your opposition, being in a party that is already popular, being pals with a party leader, and being a local politician when you’re actually meant to be a national one. The “merit” chapter is pretty small.
In fact, Irish politics is so profoundly anti-intellectual and allergic to big ideas of any kind, not to mention actual qualifications, that “merit” might in fact undermine your electoral goals. Competence, intelligence, and genuine suitability are mere afterthoughts in election strategy.
Ego and selfishness
I don’t think anyone is willing to argue that 16 per cent representation of women in the Dáil, which places Ireland 25th out of 28 countries in the EU is just the natural order, “all things being equal” (which they’re not.)
Irish politics is not just anti-women, it is also anti-family. But conversations around childcare and family-friendly career opportunities are pitched as female ones because women still shoulder much of the responsibility when it comes to childrearing. Perhaps we should talk about that too. How successful would many of our male politicians be if their partners and wives had not taken up that responsibility? Where are the male politicians in the Dáil and the Seanad screaming and roaring about Ireland’s terrible paternity leave, or prohibitive childcare costs? Where are the men saying “I’ll stay at home so you can further your career”, a decision (and sometimes not even that) women have to make all the time?
In the popularity contest of electoral politics, the aphorism of “knowing thyself” is crucial. The biggest political party in Ireland has always been Mé Féin. But in order to improve the institution of politics, we must “know others”. Dear Male Politician, enough about you, what about the people not like you who find it far harder to get where you are because of how the deck is stacked?
But politics is almost exclusively about power. For male politicians, “I am against quotas” translates as “I do not want to give up my power”. If a male politician is so sure of his “merit” then he has nothing to fear. If, however, he has a slight suspicion that he got elected because of things other than merit, things like, oh I don’t know, a family dynasty, a firm handshake, an in with the lads, then he should be very worried indeed, because a woman who actually deserves to be there might unseat him. The horror.