As some readers may know, I’ve been appearing regularly on this season’s RTE Today show, filmed right here in Cork, with a segment called ‘The F Word’. F for feminism, that is.
It’s been great fun, and it’s an interesting way to approach issues that face all of us. Economic and social gender inequality affects both men and women negatively, and the world would generally be a better place if we were all on an even keel. We’re getting there, but – as this week’s business interviewee, who remained anonymous, points out – very, very slowly.
One of the biggest issues any of us has in modern life is coexisting with other people in the artificial environment that is the modern workplace. The modern workplace has artificial light, artificial air conditioning, and artificially polite relationships with all sorts of people you might never have hung out with, if your company’s hiring policies hadn’t got in the way. And your life is probably the richer for having met them.
But the biggest deal for many of us is our boss. A recent poll by Gallup, the US polling company, found that 40% of women and 29% of men would prefer a male to a female boss. 50% of both genders didn’t care, so you can extrapolate that only 10% of women expressed a preference for a female boss. That doesn’t say a lot for female solidarity.
Here at the Cork Independent, our MD is male, but all three managers are female. And when we asked viewers of the show for their feedback on Facebook, the responses were interesting.
Women, it appears, dislike working for other women. Not all women, of course, but it did back up the findings of the poll. I put this down to something called ‘confirmation bias’. This means that if we already hold a belief – a prejudice – we are quick to find one or two vivid examples to confirm it. So one horrible female boss can taint your view of women at the top forever, where one horrible male one is taken as an individual case.
And popular culture isn’t kind to women in charge. Think of powerful women, or even go specifically for women bosses across film and TV. When you think of powerful women as seen in pop culture, who do you come up with? You’re probably going straight for Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, possibly via the predatorial Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses.
But, as in many other things, the pop culture view of women in charge is dreadfully stereotyped.
Many of those commenting on Today’s Facebook page said they preferred women bosses, for being more intuitive, better listeners and better at teamwork. Again, this obviously isn’t true of all women, but it’s a good sign if women are being promoted for these skills, which have traditionally been undervalued in favour of perceived ruthlessness and competitiveness. While both ruthlessness and competitiveness might be useful skills for stock market traders or elite sportspeople (one Corkman certainly comes to mind), neither characteristic makes for a very good team manager.
There’s really only one conclusion for bosses – and aspiring bosses – of both genders. Don’t be horrible. The good news is, your personality isn’t biologically determined. Emotional intelligence is crucial, but a certain amount of it can be learned. Let’s call it artificial intelligence.
The best bosses I’ve had have been listeners who value their staff, and make sure they know that. It’s not hard, but it might not come naturally. But hey – neither does anything else about working life.
I spent last Friday afternoon at the first in a long line of Christmas lunches, which I spent (enjoyably) arguing about feminism with the PR guy beside me. People like to argue about feminism with me quite a lot, since we started doing The F Word on RTE Today every Tuesday.
Because it happens so often, I am always ready for a good debate on what women want. The glass of wine I’d just had didn’t hurt either. Off I went, citing statistics, worldwide studies and, of course, Twitter.
One of his questions, ‘Can we not just stop pretending men and women are the same?’, did strike a chord. Of course men and women are not the same, I said. Nobody ever said they were. This is a common misapprehension people have with feminism – it’s not that women want to be the same as men – we just want to be valued equally. Slight difference.
And lo and behold, on Monday, the University of Pennsylvania released the results of a new study which proves that men and women’s brains are wired differently. Shocker!
They examined the brain scans of 1,000 men and women aged between 19 and 22 to see how activity was mapped, and how the different functions interact with one another.
One of the researchers, Ragini Verma, told the Guardian that it was “surprising” how much the findings backed up old stereotypes. Now, I’m no scientist . But I’m not the least bit surprised. (That’d be the women’s intuition).
All these stereotypes, you see, haven’t appeared out of nowhere.
According to the study, “Males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills.”
So that whole thing about women drivers… unfortunately, there may be something to it. Motor activities doesn’t necessarily mean driving, of course, but spatial awareness is certainly important for road positioning and parking.
Likewise, there could be a grain of truth to the old trope of men not being able to multitask. They can multitask, but not across the cerebellum.
So they are not as good at activities that involve both logic and intuition, for example knowing that the socks are kept in the hot press (logic), and guessing that they may have been moved to accommodate the Christmas tablecloth that will just have been taken out of the attic and washed ahead of the festivities (intuition).
The reason for this is that women have more of an ability to connect functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. So logic and intuition – opposite sides – can interact. That’s fairly useful, you’d think, for most jobs, particularly people-orientated ones.
But it happens less for men, who are better able to link functions that happen within the same hemisphere – for example spatial awareness and motor skills. Also fairly useful – especially if you’re a pilot, a hairdresser or, in fact, a brain surgeon.
Because I’m not a brain surgeon, I don’t know if there are changes to how the brain operates as we age. Or if the type of toys we give small kids can help them learn to overcome biological differences – by giving Meccano to girls, for example, and toy irons to little boys.
I don’t know if you can teach the brain to have better spatial awareness.
What I do know is that my parking has improved with practice, and my dad’s ability to search the hot press has improved dramatically since my mother had surgery that temporarily stopped her going upstairs.
Surely, in an age of cosmetic surgery, gender reassignment, laser eye surgery and other medical miracles, this, too, we shall overcome?
From The Herald, 5 December 2013.
NB: This piece was written for the Herald in the immediate aftermath of the study being released. I had read about it on the original website where it was published, as well as on The Guardian, The Independent, etc. Since then, I have seen this blogpost on ‘neurosexism’ (h/t @faduda). I had never come across this concept before but it has been written about rather a lot by Cordelia Fine at the University of Melbourne, and the post more or less confirms my hopes, expressed at the end of the piece, that we can overcome this alleged ‘hardwiring’ through socialisation, or ‘nurture’. Phew.
For a brief period yesterday, I hallucinated that it was 2007.
The news said unemployment was down, and they were talking about a property bubble in certain leafy areas of Dublin.
It felt just like the good old days. So I dumped my thrifty homemade soup in the bin, and went to buy myself a sandwich – €4.50 – to celebrate.
Chowing down on my luxury lunch, I returned to the office to hear Eamon Gilmore promise that families would be the first to benefit from new tax cuts. Gilmore for Taoiseach, I cried, joyously, although I have no children.
Had the previous six years had been a mirage? Or had the ghost of giveaways past (who looks suspiciously like Charlie McCreevy) appeared to me in a daydream?
I ran from my office. ‘What’s today, boy?’ I shouted to the newsroom at large. ‘Why, Wednesday!’ replied a confused looking journalist. ‘What year?’ ’2013′.
‘Bah’, I said, ‘humbug’.
In an interview Mr Gilmore did with the Irish Independent this week, he “did not rule out the tax relief coming in the lifetime of the Government, although he was cautious not to make specific promises.”
Specific promises are “just what you do during elections”, you see, according to Pat Rabbitte. They’re holding the firepower until there is a more immediate need to hoodwink us.
The latest figures from the CSO on unemployment are encouraging. It’s gone below 13% for the first time since the crisis hit. The figures working (58,000 additional people in Q3 as opposed to Q2 of this year) do include those on JobBridge, which is another bit of spin, but it doesn’t change the percentage significantly. The worrying aspect of the jobs figures is that there has been no improvement among the young. To gain experience, it seems they will have to emigrate.
The fact that property prices seem to have bottomed out is positive, too, unless you want to live in a nice part of Dublin in something bigger than a shoebox. If you’re in that category, unfortunately, you will not be able to afford a house, because a sort of ‘mini bubble’ is occurring there.
The biggest bit of ‘good news’ we’ve been hearing of late is, of course, the bailout exit. This is a bit like being one of the aforementioned young people who can’t find work. You’ve moved out of home so your parents technically can’t tell you what to do any more. But living, jobless, in their garage, has its own restrictions.
Ireland’s exit from the bailout next week is equally fragile, and our lack of a safety net appears to be pure hubris on the part of a government that is overly concerned with spinning its own success. An ECB board member said yesterday that the bank will not buy Irish bonds to save us unless we enter another European Stability Mechanism aid programme. That doesn’t sound like we’ve recovered our sovereignty to me.
Things seem to be improving. That’s undeniable. Over the past couple of months, businesspeople I have spoken to have whispered that they are seeing a lift. Whispered, because it’s fragile. To borrow a phrase from another bunch of spinning supremos, ‘a lot done – more to do’.
So to hear Eamon Gilmore on every news bulletin yesterday promising tax cuts to “hardworking families” was, if nothing else, a bit rich.
As Scrooge might say, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘tax cuts’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
One of the perils of a long term relationship is that gift-giving rather loses its excitement years of Christmases, Valentine’s days, anniversaries and birthdays.
I used to cast my eyes to heaven at my mother buying my father a jumper every year, and his attempts at buying jewellery, but with an 11 year relationship under my belt, my perspective has changed a little.
I realise, looking back, that I have bought my boyfriend a jumper every Christmas for the past four years. My justification? He likes jumpers. And I don’t want him showing me up in public. I am my mother’s daughter.
But once your other half has sufficient clothes, has bought all their own gadgets, doesn’t need any more aftershave (and surely Auntie Mary will take care of that end of things, as always), where’s left to go?
Unless you’re in some kind of sugar daddy scenario, chances are you both have the same amount of money, ie very little. And if you live together, you probably share priorities; this year, we seriously considered buying ‘each other’ a new dishwasher.
(It’s times like that you need to reinstate date night and go eat in a restaurant, if only so the recriminations about dirty plates don’t threaten your entire relationship.)
If you’re still in that first flush of romance despite years of unwashed socks under the bed, crusty toothpaste tubes and morning breath, here’s an idea. Get them something meaningful.
You know the kind of thing. Something with the date of your anniversary on it. A first edition of their favourite book. A plaque to be erected at the site of your first kiss (planning permission pending). Or, you know, maybe something heart-shaped.
If you’re going along the heart-shaped route and you have a bit of spare cash, why not follow the example of Angelina Jolie and buy him a heart-shaped island?
That’s right. Brangelina are not only rich, powerful, and incredibly good looking, but Angelina has just outdone every girlfriend in the world by snapping up a heart-shaped island for her beloved’s birthday.
I sympathise with her, to be honest. Brad has so many modelling and advertising deals that he probably has thousands of years worth of free aftershave in a lockup somewhere. Likewise with cars, watches, and other luxury goods.
He definitely has a Nespresso machine, being best buds with George Clooney. And a DVD boxset of rom coms to watch while snuggling on the couch is probably off the cards – you really don’t want to be confronted with your fella’s ex while watching a weepie. Especially not when she’s Jennifer Aniston.
What do you get the man who has everything, but his own private island?
But hang on. Maybe this one is not just for the rich and famous.
With property prices the way they are in parts of rural Ireland, you could surely pick up one of the Blaskets without breaking the bank. I don’t know if any of them are heart-shaped, but I’m sure you could find one with a Christmassy theme, for example an island in the shape of a holly leaf, a gingerbread man, or even a Christmas tree. That’s basically just a triangle, and there must be a triangular island for sale out there somewhere.
There’s even a website that advertises islands for sale all over the world. You’ll be pleased to learn that you can buy an island off the coast of West Cork for €150,000. Trade in that NAMAed one bed apartment in the docklands and come on down. You might have to get a boat and organise regular food deliveries, but it’ll probably still be cheaper than the management fees, and you’ll have no more arguments about the dishwasher, because you won’t have any electricity. Problem solved, all thanks to Brangelina.
From The Herald, 26 November 2013.
A few weeks ago on RTE Today we covered the gendered division of toys in The F Word slot by reference to new blue and pink kinder eggs which had been released by Kinder. After broadcast, we got this response:
“Kinder Surprise is the number one chocolate treat for kids in the UK, and we are always looking for innovative ideas to satisfy the needs of parents. Our new Pink and Blue limited edition Kinder Surprise eggs offer parents a wider range of new and exciting toys for their child that spark the imagination alongside a much loved chocolate treat.
“We recognise that pink and blue are often associated with girls and boys and it is important to us that we don’t advocate or promote Kinder Pink and Blue as a gender specific product. Instead, Kinder Surprise Pink and Blue offers a range of interesting new toys in coloured eggs which help parents navigate the toy ranges on offer and make purchasing decisions based on what is most relevant for their child, as an individual.
“Research that we undertook prior to launch indicated that parents welcome this promotion, with 66% of parents saying it was a good idea to have two separate ranges of toys. In addition, 66% of parents agreed that having a pink and blue Kinder Surprise egg made it easier for them to choose which treat to buy for their child.”
I'm not going to bang on about my own experiences of violence, or those of women I have encountered in my personal and professional life. I am not going to draw from my current research and highlight how obstetric practices leave many women feeling as though the events surrounding the births of their babies was similar to rape.
‘And tonight, Matthew, I’ll be a feminist harpy’. If you missed our chat about Michael O’Leary, paternity leave and ‘feminist harpies’ yesterday, on International Men’s Day, have a look here.
This small but highly ambitious production of Kiss of the Spider Woman delivers everything it promises.
The show, based on a novel by Manuel Puig and from the same stable as Cabaret and Chicago, centres on Molina, a gay window dresser, and his cellmate Valentin, a revolutionary Marxist.
This classic odd couple pairing beautifully illustrates the disparate elements that become ‘undesirable’ in a fascist regime, after both find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities, but for very different reasons.
Molina, a ‘cineaste’ since he was in his mother’s womb (she was a cinema usherette, and her presence is strong throughout), has a rich fantasy life around Aurora, his favourite actress.
His coping mechanism of escaping into a movie when real life in a rat-infested prison cell takes hold, results in regular appearances by Aurora, singing wistfully behind a curtain, which separates Molina’s inner life from the brutality of his cell.
The initial aggression of hard man Valentin and the gradual breaking down of barriers between them through a shared loneliness and humanity is wonderfully played out using sung dialogue between the two, the regular appearances of Aurora, and brilliant
The staging of this show at the Half Moon Theatre in Cork city is surprising – it certainly deserves a bigger audience. It’s a small venue, but it’s used imaginatively, with the chorus – mostly illustrating fellow prisoners – located disconcertingly on the balcony, and the musicians located behind a curtain which bisects the stage. Caitriona Frost and Alex Petcu’s percussion are ever-present; it’s surprising how ominous a xylophone can be.
The venue really comes into its own during one of the play’s darker moments – literally and figuratively – when the lights go out and the audience is immersed in the terrifying prison sounds of torture and terror that Molina and Valentin must endure every night.
John O’Brien’s direction is flawless, but it is Michael Grennell as Molina who runs away with the show. His mincing, wincing, character is the very caricature of a drama queen, with the facial gymnastics for every emotion and the body language of a cocky but ultimately terrified victim, who has always been marked as different and suffered for it.
Carolyn Goodwin’s performance as Aurora / Spider Woman is perfect, too, with her glitzy costumes by Lisa Zagone providing the glamorous counterpoint to Molina and Valentin’s miserable cell. Michael Sands is a solid performer with a lot of experience, but appears miscast in the role of macho man Valentin, who doesn’t quite feel threatening enough at the beginning.
Kiss of the Spider Woman runs until 23 November,at 8.30pm in the Half Moon Theatre. Tickets cost €25 (€20 preview) Booking: 021-4270022 www.corkoperahouse.ie.
Published in the Sunday Business Post Magazine, 17 November 2013.
“We want to encourage people to think about how they give. Think, and give,” says Seamus Mulconry of Philanthropy Ireland, which is behind the One Percent Difference Campaign, whose TV ads are currently screening ahead of ‘National Giving Week’.
The campaign, which will cost €2.5 million over two years, is the brainchild of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising, chaired by Fine Gael strategy whiz Frank Flannery. He raised eyebrows with a suggestion to the Oireachtas Finance Committee in July that tax exiles be awarded a day extra in the country with every €36,500 donated, with an upper limit of 62 days.
The forum was resurrected in 2010 by Minister Phil Hogan, who appointed Flannery (whose position is unpaid) to the body, as a response to the funding shortfall, estimated at €60m annually, which will occur when Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, which has spent over €1bn in Ireland, halts funding in 2020. Mulconry points to the move towards equal marriage as one achievement of philanthropy in Ireland; Atlantic and the One Foundation have funded the campaigning organisations MarriagEquality and BeLonGTo.
The campaign exhorts Irish people – who, according the World Giving Index 2011, are the world’s second most charitable nation – to give one per cent of their time or money to civil society.
According to Mulconry, a former Director of Policy for the Progressive Democrats, it’s not necessarily about asking people to give more; it’s about encouraging giving on a planned and committed basis.
He points out that Flannery’s proposal on tax exiles is not a proposal of the forum – it’s linked to the development of a Social Innovation Fund under the forum’s recommendations, and “it is not philanthropy, as this is an investment in a government scheme in return for a benefit, not philanthropic giving where the donor receives no benefit.”
Opponents of the campaign, which is funded by Minister Hogan’s department and Philanthropy Ireland, say it is intended to let the Government off the hook for cutbacks to the community and voluntary sector.
Former head of the Equality Authority, Niall Crowley, believes there is a huge ethical issue with “people who don’t pay tax here buying off their responsibilities by making a contribution to supposedly ‘good works’”.
“You move from a situation… where there’s a strategic intervention in supporting community development or the community sector, to privatising it, which essentially, with the tax exiles, suits the interests of or the pastimes of very wealthy people,” says Crowley.
“The other contradiction around the tax thing – at a time when there’s hugely disproportionate government cutbacks to the community sector – it’s been reduced this year by about 35% which is way beyond any other sector. And at the same time as that huge disproportionate cutback, you have government funding this really expensive media campaign for one per cent giving, so I find that just unacceptable.
“This is a very expensive campaign, there’s quite a lot of government money going into it and there’s quite a lot of Atlantic money going into it, at a time when the Philanthropies are pulling out – and I think mistakenly – at a time when government is cutting back on funding the sector, there’s a huge contradiction at its core. We’re no longer giving, so you should give.”
The report includes recommendations for tax reform, such as tax relief for gifts of between €5,000 and €1 million, and changing the tax relief system to reward donors who give to specific structured vehicles.
Chairman of the Oireachtas Finance Committee, Labour’s Ciaran Lynch, says there would be “massive resistance” to Flannery’s proposal on tax exiles, but expresses a need for the government to examine approaches that would encourage philanthropic investment here and abroad.
He doesn’t agree that the programme will absolve the Government of funding responsibility, suggesting instead that philanthropic donations will be complimentary.
Crowley is not the only person in the third sector, which employs 100,000 people throughout Ireland – more than tech and pharma combined – with concerns.
One fundraiser who works for a global development organisation listed on Philanthropy Ireland’s website believes it’s another step towards the commercialisation of giving.
The fundraiser links it to the increasing professionalisation of fundraising, which, he says “removes the social good as a purpose”.
He is critical of the lack of representation of charity and voluntary organisations on the forum. Mulconry, however, says the forum was created by the Government for funders and sector infrastructure providers, not the beneficiaries of funding, in the same way Philanthropy Ireland doesn’t have members who are charities.
The fundraiser says individuals do plan their giving.
“As Irish people, we all grew up with an attitude of ‘that’s not charity, it’s just what you do’; your local school or GAA club is just part of belonging to your community, and charity begins at home.”
“I’d imagine this campaign is aimed at high net worth individuals. But is it really worth pissing everybody else off, to do that?”
This piece was originally commissioned for the Sunday Business Post – then the bailout exit was announced!