Ni Neart Go Cur Le Cheile

When I watched the first of TV3’s new format People’s Debates with Vincent Browne I admired the courage of the station in attempting to give equal voice to ‘ordinary’ people as to elected politicians and aspiring politicians.  However I did feel that there was a lot of shouting and not a lot of coherence.  So when the second one was announced as being a women only debate on the subject as to whether or not we had yet achieved ‘liberation’ I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. 
But being me and afraid I might miss something, a character trait (flaw?) that has kept me on Twitter for six years, I rocked along to the magnificent HD studios in Ballymount last Wednesday. 
As someone who is a member of the National Women’s Council and also involved with the Women on Air group, I was immediately surprised that I didn’t know more than a handful of the women present.  As I took my seat in the studio I wondered if there was some kind of snobbery at work here.  There weren’t many (if any) TDs at the first People’s Debate and there was not a sign of a woman TD last Wednesday either.  I know we don’t exactly have a lot of female TDs but I was disappointed that not one had shown up.
I enjoyed the evening very much.  There is something very …. I am slow to say special…but it is special when a group of women come together.  Perhaps it’s the very different energy, the different dynamic. 
I was struck by the humour of the evening and also by the very articulate contributions from almost every woman who spoke.  There was passion too.  And believe me there were all points of view in the studio… from very Catholic women to women who were very vocal campaigners for liberal abortion. 
I am aware from the commentary on Twitter afterwards that some women felt their voices weren’t heard and that is a shame but I guess an inevitable fact at any event. 
But I felt that there was a tangible willingness in the studio for women to listen to each other.  It was said time and time again that true equality is about choice.  And this is something I have written about many times.  But more than choice I also think that in order for the cause of feminism to move forward we women must be tolerant of views that run completely to our own.
Abortion is possibly the most divisive of these issues but there are others too. It is vital that as women we realise that to move forward we must all stand together.  We must park our differences and our battles over issues such as abortion.  I understand that abortion is something many feminists will say is fundamental to our freedom as women… but if we continue to insist on all women signing up to that agenda we are doomed to failure.  There are also very feminist women who do not support liberal abortion laws.  That does not make them less of a feminist.
Equality is indeed about choice but it is also about tolerance.  We are not a homogenous group – we are as different as we are the same. 
As the debate wound to its conclusion two things were clear to me.   The new Irish women – many of whom on the night were African had so much to add to our conversation about equality.  Their voices were such a welcome addition and they brought wonderful insights to the debate.  The other thing that came up time and time again was the ‘work of caring’.  Until we as a nation value the work of caring and until it is subsidised by our taxes we will never be fully liberated.
Exactly 100 years before we gathered in a TV studio in Ballymount, a group of women met in Wynne’s Hotel in Dublin and founded Cumann na mBan.   I have no doubt that these women were equally full of passion and enthusiasm for their cause and the cause of national freedom.  But in the end they were divided, like the rest of the country on the issue of partition and the Treaty.  And so the cause of Irish women’s liberation ground to a halt.
There is a lesson there for women of 2014.  Some issues will remain divisive for years to come.  Don’t let that force us apart and therefore delay our full liberation for another century. 
Ni neart go cur le cheile

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6 Comments

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  1. Lover blog Barbara. Women of Ireland unite.

  2. one disappointing aspect was that the majority of women who favoured caring for children in the home & not being punished or overlooked for that, were mainly from religious or from the right wing perspective. As a liberal thinking person, it was frustrating so I thank Barbara for speaking up for that.
    I think though the womens council is a joke, a quango of the worst kind, PC nonsense.

  3. I am a stay at home parent and believe parents should have that choice, I am not Catholic but alas didn't get to speak.

  4. Hi Barbara – it's easiest ID-wise to post as 'anonymous', DeeB @ddblake7 here. It was an interesting programme. If we can unite around a specific programme of specific changes we want, then I'm for it but I'm not sure how that can come to pass without erasing genuine differences in interests between women. It's easy to say feminism should be about 'choice' when you are in a situation when 'choice' is actually real and extending a real 'choice' to other women will mean some other women may lose out (eg some paying more or less tax). For example those nice, middle-class religious women who want to stay home who seem to be on every programme about women that I've seen despite claiming to be 'voiceless' want to get rid of tax individualisation (and plenty of their privileged male partners bang on about it too on the airwaves) when treating women as individuals when it comes to their working lives is fundamental to women's financial independence. Without tax individualisation working women will be even less able to afford childcare. I don't hear much defence of this on programmes on 'women' despite the fact that most working women I'm aware of would be hugely angry if we went back to the old days of having your tax assessed along with your husbands. So how do we agree a programme for that? There are solutions such as individualising the social welfare code or a basic income but will our nice middle-class religious women go along with that or are there other ideological reasons behind their opinions?

    It's also easy to suggest dropping abortion from a feminist platform when you are in a position to deal with a pregnancy, or don't have a pregnancy that is incompatible with life, or your mental health or your physical health, or will not cause other children you have to suffer or are aged beyond having any or if you're not in the asylum process. I don't think it was a coincidence or just a fact of programmes such as this that some views aren't heard that the voices we didn't hear were the women who have had or wanted to have abortions. Their voices have been absent from almost every debate about abortion in Ireland for the last 40 years (while the nice middle class religious women get far more than their share).

    And while we're talking about care, yes, let's value it but can we really come up with a programme of action that respects the 'choices' and 'rights' of everyone involved – women who can and want to do it themselves (including the non-religious ones!) in their own homes, women who want to earn enough to be able to afford help, women who are paid carers which is often low-paid work, migrant women let alone women who need care to be in a position to make 'choices' like older women or disabled women.

    Is it really true that what will liberate us is the same for all of us? I'm not so sure and my fear is that, just like feminism took second place to unity around 'nationalism' or 'socialism' that feminism itself will unify around those that have the most power to make their voices heard and do the same to women who we don't even hear from yet. The VinB programme was more inclusive than many but even then there were plenty absent. Apologies if I've misread you and what I'm arguing against isn't what you meant at all.

  5. Thanks all for leaving a comment. This is a really worthwhile conversation.

    For the record – I do not consider myself Catholic, am probably middle class and have been a 'stay at hom' parent for ten years. But I was also a single parent (also for ten years) – when I didn't have the privilege of staying home with my eldest daughter and I also worked full time in a demanding job until my youngest child was born. When I got married I was the main breadwinner.

    Dee – thank you for your long and detailed comment.
    Tax – I will put my hand up and say I have some kind of dyslexia when it comes to income tax but the point I made on the programme is that childcare should be subsidised by Govt – in exactly the same way education is. So that whether you were single or married, male or female, working or middle class you would be entitled to a payment towards your childcare… this would give everyone the opportunity to be the one to do the caring if they so wished. As far I can can see this is the fairest way to address this huge issue.

    I also think that by subsidising childcare we could ensure that those who work in childcare would be paid properly for the hugely valuable and important they do in caring for our children.

    Abortion – is so divisive that I think if we keep bringing it centrestage in our journey to full equality we are just delaying full equality for at least another generation. That is not to say it should't be fought for – but I think it should be seen as a separate issue. As I said in the piece being a feminist does not mean you have to sign up to a liberal abortion regime.

    We need more debate, more conversations where women can listen and share views. We also need to respect that fact that just because we are all women we all want exactly the same things. But the one thing we do want is full equality in order to live our lives in the way we see fit to.

    Again – thanks Dee… and Joan and Anon and T..

  6. Barbara, I've worked in childcare for over ten years, I will never be paid more as any money for subsidy will be lost in middle management.
    Also I am now considered not qualified enough & have made the decision to leave the childcare sector.
    Another point, having minded other peoples children, I firmly believe parents are being forced into working & feel pressure to do it all. I'm telling you know, a child in a creche all day is not healthy. A few hours at pre-school age, absolutely but not all day. We have to stop being so PC, yes some Mothers chose to work as they see it as their career & how important that is but I make the point to these high flying women that the men usually work long hours as they too have no choice plus they also want to maintain a standard of living, but men & women now especially must remember its better to work to live than live to work.

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