If you’re a feminist it’s very, very easy to hate the Rose of Tralee. A parade of young women (who up until recently had to be unmarried and not mothers) marched out one by one to have inane conversations with the male host, cheered on by their male ‘escorts’ and families. It’s sexist, it’s patronising to women and something which in my view has no place in Ireland of 2018. I hate it. I don’t watch it.
But it appears that I am in the minority. In another example of how Ireland is a country of startling contradictions, The Rose of Tralee attracts a massive TV audience for RTE. Last year it had a 66% audience share with an average audience of 637,000. This makes RTE very happy indeed. And makes me wonder what is it that makes this country, a country that in recent years voted for marriage equality and to repeal the 8th amendment, actually tick.
Because the real conundrum is not why women would choose to put themselves through this ‘Mart and Market’ kind of spectacle but why so many of us (well, not me) choose to watch it and consider it to be entertaining. I mean I get why ageing Irish Americans who have a rather warped view of this country might find it charming and reassuringly Irish in a ‘top of the morning’ kind of way. But why do we, here in modern Ireland, where we boast proudly of our respect for equality and diversity, love to watch this celebration of De Valera’s ‘comely maidens’ who are dancing not at a cross roads but across the stage in a big tent in Tralee?
I have a theory and it’s simply this. We (well, not me) love to watch the Rose of Tralee because we are sentimental fools. The competition began in 1959 and it was first televised in 1967 so that most of us have grown up with it. And in the days before live streaming and Netflix, families would gather around the one TV in the house and watch the show. My own father was a big fan and prided himself in regularly being able to identify the winner early on. Is it the sense of continuity that drives so many to watch? And in a world where the big TV thing of the summer was Love Island, is the Rose of Tralee so bad?
Reader I am conflicted. I hate the Rose of Tralee and I hated Love Island. But at least most of the Roses are smart and accomplished young women, despite the daft ‘turns’ they are expected to preform on stage. I am not sure the same can be said of the contestants on Love Island, although at least that show is not sexist in its crass stupidity.
As I wrestled with all this over the last two nights – well that’s an exaggeration I was in fact wrestling with finding something decent to watch on Netflix. Anyway, as I wrestled another thing that occurred to me was this. Why do we still tell women how to behave and what to do and not to do? If a woman wants to get all glammed up and parade around the show ring in the big tent in Tralee, should she not be allowed to do so, without condemnation? If she wants to enter a competition to be crowned ‘lovely and fair’ Rose of Tralee, who am I to criticise?
The #ROT (was there every a more appropriate hashtag though?) is like Ladies Day at the races, which is another anathema to me. I don’t understand why anyone (male or female) would think it’s great craic to get dressed up like they were going to a very fancy wedding to schlep around a race track in the hope of being chosen to be the ‘best dressed’, likes its another horse category. Although, in fairness, have you ever seen the prizes on offer? I don’t get it. I wouldn’t do it. But surely it’s any woman or man’s right to do just that.
For centuries women have been told how to behave, how and when to speak and how to dress. If feminism and our search for equality stands for anything, means anything, then surely it means choice. Surely feminism means that women can choose to be who they want to be. And sister, if that means you want to take part in the Rose of Tralee, you go right ahead. And sister if you want to watch and enjoy the resulting spectacle, well fine day to you, as they might say in the old country.
I won’t be joining you. And I will be happier when I no longer have to try to explain #ROT, (along it must be said, with the Late Late Toy Show), to foreign friends and relatives. But sister if it floats your boat, on you go. Not perhaps with my blessing but my tolerance.