“Having it all” – response to Niamh Horan

I will say one thing for Niamh Horan, she’s brave.  Having sent Twitter into meltdown two weeks on Brendan O Connor’s The Cutting Edge on RTE One, she continued on her theme of women not ‘being able to have it all’ in the following week’s Sunday Independent.

But although she made a lot of women very cross, Horan is prompting a conversation that we really need to have and to keep having.  The kernel, the nugget of truth, which should inform this conversation is contained as an almost adjunct to a sentence when she writes that “capitalist culture doesn’t accommodate family.”  It is this culture which causes the problem which Horan interprets, along with many others, as women being able or unable to ‘have it all’.  And this is where the conversation stalls as women get cross and the conversation often becomes a heated debate, pitching the ‘stay at home moms’ against the ‘working moms’ (and I hate both those terms).  Meanwhile the men just stay quiet and continue to leave most of the childcare and domestic chores to the women.

Unlike Niamh, I have children.  I have had the experience of being a single parent, a so called working mother with two children in crèche and latterly a ‘housewife’ (another stupid term).  I surrendered, as opposed to retired, from the world of paid work when daughter number three came along and I just couldn’t juggle any more.  Our lives were mad.  Well the working bit was fine, it was the bits around the edges of the days and weeks that were mental.  Mornings rushing baby and toddler through breakfast muttering “hurry up” in a high pitched and increasingly maniacal voice.  By the time I arrived at my desk I felt like I had done a day’s work.  At the other end there was driving home having picked up the kids from crèche singing and talking incessantly in a bid to keep them awake.  Arriving into the house to be greeted by the detritus of breakfast.  It was only when I stopped that we both realised what madness it all was. And whereas I would take issue with Horan’s assertion that children suffer when women work, I do have some reservations about how some of our crèches are run.

I was very privileged that I could ‘retire’ and it was only possible because it coincided with the Celtic Tiger years and so my husband could work all the hours God sent while I kept things going at home.  We had ten glorious years and I feel very blessed and lucky, especially when as a single parent this was not a choice that was open to me.  In the aftermath of recession, most parents today do not have this choice either as they struggle to meet the cost of mortgages, childcare and all the other bills.

Equality means choice and all families should have the choice as to how they wish to live their lives.  We are now struggling to live in a world that was designed by men for men who had wives at home looking after the domestics and the children.  We need to make huge fundamental changes to how we organise the world of work.  Horan mentioned some of the measures we need to take such as better use of technology, remote working and more flexibility.  But we need way more than that.  We need compulsory paternity leave, we need care breaks, and career breaks for parents who want to park their career for a few years in order to spend time with their children when they are very young. And we need to actively facilitate the path back to paid work after that period of leave.

My big problem with Niamh’s assertions as articulated in her article is that she is framing this as a women’s issue.  This is not a women’s issue, it’s not even a family issue.  It is a society issue.  Because even those who never have children may well find themselves having to look after or support an elderly infirm loved one.

I am happy that Horan has prompted this conversation again but her focussing solely on mothers and making statements about “some women playing the system” doesn’t advance the conversation one bit and in fact steers it very deftly into a cul de sac.

I hope I will live to see real change happen so that my daughters will have all choices open to them – ones that I was just lucky to get.  What is interesting is that in order for this change to happen we must reach critical mass of women in the corridors of power – in Dail Eireann, in media and in boardrooms.  These women will drive the change if they are supported by men and women who want a better family life for all.

Meanwhile I hope that Niamh changes her mind about having a child in Ireland holding little appeal, whether she decides to have kids or not.  Because for those of us who wanted children and were lucky enough to have them it’s not only appealing but hugely rewarding.  That’s why we get so emotional when someone criticises the choices we have made, out of necessity or otherwise.

THE HEN HOUSE CELEBRATES ONE YEAR ON AIR

In the last year 58 amazing women have made the trip out to Dundrum Town Centre to be my guest on The Hen House.  This week marks the programmes first birthday!
When I came up with the idea for the Hen House I worried that I would quickly run out of women who were willing to come and talk to me for an hour.  I never doubted that there were lots of interesting and funny women out there.. but asking them for a large chunk of their afternoon to come into studio and be interviewed by yours truly was and is a big ask.  I am very grateful to each and every one of you who have given me your time, your pearls of wisdom and some great laughs.  But more than anything I want to thank you for using your voice to tell your story.
Some stories were intensely personal, some were related to your work and some were related to a cause you feel passionately about.  But each of you gave your talent and your time very graciously and generously.  And for that I am very grateful.
But more than all of that you women have made your voices heard.  Amid the male dominated noise and chatter on our airwaves, The Hen House is providing women with a platform and a space to talk, to tell our stories.
These are the women who made the last year such a great experience for me personally and who have helped to redress the gender imbalance on air in Ireland:
Jillian Godsill, (on surviving bankruptcy)
June Shannon (medical journalist and mental health campaigner)
Joanna Fortune (child psychotherapist)
Sarina Bellissimo (broadcaster – Spin 1038)
Jill O Herlihy (PR supremo)
Eleanor Fitzsimons (writer)
Vanessa O Loughlin (all things writing)
Dil Wickremasinghe (broadcaster and social justice campaigner)
Caroline Grace Cassidy and Sorcha Furlong (actresses and writers)
Abby Wynne (healer)
Sinead Buckley Quinn (Design Loft in Powerscourt)
Andrea Hayes (broadcaster, TV Presenter and animal campaigner)
Mary Mitchell O Connor, TD
Michelle Jackson (author and travel writer)
Sharon Lawless (documentary maker)
Andrea Smith (journalist)
Janet O Sullivan (pagan, witch and feminist)
Orla O Connor (CEO NWCI)
Noirin Scully, Mairin Cullen and Stephanie Batt – wise older women
Maeve O Sullivan (poet)
Caroline Erskine (Women on Air former Chairperson)
Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance)
Carmen Browne (singer)
Elaine Lavery and Hannah O Reilly – Improper Butter
Aisling O Toole (Editor – Irish Country Magazine)
Ann Colgan, Jeanette Kavanagh, Ellen O Connor – local election candidates
Ailson Canavan (model, business women and mental health campaigner)
Denise Deegan (author)
Louise Bayliss (Spark) and Grainne Sherlock on lone parenting
Hazel Gaynor (author)
Margaret Scully (radio documentary maker and broadcaster)
Sinead Burke (fashionista, blogger and small person)
Jen McGuirk (actress and intrepid traveller)
Ellen Gunning (PR)
Muriel Bolger (author, journalist and travel writer)
Maria Duffy (author)
Grace Kelly, Aimee Corcoran and Megan Brady – the Class of 2014
Deirdre O Connor (care of the elderly)
Andrea Mara (office mum)
Dr Ger Scanlon and Laura Haugh – Education special
Jillian Van Turnhout – Senator
Hazel Larkin, (blogger and writer)
Irene Lowry, (CEO, Nurture)
Mary White, Senator
Vicki Mooney (Plus size models)
Helen Walsh (holistic fitness instructor)
Cindy O Connor and Trish Errity from Pieta House
Ciara Meehan (history lecturer and curator of Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition)
Claire McGing (lecturer in political geography).
Thank you all so much……  And thanks to all of you have listened – either live or by listening back to the podcasts.
I am hoping that all of these past programmes will be available on the Hen House page on the Dublin South FM website in the not too distant future.

WOMEN & THEIR STORIES IN THE MOVIES

Aren’t The Oscars just gas all the same?  I watched the ‘Live on the Red Carpet’ last night until my head was literally melting from the vacuous conversation which went round and round and round.  The presenters all sing their questions, in voices that all go up at the end of the sentence.  “How are YOU?”  And most of the questions began with ‘so’.  A drawn out so.  “Soooo, who are you WEARING?”  Gas but grand for very late at night.  I had dreams of floating about in a sea of nicety and designer gowns and sparkling jewels… and pizza?  They ate pizza?  In the theatre?  What?
Anyway each year at this time we hear, once again about how there are so few meaty roles for women.  Cate Blanchette, winner of Best Female Actress in a Lead Role referenced it in her acceptance speech.  She stated that films where women are the centre are not niche.  They are movies people want to see and they make money.
Now I am not much of a movie buff.  And probably one of the reasons that I seldom go to see films is that so few interest me.  What interests me, in life, in books and in movies are the stories of people’s lives; ordinary people who may lead extraordinary lives or do extraordinary things or just ordinary people’s ordinary lives.  And in particular I love to hear the stories of other women’s lives – real or imagined.  It is this fascination with women’s lives that drives my radio show, The Hen House on Dublin South FM. 
So Cate’s comments got me thinking about my favourite movies ever and guess what?  Yep, they were all movies about women’s lives.  So – for your delectation may I present my list of some of the very best movies…. ever!

Steel Magnolias (1989). 

A bit shmaltzy but wonderful cast led by Shirley McLaine and Julia Roberts.

Fried Green Tomatoes (at the Whistle Stop Cafe) 1991

Based on the wonderful book by Fannie Flagg… a tale of intergenerational women’s friendship.  A treat.

Thelma and Louise 1991. 

Ultimate girl power, Brad Pitt as a young fella and the best ending ever.

The Help (2011)

Powerful and moving tale from the 60s in the American deep south.

Beaches (1988)

Bette Midler and Barbara Hersey combine to bring this wonderful tale of female friendship through the decades.  I cried for weeks when I first saw this movie.

Juno (2007)

Wonderful comedy about an unplanned teenage pregnancy, poignant and clever.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

I didn’t watch this when it was first released – you may be surprised to know.. But this is a charming movie.  Maggie Smith plays a revolutionary teacher in an all girls school.  It’s like Mallory Towers for grownups.   Worth a watch. If you don’t know what Mallory Towers is – ask your Ma.

Shirley Valentine (1989)

I will never tire of watching Pauline Collins play every woman I have ever known… and who doesn’t dream of how life could be way more fulfilling if you lived in the sun, near a beach.

Chocolat (2000)

Sublime, magical and with added Johnny Depp playing an Irish gypsy.  Is this my favourite…. maybe.
So gather your girlfriends and grab some wine and fall into one of these beautiful movies. 
INTERNATIONAL WOMAN’S DAY IS THIS SATURDAY, MARCH 8TH

I will be taking part in theNational Women’s Council Soap Box Event… come along if you are in Dublin City.