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History is not Herstory

Herstory is the Future

Less than 30% of the writers in Village are women. And only 30% of the articles submitted for publication come from women.

What’s going on?
Village is politically correct and right-on. Uniquely it never, to take an example, markets magazines by putting attractive women on the cover. Village takes progressive social theory seriously. It consistently takes the most ‘liberal’ stance on abortion and reproductive rights.

Most of all, and this is what determines so much of its stance, Village believes in inconvenient and prickly equality of outcome, not shiny and friendly equality of opportunity. In other words not just opening up for all, but giving the worse-off an actual leg up or a quota to compensate for the iniquities of history. This applies to women as much to any group.

The new Dáil will have only 35 women out of 158. This is a more-than-50% improvement since 2011 and the number of female candidates was up to 163 from 86 in 2011 when it yielded 22 women out of 166 (up from 3 in 1973 and 22 in 2002 and 2007). Nationally, the average number of first-preference votes per man was 4,205. For women, it was 3,260. Village has given a good bit of of space to women who want to change this, to move towards fty percent female representation in parliament. The Electoral Act 2012, amusingly promoted by Phil Hogan and opposed by Fianna Fáil, applied a gender-quota rule that parties had to have at least 30% candidates of each sex or they lose half of their state funding. All parties except Direct Democracy Ireland applied their quota. Village supports this. I support this. That’s politics. We should push for immediate progress, everywhere. History and culture are different.

The Abbey Theatre got into trouble recently because only one of the ten authors chosen for its 1916 commemorative programme, Waking the Nation, was a women. Other theatres and film bodies have taken similar flak.

A recent rather unconvincing evocation of the Rising, Rebellion, made efforts to portray the events of that era with women to the fore.

I disagree with these approaches.

As to the Abbey’s Programme, what if the women took bog-standard anti-feminist positions, would they still merit advancement in the programme? Is it that a third of the writers should usually write pro-feminist pieces or is it that the third should have written pro-feminist pieces in this instance? Should there also be a certain number of works produced that have been written authors from racial minorities, from the young and the old, from LGBT and straight? Should it be the same with the actors? What about the audience? The answer to much of this is No.

And as regards history, you’re trying to record the way things were: history.

You shouldn’t, and you don’t need for any political reason to, distort it. All you can do with history is acknowledge and let it inform, though never determine, your politics. For the same reason that you don’t make the ruling classes working classes or younger than they were in the interests of some perceived correctness, you don’t pretend that women were the protagonists in the Rising. Unfortunately they were not.

I also disagree more generally with distorting the facts to suit the ideology. The idea underpinning politics is to resolve the facts objectively and then apply the ideology. Not the other way around unless you thing your ideology is so weak that it won’t fit certain facts. In which case change your ideology, it was wrong. When the facts don‘t suit your ideology it is time to find a new ideology, or stay quiet; and more precisely to realise you should have had a better ideology in the first place

The debate on women’s rights has become unintellectualised, entrenched and sometimes underinformed. For example a recent only partly-corrected Una Mullally article in the Irish Times misreported that Fianna Fáil’s policy was to have “up to a third of its candidates women”. She ridiculed the policy even though the policy did not, and legally and logically could not have, said this. It would certainly have been nice for those of us who believe that the point of that party is only ever to adopt progressive agendas, at the very last minute, if Fianna Fáil had got it so skewed, but they had not. Between Una Mullally and her employer they could not bring themselves to correct the article properly.

The reason for the politics of women’s equality is that it has been an unequal world. It was an unequal world when they (men) made God a Man, it was unequal in 1916 and it’s still unequal because women earn less, are politically less powerful and have less autonomy than men. Only a fool would deny it.

Because of the legacy of thousands of years of suppression women have not written as good, or indeed nearly as many, plays as men. Women also write differently from men, largely for socio-cultural reasons but also sometimes for reasons based in their physiological natures.

The point is to change that by counterbalancing. Women of today who want it and show talent should get more training in playwrighting paid for by the state and its institutions, than that available to similar men, particularly training that helps them break down prejudices and that facilitates overcoming sexist obstacles to success.

An admirable recently announced initiative from the Irish Film Board is doing roughly this. Such initiatives tend to generate equality of outcome.

Regrettably in the arts it will be some generations before the volume of brilliant works by women rivals the volume of brilliant works by men, created over the aeons, even controlling for the heightened relevance of contemporariness.

It is different with politics which, unlike history, does not or should not, trade in the past. It is possible, indeed imperative, to push for progressive change. It is, because of the nature of the discipline, and the period in which it trades – the past, not possible to push for change of any sort in history.

Political journalism is perhaps some sort of hybrid of politics and the cultures of its writers. The appropriate imperative for the former suggests equality of representation is a goal in itself; the appropriate imperative for the latter that the culture, including the political culture, of writers is more important than their sex, particularly in an aggressively anti-sexist magazine.

Perhaps Village dices with hypocrisy in publishing so few articles by women authors. It also receives far fewer unsolicited contributions from women and many of those deal with culture, feminism or reproductive rights. The reason is probably that Village is aggressive and often ‘ad hominem’. If someone lies, Village will call them a liar, not allow them space to explain the lie. If there is any essential difference of tendency between men and women it is their respective approaches to aggression and nailing people.

Assuming you are indeed what you read, Village is not John Waters and it may not quite be Una Mullally but it is certainly not Jennifer O’Connell or Róisín Ingle.

It is never weakness to recognise reality. Indeed we can never arrest inequality until we recognise where it falls and how extensive its reach is.

But society should move to generate heightened participation immediately to compensate for the iniquities of the ages.

So… in politics, advance women through gender quotas. In the arts and political journalism, advance women with education, and training in how to overcome sexist obstacles. Meanwhile if you’re a woman who wants to nail our male-driven political class or the corruptible regression-monster they’ve created… the address is on the editorial page.

Michael Smith