Sexuality is complex, discrimination is controversial and sexual discrimination is an aggregate of the fraught fractiousness of its components
Unfortunately the public debate about the dynamic between the sexes, as manifest in unedifying Zeitgeist television programmes like the recent RTÉ “Battle of the Sexes” is primitive and ill-informed. Alienated Stereotypes overarch the discussion: women are insincere and hormonal vamps who want a man with money to facilitate their own vacant materialistic and lookist tendencies; men are useless, belching, housework-avoiding, uncommunicative and ageist football obsessives in search of submissive girlfriends and mistresses. The stereotypes are sterile. Village prefers to celebrate the diversity and to embrace the ineradicable differences, where they exist – which is rarely – as positives that make intercourse more exciting.
This generation – both men and women – has had to construct new paradigms where there were few equitable or progressive models in previous generations, particularly in Ireland. Women typically now must balance a job with child-minding: men must mind children as well as go to work. This is surely a grounding, balancing and confidence-enhancing phenomenon for both men and women.
Village’s perspectives as always are driven by equality including equality between the sexes. We need not even define equality for it to be evident that, since neither sex is inferior to the other, both are equal. Village promotes positive discrimination to undo the structural imbalances of continuing anti-egalitarian prejudice and historic biases. It is our belief that we still live in a world where the opportunities for women are very significantly restricted solely by virtue of their sex. It is not possible to say quite the same for men. There is a fundamental equality deficit where, according to ICTU, women’s income is around two-thirds of men’s income; and, adjusting for differences in hours worked, women’s hourly earnings around 86 per cent of men’s. Glass ceilings move ever higher and more difficult to pinpoint but remain very real. Women’s choices are also restricted by the pressures to make home. Women continue to be burdened with a disproportionate amount of unpaid work, in particular caring responsibilities and household chores. Even though 37% of paid work is done by women, they do 72% of unpaid work. Where they do work for pay, women are often torn apart by the stresses of balancing it with child-rearing. Women’s employment is concentrated in low-paid, low-status and part-time occupations. The 5% of the population who hold 40% of the wealth are predominantly men. Only 13% of our TDs are women. 100% of our Catholic priests are men. Their God too is a man.
The lower status of women is manifest in the sexual objectification, and persistent stereotyping, of women as decorative, passive, dependent and nurturing. This is reflected in the witless Bunreacht Na hEireann, our outdated all-overarching Constitution, which in Article 43 recognises that “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved; and that the State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”.
The Constitution is silent as to the support provided to the State by women who do not have the presumed “life and duties within the home” (and indeed as to the status afforded such runaways).
And the State’s history of recognition of women’s rights does not reflect well on us. Legal equality in the workplace largely depended on interventions from Europe. For Village, Ireland’s official attitude to abortion seems to be one of denial and hypocrisy. While the politics of abortion is complicated – largely because it is impossible to get agreement on the extent to which a foetus has the relevant characteristics of a human – simply leaving it to other countries to provide abortion services to our typically vulnerable young women is simply a moral disgrace.
Within relationships too, women are at a disadvantage: although it may be the case that neither gender has a monopoly on the initiation of incidents of domestic “violence”, incidents against women tend to be more forceful and, where they reflect a disbalance in power, more humiliating and therefore more serious. Certain types of abuse are almost invariably perpetrated by men against women – rape, trafficking and prostitution, for example.
While for these basic reasons Village champions equality rights for women, we are not fans of licence or of the exercise of rights purely for the sake of it. It is not clear if the freedom to appear on Page three, to provide sexual services or to make pornography – even if any of these are well paid – is an advance for women. The early sexualisation in particular of girls does not represent progress. The Village office unpredictably divided on whether women need to subscribe to models of feminism that foreswear the wearing of “come hither” high-heels.
Lest we be deemed to be mono-visioned we note that men too are victims of inequality. While women lose more in opportunity and confidence, men lose much in happiness, fulfilment and humanity through their role and their perception of their role as including, for example, machismo or emotionlessness.They are prejudiced by lifestyles and decisions they tend to take, that are rooted in society’s expectations of them. For men, life expectancy is lower – 76.8 compared with 81.6 years, suicide rates higher – 80% compared with 20%, family relationships often less solid and egos frequently more fragile than for women. And men are also victims of discrimination albeit across a narrower front, particularly if they are good fathers in failed domestic relationships.
More generally as for the family: for generations, if not forever, women have been deprived of opportunities to make full lives for themselves outside the home. There has been tremendous progress in righting this injustice. But the progress has posited difficulties for women who have significant lives within the home, both because societal recognition is not always wholehearted and because the maternal instinct often conflicts with the impetus of an education and career. Happily too, it has also become normal for men to play full – though perhaps less often equal – roles in the home, including in child-rearing. Village has little sympathy for men who fail to avail of these opportunities but a great deal of sympathy for men who wish to avail of the opportunities but, for reasons of economy or the law, cannot. The paternal figures less than the maternal instinct in the discourse. Men’s rights to engage fully with their children – and indeed the corollary rights of children to fully engage with their fathers, are not adequately recognised in law. For example, paternal leave is not the norm in this country. More fundamentally, a mother may object to an unmarried father’s Guardianship application even if the father can show he is willing to play a full role as father; and without Guardianship such a father’s rights, including to take decisions on important matters regarding the child, are inferior. If men have shown a sustained willingness to play a full role as a father they should be afforded equal rights, usually including to guardianship, access and custody. This should be as self-evidently in the best interests of the child as the mother’s cognate rights.
Inequality is a general negative reality for women. But equality for women should not be an imperative that excludes indignation at the deprival of certain rights of men. The fact that women are still losers in equality overall does not mean that there is no scope for vindicating men’s rights that are not, or are not adequately, recognised. Village is a fully-subscribed adherent to feminism because it is still the case that women have fewer opportunities in society – across a range of sectors. Village is a reluctant subscriber too to masculinism because in family life men, for historic reasons that for the most part have no continuing worth, are often held unequal. Whether the discrimination is against women or against men we should all be more content when it is eliminated and we are all treated as equal – because we are all, men and women, equal.
We hope that the 2010s bring further progress and wish all our readers a happy (and equal) New Year!