Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, in Ireland, with the Coronavirus and yesterday’s jobs figures and the nurses and the doctors getting sick for lack of personal protective equipment, and the people waiting weeks on a test and another week for results….. here comes a truly monumental problem just to make things worse.
Thank God we have a Taoiseach who can spot the really important issues:
The @FineGael parliamentary party has been told @LeoVaradkar will act on #Seanad2020 gender problem, in which all 10 FG elected Senators are male. Seems any coalition deal involving FG will result in leader nominations to the Seanad being female @rtenews
— Paul Cunningham (@RTENewsPaulC) April 2, 2020
To be clear, if you misunderstand that: It’s a Fine Gael woman problem, not an overall lack of women. Plenty of capable women, from right across the political spectrum, have been elected. Fianna Fáil’s Catherine Ardagh and Lisa Chambers, Labour’s Annie Hoey, independents like Sharon Keogan, Alice-Mary Higgins, and Lynne Ruane, to name just a few.
No, the problem isn’t a lack of women: It’s a lack of Fine Gael women, and the dimmer bulbs in the FG parliamentary party aren’t happy about it, which is why we’ve the spectacle of the Taoiseach, in the middle of a national crisis, having to let it be known to RTE that he’ll appoint some Fine Gael Senators who are women, just because they are women.
That’s a big part of the problem, of course, though FG’s feminists can’t admit it.
It’s not impossible for a woman – or anyone – to succeed in politics, but it helps when you have some talent for it, and don’t just get plonked into a seat because of a gender quota. Take, for example, Sharon Keogan, mentioned above. Elected as an independent councillor in 2014, and re-elected handily last year, she’s just won a seat as an independent Senator based on little more than hard work and graft. Nothing, to coin a phrase, was handed to her. Hours and hours, every week, of talking to constituents and filling out forms and listening to people complaining about the council and getting people planning permission and helping to get some young fella the college grant.
Newly elected independent Senator, Sharon Keogan
That’s the reality of a political career in Ireland. But that’s not how it lives in the feminist imagination.
In that latter view of politics, what happens is that a capable woman is elected on the strength of her ideas and progressive argumentation, and then gets to do incredibly brave things, like chairing an Oireachtas committee, while spending her hours drafting progressive, woman-friendly legislation, and attending coffee-mornings and spoken word readings organised by the national women’s council.
Some of these women are hindered, it is said, by things like the lack of available childcare, or the unsocial hours of politics, or plain old sexism.
None of that is true, though. The truth is, though none of us like to admit it, that politics is just an utterly miserable career that you have to be plain mad to enter. The attractive bits – the things that make people want to be politicians in the first place – like getting on telly or getting to propose an amendment to the budget, are, in fact, about 1% of the job. 99% of the job is explaining to people who can’t use google how they go about getting a passport, or their driving licence renewed.
And all of this makes it very unfair to the women who get dropped into Seanad or Dáil seats on the strength of just being women, because it has been decided that we need more women in politics. Because the result is that many of them do one term and decide to leave, or do one term and fail to get re-elected (see Noone, Catherine).
All of which, of course, reinforces the narrative that politics “is really hard for women”.
But no, it’s not. The truth is, politics is really hard for people who don’t understand how hard politics is.
In fact, it’s not particularly easy for men, either. There are vanishingly few TDs in the Dáil who got elected at the first time of asking. Often they’ve spent years losing elections, and continuing to work away anyway as if they were elected, adding a few votes here and there every election, until they make the breakthrough.
The utter misery of that life probably makes them better politicians, giving them a competitive advantage over people who’ve been parachuted into a seat because they’re women.
And the long-term effect of all of this, of course, is to strengthen the entirely stupid argument that politicians or voters are somehow biased against women.
So Varadkar, if he’s re-elected as Taoiseach, can appoint all the women he wants. But it won’t make any difference. All he’ll be doing is storing up the same stupid row for the next election, when half of them don’t get re-elected again.