Originally published in The Irish Examiner
Successful women are always under pressure to be relatable, vulnerable, and humble, writes Terry Prone
I found myself in a meeting with a man in the toilet (him, not me). Admittedly, at least 12 other people were in the meeting. But when you’re about to make a presentation, it’s a little distracting to realise that, courtesy of Zoom, every participant can see a man sitting on the toilet with a hand basin to one side of him and a bath to the other.
The fact that he’s fully dressed, the lid of the loo is under him rather than in any other position and a card table is in front of him suggests the bathroom is the only place wherein he can lock himself away and concentrate. Which he does. Fiercely. The rest of us concentrate equally fiercely on not seeing his surroundings.
Because I can’t get Botox, the migraine aura is now a daily visitor. Plus. I have developed a Long John Silver limp. I need jabs for the two of them, plus an eye examination, because the Long John Silver impersonation extends to one of my eyes. Keeping myself functional is usually so scattered throughout the year that I don’t notice it, but now I feel like a car with an audible knock. I am convinced my big end is in trouble.
It’s not just your hair that goes white when you cocoon. It’s your eyebrows. They require weekly dying. This week, I didn’t glove up beforehand, on the basis that I’m constantly handwashing, so any dye will be swept down the plug hole. Except when a client has a crisis, which in this case happened directly after the eyebrows were treated but before hand washing.
After the lengthy phonecall, I owned the most assertive eyebrows alive — and they were — and my hands were so black, it looked like I was auditioning to play Dick Van Dyke’s part in Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang.
Sharon Ní Bheoláin gives an interview to the RTÉ Guide in which she says she doesn’t buy in to the notion that she has to let journalists into her home, do photo shoots wearing fashionable clothes, and generally set out to be liked. Being loved, she tells the magazine, is not her priority. OK, she wants to be loved by the people she loves and a tiny number of friends and colleagues, but the wider populace? Not so much.
Ivan Yates, always ready to bark up the wrong tree, suggests on his programme that she owes it to the people who look at her reading the news to share a bit and not be — as she resentfully claims — portrayed as an ice queen because she won’t play the fame game. Why it’s the wrong tree is that I suspect Ní Bheolain could, if she had to, produce an RTÉ contract that, listing out what is demanded of her, does not say much about doing fashion shoots and sharing her inadequacies (assuming she has any) with the general public through media.
Not only is she right but feminists from the 1960s and ’70s like Gemma Hussey, Janet Martin, and Nell McCafferty must wonder about the fights they had to get women permitted to be newsreaders, pilots, and CEOs when they now see women at the top selling themselves as watery inadequates filled with anxiety, panic attacks, and weight problems.
Successful men are profiled, quite simply, as that: Successful men. They can be arrogant, rude, dogmatic, and argumentative. Successful women, on the other hand, are always under pressure to be relatable, vulnerable, and humble. Their theme song has to be that old Linda Ronstadt number, “Poor, poor, pitiful me…”
We fought for equality. Not for a situation where a professional journalist has to publicly fight back against being mischaracterised because she refuses a myriad of media invitations to share her private life and her vulnerabilities.
Responding to the Taoiseach’s invitation to join the conversation about statues, I suggest, for the third time in these pages, we remove William Smith O’Brien from O’Connell St, Dublin. This bloke was involved in a high-minded “rebellion” of breathtaking incompetence that achieved the sum total of nothing other than the transportation of himself and others. Neither his incompetence nor the fact that he didn’t bother his lightly incarcerated arse to write to his wife and children from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) is not a reason to knock him off his pedestal. He was a bit busy, you see, defiling the 13-year-old daughter of an official who had been exceptionally kind to him, until the police got wind of the sexual services being provided by the child and observed the two of them at it in the open air. Does nobody but me care that we give pride of place in our capital to a statue of a child molester?
I go shopping. For the first time in three months and at the wrong time. I absolutely refuse to join the 10–12 ghetto, figuring that if I join the queue before 8am, that first clump of shoppers is not going to be that large, numerous or reckless.
A certain stateliness informs the progress of the procession when the doors click open. Inside, other than being constantly battered by announcements about how seriously the store is taking Covid-19 and how well-trained its staff are in preserving life and limb, nothing seems that different. The only staff I see is one woman in black with a suspicious face on her who is walking slowly around, hands clasped behind her, Montgomery-fashion. When our eyes meet, I smile at her and she SO doesn’t smile back, staring me down like I was making an attempt to corrupt her and deflect her from her noble purpose. Maybe she’d have smiled back if I had joined the ghetto of the elderly. Or maybe she takes her fight against the coronavirus so personally that until we all get vaccinated, she’s going to smile at nobody.
When it comes to the checkout, my debit card is declined. I find another card that works and the cashier hands me the receipt with an air of having fought off a fraud. Maybe I should have joined the ghetto. The assumption is that all over 70s are really pleasant nice people. Harmless, really. Innocent, you know? The way we used to think the Greens were before they begin to emit greenhouse gasses at each other and settle down to being normal nasty politicians.
My company gets a sudden flurry of contacts from companies wanting diversity training. Not wanting to turn down business or anything, but the fact is that diversity training too often does two things: outsources a moral obligation, and reinforces what it’s supposed to kill off. Much better to develop a clear and actionable racism/equality policy, involving all staff in the process, apply it and regularly check — in safe anonymity — how it’s working.