"It's Okay Ladies; I Got This!"

“It’s Okay Ladies; I Got This!”

– Sarah McCarthy writes about Eamon Gilmore’s recent refusal to attend an males-only dinner in the US.

On his St. Patrick’s Day trip to the US, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore decided to skip the traditional visit to the city of Savannah in Georgia. He did so to avoid the awkward moment of having to turn down an invitation to attend the Hibernian Society’s men-only annual dinner. Apparently, this “bold move” means we should now all pat him on the back for his feminist-ally credentials.

For the past 201 years Savannah’s Chauvinist (sorry, I mean Hibernian) Society has been hosting “important” Irish and American men at their “traditional” celebratory dinner. This has included a number of contemporary Irish politicians such as Fianna Fáil’s John O’Donoghue and Noel Dempsey. For the past two years, Savannah’s female Mayor has been unable to attend, sending the city’s (male) Mayor pro tem instead. Now, if I have to explain how sexist, archaic, and all-round unacceptable this is, you’re on the wrong blog.

When Minister Gilmore planned his trip to the States, he ensured that Savannah was not on the itinerary, as he did not want to have to decline a formal invitation to the dinner. Hestated: “count me out…I don’t believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any basis.” The Irish and American press seemed to think this was a remarkable thing to do. Even Jezebel described it as “sort of a big deal” and many feminist groups are sharing the story around as if we should be bowing down before him.

Perhaps if he was visiting the South in the 1920’s this might have been an admirable move. But this is 2013, I thought our sexism was supposed to be more subtle and harder to quantify? Seriously, what’s the big deal? He didn’t even go so far as to formally snub the dinner, he merely side-stepped out of the situation. What I find incredible is that this seems to be the first time an Irish official has neglected to attend the dinner. Fianna Fáil has gone so far as to criticise Gilmore for the move. Don’t you just love watching the 85%-male Dáil debating such things without a hint of irony?

What bothers me most about the coverage of this story is the implication that Gilmore is somehow a brave and staunch feminist; that he’s “on our side”. Let me tell you sisters and allies, Gilmore is no friend to women. In the past year he has twice voted against a Billwhich would have introduced legislation for abortion when a women’s life is at risk. Despite his empty words in support of legislation for the X Case, he’s been in Government for five years in total since the judgement, and has done exactly nothing on it. Meanwhile, he helped pass through a Bill consigning us to decades of debt in one night, without breaking a sweat.

And let’s not forget his part in implementing austerity measures which continue to cripple working-class women. Research undertaken by TASC has shown that groups which already experience inequality, including women, are being disproportionately affected by the cuts. With each year of austerity the pay gap has been widening and women’s participation in the labour force falling. Lone parents (93% of whom are women) have been hit the hardest. Cuts in fuel allowance, Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, the additional payment towards rent supplement, and the increase in VAT continue to drive these families into poverty. 65% of the country’s poorest children live in one-parent families.

Demand for domestic refuges and rape crisis support has been dramatically increasing in recent years, yet these services have seen their funding consistently cut. It was under the Fine Gael/Labour coalition that the HSE almost cut the core funding for the Rape Crisis Network Ireland completely. Two Rape Crisis Centres have been forced to shut down their outreach services and in 2011 alone 2,537 domestic violence victims were turned away from refuges due to lack of facilities. Some of these were forced to spend the night in a Garda cell, while many had to return to the abusive home they had just fled from.

With all of these devastating consequences and more, the Labour/Fine Gael coalition in 2012 alone handed over more money to unsecured bondholders than has been cut in all budgets since 2009. Yet, despite all of this, when Eamon Gilmore gave his speech in the Dáil on Budget 2013 he stated: “This is a difficult budget […] but it is also a necessary budget. An honest budget, and a fair budget.”

Yes ladies and gentlemen, Eamon Gilmore is no friend to women. We should not be congratulating people for refusing to participate in male-only dinners, we should be asking why the f**k that s**t is still happening. Perhaps more importantly, we shouldn’t let weak acts of symbolism blind us to who our true friends (and enemies) are.