Gender and Politics Student Blog Posts

Several of the blog posts written by students for their course assessment will be posted up here in the coming week. This page will be updated with links to each post as they go online.

From student Ailish Toash – Why Do We Care What Female Politicians Are Wearing?

From Katie Dempsey – No Men Allowed – The Matriarchal Society of Umoja

From student Lucie Martin – Gender Quotas Are Not Enough

From Natasha Gamboa – ; standing up to femicides and ‘machismo’ in Argentina

From Kerrie Maunsell Do You Not Want Gender Equality Too?

Maebh Butler-Why Gender Equality & Abortion are Two Sides of Same Coin

From Chloé Grier-Damned if we do, damned if we don’t: The Scrutiny of the Female Body in Today’s Media

From Chatlotte Amrouche – Politics and Periods

From Rosa Torr – Germaine Greer’s Essentialist Transphobia

From Aya Seidemann – Campus Carry is not a Feminist Policy

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Gender Quotas Are Not Enough

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 14.01.11.pngGender Quotas Are Not Enough (Not as long as masculinist culture prevails in Irish politics) – A Blog by Lucie Martin

The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. 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.” – Bunreacht na hÉireann (1937), Article 41.2

 

Given the role allocated to women by the Irish Constitution, which firmly prescribes that they be restricted to the private sphere of the household, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Irish women have the worst political representation in Western Europe (Mcculloch, 2012:134). The new gender quotas can hopefully help correct this imbalance, as they will be a strong financial incentive if enforced: parties who do not put forward at least 30% of female candidates will lose half their public funding (Oireachtas, 2012:33). But while a necessary first step, quotas alone cannot fix deeper problems facing female politicians: the ‘gender nomination bias’ identified by McElroy and Marsh (in Mcculloch, 2012:72) is only one symptom of a culture that harms women’s progression in politics. Indeed, in this blog post I argue that the masculinist political culture which led to the ‘dismal failure’ of voluntary quotas (Finn, 2015) also makes it difficult for legislative quotas to succeed by harming female candidates’ chances and silencing elected women. I also argue that the culture in the political sphere reflects that of Irish society, which prevents women from getting involved in politics to begin with.

Masculinist party culture and the ‘quota controversy’

While political parties have been compelled to put forward more female candidates, an increase in candidates doesn’t guarantee more women in the Dáil, due to party culture. 1 of 7 Parties can bypass quotas and play the role of ‘gatekeepers’ against women (Buckley, 2013:342), for example by running women for unwinnable seats or picking ‘weak’ female candidates (Hunt, 2015). Parties can also underfund women’s campaigns, which is problematic given the pay gap and resulting lower resources for women (Mcculloch, 2012:69). Most importantly, they encourage a sexual division of labour (Buckley, 2013:346) which prevents women from entering electoral politics and contributes to perceptions of female candidates as less credible. Party culture is indeed informed by gender stereotypes that favour male politicians (O’Malley in Connolly, 2013:376) as shown by the ongoing controversy over quotas, which have been decried as anti-democratic (McConnell 2015; Loughlin, 2015; Slater, 2015; Tuffy, 2011) despite stemming from democratic need for equal representation (Buckley, Galligan and McGing, 2013:8).

Backlash has been especially strong from the right: members of Fianna Fail have been the most vocal in their objections (McElroy and Keenan, 2015:4). Interestingly, feminist discourse has been coopted by critics of quotas, said to ‘set up a glass ceiling against men’ (Brabazon in Hunt, 2015) and to be condescending to women (Byrne, 2015). But this discourse fails to hide assumptions of women as underqualified and of seats held by female politicians as ‘concessions from men’, while paternalistic rhetoric asks ‘what self-respecting female’ would feel entitled to quotas (Byrne, 2015) and what it says about their ‘self-worth’, reminding of the ‘slut-shaming’ used to punish women who don’t stay in lane (Zeilinger, 2015). Female candidates’ credibility and electoral success could be harmed by this discourse, which touts quotas as an ‘absolute travesty’, while female candidates are pressured to rescind their candidacy in the name of ‘democracy’ (Cosgrove, 2015; McConnell, 2015): masculinist party culture prevents women from accessing the levelplaying field which quotas seek to ensure.

Lack of a ‘critical mass’ and women’s status in a ‘laddish’ Dáil

Party culture perseveres in the Dáil through its strong party discipline (Connolly, 2013:363), and undermines female TDs’ influence: the presence of women does not guarantee gender-balanced policy-making. 2 of 7 Once elected, a minority must reach a ‘critical mass’ of 30% to be influential (McGing in Mcculloch, 2012:79).

This is not to say that all female politicians are ‘for women’, that they have the same opinions or even that there are defined ‘women’s issues’, as these vary according to class, race and other factors. However, as argued by Phillips (1995:67-69), women are more likely to point out gendered issues such as childcare. This ‘critical mass’ might not be achieved in the next elections, due to reasons outlined in the first section. Women so far remain a silenced minority, which impacts the treatment of ‘women’s issues’ tremendously: one female TD recalls (qtd, McGing in Mcculloch, 2012) the difficulty of debating abortion when most other TDs are male and do not envisage what a crisis pregnancy is like. In addition, strong party discipline means women are unlikely to form cross-party alliances on gender issues, as shown by the British Parliament where an increase in female MPs failed to transform cultural norms (Lovenduski and Norris, 2003). This minority status allows the masculinist culture of the Dáil to be preserved: as denounced by female TDs, sexism is normalised and ‘laddish culture’ prevails among male TDs (qtd, in Regan, 2013b). This culture not only forces women to ‘adapt’, leading them to avoid working on women’s issues or being associated with the label ‘feminist’ to retain credibility (Mcculloch, 2012:78-79), but it also reinforces parties’ gendered hierarchy and sexual division of labour: women remain clustered in junior positions, and work mainly in ‘low-prestige’ committees associated with the private sphere (Connolly, 2013:371-375). ‘Add women and stir’ therefore seems to be an insufficient strategy, as masculinist culture dominates the Dáil and female TDs remain an overlooked minority. However, the political sphere is but a mirror of society at large, and of its attitude to gender.

Women and politics: a social issue rooted in Ireland’s Catholic legacy?

The ‘hostile reactions to women’ observed in the political sphere (Connolly, 2013:361) aren’t created in a vacuum. Rather, they reflect issues faced by Irish society at large, where a narrow view of women supported by the Catholic Church persists and contributes to women’s reluctance to enter politics. A longstanding authority in Ireland, the Catholic Church has strongly influenced gender relations and women’s political participation (Buckley, Galligan and McGing, 2013:4-5). Many current government positions reduce women to a maternal role, in 3 of 7 accordance with Catholic dogma which holds the Virgin Mary as a model for all women (Horgan, 2001): the Irish Constitution (1937) uses ‘women’ and ‘mothers’ interchangeably, the Church has been deeply involved in the upkeep of Ireland’s ‘strictest abortion laws in Europe’ (Regan, 2013a; Stensvold, 2015:156), and public childcare remains scarce (Barry and Sherlock, 2008:2). Ireland’s Catholic legacy has also impacted political participation in more pervasive ways: Mcculloch (2012:77-78) has found a significant negative relationship between religiosity and women’s political participation, including in Ireland which has the highest levels of religiosity and lowest levels of female political representation in Western Europe. Irish women, and women from Catholic European countries, have also been less likely to vote or to engage in political discussions than their peers from Protestant countries (Inglehart, 1981), where key religious leaders have historically regarded women in more egalitarian ways. In addition, while tremendous change has been observed in the last thirty years regarding social attitudes to gender, mainly due to an increase in secularity and consequent increase of female workforce participation (Fine-Davis, 2015:189), ideas about gender roles remain: Fine-Davis found that a majority of men think that some men feel threatened by women’s advancement at work (2015:198) and that this may be related to the idea of women ‘taking men’s jobs’, an idea echoed in the ‘quota controversy’ as the quotas have been argued to make it more ‘difficult’ for young, ambitious men in politics (Hand, 2015).

Conclusion

Quotas, although a necessary first step, will not single-handedly result in genderbalanced politics. Party culture promotes a perception of women as less qualified than men, while ‘laddish culture’ and strong party discipline in the Dáil contribute to women remaining a silenced minority and working mostly on ‘private sphere’ issues. This masculinist culture in politics stems from wider attitudes to gender roles in Irish society: although social change has been radical in the last three decades, ideas about appropriate behaviour for men and women remain and sustain low levels of female political participation. This is arguably partly due to a Catholic legacy that promotes a view of women as primarily meant for motherhood, which adds yet another barrier to women’s political participation. 4 of 7 In order to change the culture of Irish politics, action must therefore be taken, beyond the ‘add women and stir’ approach of gender quotas which, while necessary, is insufficient on its own. Some practical solutions can encourage female candidates and stifle the ‘laddish culture’ denounced by female TDs. For example, strictly fixed debating times in the Dail can help prevent long hours for parents of both sexes, and improvements in the provision of public childcare can help relieve female politicians’ time and funding burdens, while supporting progressive ideas about womanhood, motherhood and gender roles. In the longer term, women’s rights activism and mentorship programmes can also help tackle the male-dominated culture of Irish politics – but as evidenced in this blog post, achieving gender equality won’t be easy nor go uncontested.

 

 Bibliography:

Barry, U. and Sherlock, L. (2008) ‘Provision of childcare services in Ireland’, University College Dublin School of Social Justice Working Papers, 8(1), pp. 1-31. Available at: http:// researchrepository.ucd.ie/bitstream/handle/10197/2037/Barry-Sherlock-childcare %20provision-2008.pdf?sequence=1 (accessed 31 October 2015).

Buckley, F. (2013) ‘Women and Politics in Ireland: The Road to Sex Quotas’, Irish Political Studies, 28(3), pp. 341-359. Buckley, F. Galligan, Y. and McGing, C. (2013) ‘’Someday Girls, Someday’: Legislating for Gender Quotas in the Republic of Ireland’, 41st ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops at Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz, 11-16 March. Available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2236481 (accessed 31 October 2015).

Bunreacht na hÉireann/ Constitution of Ireland (enacted 1937), Articles 41.2.1 and 41.2.2.

Byrne, D. (2015) ‘Gender quotas are not the answer for women in politics’, Irish Times, 9 March. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/gender-quotas-not-the-answer-for-women-inpolitics-1.2131839 (accessed 31 October 2015).

Connolly, E. (2013) ‘Parliaments as Gendered Institutions: the Irish Oireachtas’, Irish Political Studies, 28(3), pp. 360-379. Cosgrove, L. (2015) ‘Fianna Fáil’s Longford convention is plunged into chaos over gender quota’, Irish Independent, 31 October.

Available at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/ fianna-fils-longford-convention-is-plunged-into-chaos-over-gender-quota-34154127.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Fine-Davis, M. (2015) Gender Roles in Ireland: Three decades of attitude change, Routledge: London and New York.

Finn, C. (2015) ‘Why Fianna Fáil have to be forced to take gender balance seriously?’, 5050 Group, 31 October. Available at: http://5050-group.com/blog/why-fianna-fail-have-to-be-forced-to-takegender-balance-seriously/ (accessed 31 October 2015).

Hand, L. (2015) ‘It’s not a man’s world anymore as young, ambitious women make life a little more difficult’, Irish Independent, 21 July. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/ its-not-a-mans-world-anymore-as-young-ambitious-women-make-life-a-little-moredifficult-31391436.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Horgan, G. (2001) ‘Changing women’s lives in Ireland’, International Socialism Journal, 91(1). Available at: http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj91/horgan.htm (accessed 31 October 2015).

Hunt, C. (2015) ‘Men need political quotas all on their own’, Irish Independent, 12 April. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/carol-hunt/men-need-politicalquotas-all-of-their-own-31135318.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Inglehart, M. L. (1981) ‘Political Interest in West European Women: An Historical and Empirical Comparative Analysis’, Comparative Political Studies, 14(3), pp. 299-326.

Loughlin, E. (2015) ‘Fianna Fail members rebel over gender quota rule’, Irish Examiner, 31 October. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/fianna-fail-members-rebel-overgender-quota-rule-362390.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Lovenduski, J. and Norris, P. (2003) ’Westminster Women: the Politics of Presence’, Political Studies, 51(1), pp. 84-102.

Mcculloch, J. (2012) ‘Women’s Political Representation in Europe: An Analysis of Structural and Attitudinal Factors’, Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Available at: http:// scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/4153 (accessed 31 October 2015).

McElroy, G. and Keenan, L. (2015) ‘Who supports gender quotas in Ireland? An examination of attitudes in the eligibility pool’, Paper presented at the 2015 Political Science Association of Ireland conference, 16-18 October. Available at: http://www.ucc.ie/en/media/academic/ government/psai/WhosupportsgenderquotasinIreland-McElroyandKeenanPSAI2015.pdf (accessed 31 October 2015).

McConnell, D. (2015) ‘Pressure on FF candidate to step aside’, Irish Independent, 31 October. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/pressure-on-ff-female-candidate-tostep-aside-34156997.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Oireachtas (2012) Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012.

Phillips, A. (1995) ‘Quotas for Women’ in The Politics of Presence, Clarendon Press: Oxford, pp. 57-84.

Regan, M. (2013a) ‘Kenny hits back at Church threat on abortion’, Irish Examiner, 6 May. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/kenny-hits-back-at-church-threat-onabortion-230446.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Regan, M. (2013b) ‘Sexism is alive in the Dáil and Seanad’, Irish Examiner, 17 July. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/sexism-is-alive-in-the-dail-and-seanad-237094.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Slater, S. (2015) ‘Gender Quota Issues for Fianna Fail’, Irish Examiner, 30 August. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/gender-quota-issues-for-fianna-fail-350860.html (accessed 31 October 2015).

Stensvold, A. (2015) ‘Legal abortion: the rise liberal-democratic ideas of gender equality’ in A History of Pregnancy in Christianity: From Original Sin to Contemporary Abortion Debates, Routledge: New York and London, pp. 147-161.

Tuffy, J. (2011) ‘Gender quotas do women no favours – and undermine democracy’, The Journal, 22 November. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/column-gender-quotas-do-womenno-favours-–-and-undermine-democracy-284733-Nov2011/ (accessed 31 October 2015).

Zeilinger, J. (2015) ‘Calling a Woman a Slut Has Nothing to Do With Sex — It’s About Control’, Identities.Mic, 11 February. Available at: http://mic.com/articles/109852/6-reasons-sluttinesshas-nothing-to-do-with-sex (accessed 31 October 2015).

 

 

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Lucie Martin is a final year undergraduate student in UCD, majoring in Economics, Politics and International Relations. After graduation she hopes to further study (and one day act upon) issues related to gender and European politics.

Why Do We Care What Female Politicians Are Wearing?

IMG_1170Why Do We Care What Female Politicians Are Wearing?  A blog by Ailish Toal

Last year, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald wore the same suit two days in a row. A shocking concept, I know. In an opinion piece for the Irish Times, Noel Whelan noted that this had been pointed out in an article in the Irish Daily Mail, with two pictures showing her wearing the outfits to illustrate this. (Whelan, 2015) According to Whelan (2015), it received “almost as much prominence in the newspaper as coverage of the event itself”. He went on to say that to some people, female politicians are judged more by what they wear, than what they say or do. Is this true? There is much evidence to suggest that female politicians are judged more on their outfit choices than their male colleagues, but why do we care? What does it matter what suit the Minister for Justice decided to wear – does this affect her ability as a politician? Surely not.

 

Fitzgerald is not the only one. According to Sinn Fein councillor Lisa Marie Sheehy other councillors often comment on her clothing choice, even one stating “How can you concentrate when people are dressed like that?” She was wearing shorts and black tights. (McLysaght, 2015), While, yes, professional attire is considered essential for a politician, why are women judged more harshly than men on this? The female politicians in question are not being criticised for wearing inappropriate clothing, but rather their bad fashion sense. Forbes magazine criticised German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “frumpy power suits” and “silly pageboy haircut” (Courtney, 2015). Politicians are not in the fashion industry. What they chose to wear should not influence public opinion, as long as they are doing their job. It should not have an impact on voters during election time, but unfortunately it does. Fine Gael politician Kate O’Connell outlined her experiences in an article for The Journal (O’Connell, 2015). Whilst running for election in 2014, O’Connell explains that her clothing choices were an important part of her campaign. “Despite my motivation to develop health policy and further women’s rights, my appearance shot up the agenda – what would I wear in the poster, what length should I keep my hair, what sent the right message?” (O’Connell, 2015). The unfortunate truth is that these aspects of O’Connell’s appearance were sure to influence voters’ opinion of her. While likability is key for any politician, appearance appears to be a bigger element for female politician’s likability than it is for male politicians. As O’Connell (2015) put it, “by reducing a woman’s worth down to her appearance, we slyly diminish her role and her value as a contributor to society”.

 

When I read Charles Moore’s article in The Spectator (2015), evaluating whether British politicians Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall had the right look to be leaders to the Labour Party, I was sure it was satire, but sadly this was not the case. Stating that the “right woman” to win a general election for Labour would have to conform to two physical types, which he later went on to describe, seemed like it had to be a joke. Lines like “No leader – especially, despite the age of equality, a woman – can look grotesque on television and win a general election” had me laughing out loud. But is it true? Do women have to adhere to a certain physical type to win voters over? According to Moore, yes. She must either be a lower-middle class version of Clare Balding, “reassuring, competent, well rounded, possibly lesbian”; or else she must be “more provocative and sassy”. Moore also believes that Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1975 was due to the fact that many older Tory politicians fancied her. Liz Kendall’s response to the article? “Good grief”. (Hennessy, 2015) Took the words right out of my mouth.

 

While these outwardly sexist articles are quite uncommon, it is not unlike the media to present a female politician in a more subtle sexist manner. In an interview with Kendall for the British Mail on Sunday (Walters, 2015) regarding her intention to run for leadership of the Labour Party, subtle (and not so subtle) examples of sexism are obvious. Firstly, she is referred to numerous times as “unmarried”. While the interview did discuss some details of politics, it had the air of an article you would read in a fashion magazine. Why it matters where Kendall buys her clothes I have no idea, but in case you were wondering, the article included a picture of Kendall’s outfit and where you could purchase each item, as well as how much they cost. “The Liz look isn’t cheap” (ibid.) apparently. In case you were basing your voting preferences on where candidates buy their clothes, you might have a hard time, as there doesn’t appear to be a similar article on Jeremey Corbyn anywhere. Guess you’ll never know where Corbyn shops, but I imagine that won’t affect your decision. If a candidates’ weight is also a factor, Walters (2015) does his best to help you out – he imagines Kendall is about 8 stone, similar to Kate Middleton. Unfortunately, when he tries to confirm this, Kendall tells him to “f**k off”, (ibid.) so I guess you’ll never know.

 

However, it is not that male politicians never face criticism for their clothing or appearance, rather that it happens far less, and has less of a negative impact than it does for women. A study carried out by Hayes and Lawless (Krupnick, 2013) suggested that, actually, both genders suffered equally from negative coverage of their clothing. However, this conclusion was based on an experiment that included negative descriptions, such as “dishevelled and sloppy”, rather than simply describing what they were wearing. These negative descriptions are what will affect opinions of politicians – nobody wants someone described as “sloppy” to represent them. So yes, when a politician’s appearance is scrutinized, it affects both genders equally. However, it is without a doubt that women’s appearance is mentioned and scrutinized far more than men’s in the media. In 2013, German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (Opydo, 2013) criticised Angela Merkel on her fashion sense. “Too long pants, too tight jackets, awful colours. Everything is wrong!” He went on to say that while he is willing to give her fashion advice, she is too busy. A politician who’s too busy doing her job to seek fashion advice? Imagine that. Granted, Lagerfeld is a fashion designer, and is bound to focus on people’s clothes. He’s also criticised Michelle Obama and the Middleton sisters’ fashion sense. However, while he has criticised male politicians – it’s been on their policies, rather than the clothes they wear. He accused President Francois Hollande of destroying France’s economy by imposing high taxes on the rich. No mention of his clothes. According to Sweet (2008) the reason for there being a much bigger focus on female politicians’ fashion sense than males, is due to the fact that men effectively wear a uniform. Women on the other hand, have a much bigger scope in what they wear and how they present themselves, and therefore pay a “heavy price” (ibid.) if these choices are not liked by the public. “Male politicians, by donning the uniform and largely taking away the issue of fashion judgements, can then be evaluated more according to their performance and positions. Women, who have yet to escape the fashion judgement issue, continue to be evaluated on those choices as well as on their platforms (not the shoes) and comportment.” (Sweet, 2008)

 

So why is this the case? In my opinion, hegemonic masculinity theory comes into play here. Many women in politics essentially rid themselves of their ‘feminine’ traits – they must don the ‘uniform’ of politics – which, as it is a field dominated by men, means wearing a suit, little make up, and a simple appearance. O’Connell (2015) states that she wore pink and some costume jewellery in her campaign poster, and was criticised for doing so. Many people stated that the poster was feeding into the idea that women in politics shouldn’t be taken seriously and that she was “trading on [her] femininity”. According to some, the poster reinforced the stereotype that women are “somewhat frivolous”. (O’Connell, 2015) I have never heard anyone criticise a man for trading on his masculinity in an election campaign. What is wrong with appearing feminine in politics? O’Connell felt in order to be taken seriously she had to keep her hair sensible and her make up natural. (O’Connell, 2015) Women who appear too feminine are criticised, and women who appear too masculine are, unfortunately, also criticised. Clinton’s pantsuits are constantly a topic of critique, and according to Karl Lagerfeld, Merkel’s attire are like “the clothes for a guy.” (Opydo, 2013)

 

 

While there is some evidence to suggest that voters care about what male politicians wear, and that this can negatively affect voters’ opinions of them, it is without a doubt that women are scrutinized far more for their attire in the media and in public opinion. Just Google “Hillary Clinton fashion” and you will get thousands of results. Bernie Sanders? I Googled it and got one single relevant result, discussing his hair. So yes, it happens to male politicians – but it happens a lot more to women. The unfortunate truth is that male and female politicians are simply judged by different criteria.

 

Bibliography

Courtney, L. (2015) ‘Women in politics are judged on their favourite designers, not political beliefs’, The Journal, 13 September. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/women-politics-looks-opinion-2325370-Sep2015/ [9 November]

 

Hennessy, M. (2015) ‘This magazine questioned whether two female politicians were good looking enough to be leaders’, The Journal, 24 August. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/the-spectator-labour-female-candidates-2289694-Aug2015/ [9 November]

 

Krupnick, E. (2013) ‘Female Politicians’ Clothing: Does it Affect What Voters Really Think?’, The Huffington Post, 25 June. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/female-politicians-clothing_n_3495462.html. [12 November]

 

McLysaght, E. (2015). 7 times this century sexism in Irish politics made us cringe. Available at: http://www.dailyedge.ie/sexism-irish-politics-2226483-Jul2015/ [Accessed 9 November]

 

Moore, C. (2015) ‘Do Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall look like leaders?’, The Spectator, 23 August. Available at: http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/08/have-yvette-cooper-and-liz-kendall-got-the-looks-for-a-leadership-contest/ [9 November]

 

O’Connell, K. (2015) ‘Women will always be judged on appearance, I was told I ‘let the side down’ by wearing pink’, The Journal, 7 September. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/kate-o-connell-women-appearance-politics-2311912-Sep2015/ [9 November]

 

Opydo, K. (2013) ‘Karl Lagerfeld criticises Angela Merkel for her dress sense’, Le Journal International, 3 September. Available at: http://www.lejournalinternational.fr/Karl-Lagerfeld-criticises-Angela-Merkel-for-her-dress-sense_a1199.html. [12 November]

 

Sweet, D. (2008) ‘Fashion victims: female politicians face different criticism than men’, McGill Reporter, 18 November. Available at: http://publications.mcgill.ca/reporter/2008/11/fashion-victims-female-political-leaders-face-different-criticism-than-men/. [12 November]

 

Walters, S. (2015) ‘Labour’s Liz Kendall says she won’t work with ‘ridiculous’ Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn and reveals how childless slur made her blood boil’, The Daily Mail, 19 July. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3166827/Labour-s-Liz-lashes-Leadership-hopeful-Kendall-says-won-t-work-ridiculous-left-winger-Jeremy-Corbyn-childless-slur-blood-boil-attacks-Ed-Miliband-worrying-poor-much.html [9 November]

 

Whelan, N. (2015) ‘2015, but some remain preoccupied with women politicians’ dress’, Irish Times, 6 November. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/2015-but-some-remain-preoccupied-with-women-politicians-dress-1.2418852. [6 November 2015]

 

 

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I’m Ailish Toal, I’m a 20 year old History and Politics student from North Dublin. I come from a family of strong, independent women and I’ve always been interested in feminist issues.

 

 

No Men Allowed – The Matriarchal Society of Umoja

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 13.33.23.pngNo Men Allowed – A Blog by Katie Dempsey

 

 

The Samburu district is situated in Southern Kenya, this district is made up of many semi-nomadic tribes and villages. One such village is the village of Umoja; created twenty years ago, Umoja is a village of women which allows no men.

 

The Samburu district’s society is built upon centuries old traditions and is a patriarchal society. Its foundations are built on strongly enforced notions of male dominance and power. The theory of dimorphism; that is: ‘the assumption that human beings can be easily and un-problematically divided into two distinct categories based on their physical forms.’ (Shepherd, 2010:5) can be seen in the way gender roles are differentiated in Umoja. The notion that gender is performative is clear to be seen as local men believe that their women have no rights and are completely under their control and by abiding to their every wish and carrying out daily chores they are thus performing to a notion of gender in which the man is all powerful and the woman is his property. The women of Samburu are suffering both of the effects of living in a domineering patriarchal society and also due to disastrous consequences of colonialism.

blog1.png

I have chosen to dedicate this blog post to Umoja as, currently; women’s rights and representation issues are now more than ever at the forefront of international debates. However, the lens, I contend, we have been looking through; looks at such issues from a western perspective. Many theorists criticise the Western notion of feminism and ‘argue critically against white, Western, middle-class feminist discourses that tend to leave issues of racism and neo-colonialism out of sight.’ (Lykke, 2010: 53) Feminism as an issue of equality is most easily understood to an individual based in their own personal experience and this I believe then dictates our opinions and actions in regards to gender. However, I think, it is just an important now to look at women’s equality on a global level. This is a global issue affecting every woman in different ways. Intersectionality certainly aids us in understanding different women’s experiences of gender. I think it‘s important to recognise this in order to comprehend feminism and gender inequality internationally. Umoja for me is an interesting example of a matriarchal society, where due to certain factors, the women of today’s generation chose to leave men entirely to set up new villages which are either all female or female controlled. They focus on educating future generations in order to remove certain practises which are harmful to women’s health.

 

blog2.pngThere are three main issues which led to the creation of Umoja and of a women’s movement in general in the Samburu district, these are; rape by British colonial soldiers, cultural tradition and female genital mutilation. Umoja was co-founded by Rebecca Lolosoli in 1990. (The Land of No Men, 2015:2m) She states that

‘As a Samburu woman you have no rights. If [your] husband wants to kill you, he [has] a right to kill you at any time, because you are [his] property’.

Rebecca Lolosoli. Co-founder of Umoja

The village of Umoja is the only example of a village in the Samburu district where men are completely banned. The women however do have a choice of having relations with men outside of the village’s boundary. The women that came to this village, came to escape isolation, scorn, violence and oppressive tradition, many of them do not wish to get married or return to their home villages. (The Land of no Men, 2015:10m)

 

For over fifty years Britain has maintained military training regions in the Samburu region. 600 rapes claims have been filed against the British military. (The Rape of the Samburu Women, 2011: 2m) In an interview with a local woman she describes how she was raped by two British military personnel. She became pregnant and gave birth to a child of mixed race. When she gave birth the man she was with left her and their two children and never returned. The men blame their wives for allowing the rape to happen. They want nothing more to do with them.  (The Rape of the Samburu Women, 2011: 3.53m)

‘Our husbands hate these kids born out of rape by the British soldiers. They have tried to throw our children into latrine pits’.                                                                                                           (The Rape of the Samburu Women,2011: 4m)

In 2000 an NGO called Impact began working with British lawyer Martyn Day to try the military officers in British Courts. Perhaps unsurprisingly after a three year investigation the British military cleared all soldiers of wrongdoing. The Kenyan government has so far failed the take the issue up. I ask: how can justice rightfully be served when the British military in investigating a case made against its own soldiers?

 

As well as rape, a huge factor of the setting up of Umoja and similar villages by women such as Rebecca is to escape the harsh patriarchal system of their societies. The men hate the women’s villages; they symbolize a loss in power. For them; these women cannot be controlled. A woman is considered her mans property. If he can’t have her he prefers her dead; men sometimes go to Umoja to rape and try to kill their spouses. The women stay up all night in shifts to protect each other. (The Land of no Men, 2015: 7m)

 

One extreme way in which men use their power to dominate is by continuing the cultural tradition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Women are not considered to be grown up unless they are cut. If they get pregnant before they’re cut, their child is killed as they are considered unholy. The procedure can lead to women bleeding to death. After being cut they face problems giving birth as their skin has been cut to the bone. (Umoja: The Village where Men are Forbidden, 2010: 40s)

 

The women in these villages had to discover a new way of supporting themselves without them. For me, I saw many similarities in the barriers these women face in making a living with the five barriers Irish women face in the Irish political system. Childcare; culture; confidence; cash and candidate selection. (Gender and Politics Lecture 8, 2015) Of course these barriers come in different forms in Umoja.

 

blog3.pngIn regards to earning their own living; the women use beads to make attractive jewellery to sell to tourists. The international invasion on a culture can be seen as good or bad in different situations. From my perspective it is good in this situation, not only because the women sell their produce to tourists allowing them to earn a living and remain independent from the men but also because it brings the issue to a global scale and allows for further intersectional analysis through a new wave of feminism. On a personal level, I admire the entrepreneurship these women have displayed in finding a way of supporting themselves and no longer being dependant of their male counterparts.

 

The women firmly believe that they cannot change the men in Samburu today, but through education they can educate future generations and this is how they hope to bring about change. The Umoja women have set up a school which is open to children male and female across the district; alongside the Umoja children themselves. Boys are allowed to attend the school; as long as they adhere to the Umoja rules and do not attempt to dominate the women. In effect, I think Umoja has become a training centre for younger people to aid them in making better decisions whilst promoting human rights by curbing current negative cultural practises which harm women.

 

Umoja is a very unique example of a matriarchal society. However, the long term purpose of these villages is not simply to separate men from women indefinitely but to provide a safe haven and an educational facility for vulnerable young women and teaching them how to support themselves all while crucially educating future generations about the harmful practises that are currently in place in their society.

 

For me, looking at feminism and gender equality in a different part of the world, sheds a crucial light on the plight of women in other cultures, it shows that different societies are facing vastly different issues and barriers in achieving gender equality. The women here are undertaking their own version of a feminist movement. However, they recognise that rather than attempting to change the present and the strict cultural practises in place; they are working towards improving the future. I believe their story is inspirational and one to be known. It is not a standard feminist movement that is seen in Western society but it is a feminist movement towards equality. At the moment I believe that feminist movements are arguably regional, perhaps due to Intersectionality, but I think there is an argument for a more global united women’s organisation to give unity to the fight for women’s equality worldwide.

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Back Productions (2010) ‘Umoja: The Village Where Men are Forbidden’

Accessed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EF46KeGSvxs

Broadly (2015) ‘The Land of No Men: Inside Kenya’s Women Only Village’

Accessed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrnmBLB-UX4

Cultures of Resistance Film (2011) ‘The Rape of the Samburu Women’

Accessed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AF6XDj8jDw

O’Dwyer, M. (2015) ‘Gender and Politics, Lecture Week 8: Gender Representation’

Lykke, N. (2010) ‘Intersectional Gender/Sex: A Conflictual and Power Laden Issue’ in Feminist Studies: A Guide to Intersectional Theory, Methodology and Writing. New York: Taylor and Francis

 Shepherd, L. (2010) ‘Ch1: Sex or Gender? Bodies in World Politics and Why Gender Matters.’ In Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations. New York: Routledge

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My name is Katie Dempsey.
I am a second year Bachelor of Arts student studying for a joint major in Politics and French .

I am very interested in studying the role of gender, both in everyday life and in the political world. I particularly am interested in gender roles in non-western societies and how they contrast to the norms and values of the so-called ‘western world’. This topic is what I have focused on exploring in my blog entitled ‘No Men Allowed

Gender and Politics Links November

A (slightly) humorous look at how gender roles play out in meetings – https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2015/10/13/jennifer-lawrence-has-a-point-famous-quotes-the-way-a-woman-would-have-to-say-them-during-a-meeting/

An article in a series about intersectionality – http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/

Following the first democratic debate, was there a gendered evaluation of Hillary Clinton? – http://www.vox.com/2015/10/14/9530799/focus-groups-democratic-debate

A letter in the Irish Times which discusses the experience of gender on Dublin street – http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/verbal-abuse-of-women-in-public-1.2395050

An interesting article on masculinity and the migrant/refugee crisis that follows on from our in class discussion – https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/jennifer-allsopp/refugee-crisis-demilitarising-masculinities

Gender and Politics in the News

Here are some more recent articles on gender and politics. Again, it’s worth noting the wide range – as I said in class, politics is wherever there is a power dynamic at play – and where there is gender there is power.

A change in school uniform laws in Puerto Rico – https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/10/12/boys-can-now-wear-skirts-to-school-in-puerto-rico/

An article on today’s budget, one of the potential gendered outcomes concerns funding for domestic abuse shelters, rape crisis centres etc – http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/analysis/any-cuts-to-tusla-will-affect-victims-of-sex-assault-and-rape-358919.html

Following our discussions of gender quotas, a study from the London School of Economics and Political Science argues for wide ranging gender quotas. Interesting to note their focus on the problem as one of male over-representation, reflecting what we talked about in relation to problem framing! http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/13/lse-study-gender-quotas-positions-power-women?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

A very interesting article on feminism in Japan – http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2015/10/03/lifestyle/women-japan-unite-examining-contemporary-state-feminism/#.VhY_aLRVikq

An article about Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathi from Kenya, interesting on the idea of a “good woman” – http://africanarguments.org/2015/10/06/wangari-maathai-was-not-a-good-woman-kenya-needs-many-more-of-them/

Next week we are talking about informal politics, so protest will be a key theme. Here’s a list of ten direct actions by women that changed the world – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/12/women-direct-action-suffragette?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

Some more stories about gender and politics

As we enter week five, it’s really important that you are thinking about the blog post. It’s due in week ten – you need to select an issue you care about, find interesting or are simply annoyed by! Below find another selection of recent stories in the news about gender and politics, which might get you thinking.
(the previous collection of news stories is available here – Gender and Politics News Stories)

This article discusses the role of feminist organising in improving working conditions for hotel workers in London http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/01/feminism-hotel-women-london-workers

Why feminism isn’t over – this article argues against the idea that gender equality has been won – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/30/feminists-end-of-history-women-rights

Any fans of the TV show “How to Get Away With Murder” will enjoy this article on the lead actress (and Emmy winner) Viola Davis -http://the-toast.net/2015/09/29/anatomy-of-a-black-actress-viola-davis/

Was the critical response to Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s album a case of sexism – http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/music-theatre/2015/09/ryan-adams-s-1989-and-mansplaining-taylor-swift

The cultural politics of hair – http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122893/notes-toward-theory-hair

Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet appointments came in for a lot of criticism from feminist writers and campaigners – http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/emer-o-toole-there-s-no-defending-jeremy-corbyn-s-equality-doublespeak-1.2365206

The Black Panthers’ Revolutionary Feminism – http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/movies/the-panthers-revolutionary-feminism.html?_r=1&referer

And as we are talking about gender quotas this week, perhaps this list of 7 instances of sexism in Irish politics might serve as a good background reading! http://thedailyedge.thejournal.ie/sexism-irish-politics-2226483-Jul2015/

If you spot any interesting stories that you think the class might enjoy, send them on to me for the next set of these.

Muireann