The Everyday Irishman


Funny, perhaps, but no meat and two veg

Posted in The Sunday Columns by everydayirishman on July 19, 2009
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In any field where one gender dominates, it’s great to see a person from the other succeeding. Makes us feel that our world really is a land of opportunity, in which we really can achieve our dreams no matter how gender-specific they may seem. During my years in and out of hospital as a child, I always loved being treated by the male nurses. It was such a novelty not to have breasts bobbing in your face while the nurse was cleaning the catheter in your chest.

Er, anyway – during my final year in Trinity, Guerrilla Girls On Tour, a troupe of self-described ‘funny feminists’, performed at Players Theatre. I came across the programme for the event while doing a random clean-out of my room a few days ago, and suddenly felt an awe-inspiring urge to write the piece about the performance I never wrote at the time, being too dissertation-busy. So, here come the thoughts of a male chauvinist pig.

The Guerrilla Girls originated in the US and were over here to appear on The Late Late Show as well as in Players. Each member of the all-women group takes her name from a dead female artist and each wears a gorilla mask to conceal her true identity. They do this, they say, to focus attention on the issues of discrimination and sexism that they raise and not on themselves or their careers. No doubt about it, it all sounds pretty funny so far.

The show began with a video of women showering together and ended with a Commedia dell’Arte sketch as it might have been performed by feminists, with characters such as ‘Machoswine’ and ‘Guerrillaquin’. In between we got a bunch of ‘George Bush Is A Moron’ jokes, a song about how it’s terrible that there have been no female US presidents, and an attack on Ireland for still keeping abortion illegal.

As their name suggests, the Girls use ‘guerrilla’ tactics to get across their political points: they take cheap shots (an actress playing Laura Bush announces she’s married to an idiot – genius!) and rattle off headline-grabbing statistics while providing the audience with visual aids. The main ‘feminist’ issues raised in the performance were abortion, equal pay for equal work, and the fact that there are far fewer female elected representatives than male.

The dogma surrounding abortion was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the production. One of the Girls read out a letter sent to the troupe asking whether it was possible to be both feminist and pro-life. The Guerrilla Girls’ answer was emphatic: ‘No!’

I recently viewed a DVD of a friend’s ultrasound scan of her foetus at 23 weeks. My friend delighted as she pointed out the fully apparent bits of her child’s anatomy, right down to his ‘little willy and balls’. The legal cut-off point for abortion in the UK is 24 weeks. You don’t have to accept that my friend’s developing foetus has as much a right to life as its mother, but it takes a pretty hard-hearted and dogmatic person not to at least accept that you can believe that and also believe in the advancement of women and women’s equality.

At one point the Girls showed us a poster detailing how women on average earn 30 per cent less than men. However, there was merely a recitation of the statistics and a condemnation of the situation, no substantive exploration of the issue at hand. The fact is that women typically choose to leave the workforce earlier than men: they choose to raise children or focus their lives in a new direction. Therefore, many women will naturally earn less over the course of their careers than many men, and as long as this is the case women as a gender will always accrue less wealth than men as a gender. In exactly the same job a woman earns exactly the same as a man: This Is The Law.

Are things really so bad for women in the West today that these actresses have to go around dressing up as gorillas and hiding their identities until ‘true equality’ is won? More women are getting college degrees than men. More girls are staying in secondary education than boys. The world’s bestselling author is a woman. Wimbledon has even changed its rules so that women get the same prize money as men, even though the women play three sets and the men five. (By the way, if you believe in equal pay for equal work, how is that fair?)

The Guerrilla Girls criticised the Trinity Drama Department for being ‘not quite equal’ because it had only three female lecturers as opposed to five male. Is this what equality means? That every employer should hire staff on a strict 50:50 gender ratio just for the hell of it, regardless of who applies or who’s most qualified?

This is not what equality is about. In saying that someone is equal to someone else, you automatically accept that they are different, because there would be no need to describe them as equal if they were the same. Equality is about equal worth: the idea that any man or woman is free to pursue a life that interests them. In any society, people will naturally have different interests, and the likelihood is that the same number of women will not be interested in the same thing as the same number of men.

The night of the Girls’ performance was one of strange contradictions. During a Q&A after their show, the Girls claimed that you shouldn’t vote for a woman just because she’s a woman. Yet during the performance they sang a song which revolved solely around the idea of finally electing a woman US president, not finally voting into office the person with the right policies. Also during the Q&A, the Girls said it was sexist to judge a woman on her looks, and expressed anger at the portrayal of feminists as ‘bitchy’, yet they derided Pat Kenny for not looking as good without his make-up.

My only point is: the issues the Guerrilla Girls get so worked up about – abortion, equal pay and gender equality generally – are ultimately more complex and deserve more serious consideration than can be given to them by people prancing around in gorilla masks.

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