Ireland: A Country for Women?


by

Pat O'Connor

University of Limerick


Copyright © 1999 by Pat O'Connor, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S.Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the authors.


  1. Is Ireland a country where women are valued? Where their contributions inside and outside the home are recognised ? where the things that they value are given priority? In other words is it a country for women? It may seem odd to ask these questions since writers and dramatists have consistently depicted Irish women as strong, coping and courageous. Irish men on the other hand have been presented as weak, sometimes over-dependent on maternal approval, and often as rather pathetic figures. This very weakness has often been used to justify women's support of what is privately seen as the illusion of male authority. Women, it is suggested, see themselves as the strong ones, and 'play along' in the interests of family and social harmony (almost like a mother 'playing along' with a child's deluded notions of power).
  2. The strength of 'ordinary' Irish women's positive evaluation of themselves was very clearly revealed in a national study in the early 90s which showed that three quarters of them felt that the Government should listen to men and women equally on employment, taxation, savings, divorce, issues related to children and Green issues (MRBI, 1992). Intriguingly, between one third and a half felt that the Government should listen to women alone on issues related to contraception and abortion. Such attitudes indicate the importance, in their own eyes, of their contribution to the 'public' arena. Yet Irish women have often been portrayed as viewing feminism with ambivalence. That same national poll in the early 90s found that nine out of every ten Irish women had heard of feminism. Four out of every five of these women said that they knew what it meant: 87% saw it as 'developing women's confidence in themselves,' 84% subscribed to the view that 'It's to ensure that the things in life which women value receive full consideration in how the society and the economy develops,' and 76% saw it as 'developing a society in such a way that women play a greater part' (M.R.B.I., 1992).
  3. Yet Ireland has typically been seen by sociologists as an extremely patriarchal society- a situation created and maintained by the institutional church; the state; the economic structure and the social and cultural construction of heterosexuality (Pyle, 1990; Mahon, 1994; O Connor, 1998). There is a good deal of evidence for this view. There was a 25 year long struggle for contraception, and divorce has only been available in the past 2 years. The Marriage Bar persisted until 1973 obliging married women to withdraw on marriage from a variety of employments. Even to day, although women constitute two thirds of those in the professional services, they make up only a tiny proportion of those in senior management positions. Again, even to day, 63% of Irish married women are not in paid employment. Their position in the home is given rhetorical validation but a Bill to give them automatic legal entitlement to joint ownership of the family home was found to be unconstitutional in 1994. Female poverty, especially amongst female heads of households, has increased since the late 1980s. Thus in many different ways, Ireland does not appear to be a country for women.
  4. Of course such practices and processes are not peculiar to Irish society. The United Nations Human Development Report (1995) found that 'no society treats its women as well as its men' and that gender equality did not depend on the income level of a society. Ireland's rank on the 1998 Human Development index (17th) was considerably below the rank on the Gender Development Index (27th); with both being considerably below the US (ranked 4th and 6th respectively). Furthermore Ireland's rank on the Gender Development Index actually fell between the 1970s and the 1990s. Nevertheless, in all sorts of ways, and in many arenas, women's voces and their concerns are beginning to be heard, although the perceived legitimacy of those voices, especially in so far as they articulate women's needs and perspectives is still problematic: 'the alternative vision offered by female knowledge and insight is suspect and a source of fear' (O'Carroll, 1991:57/58).
  5. In this article a number of concepts which illuminate the nature of the Irish context will be discussed: particularly the concept of the patriarchal dividend and the women's movement, broadly defined, as a form of resistance. I will look particularly at the community and family context where the extent of the change which has occurred is very visible; and then at the area of education and paid employment where change has been considerable, but where the limits of that change are more visible. Finally I will suggest some issues which need to be faced in the future.
  6. Patriarchy has been differently defined and variously weighted in models concerned with the position of women in society. The concept has been criticised, although even critics such as Pollert (1996:653) have seen it as a useful 'shorthand descriptive tool to indicate male dominance'. Classic definitions have focused on its material base (Hartmann, 1981), while other definitions, such as Walby's (1990:4), have seen 'gender relations as importantly constituted by discourses of masculinity and femininity which are not immediately reducible to the economic relations of capitalism.' Connell (1995A:104) sees gender 'as a fundamental feature of the capitalist system: arguably as fundamental as class divisions......capitalism is run mainly by and to the benefit of men.' His ideas about the patriarchal dividend draw together the cultural and material elements and help us to understand the processes through which patriarchy is maintained, and the part played in this process by men who see themselves as unwitting beneficiaries rather than oppressors. He argues that the majority of men benefit from 'the patriarchal dividend' 'in terms of honour, prestige and the right to command. They [men] also gain a material dividend'. The gendered reality of institutional structures is 'reflected in the commitments implicit in masculinity and the strategies pursued in an attempt to realise them' (1995A:215). Thus patriarchy is perpetuated because men wish to be men within a society where being a man involves the subordination of women. However, only a minority of men, he argues, will practise masculinity in what he called its hegemonic form i.e. actively subordinating women. The majority, as he sees it, endorse complicit masculinity. They gain an advantage from the subordination of women but are 'more bashful about domination'. Connell suggests that such men are comfortable with the patriarchal dividend when it appears that 'it is given to them [i.e. heterosexual men] by an external force, by nature or convention, or even by women themselves, rather than by an active social subordination of women going on here and now' (1995A:215). In Ireland, the social subordination of women was, until very recently indeed, seen as 'natural', 'inevitable', 'what women want'. It was reflected in women's allocation to the family arena, where their position and status was given rhetorical recognition and validation. Their ability to effectively use this arena as a social and emotional power base obscured the fact that their position was shaped by a system in which they were seen as subordinate.
  7. Connell (1995B:82) argued that because men get a dividend they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo: 'a gender order where men dominate women cannot avoid constituting men as an interest group concerned with defence, and women as an interest group concerned with change'. Of course individual men may work for this change in their private or public lives, just as individual women may resist it. Grint (1991:223) has suggested that the picture is one 'of increasingly embattled senior men confronted by young women undeterred by history or tradition'. This indeed may be the way many men perceive the situation. To many women the reality is a good deal more complex.
  8. However, implicit in this article is the idea that the patriarchal dividend is under pressure in Irish society. Thus, it is suggested that 'crisis tendencies' (Connell, 1995A) can be identified within and between major institutional structures in Ireland ( see O'Connor, 1998). The most obvious of these derives from the changing relationship between church and state. There are tensions too arising from the state's need for inclusiveness as a basis for its own legitimacy and the patriarchal nature of Irish public life where the 'normal' situation is for men to represent women. At a cultural level, male authority has been publicly eroded (O'Connor, 1995A and 1998) and there has been a decline in the legitimacy of patriarchal power in the family and a change in the whole meaning of sexuality. Crisis tendencies are evident in the economy consequent on the growth in women's employment in a situation where men's has barely held its own. Many of these crisis tendencies are international phenomena. The impact of them, and of the broadly defined women's movement, is particularly acute in Ireland, given the size of the society (3.7 million).
  9. Within a patriarchal society, fundamental ideas about the nature and value of womanhood are seen as part of the mechanisms of patriarchal control. It has been argued that Irish concepts of womanhood continue to revolve around caring, familism, reproduction, love, sexual attraction and gendered paid employment (O'Connor, 1998). O'Dowd (1987) highlighted the traditional role of church and state in Ireland (and the 'accommodations' between them) in perpetuating ideologies which obscured the reality of women's own experiences and the extent of women's 'subordination'. Of course these structures are not monolithic and so particular aspects of the State structure have reinforced aspects of the dominant discourse, while other parts have subtly eroded it.
  10. It is important to stress that this article is not coming from a perspective which endorses biological essentialism, although it does suggest that individuals are socially and culturally constructed. Nevertheless, at any one point in time the possibility of individual resistance cannot be eliminated: 'A woman who has been socially constituted as a member of a family ....may also, through contact with feminist ideas and organisations, come to acquire partially, or even wholly, conflicting identifications, and so come to deploy a new conception of her interest' (Benton, 1981). It is suggested that this is particularly likely to happen when changes have already occurred in collective consciousness because of, for example, the impact of the women's movement.
  11. It is necessary, but difficult to attempt to define this movement. Dahlerup (1986:2) has suggested that a movement is 'a conscious collective activity to promote social change, representing a protest against the established power structures and against the dominant norms and values'. Implicit in this is the idea that the process of challenging 'gender disparities as a universal but unnatural power reality involves an increasing politicisation'. At times the protest element may be muted, as an attempt is made to bring about change with the minimum of social, economic and psychological cost to those involved. This kind of muted protest ('resistance to invisibility and silencing': Faith, 1994: 37) seems particularly likely in a small society such as Ireland where the social, economic and psychological costs of resistance are considerable. Thus those who say that 'I am not a feminist but.....' can be seen part of this muted protest and thus ultimately seen as part of a broadly defined women's movement.
  12. We will now look briefly at two kinds of contexts (the community and family; and paid employment and education) focusing on some of the factors which have affected change and on the extent of the change which has occurred in these areas.
  13. The changes which have occurred here are in some ways very clear cut while in other cases the change has been more diffuse. Thus for example it has been reflected in and reinforced by changes in individual consciousness; by the establishment of organisations to meet needs that were ignored by the wider institutional structure; by legal initiatives; by the sensitizing of the state to 'women's issues'; by the penetration of a broadly defined women's movement into working class areas; by dramatic changes in family patterns and by the emergence of new concepts of womanhood. Much of this change was driven by the Irish women's movement while being directly and indirectly facilitated by international structures and processes.
  14. The opportunism of those women's organisations which existed in Ireland in the late 1960s is illustrated by the way in which they exploited the possibilities created by a UN Directive in 1967 asking member governments to examine the status of women in their countries (Smyth; 1993; Mahon, 1995 and Connolly 1997). Thus in 1968 a request was made to the state by an ad hoc committee of ten women's organisations (including the Irish Housewives Association and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs) to set up the First Commission on the Status of Women. This First Commission was set up in Ireland in 1970 - not a great deal later than the President's Commission on the Status of Women in the US which was set up in 1961 (Mahon, 1995).
  15. Individual consciousness raising and cultural transformation have been widely seen as reflecting and re-inforcing the impact of the women's movement in Ireland and elsewhere. The strategies used by the Irish Women's Liberation Movement in the early 70s were spectacularly successful in challenging dominant discourses. The issues which were identified in the 1971 six-point Irish Women's Liberation Manifesto, Chains or Change: equal pay, equal access to education, equality before the law, the availability of contraception, justice for deserted wives, unmarried mothers and widows, and one house, one family (Smyth, 1993; Connolly, 1997) were broadly similar to those emerging across Europe and in the United States at this time (Hoskyns, 1996). The strategies adopted included the public launch in 1971 of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement on 'The Late Late Show' (the most popular television programme of the time) and the organisation of a mass public meeting in Dublin. The kind of political theatre used was evident in the staging of what became known as the 'contraceptive train' involving travel to Belfast, and the purchase and public importation of contraceptives (Levine, 1982; Smyth, 1993). These activities galvanised substantial numbers of women to publicly voice their support. This same style of political theatre was used in the campaign on abortion in the 1990s, where women and children travelled by boat to England, taking the traditional abortion route (see e.g Taylor, 1998).
  16. Since the 1970s Irish women have challenged the dominant discourses with extraordinary success. Through the medium of 'talk' shows, particularly Marian Finnucane's and Gay Byrne's programmes, women's 'private' experiences of abuse, marital violence, issues surrounding marital power, sexual experiences, contraception, sterilisation etc. were all 'exposed' to public view. The very fact of publicly exploring issues which might, in another context, be seen as, at best, topics for private negotiation between a wife and husband, or topics for confession to a spiritual advisor, implicitly undermined the discourse within which they, traditionally, had been located.
  17. This was vividly illustrated in a series of Marian Finnucane programmes in September 93 when a Roman Catholic woman rang in, in distress, because she had been refused absolution in confession on the grounds that she had been sterilised. There was a general feeling amongst callers to the programme that this was unreasonable since the 'job was done'. This however was followed by a call from a married woman with six children, one of them handicapped, who was on the contraceptive pill while waiting for sterilisation. She had sought absolution in an attempt to yield to her son's request for her to receive Communion with him on his First Communion Day. Three of her children were born following the use of 'natural' family planning methods. According to her, the Roman Catholic priest she consulted had suggested a compromise solution: that she attend Confession on the Friday, did not take the pill that day, and abstained from sexual intercourse until after receiving Communion with her son on the Saturday. In the course of the programmes during that week, the distress of religious, family-oriented married women who saw themselves as having to alienate themselves from the sacraments to discharge what they saw as their very real responsibilities towards their husbands and children emerged very clearly. To them, the solution offered (which they saw as 'Jesuitical' hair splitting) was ludicrous. They longed for the menopause when, as they saw it, they would be able to resume the normal practice of their religious life. Such 'accounts' are compatible with the dramatic fall-off in weekly confession (Mac Greil, 1991; MRBI, 1998). They clearly reveal the way in which 'ordinary' middle aged married women were struggling to adjust to the changing structural and cultural realities of Irish life.
  18. The official recognition of separation (as indicated by the collection of Census Data on it from 1986) and the increasing knowledge about the existence of marital violence (virtually unacknowledged prior to Casey's Refuge Study in 1987) affected the public awareness of violence, abuse, etc. In the late 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, the public emergence of a sequence of individual women ('victims and saviours': O'Connor, 1995A).) shattered the silence surrounding various aspects of patriarchal control (including legal, sexual, physical, familial and moral control). They inadvertently generated an awareness of the possibility of an abuse of male power - particularly, and even more disquietingly, by 'respectable' men. Smyth (1991:25) vividly depicted the alienation of woman's voice from the symbolic order: 'In the end I could'nt speak for Irish women. Can barely speak for myself. Can barely speak'. Paradoxically as Smyth noted , as long as she remains the 'Other', she has a place in the Irish cultural and social context: 'Irish Woman enables definition of Irish Man. I am the edge, defining the centre. Border country. Margin. Perimeter. Outside.' It is possible that in a post modern world, with global communication systems and the breakdown of what has been called the single narrative, Irish male control will continue to be subtly eroded as a key element in the master narrative. This is obviously one element in facilitating the emergence of new concepts of womanhood. However there may be are limits to the extent of such ideological change-given the underrepresentation of women in the ideological structures (such as the Church, State, Academia, etc.).
  19. In any case, it is widely accepted that after the early 1970s there was no subsequent mass-based women's liberation movement in Ireland. There were periodic radical challenges, although Smyth (1988) observed that they were usually short lived (i.e. about 1.5 years). Thus radical feminism surfaced in 1974 with the emergence of Irish Women United, who included not only free legal contraception amongst their objectives, but also the rights of women to a self-determined sexuality, as well as re-iterating the earlier demands as regards equality in education, work etc. The 1980s were an economically difficult period characterised by high levels of emigration and the effective mobilisation of a counter movement involving women (Barry,1992). Radical action centred mainly on the two abortion referenda (1983 and 1992), and on the two divorce referenda (1986 and 1996). It is impossible to assess the impact of such radical action but it is arguable that it set in motion processes which ultimately modified the institutional and cultural reality.
  20. Starting in the 1970s a wide range of organisations emerged from within the women's movement to provide support and services for women which were not provided by the wider institutional structures (Connolly, 1996 and 1997; Mahon 1995; Smyth, 1988). They included organisations to provide contraceptive advice such as the Fertility Guidance Clinics in 1969; Cherish, to support pregnant single women in 1970; the Women's Progressive Association in 1971 which later became the Women's Political Association; AIM founded in 1972 and committed to family law reform; the Irish Women's Aid Committee, which established the first hostel for battered wives in Ireland and the Rape Crisis Centres (Mahon, 1995). The 1980s and the 1990s were characterised by increased formalisation and mainstreaming of such service organisations (Connolly, 1997).
  21. Changes in this area involved the legalisation of contraceptives beginning with the taking of the Mc Gee case questioning the illegality of the importation of contraceptives by married couples for their own use in 1973 (see O'Connor, 1998). In the 1980s legal initiatives by individuals and groups centred around the issue of access to information and the provision of counselling in the wake of crisis pregnancies. Paralleling such developments, referenda were held in 1992 as regards the legality of the distribution of information concerning the names and addresses of abortion clinics in England and as regards women's right to travel to England for lawful services including abortion (see Mahon, 1995; Riddick, 1993). Both of these referenda were passed. There is thus both a constitutionally guaranteed and in EU terms a legal right to information about such services in the EU and a right to travel abroad to obtain them. The judgement given by the Supreme Court in what became known as the 'X' case also effectively recognized that, under the Constitution, abortion was technically legal under certain circumstances (e.g. when the mother's life was at risk) although no subsequent legislation has been introduced to give that a reality. In the 1980s too under pressure from women's groups, and in the wake of the rejection of the first Divorce Referendum in 1986 and rising levels of marital breakdown, the State introduced legislation to provide greater physical and financial protection to married women. In the second divorce referendum in 1996, the issue of the implications of divorce for women was discussed for the first time by both the pro and anti-divorce groups (O'Connor,1998).
  22. The mid/late 1980s saw the penetration of the movement into working class communities where it had previously been largely absent. The 1990s saw the rapid growth of such locally-based (mainly working-class) women's groups concerned with women's poverty. Like the radical groups in the 1970s, these were often non-hierarchical structures concerned with empowering women within their families and communities. Connolly (1997) has seen them as indicative of the vitality and changing form of the women's movement. Because of their paucity of resources, and their frequently temporary funding base, their opportunity to directly transform society was very limited. A notable exception to this was the Married Women for Equality group in Cork, a largely working-class grass roots group, which was an important element in forcing the State to honour its obligation to the estimated 75,000 women entitled to Social Welfare equality payments arising from its inept attempt to implement the 1976 EC Social Welfare Equality Directive ( O'Connor, 1998). However, most working-class groups adopted more local objectives. They have played an enormously important role in empowering individual women and groups of women- particularly within a situation where 'private patriarchy' had been weakened by unemployment. Paradoxically such groups have been strengthened in this endeavour by parts of the state machinery, who have been driven to seeing women's groups as the only hope for stability within many marginalized communities.
  23. In the late 1980s and 1990s the sensitising of the State to issues relating to women continued, through, for example, the convening of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Women's Rights; the highlighting of the issue of child sexual abuse and marital violence as public issues by lobby groups, such as the Rape Crisis Centres; the establishment of the Council for the Status of Women and the publication of the Second Commissions of the Status of Women (1993). In the 1990s too the National Women's Council (formerly the Council for the Status of Women) became part of the machinery initially advising on the formulation of State policy and then, through the National Economic and Social Council, becoming involved in the process of framing such policy. In this context the State as an institution began to recognise that women's interests might not be 'the same as everyone else's' (i.e. men's). However attempts by the National Women's Council to define child care as a State policy issue have to date borne little fruit. Nevertheless the 1990s saw women's increasing visibilty in 'the public arena' including the election of Mary Robinson as the first woman President of Ireland in 1990; the election, for the first time, of 20 women to the Dail in 1992. Nevertheless the subsequent election saw the defeat of the overwhelming majority of the high profile women who had been Ministers. By 1996 women constituted 14% of Dail deputies and 13% of Ministers although there was a widespread perception that they were very much more numerous. At this time the Department of Equality and Law Reform (established in 1993 and charged with the 'elimination of inequality') ceased to exist as a separate entity.
  24. In the case of the family, in Ireland, as in the rest of Europe, the institution of marriage is weakening, with more and more women bringing up children outside marriage. In Ireland, single motherhood is an extremely heterogenous category and includes single never married women, separated women and (since 1997) divorced women. In Ireland, the increase in single parenthood and the fall in births inside marriage has been very striking. In 1980 births outside marriage made up 5% of all births, whereas by 1996 they made up one in four of all births (and one in three of first time births). Contrary to what is often implied, only roughly one in five of these births are to teenagers. Furthermore, despite this increase in births outside marriage, the number of children born inside marriage halved over the past twenty five years: in 1970 the average family was 3.9 children, whereas by 1993 it was 1.9. However Irish family size is still high in European terms.
  25. In the context of changes in the community and family area, two emerging concepts of womanhood can be identified. One of these, the idea of the family feminist, builds 'on strong notions of kin, community, connections and social bonds' (Porter, 1996:293). It leaves open the possibility that the self may be defined in and through relationships, and hence in an Irish context can be seen as more attractive than a concept of womanhood which revolves around rights to individual autonomy. The grass roots, working-class activities of the women's movement have played an important part in generating such a positive and gendered definition of personhood, one which incorporates but transcends the family setting. Implicit in the concept of the family feminist, then, is the idea of women as gendered persons engaged in the highly responsible, exhausting and frequently isolated task of caring for children; of women's entitlement to both have that work validated and to undertake other personally satisfying activities outside the family setting.
  26. A second emerging concept of personhood involves the acceptance of 'difference': the idea that women will and can vary in their needs and desires, and that this diversity is an enriching rather than an inappropriate manifestation of the reality of womanhood. Implicit in difference feminism is the idea that women, whether they are in or outside paid employment; whether they do/do not have children; are heterosexual or lesbian; and regardless of their race or class, have a reality which needs to be understood rather than fitted into a Procrustean definition of womanhood. This concept 'does not reduce each one of us to instances of an abstraction called 'woman'' (Lugones and Spelman, 1993:390). It recognises that women are oppressed and marginalised in different ways, depending on their social and cultural context.
  27. Acceptance of that diversity (and of the valuation attached to womanhood) implicitly undermines the basic premises of what Connell has called complicit masculinity (i.e. where power is enjoyed provided that it is given to such heterosexual men 'by an external force, by nature or convention, or even by women themselves, rather than by an active social subordination of women going on here and now'). Within a perspective which values diversity, neither women's heterosexuality nor their acceptance of subordination are seen as necessarily key elements in the concept of woman. Thus this apparently innocuous relativist definition is basically subversive. It accepts the idea that women's agency is legitimate, even when it is not controlled by patriarchy, whether in the shape of an individual man; an employer or the State. It thus implicitly raises questions about men's ability to define women, structurally or culturally. Even more fundamentally, perhaps, it raises questions about how masculinity is to be defined, if it no longer necessarily involves the control, protection or subordination of women. It is not clear to what extent such gendered concepts will persist within a society where there have been even more dramatic changes in the area of paid employment.
  28. The legal and constitutional framework of paid employment in Ireland was dramatically affected by Ireland's entry to the European Community in 1973. Thus, Ireland became bound by a series of Directives as regards equal pay and equal treatment in the area of access to employment; vocational training and social security (Fourth Report of the Fourth Joint Committee, 1996). Under the influence of such external pressure, followed up by individual legal action and/or group pressure within Ireland (Mahon, 1987) the Marriage Bar disappeared and the State provided important legal protections for women who were or had been in paid employment through the enactment of a number of laws (such as the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974; Employment Equality Act, 1977; The Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act, 1981 and The Maternity Protection Act, 1995; the Employment Equality Act, 1999 and The Equal Status Act, 1999).
  29. Changes in Irish employment patterns have also reflected wider EU changes. Thus, in Ireland, as across the EU, the main area of employment is now in the service sector. In 1995, 65% of all EU employment was in this sector, as was 60% in Ireland (Eurostat, 1996:4). Most women are employed in this sector. It is also seen as the area of future employment growth in Ireland and right across the EU. In Ireland, 90% of the increase in employment between 1971 and 1996 was in this area; and 87% of the increase in women's employment over this period was in this sector (C.S.O., 1997). This was particularly so in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the Irish state, under pressure from Europe, and confronted by a dismal economic performance, eventually prioritised this sector in the interest of creating economic growth. Attempts to tackle overmanning in the semi- state organisations came about at least partly because of the apparent opportunities being offered to those countries who could meet the Maastricht criteria outlined by the EU. The fact that such overmanning existed in a number of semi-state organisations such as the Electricity Supply Board, Irish steel, Telecom Eireann etc. and that it involved shedding predominantly male labour has been ignored.
  30. Reflecting and reinforcing the impact of the women's movement, the legal and economic context created by EU membership and the increasing importance of the service sector, Irish women's (particularly married women's) participation in paid employment changed dramatically over this period. Indeed in 1996, Irish women's labour force participation rate (at 41%) was coming close to the E.U. average (45%). Thus, in the lifetime of our parents and grandparents we moved from being a predominantly agricultural society characterised by male land ownership to a predominantly service oriented economy which owed its Lazarus-like resurrection to the employment of women in service occupations. Thus as Philip O'Connell wryly noted: talk of the Celtic Tiger 'appears to have misconstrued the gender of the animal' (O'Connell, 1996:4). In effect the economic boom of the 90s has been driven by dramatic increases in women's employment, while men's employment has been more or less static since the 1970s.
  31. In Ireland, participation in paid employment is particularly high amongst younger married women: 63% of Irish married women aged 25-34 years are in paid employment.(C.S.O., 1997). It is widely accepted that the low level of participation amongst older age groups reflects the impact of the Marriage Bar, and the difficulties such women experience re-entering the work force. Nevertheless the extent of the change can be indicated by the fact that in 1971, just over 7% of all married women were in paid employment, whereas by 1996 it was 41%. Furthermore Irish women are predominantly involved in full-time rather than part-time paid employment. In a society with one of the lowest levels of State support for child care in the EU, 43% of mothers with one or two dependent children are in paid employment.
  32. In Ireland, as indeed across the EU, women continue to be congregated into areas of predominantly female employment. Work which is predominantly done by men tends to be more highly valued/seen as more skilled/ paid better than work which is predominantly done by women. This raises questions about the extent of gender bias implicit in the assessments by the State and the market of the value of women's work even amongst those in the professional services. Incredibly perhaps, Irish women now constitute roughly two thirds of those in the professional services and this is projected to increase. Many of these women are in predominantly female (and lower-paid) professional areas such as nursing or primary teaching, although increasingly women are penetrating areas of traditional male expertise such as medicine and law, albeit at the lower levels. In a context where women's work is devalued it is not surprising that women are over-represented amongst the low-paid in Ireland, and indeed across the EU. This is so even though part-time employment, which is even more likely to be poorly paid, is excluded.
  33. We know that women now make up half of the undergraduates and postgraduates in our Universities. They out-perform boys in the State examinations (i.e. Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate). Of course, this tradition of educating our daughters is not new. Thus, despite the highly constrained nature of women's lives from the late 1920s up to the mid 1960s, Irish women as compared to Irish men had enjoyed a disproportionate access to education, something which was relatively unusual in European terms. Indeed of thirteen O.E.C.D. countries, only in Ireland were women aged 55-64 years more highly educated than men of the same age. Furthermore although women aged 25-34 years were more highly educated than men of the same age in six of the thirteen countries, the difference was greatest in the case of Irish women (Rubery et al, 1996).
  34. Nevertheless and despite the fact that they are out -performing boys, what evidence we have suggests that girls have lower levels of academic and physical self esteem (controlling for class background and intellectual ability: Hannan et al, 1996). It seems possible to suggest that they assess themselves, and their skills and abilities, on male terms in a male world and, by definition, as young women, they are less than adequate. In school, subject choice, career choice and recreational activities are 'officially' gender neutral although the picture is a good deal more complex, with 'male' subjects (such as maths) being more highly valued than the more 'female' subjects such as languages (Lynch, 1989; Drudy and Lynch, 1993). Nevertheless, positions of authority in clubs and organisations are overwhelmingly held by middle class boys (O'Connor, 1998). Young middle-class women appear to be offered the possibility of full participation in such structures, conditional on their becoming token middle-class males. In fact positions of authority remain in male hands and this amongst a group unaffected by issues related to child care, maternity leave etc.
  35. On the other hand however by the early 1990s, all of the Universities in Ireland had Women's Studies at Undergraduate and/or Postgraduate level. Feminist publishing flourished with the launching of five Journals of Women's Studies or Feminist Studies and the production of monographs by the such staff and students in most of the Universities. Typically, however, Women's Studies was under-resourced with inadequate staffing levels (Connolly, 1996; Byrne at al, 1996). There is a tension, of course, associated with the presence of Women's Studies courses within what are essentially male-dominated hierarchical structures (Byrne 1995; O'Connor, 1999) and there are enormous risks of co-option. At its best, however, the existence and vitality of Women's Studies is an ideological challenge to the structure and ethos of these institutions, and a radical root for women-oriented discourses within the more traditional subject areas.
  36. Maruani has stressed that increases in women's participation in paid employment 'does not mean that women have won occupational equality...discrimination and segregation continue to reign.' Equal pay does not exist in any E.U. country (Maruani, 1992:1). In Ireland, from what little we know - and we do know very little- it appears that, on average, women's hourly earnings remain substantially below men's. We know that Irish women's hourly rate is 74% of men's in the manufacturing area. However, only a minority of women work in this area. Callan and Wren found that in their study women's hourly earnings were 80% of men's, with 10% of the remainder being explained in terms of labour market experience (the remaining 10% being arguably due to discrimination). They also noted that the gap between male and female hourly earnings was similar to what it had been in 1980. However, their data was drawn from 1987, and employment in the service sector has dramatically increased since then. National figures on hourly wage rates in the service sector are not available but it is obvious to even a casual observer that much of the employment in this area is low paid; and 80% of women's employment is in that sector. In Ireland and indeed across Europe, young unmarried women tend on average to have higher educational qualifications than their male counterparts -so that they could be expected to earn more than young men, which they do not do (Callan and Wren, 1994; Maruani, 1992).
  37. Furthermore, despite women's access to positions of 'expertise', their access to positions of 'authority' remains limited (Savage, 1992). Thus although women constitute 65% of those in the professional services, women are under-represented in positions of 'authority.' Depending on how we define such management positions, women hold 15% -24% of them in Ireland to day. Even yet, women make up less than 7% of those at senior management level in the civil service; and an even smaller proportion of those at senior levels in the local authorities; the health boards; the universities etc. Change at this level has been microscopic in the past twenty years.
  38. According to Peillon traditionally, women's ideological choices were presented as lying between being a self-sacrificing Irish mother or an a-sexual employment-oriented being. Even to day a concept of woman as a degendered being is promoted within the educational and occupational systems. This concept obscure the 'aristocracy of sex,' and in fact implicitly values male traits, behaviour and attributes. Paradoxically although women remain under-represented at decision-making level in most structures in Irish society, there is evidence that some adult middle class women have adopted such a degendered concept and do not 'see' women's under representation in these structures (O'Connor, 1995B). They see references to gender as 'sexist' and effectively as attempts to demean them. Thus this ostensibly degendered concept can be seen as a mechanism for obscuring the reality of patriarchal control. Cockburn (1991:219) has captured the subtlety of the apparent acceptance of women in such ostensibly degendered structures: 'You may find a place as long as you simulate the norm and hide your difference. We will know you are different, and continue ultimately to treat you as different, but if you yourself specify your difference, your claim to equality will be nil'. Given women's under-representation in the ideological structures (Church; State; Academia) it is unclear what relationship will emerge between such ostensibly gender-neutral concepts of self and a gendered acceptance of difference.
  39. The processes and practises which ensure that men still overwhelmingly occupy senior management positions include organisational culture; organisational procedures; career structures; lack of arrangements to reconcile work and family and individual characteristics.
  40. Organisational culture is the concept which is typically used to refer to ideas about 'women's place' and their abilities; the complicated fabric of myths and values that legitimate their position at the lower levels of the hierarchy; portray managerial jobs as primarily masculine and generally affect how managers view women's potential for advancement. The Hansard Society Commission (1990) saw such a culture as one of the four 'general and pervasive barriers' to women's promotion.. A variety of international studies have adverted to its existence and importance in 'chilling' women out. This type of culture is particularly likely to occur in predominantly male managerial and administrative structures. In my own health board study (1995C and 1996), as the women at middle and senior levels saw it :'It was assumed that a man would go further'; 'you get the impression of so many cliques and black suits....at present the women are outside it.' Yet in these health boards, women made up three quarters of the employees. They stressed the way management drew attention to any mistake that they had made saying: 'What do you expect? It was a woman who did that?' When a woman stepped into a job that was previously held by a man there were these so called 'humorous' comments. As they saw it, men at senior level saw employing women as a 'total hassle.' If women were married, they anticipated the costs and inconveniences of maternity leave- and if they were not 'they wondered what was wrong with her'. Similar patterns have emerged in a variety of other studies exemplifying Cockburn's (1991) suggestion that 'men reward women for sexual difference when they are in their proper place, penalise them when they step into men's place.'
  41. In a gendered society bureaucracies are unlikely to be staffed by what Halford (1992:172) called 'degendered automatons,' so that insofar as staff 'bring their personal interests into organisations... these shape the way they discharge their functions, gendered perceptions, practices and attitudes...' In Mahon's work and in my own work on the health boards (O'Connor, 1995c and 1996) the allocation of high profile work to women which enabled them to achieve visibility was crucial. It enabled them to 'show form', to be seen as an obvious candidate for promotion. The difficulty was that typically such high-profile jobs were not given to women because of prejudice, remoteness from decision making areas and lack of awareness of the importance of visibility. Where women were in predominantly female areas, another factor came into play: the poor resourcing of these area reflecting what Davies (1991) has called 'neglect by the powerful'. It is widely accepted that indirect discrimination in such structures is very common although it is very difficult to prove. It may be reflected in the way advertisements are framed; in the idea that men need promotion more etc. It has been widely noted that at interviews where marking schemas are loose, or where there is a reliance on qualitative indicators of a candidates 'style,' men are more likely than women to be appointed at senior level (Hansard Society Commission, 1990; Mahon, 1991). At a more fundamental level, all-male or predominantly-male interviewing Boards still exist.
  42. The narrowness of the 'channel' from which managers in predominantly male areas of employment are recruited affects the potential availability of women for promotion. Thus for example Mahon and Dillon (1996) found that 80% of top managers in local authorities entered as clerical officers- and this pattern was more extreme than it was in the 1960s. Since women made up 14% of those at the first rung of middle management, and 4% of those at the second rung, then as long as internal channels were used, there would inevitably be very few women at the top of the hierarchy. In addition there is some evidence that predominantly female areas of employment have a lower ratio of promotional to basic posts than predominantly male areas of employment. Thus in the health board study, women staff nurses had a 28 to 1 possibility of promotion to matron/assistant matron; male staff nurses had a 14 to 1 possibility. Women in the predominantly male administrative structure had an 8 to 1 possibility of being promoted to a grade with a roughly similar wage to that in the nursing area while men had a better than 1 in 2 possibility of being promoted in these predominantly male structures. These differences are all the more striking since the abilities and qualifications of those entering the two areas would be seen as broadly similar.
  43. In Ireland work and family have been 'reconciled' by allocating family (and more recently paid work) to the woman and paid work to the man. Thus the implicit assumption is that 'normal workers' have back up (i.e. wives). The fact that women continue to carry disproportionate responsibility for housework and child care has traditionally been widely seen as one of the most important factors in explaining the absence of women from paid employment and/or from positions of authority in the public arena. However it is increasingly recognised that it is not motherhood itself, but the way in which it is socially and culturally constructed, which is critical. Thus for example it has been shown that although the effect of motherhood on paid employment in Ireland is extremely negative, motherhood has a slight positive effect in some countries such as Denmark (Bulletin on Women and Employment, 1995). Ironically, the adherence to a concept of paid employment which is rooted in a male model, involving resistance to job sharing, no child care facilities, and a commitment to full-time paid employment has in fact forced Irish women to choose between no paid work and full-time paid work - and they are increasingly choosing the latter.
  44. The focus on the individual is one of the most popular explanations for women's absence from positions of power. Such explanations are very attractive since they imply that women's subordination is 'natural'; inevitable'- a conclusion which is very re-assuring for those who benefit from the patriarchal dividend, but are in Connell's words 'bashful about domination'. Such a focus on individual factors includes the idea that women are not really interested in promotion; that they are not willing to commit themselves to paid employment because of other interests or life styles; that they lack confidence; that they are organisationally na•ve etc. To a greater or lesser extent, some of these explanations have a certain validity. They fail however to go beyond the individual level of explanation. Thus for example it has been shown that women are less likely than men to apply for promotion. However, the conclusion that this is due to a lack of ambition; disinterest in promotion; commitment to family life etc. is challenged by the fact that, as Lynch (1994) has shown, the proportion of women applying for principalships in Irish primary schools increased dramatically from 29% in 1983/84 to 51% in 91/92. This period coincided with a number of initiatives to promote gender equality- including the taking of legal action, the mounting of an awareness campaign by the unions and a variety of training and research initiatives. Thus it seems more plausible to conclude that women's applications increased because a culture had been created where there was a greater possibility that they might be appointed. This explanation seems all the more plausible since over that period women who applied were more likely than men who did to be successful. These patterns are not of course peculiar to Irish society.
  45. To an extraordinary degree the changes in women's lives over the past twenty five years have barely impacted on many institutional structures in Ireland. In so far as women wish to be part of them, they do so on male terms. These structures are still controlled by men, and they operate on the assumption that the male is the norm. Many men- at a personal level- have come to terms with the redefinition of manhood which is implicit in these ideas. Redefined gender roles have not, however, been assimilated into the social and cultural construction of heterosexuality nor have they been absorbed by important Irish institutional structures such as the institutional church, the state or even the economic system.
  46. The most fundamental issue in the new millennium, as indeed today, is the relative value of men and women. To a degree to which we perhaps have only begun to appreciate, the women's movement in Ireland has reflected and reinforced 'ordinary' Irish women's positive evaluation of themselves as women. The differential valuing of women and men underlies the 'patriarchal dividend'; it underlies our ideas about the nature and value of work in the home and in the area of paid employment as well as our ideas about men and women's appropriate relationship with each other and their place in the wider society. The choice for men both in the public and private arena is clear. At heart it is one of choosing whether they want to eliminate privileges based on gender; whether they want to enforce the subordination of women through physical or sexual violence; to collude with the ongoing existence of and the perceived legitimacy of the patriarchal dividend, with the implicit denigration of the value of women's work inside and outside the home; the devaluing of their skills; the de-legitimating of their emotional power and their exclusion from such centres of power that men define as key. Insofar as they do not wish to do this then it is clearly necessary to eliminate privileges based on gender. Ultimately it will require a rethinking of the whole nature of manhood, sexuality, work and power and the creation of structures which embody these ideas in the context of a re-negotiation of their relationship with women, and a restructuring of society. At the very least it will require a recognition that the patriarchal dividend exists, and that such a phenomenon is problematic. It is ironical that this appears to be such a radical proposal. John Stewart Mill in the middle of the nineteenth century attempted to waive the unearned privileges which he saw accruing to himself as a man. The apparent novelty of the idea as we approach the second millennium highlights the extent to which our consciousness of male privilege has become dulled despite the second wave of the women's movement and the heightened post- modern awareness of the relationship between power and knowledge.
  47. The choice for women at the most fundamental level revolves around whether we are willing to recognise and challenge the gendered nature of power -- to problematise the patriarchal dividend both in public and private areas. It is hard not to see this as involving a tedious series of skirmishes; occasional victories and wearisome reversals. Inevitably there will be times when it will not seem worth it. The legitimacy of a woman's agenda -- with its prioritising of women's needs, including those relating to their vulnerability to poverty and to domestic violence and to their under-representation in positions of authority in the wider society -- seem likely to continue to be key. Related to this is the value of 'women's work' inside and outside the home; the nature of a genuinely woman-centred sexuality and the possibilities for male/female relationships within a world where relationships with men are not inevitably hierarchical. The extent and nature of the solidarity between women and their ability to create and maintain structures which recognise their different experiences of discrimination; their different choices and life styles and their different levels of gender awareness is likely to be critical as regards the perpetuation of male control, a control which is increasingly likely to be mediated through women who support the system. In that context the short term rewards available to those who are willing to be 'hard on women'( Kanter, 1993) as the price of their (apparent) acceptance by male dominated structures are likely to be considerable.
  48. There are signs of hope, such as the tradition of 'easy' 'decent' men who have peopled our literature and our lives. The crisis tendencies within and between the institutional structures and the visible erosion of male authority within what is a numerically small society suggest that pragmatic concessions will be made. The Irish State is not a monolith, and already elements in the State structure have shown a willingness to foster the empowerment of women. The EU's concern with social solidarity and with the democratic deficit may further legitimise women's visibility and their contribution to the public arena. Economic trends, and particularly a demand for women's labour in an increasingly service economy, may also create pressure for change. A small number of men are publicly discussing the redefinition of manhood; others are endorsing a 'woman's agenda' in the public arena, distancing themselves from men who are violent towards women and children, and trying to create structures in the public and private arena which do not institutionalise indirect discrimination against women.
  49. Women in Ireland are accustomed to making choices and creating meaning and identity within structures which are, to a greater or lesser extent, not of their own choosing. Many of the changes which have occurred are not peculiar to Irish society, although they are particularly visible within it because of the very scale of the society, the emotional power of women within the family; their educational achievements and their disproportionate access to positions in the professional services. However, unless its institutional structures reflect and reinforce a positive valuation of womanhood in all its multi-facetedness then, truly, it remains no country for women . . .or indeed for men. . . .


Works Cited

Barry, U. (1992) ‘Movement, change and reaction: the struggle over reproductive rights in Ireland’ in A. Smyth(ed) The Abortion Papers, Ireland. Dublin: Attic Press.

Benton, T. (1981)’Objective interests and the sociology of power’ Sociology, 15:161-184.

Bulletin on Women and Employment in the EU (1995) April No 6 Brussels: EC.

Byrne, A.; Byrne, P. and Lyons, A.(1996) ‘Inventing and teaching women’s studies: considering feminist pedagogy’ Irish Journal of Feminist Studies, 1.1 :78-99.

Byrne, A.( 1995 )’Academic Women’s Studies in the Republic of Ireland’ Women’s Studies Quarterly, 15-27

Callan, T. and Wren, A.( 1994) Male female wage differentials : analysis and policy issues . Dublin: ESRI.

Casey, M. (1987) Domestic violence against women- the women’s perspective. Dublin: UCD Cockburn, C.(1991) In the way of women:men’s resistance to sex equality in organizations. London: Macmillan.

Connell, R.W. (1995A/1987) Gender and Power. Oxford: Blackwell.

Connell, R.W. (1995B) Masculinities Cambridge: Polity Press.

Connolly, L. (1995) ‘The women’s movement in Ireland 1970-1995: A Social movements analysis’ Irish Journal of Feminist Studies, 1.1:43-47.

Connolly, L. (1997) ‘From revolution to devolution: A social movements analysis of the contemporary women’s movement in Ireland’ Unpub. Ph.D. thesis submitted to NUI Maynooth.

Dahlerup, D. (Ed) (1986) ‘Introduction’ The new women’s movement: feminism and political power in Europe and the U.S.A. London and New York: Sage.

Davies, C.(1991) ‘The sociology of the professions and the profession of gender’ Sociology, 30. 4:661-678.

Drudy, S. and Lynch, K.(1993) Schools and Society in Ireland Dublin: Gill and Mc Millan.

Faith, K. (1994) ‘Resistance: lessons from Foucault and feminism’ in H.L. Radtke and J. Stam (eds) Power/Gender: social relations in theory and practise. London: Sage Press.

Grint, K. (1991) The Sociology of Work. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hannan,D.; Smyth, E.; Mc Cullagh, J.; O Leary, R., and Mc Mahon, D. (1996) Co-education and gender equality. Dublin: Oak Tree Press.

Hansard Society (1990) Report of the Hansard Society Commission on women at the top. London: HMSO.

Halford, S. (1992) ‘Feminist change in a patriarchal organisation’ in A. Witz and M. Savage, (eds) Gender and Bureaucracy, Oxford:Blackwell/Sociological Review

Hartmann, H. ( 1981) ‘The unhappy marriage of marxism and feminism: towards a more progressive union’ in L.Sargent (ed.) Women and Revolution . London: Pluto Press.

Hoskyns, C. (1996) ‘The European Community’s policy on women in the context of 1992’ Women’s Studies International Forum 15.1:21-28

Kanter, R (1993/77) Men and women of the corporation 2nd edition. New York:Basic Books

Levine, J. (1982) Sisters. Dublin: Ward River Press.

Lugones, M. and Spelman, E. (1993) ‘Have we got a theory for you. Feminist theory, cultural imperialism and the demand for the ‘woman’s voice’ ‘ in J. Kourany, J.P.Sterpa and R. Tong (eds) Feminist Philosophies, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Lynch, K. (1989) ‘The ethos of girls’schools: ananalysis of the differences between male and female schools’ Social Studies, Vol 10.1-2:11-31

Lynch, K.(1994) ‘Women teach and men manage’ in Women for leadership in education Dublin: Education Commission of the Conference of Religious in Ireland.

MRBI (1992) Mna na hEireann Inniu Dublin: Market Research Bureau of Ireland.

MRBI (1998) Attitudes towards the Catholic Church Dublin: MRBI.

Mac Greil, M. (1991) Religious Practice and attitudes in Maynooth. Maynooth: S.R.U.

Mahon, E. (1991) Motherhood, Work and Equal Opportunity First Report of the Third Joint Oireachtas Committee on Women’s Rights Dublin: Stationery Office.

Mahon, E. (1994) ‘Ireland: a private patriarchy?’Environment and Planning:A, 26:1277-1296

Mahon, E. (1995) ‘From democracy to femocracy: the women’s movement in the Republic of Ireland’ in P. Clancy et al (eds) Irish Society: Sociological Perspectives. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration Press.

Mahon, E. and Dillon, L. (1996) Women in management in local administration Second Report of the Fourth Joint Oireachtas Committee on Women’s Rights. Dublin: Government Publications.

Maruani, M. (1992) The position of women in the labour market. Brussels: EC.

O’Carroll, P (1991) ‘Bishops, knights and pawns? Irish Political Studies,6:53-71

O’Connell, P. (1996) ‘Sick man or tigress? The labour market in the Republic of Ireland’ Paper presented at the British Academy Symposium: Ireland: Nortth and South. Nuffield CollegeOxford, December

O’Connor,P. (1995A) ‘Defining Irish women: Dominant discourses and sites of resistance’ Eire-Ireland, Vol 30.3:177-187.

O Connor, P. (1995B) Tourism and development: women’s business ?’Economic and Social Review, Vol 26. 4: 369-401.
O’Connor, P. (1995C) The barriers to women’s promotion in the Midland and Mid Western Health Boards. Limerick: Mid Western Health Boards.
O’Connor, P. (1996) ‘Organisational culture as a barrier to women’s promotion’ ’Economic and Social Review, Vol 27, 3:187-216

O Connor, P. (1998) Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society .Dublin: Institute of Public Administration Press.

O Connor, P. (1999) ‘Women in the academy: a problematic issue?’ in A. Ryan and B. Connolly (eds) Education in Ireland : Maynooth: NUI Maynooth.

O’Dowd, L. (1987) ‘Church, State and women: the aftermath of partition’ in C. Curtin et al Gender and Society. Galway: University Press.

Peillon, M. (1984)’The structure of Irish ideology revisited’ in C. Curtin, M. Kelly and L. O Dowd (eds) Culture and Ideology in Ireland. Galway: Galway University Press.

Porter, E. (1996) ‘Culture community and responsibilities: abortion in Ireland’ Sociology, Vol 30. 2:279-298.

Pollert, A. (1996) ‘Gender and class revisited: or the poverty of patriarchy’ Sociology, Vol 30.4:639-659.

Pyle, J.C.L. (1990) The State and women in the economy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Rubery, J., Smith, M., and Fagan, C. (1996) Trends and prospects for women’s employment in the 1990s Brussels: EC.

Smyth, A. (1988) ‘The Contemporary Women’s Movement in the Republic of Ireland’ Women’s Studies International Forum 11, 4: 331-341

Smyth, A. (1993) ‘The Women’s Movement in the Republic of Ireland 1970-1990’ in A. Smyth (ed) Irish Women’s Studies Reader Dublin: Attic Press.

Taylor, J. (1998) ‘Feminist tactics and friendly fire in the Irish Women’s movement’ Gender and Society, Vol 12, no 6: 674-691

United Nations (1995) Human Development Report. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

United Nations (1998) Human Development Report. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Savage, M. (1992) ‘Women’s expertise, men’s authority:gendered organisation and the contemporary middle class’ in M. Savage andA. Witz (eds) Gender and Bureaucracy Oxford: Blackwell/Sociological Review.

Walby, S. (1990) Theorizing Patriarchy. Oxford: Blackwell.

 

3