Women politicians and sexism in the Irish media.

This thread is opened for posting and discussion of examples of sexism towards women politicians in the Irish media.  Having recently been kindly invited to contribute to the Anti-Room blog, I wrote a piece on the need for gender quotas and a discussion has been going on there for a few weeks now.  Changing attitudes is arguably one of the biggest obstacles we have to seeing more women in politics and in public life in general, not least among those who control the way women are popularly perceived in those roles: the men and women of the media.   Women themselves are by no means exempt from being sexist about other women – especially in a male dominated environment like the media where being one of the lads is still a fact of daily working life for many, though certainly not all.   Of course none of this is news to many women but it seems like it needs to be said again and again until the point goes home. 

I’ve just posted a comment to the gender quota thread at the Anti-Room (see link above) about a throwaway remark about Margaret Thatcher made in an editorial in today’s Irish Examiner.  She is described as an ‘Enoch Powell in an austere frock’.  Male politicians are almost never discussed by reference to their appearance.  Their ideas and actions may be ridiculed, but their basic human dignity is seldom attacked in this way.  It is depressing when a woman who achieved as much as Margaret Thatcher did can still be discussed in these terms in the media and though I despise her politics, unless women start to support each other regardless in facing down this sort of casually vicious and sexist treatment, attitudes will never change.    Respect for women is key to bringing about real change – we’re going to have to insist on having it in equal measure.

22 thoughts on “Women politicians and sexism in the Irish media.

  1. I agree that too often women’s contribution to debate is diminished by reference to their appearance. However, it is no longer exclusively a ‘female’ problem. For example, there is no way Brian Cowen would be subjected to the snide comments on how he looks if he was female.

  2. Frequently am dismayed by the uneveness with which Vincent Browne treats his women guests. There’s no crass sexism about Vincent (that I’ve ever seen, at least)but it is infuriating the way he tends a)to interrupt them before they’ve gotten to the end of two sentences when answering questions or trying to make a point and b)generally gives them about a quarter of the opportunity to actually speak as he does his male guests. Last night Kathleen Lynch – an able and experienced politician was sandwiched between Eamon O Cúiv and Simon Coveney.

    The programme can be watched here:


    What do others think?

    1. Research has shown that 9 out 10 interruptions in male/ female conversation are made by men. (and not because we’re rattling on.In my experience, not infrequently, if you attempt, (as a woman), to make a point wrt to what a male speaker has said, you will often be treated AS IF you had interrupted….in other words, no space is provided for you to reply, because you’re not really expected to. What the man has to say is so obviously more important, true, better-informed……you are effectively being put in your (traditional) place. There are restrictive cultural and social expectations still in existence as to how women conduct themselves towards men. Deference is often still an expectation. What VinB is doing conforms with this.

      1. What Vincent Browne is doing is testing their ability an excellent presenter, He should be appointed the next Ceann Comhairle What we need is some law and order he ticks the boxes who can argue with that apart from Vincent

  3. A woman has to almost be twice as good as a male counterpart to earn the same respect. A woman who is confident enough to say she’s good at what she does is often considered a bitch, particularly by other women. I don’t blame women for avoiding the national level of politics, there at least seems to be more and more getting involved at local level. Hopefully, it will filter through to the Dail in future years.

  4. Exchange with Vincent Browne wrt what was said above:

    Email to Vincent Browne sent 6 October 2010

    Dear Vincent

    I hope you are well.

    I’ve been tweeting my frustration at you during the programme a few times about a tendency you have to give your women guests less time and to interrupt them (even!) more than you do the men guests. I’m not talking about the cut and thrust of debate which makes the programme interesting – only the distinction, unintended I’m sure, between the way the men and women are treated.

    There’s been a lot of talk about women in politics recently – and I’ve started a thread on MediaBite in the hope that people will bring for discussion examples of sexism towards Irish women politicians in our media. While there are undoubtedly many far worse offenders, I’m sorry to say your programme last night in which poor Kathleen Lynch scarcely got a look in between the two men – was the first example that I came upon having posted my blog thread yesterday. So as a matter of courtesy to you and duty to my objective here is a link to the post beneath which a short comment about the programme is made.


    Any reply or reassurance will be greatly appreciated – or possibly even contrition and a resolve to do better in future :-). Even as I write this, I see a tweet on my screen from one viewer who felt that neither Margaret E Ward nor Maedb Ruane were given a fair crack on a TWVB panel earlier this week. Whether they feel that way themselves or not, I don’t know (I’ll ask them) but I’m surely not alone in my opinion, at any rate.
    With best wishes
    CC: MediaBite Blog

    And VB’s reply the same day:


    I think you are right about Kathleen Lynch last night and if you thought the same about Roisin Shortall last week that I think would be true too. But in general we try to have a 50/50 split between men and women and with women such as Kathleen Lynch (of UCD), Sara Burke, and many others, usually when they are on we get complaints of allowing them too much time. But I will bear in mind what [you] say.

    [Snipped – discussion of other matter]


  5. It has been irritating me for a long time now, Vincent Browne’s gender bias, either interupting women speakers unnecessarily or alternately not responding to what was said but moving on. Mind you Pat Kenny’s rival show Frontline barely allows women to make a serious contribution at all.

  6. Perhaps men’s attire is not remarked upon because men in politics (for the most part) dress identically.

    Remember when Bertie used to wear anoraks? People commented on it. Remember when Bertie wore a yellow suit to meet George Bush? People commented on it.

    Women, for whatever reason, tend to put some effort into looking well (or different) to each other. Take the dinner party situation: two women wear the same dress – they avoid each other; two men wear the same shirt – they give a high-five and buy each other a round.

  7. This is too much.

    Garret Fitzgerald’s socks… Paddy Hillery’s ridiculous cape … Jack Lynch’s/Harold Wilson’s pipe (fashion accessory)… Tony Gregory’s open neck shirt, Paul Cunningham’s hat, Charlie Bird’s moustache, Tony Blair’s naff jeans, Obama’s gym gear… Sinn Fein suits… trade unionists’ beards… greens’ sandals… geography teachers’ jackets

    If women don’t want their appearance to figure, then why do they wear lipstick, eye shadow, and hair dye, to say nothing of their wardrobes.

    And where is class in this discussion? Are not the women demanding quotas and lamenting unequal access in the politics and the media primarily of the elite classes, of the very kind who have so thoroughly screwed the country?

    So it’s no wonder they are referred to as ‘well-heeled’. To try to avoid their economic status is just another flavour of that all-in-this-together nonsense we’ve been getting since the balloon went up.

    The left is split enough without this careerist distraction. Get working people organized to vote for working women and men, choosing their policies over their quite irrelevant gender, and then we might see some real equality.

    I will never vote for any candidate who promotes quotas, and I doubt very much that I am alone on that.

    1. @ Myered down

      Women politicians in the public eye would have even more sexist remarks made about them if they didn’t look after their appearance. Journalists don’t comment on male politician’s looks half as much.

      Advocates for better gender equality, academic and otherwise, certainly don’t deny that a class deficit also exists in politics. Far from it, they want to see a parliament that is more representative of the electorate and the wider population. However, women make up over 50% of the Irish population at present and cross-cut all other groups such as class, age, race, etc. The low numbers of women in the Dáil and elsewhere is absolutely pathetic by international standards.

      You most likely aren’t alone in saying that you wouldn’t support a candidate that supports gender quotas, but I’d be confident in saying that you’re in a minority. In the current climate I’d assume that support for such an issue would be irrelevant for most voters, who will judge primarily on the party affiliation of the candidate and their stance on the economy/public finances. Actually, the 2007 Irish National Election Study showed that a majority of respondents, both male and female, believe that things would improve with more women in politics, suggesting that few would be put off by quotas.

      1. @ Claire McGing.

        I too think things generally would improve if there were more women in politics. I also agree that it is shameful that we have low representation by international standards.

        How many of those countries that have higher rates of participation operate gender quotas, and how many don’t?

        Agreeing that there should be more women in politics does not not in itself imply a wish for quotas. Quotas are anti-democratic: they act precisely in the way our current meaningless politics operate, by focussing on the qualities of the individual and not his or her policies.

  8. Fantastic post. Women politicians are definitely subjected to sexism by the Irish media (the Irish Independent is the worst offender, IMO). Double standards are at play – women TDs and other women representatives are described by journalists in ways that their male colleagues are not. They tend to be exaggerated, bunched together simply because of a shared gender (compared to Thatcher, for example), or to use feminist terminology, made out to be ‘the other’.

    Two recent examples come to mind for me. The first was an article written by Lise Hand in the II on the aftermath of the Fine Gael leadership heave, on Lucinda Creighton in particular. The language was as gendered as can be (I agree that it often comes from other women), referring to Deputy Creighton as Cat Woman out with her claws for the blood of her leader. Did you see Brian Hayes or any of the rest of her rebellious male colleagues compared to the Joker? Of course not! Articles like this wouldn’t do much to encourage more young women into politics (which, ironically, the media is calling for), despite the fact that Lucinda is a fantastic role model in that regard. Being a young woman, she seems to suffer from media sexism more than most. Nearly every time she says anything that the papers pick up on, the phrase ‘blonde ambition’ seems to crop up. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Another example: Donal Lynch’s article in the Sunday Independent a few weeks ago on Mary Coughlan in the US. Once again, the headline was nothing but gendered to the point that is was almost disgusting, reading ‘Our own Sarah Palin puts on her lipstick and breezes through US’ Firstly, why Sarah Palin? Because they’re both women? How often is a male TD compared to an American politician on the basis of gender? Secondly, when would you ever see a headline about a male TD that read ‘Our own (insert well-known international male politician) shaves/puts on his tie and breezes through the US’? Double standards again.

    1. As a woman I recently noticed best Irish states person was won by a man , would it have anything to do with the the fact that Miriam O was a female presenter who delivered her presentation with very serious emotional power and passion , however the real power was at the fingertips of the women of Ireland Mna Na Eireann, as Albert once said Thats women for ya ,where were all our womens groups? They proved to the nation that eaten bread is soon forgotten but Mary does not need a competion to prove that she is our Female hereo

      1. I do not think things would improve if there were more women in politics. The political consensus and the commentary that depends on it are inextricable, so no, the impact would be negligible until said women represented parties that stood for progressive policies.

        Mary Robinson, member of the Council of Foreign Relations, is a hero? That itself is a comment on the lack of political awareness that has been created in this country. Likewise, I do not see any logic in holding up people like Condolezza Rice or Margaret Thatcher as positive role models. They serve their status group and reap the benefits. Admirable?

  9. I am not a feminist but I do believe in equality behind every good male politican is a very powerful woman and visa versa, Nick Robinson says it all, and it has nothing to do with gender its gene pool, as for rewards, Im a Depack Chopra woman and practice the seven laws of spiritual sucess on a daily basis . what you sew is what you reep the benefits are the fruits of their work good trees produce good fruit and bad trees bad fruit and acorns produce oak trees which will flourish if given the time and patience.

  10. it’s probably a mistaken thread. Sure women draw attention to their own apppearence anyway. You only have to consider any apartment store or shopping centre. How much space is devoted to womens apparell ? I think the original question fails. QED.

  11. I think ageism is a factor with how female politician’s are portrayed in the media. Most politicians tend to reach their political peak in their early 50’s/ 60’s (Angela Merkel 56), but women over the age of 45 seem to simply become invisible and irrelevant in society , especially in the media. (I don’t want to bring this debate down to a baser level…but look at Arlene Phillips being kicked off Strictly). We’re living in an image obsessed culture, and women who don’t conform, and who strive for power or change rather than youth or beauty are mocked. Really at one level it’s quite immature, but at another more disturbing level it’s a form of manipulation, suppression even.

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