Belfast Telegraph

Why is it still so hard to be a woman in Northern Ireland?

By Nuala McKeever

Have you ever seen the film The Stepford Wives? It's based on the 1972 novel by Ira Levin and it's about Joanne Eberhart, who goes to live in the quiet town of Stepford in Connecticut with her husband.

Joanna – played by Katharine Ross in the 1975 film, and by Nicole Kidman in the 2004 remake – is bright and funny and curious and feisty. Slowly, she comes to realise that the women in Stepford are changing. One week they're normal women with opinions and humour and interests in what's happening in the world, then they go off for the weekend and come back totally different.

They're like robots, programmed only to talk about and be concerned about looking pretty, acting demurely, keeping a lovely home and being available for sex to their husbands as and when required.

Joanna is intrigued and horrified. Eventually she discovers that these women appear robotic because they ARE robotic. They've been taken away, killed and turned into automatons. The men have created "perfect" women.

Well, it's 2014 and we're not Connecticut, we're Northern Ireland, but still, welcome to Stepford.

In one hour's perusal of the news media you'll discover that the last woman to present a flagship current affairs programme solo on BBC Northern Ireland has been removed; the Prime Minister refers to the Queen as "purring" on the phone; male university students are wearing T-shirts saying, "It's not rape, it's a snuggle with a struggle"; Fox News journalists make reference to the first female fighter pilot to go into action in Syria/Iraq with comments about how when she lands it would be "boobs on the ground" and then make "jokes" about her ability to park her plane; women married to, or going out with the golfers in the Ryder Cup, pose for photos as Golf WAGs, in matching outfits; a local comedy festival fields a line-up with only one female stand-up comedian and finally, to top it all, the nadir, the ever loving lulu of it all, Jim (because it's in the Bible) Wells is appointed Minister for Health. Jim Wells, putting the sinister in minister.

What to do? How to respond? Should I lobotomise myself, buy a pinny and a push-up bra, plug in the heated rollers, exchange my shoes for fluffy mules, blow the cobwebs off my copy of A Woman's Guide to Housekeeping from 1952 and spend the rest of the day practising putting on lipstick without wanting to kill myself?

No! I want better! I demand better! And so does anyone with any interest in a healthy society. Not just women being treated well, everyone being treated well, because disrespecting a person demeans the disrespecter as well as the disrespected. Nobody wins.

From whence does this almost casual attitude of misogyny spring? After years of small steps of progress for our society, we now appear to be going backwards. It reminds me of the u-turn on wearing animal fur. In the Eighties lots of supermodels said they'd rather go bare than wear fur. As a society, the idea of respect for all living creatures had entered the mainstream. A few years later, fur was back on the catwalks.

What happened? Did what mattered once, stopped mattering? Or, is it a case of when times are easy, we free up our compassionate side and when times are difficult, we retreat into defensiveness which is played out as aggression? Are men behaving badly because their masculinity is threatened by economic impotence? Are they vulnerable because their roles are unclear?

Who cares!? Stop treating women like chattels and objects!

Men, embrace your inner female and leave the actual females to decide for themselves.

Hols idea will never take off

Sounds great. Richard Branson has announced that Virgin will now operate a policy of no annual leave limit. Employees can take as many hours, days, weeks or months off as they wish. Whoopee! I want to be a Virgin employee!

Then you read the caveat. They can swan out the door whenever they like, so long as they have all their work done and their absence doesn't affect the running of the business.

Hello? I used to have time off enshrined in my contract and now I only have the promise of some? I think the 'Virgins' have just been had.

Counting up the cost of war

We may be about to get into a war that'll take years.

It'll definitely not all be over by Christmas, that's for sure.

Oh no, wait a moment, we won't be able to go to war. I forgot.

Sure the Government has said that spending will have to be cut across the board.

We're all in this together.

So that means, there won't be enough money for the multi-billion pound armaments needed to kill people 'over there'.

So, if you're being laid off in the next few months, take comfort from the fact that the armaments industry shares your pain.

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