Lindy McDowell: Today’s women have enough on their plate, thanks, without being handed a banana with the words ‘You are strong’ on it
I am woman, I am strong. No, let me rephrase that. I am woman and I am sick of being told I am strong. Like this is a new thing. It's not that I have any problem with the idea of women (or indeed men) being strong, empowered, pursuing their ambitions, reaching for the stars, whatever. Far from it.
I'm just weary of the constant lecturing from luvvies, 'activists' and commercial enterprises who appear to think this is a revolutionary concept. Which they are the first to champion.
No movie awards ceremony is now complete without some star, her voice wobbly with emotion, telling all those little girls out there how they must be strong while, in the audience, fellow actresses are seen to bubble up with photogenic, moist-eyed emotion.
Which may have less to do with sisterly empathy, more to do with their own angst at not winning the big gong themselves.
Women have been strong since time immemorial. Strong and brave and brilliant. Not just the Elizabeth the Firsts and the Joan of Arcs, the Florence Nightingales and the... um... nominees for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.
But the unsung 'ordinary' women who with quiet fortitude and no acclaim just got on with it - and still do - through times of conflict, deprivation and great personal challenge.
The fighters, the factory workers, the teachers, the cleaners, the single mums, the campaigners, those who are the bulwark of the health service, the carers at home doing extraordinary things unremarked, unrecognised.
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The women who came through two World Wars, often having to hold families together in the direst of circumstances. The women who came through the Troubles.
No. The enduring problem for women isn't that they've not been strong. It's that they've routinely been dismissed as weak and cowering and not half as clever as men.
Since time immemorial we've been patronised.
Now we're being matronised.
Which brings us to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who kicked off this week with a visit to a charity which does great work helping women who sell their bodies on the street.
I hesitate to call these women sex workers because I always think that description suggests a regulated industry with employee care and properly monitored working conditions. As for 'prostitutes', there's the old judgmental sneer implicit there. This charity Meghan was visiting hands out food parcels and other essentials. The women on the streets they work with are often forced there through mental illness, addiction or domestic violence.
During her visit Meghan announced she'd had a lightbulb moment, called for a black marker (which was coincidentally, conveniently to hand) and inscribed, with inspirational tosh, bananas which were to be distributed in the food parcels.
You Are Brave. You Are Special. And, needless to say, You Are Strong.
Inevitably she has since been taken apart by the global commentariat for her 'let them eat regally inscribed bananas' outreach.
Having said that, the charity has possibly benefited from the widespread publicity the story attracted.
And apart from the phallic foolishness, I do think Meghan was well-meaning. She's a former American actress whose first language is T-shirt slogan. So it must have seemed a good idea at the time.
Especially to a royal who along with her sister-in-law now seems to be endlessly trying to do a Diana. Whether to endear herself to the public or to her husband it's hard to say.
But like the Bafta winners she's going about it the wrong way.
We are women. We have enough on our plate. We can do without celebrity banana philosophising and all the other condescending guff.
Zodiac a bit of an animal lottery
Happy new year to all our Chinese friends, this week marking the first in the Year of the Pig. The Chinese zodiac has a 12-year cycle with the year you're born in corresponding to your animal sign. Some, like tiger or dragon, sound better than others. I was out the other evening and in our company we realised were a monkey, a horse, two snakes, an ox and one rat. As I say, some zodiac signs have a more glamorous ring to them than others.
Son in a jam over birth consent
Interesting court case of the week... the gentleman in India who is taking legal action against his parents for giving birth to him without his consent. Your first reaction is to sneer at the very idea. Why must I face wars, he gurns? Why must I feel pain? Why must I work? Oh, come on, get over yourself man! Then he adds another why-must-I. Why must I be stuck in traffic jams? Hmmmm. Good question. He's possibly got a case there.
Never mind the backstop, Leo’s getting unionists’ backs up
Whatever happened to Leo Varadkar? Back when he was elected Taoiseach, Leo was seen, both north and south, as a bold breath of fresh political air.
Product of a new generation, he was young and charismatic — a Taoiseach for the times, breaking down barriers in a nation evolving from its religion-dominated past into a forward thinking, confident 21st century society. Upon which many of us in Northern Ireland looked with admiration and not a little envy.
But now Leo appears like a bit of a throwback.
Faced with Brexit and wrangling over what to do about the border he has reverted to the sort of intransigence we’re accused of cornering the market on up here.
Not an inch. It’s his way or no way. The backstop, full stop.
You can’t fault the man — or his government — for taking a firm stance in defence of what he and they believe to be best for their country.
It’s how Leo has handled the optics of this....
Images of him this week smirking (there is no other word for it) alongside Donald Tusk after the latter made his “special place in Hell” comments were not a good look.
What’s especially sad is that in recent years there had been a growing warmth between Ireland and Britain. Considerable outreach on all sides.
But now the Taoiseach gives the impression that he couldn’t really give a toss about unionist concerns over the potential erosion of their place in the UK. That actually he’s encouraging it.
The great irony is that in place of the soft border he’s so keen to maintain, Leo Varadkar is now building a new wall of hostility between the Republic and northern unionists.