Belfast Telegraph

When it comes to attitudes to women, we're still stuck in the Seventies

By Nuala McKeever

I'm delighted that a Belfast judge has found so-called pro-life protester, Bernie Smyth, guilty of harassing the head of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast, Dawn Purvis.

Ms Smyth ("I'm not a witch, I'm a Catholic") made threats to Ms Purvis and, along with other members of Precious Life, questioned women of child-bearing age entering the office building in which Marie Stopes is situated.

I'm delighted because I was beginning to think that Northern Ireland was sprinting back towards the Dark Ages as far as treatment of women was concerned.

Sadly, we still lag behind other countries in many areas. We have a blurring of religious belief and politics that makes the situation that used to pertain in the Republic of Ireland, where Church and State were inextricably linked, look like a mild friendship.

I watched a bit of a TV programme last week called It Was Alright in The Seventies. The episode I caught looked at how television portrayed attitudes to women. The producers showed clips of popular shows to comedians and commentators now, some of whom lived through the Seventies and watched the programmes as kids, and some who weren't born then.

The general attitude then was that women were objects of men's interest and it was ok for men to talk about them and to them as if they were nothing but sexual fluff. Terry Wogan felt it perfectly acceptable to interview a beauty contest entrant and, having asked her her age ("16," the swimsuited girl replied), comment: "You're a big girl for 16!"

Another comedy programme showed a grandad talking lustfully about his own teenaged granddaughter. And yet another "comedy" had Wendy Craig's character shout: "I want to be raped!".

As you'd imagine, the viewers of the clips were all jaw-droppingly horrified and stunned that such attitudes were considered fine.

I imagine if you did a straw poll of people here, the same clips would raise far fewer eyebrows. Here, we have people ringing into Frank Mitchell's radio programme, the morning after the Bernie Smyth judgement, chatting with him about how she is "attractive" and how that makes her more "appealing" to listen to.

Obviously over here, It's Still Alright These Days would be the programme we'd be commissioning.

I know that one ought not to expect a high standard of debate on local radio phone-ins, but come on! If this is the sort of stuff that's deemed fit for broadcast without being laughed off the airwaves, how can we say we've moved on from the 1970s?

Some of our quaint customs here are worth preserving - our obsession with traybakes and our love of helping strangers with directions when they're lost are just a couple of sweet traits of the Norn Iron personality. But could we save those and ditch the archaic, interfering, disapproving attitudes towards other people's private choices? Save the Traybake! Ditch the Sour Bake!

We can't go back and un-happen the awful abuses of power that took place in the past, where children and young people were treated appallingly. We can't change how life was back then. But what we can do, here and now, is listen with respect to those who are talking now, about the abuses of power that are happening now.

History is never on the side of those who want to maintain the status quo in the face of progress. We have the chance to choose now, how we want now to be remembered in the future.


Hen party we're all invited to...

Have you bought your Christmas jumper yet?

Remember, a jumper is for life, not just for Christmas.

If you've wool to spare, you could join Pauline McLynn, Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, as she heads a campaign to knit wee jumpers for chickens rescued from battery farms.

These poor critters have no beaks, have never stretched their wings and have no feathers.

All they've done is lay eggs.

But now, thanks to the "Ah Go On" project, the chic chicks will be warmed by woolly sweaters as they begin life with their adoptive families. Awww...


Happy Birthday Mum, and thanks

My mother turned 88 on Saturday. Actually, she didn't turn at all, she stayed facing forward and glided gracefully into bingo's Two Fat Ladies territory.

She's roughly the same age as Elizabeth II, used to look a bit like her and has a fraction of the royal one's money, but I still know which one I'd prefer to spend time with for a bit of craic, a cup of tea and a biscuit - "Och go on, have another one!"

She's seen me through birth, marriage, divorce, death and everything in between. We joke that her catchphrase is, "Sure why would y'bother?" but actually, she has bothered a lot, with love, quietly and wisely. For all the hugs, the laughs and the soup, thank you Patsy, you're the Queen of Mammies!

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