Analysis & Comment

Lorraine Courtney: 'The big picture is that women have never had it so good'

Women in Ireland have never had it so good. I’m not saying we can’t have it better, but in the whole of Irish history there’s never been a better time than now to be a woman.

RTÉ’s recent series ‘The Big Picture – A Woman’s World’ examined what it is to be a woman in Ireland in 2018. But too often when we talk about women and women’s issues, we only focus on the negative. It’s even worse if you go online as we seem to be increasingly shaped by social media, our new, enabling, worst friend.

This is not only lazy and irresponsible, and bound to make young Irish women far more fearful and angry than they need to be – it is also insulting to the women facing incredible hardship in other countries around our world.

This mightn’t be the PC thing to say right now, but it’s true. Irish women have never been in a stronger position in society than today. Change has happened. Slowly but surely, small steps built into a new reality. There’s more work to be done, but our little country has transformed.

We have more choices than our mothers and grandmothers could have even dreamt about. They lived in a world where contraception and divorce were banned and there were no State supports for single parents.

They weren’t allowed to get a restraining order against a violent husband and rape wasn’t a crime within marriage. They lived under the marriage bar (where women had to leave their public service jobs when they got married). And the notion of a female Irish President seemed as likely as a unicorn flying over the Áras.

Here we are in 2018, standing on the shoulders of the brave and brilliant women who paved the way for us, women such as Nell McCafferty, June Levine and Mary Kenny.

They mobilised and campaigned – their movement’s finest hour came with their trip from Dublin to Belfast, which became known as the Contraceptive Train, to buy contraception and bring it back across the Border. Every day I try to be aware of the privileges they won for us and the tools we have been given.

Most of the old forms of discrimination, the old sexist barriers to study and academic success, have been removed. Girls are outperforming boys in our schools.

In this summer’s Leaving Cert, girls secured a higher proportion of top grades – H1s, H2s and H3s, or 70-100pc – in 34 out of 40 subjects at higher level. We’re doing better in universities too and the gender pay gap has closed for workers in their twenties.

The marriage bar was lifted long before we were even born and women were freed from the kitchen sink to do whatever we want including, of course, staying at home if that’s what we choose to do.

Huge strides have been made to improve the treatment of women in the workplace and I am so grateful to have been provided opportunities denied to previous generations of women, being able to spend time with my family and travel, while still working in a very rewarding job.

We have a higher life expectancy than men – four years higher. We have multiple orgasms, hair straighteners and more female TDs than ever before.

Third wave feminism has ebbed and flowed since the 90s, but in the past year or two the wave has been more like a tsunami. Feminism is one of the loudest social movements around. We’re pretty much drowning in calls for equality, seeing as everyone from Hozier to Simon Harris is a feminist these days.

Granted, things are still far from perfect for women (and men) in Ireland. There’s some more work to be done but I’m very optimistic. Now, instead of always wallowing in victimhood and negativity, let’s take a moment to recognise how good we have it today.

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