Monday, February 23, 2015

#askhermore

Feminism is a funny old game.  It is a classic case of two steps forward and one backwards.  As women move forward in our quest for full equality there seems to be an equal counterweight which balances this progress by reminding us that we still aren’t really that equal.  Just in case we get ahead of ourselves like.

Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the media and entertainment.  Take the movies, for example.  While there seems to be a feeling abroad that things are improving for female lead roles, research recently published by the Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television showed that, in fact less than 12% of the lead protagonists in the top grossing 100 movies in 2014 were women.  Less than 12%.  And women only represented 30% of all speaking characters in these movies.

But along with these dismal statistics are the facts that most of the women in film are younger and usually identified by their social roles rather than their careers.  In other words they are portrayed as far less powerful than their male counterparts. 

At this juncture can I just give TV3 a shout out for their superb new soap drama series ‘Red Rock’ which is liberally sprinkled with strong female characters, who operate in their own right.  It’s very refreshing and they are every bit as compulsive as any of the male leads.    

Anyway, back to Hollywood and the fact that we might think that Disney putting a princess into a blue dress means that things are changing.  The reality is that they are not. 

Of course one of the main ways to reduce a woman’s power is by subtly reminding her that no matter what her accomplishments are, she will still be judged first and foremost on her appearance.  And no where will you find this illustrated more elegantly than on these ‘Red Carpet Shows’ that precede all the big awards ceremonies.  In one fell swoop these shows have managed to reduce some of the most wonderful actresses and female performers in the world to beauty pageant contestants. 

E! Fashion Police (yes, an actual programme which used star the late Joan Rivers) leads the charge in this regard with their vacuous presenters, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic who line up female stars to ask “so.... who are you wearing?”  E! has also championed two new technologies to help them in their task of reducing the actresses to clothes horses.  The Glam Cam rotates an image of the actress round and round and up and down so we can judge her from all angles and then we have the mani-cam.  Yes, you guessed it.  A mini red carpet so the actress to walk her fingers towards the camera so we can view her manicure and her jewellery.  

However the good news is that the fight back is on, it seems to be working and it began on the much maligned medium of social media. 

The Representation Project grew from the success of a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined how women were portrayed in across all media, from film to news and current affairs.  The mission of the project is to highlight and challenge the limiting depictions of women in media. 

In response to the inane questions that female actors are subjected to on the red carpet they began a hashtag called #askhermore.  This allows users of social media, particularly Twitter to urge broadcasters to ‘ask her more’ than just what dress she is wearing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a nice frock and wearing too much make up to a ‘posh do’ occasionally.  And yes, I watch these Red Carpet shows and love to see the style.  But I would also love to hear about how the actress felt about the role, or what she was doing next. 

The website Buzzfeed sent a reporter to cover the red carpet at the recent BAFTA’s in London who only spoke to male actors and gave them the ‘who are you wearing treatment’, along with requesting Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton to ‘do a twirl’.  You can guess who did and who didn’t.  But it was the look on the mens’ faces as they were faced with such trivial, banal questioning that was the best.

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January actors Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore all refused to parade their fingers for the mani cam. 

But to borrow from Mr Dylan, “the times they are a-changing”.  Last night, as I watched the first hour of E!’s Red Carpet Show the change in emphasis was obvious.  Men and women were both asked who they were wearing – but that was it.  They were then asked more.  And for the time I watched anyway there wasn’t a mani-cam or glam cam in sight. 


The fight goes on but at least the battle to #askhermore seems to have been won.  


You might like this story on the Oscars From My Table Archives  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

FEARLESS NO MORE.....


I have a fear of clutter.  I throw stuff out at an alarming rate.  I especially hate the idea of the space above our heads being full of rubbish, so things have to pass my inspection before they are allowed to be stored in the attic.  However there are two large bags up there which I insist on keeping.  I rarely investigate these bags but I like to know they are there. 

These bags contain a part of my soul.  They contain my old diaries.  No, not the kind of private journals into which you pour your heart and innermost darkest secrets.  No, these are work diaries.  And they go right back to the early 1980s.

My first career was in the travel business and my oldest diaries date from my days working for JWT.  Although holding no deep secrets, they do provide plenty of clues to what was going on in my life then.  Because along with work related appointments and reminders, my social life is also recorded therein.  Pages that end with a scribble that says ‘Toners’ (pub in Baggot Street in which I spent quite a proportion of my meagre salary in those heady days), or Fridays that often say “the Pink” referring to the place to hang out back then. 

Music gigs were also an important feature with weekends littered with band names like ‘Stepaside’ and ‘The Lookalikes’.  Just looking at these notes, which give away no secrets, I can remember many things that will remain forever secret, well as long as I don’t ever fall out with my oldest friends.

But it’s not just the pages of the diary that hold clues to my previous lives.  My diaries have always been used as storage folders for important bits and pieces of information – everything from other people’s business cards to notes and letters.  My JWT diaries hold copies of memos requesting holidays.  There are long rolls of telex communications that were vital for some reason or other.  Ask your ma or da what a telex is.  These diaries are a window into the world of work in the largely pre computer era. 

At the back of the diaries are lists of vital phone numbers – although in those days I could recite most of them off by heart.  I don’t even know my children’s phone numbers now – something that does worry me.

And there are postcards from various far flung destinations.  In the days before Facebook when we went on holidays we sent postcards back to let friends and family know that we were having a wonderful time.  They’ve lasted way longer than last month’s Facebook posts.

Currently in my work desk I have a drawer that is full of my most recent diaries... the writing and broadcasting ones.  One of the great joys of self employment is getting to pick one’s own diary.

About five years ago, when I first decided to leave the cosy and safe confines of my kitchen table in deepest suburbia in order to market my opinions in the media I came across a diary called ‘A Fearless Woman’.  Knowing that this was what I was going to have to become, I bought it.  It was pretty and colourful and each month began with a page emblazoned with an affirmation. 

I have bought a Fearless Woman Date Book even since.  Let me share what January 2014 said; “From the deep well of her spirit, her brave voice awakens to rise and to roar.  Empowered to say what she knows to be true, she speaks up and doesn’t hold back”.  Great motivational stuff that I cling to on days when I wonder what kind of an eejit I am to think anyone is going to commission me to write anything at all. 

So for the last five years my desk has been graced by my gorgeous Fearless Woman Diary.  Then in the haze Christmas shopping madness, I made a rash decision.  My head was turned by a pretty little pocket diary covered in glitter.  “Sure wouldn’t that be grand” I thought to myself; a nice sparkly diary that I could have in my bag.  Big mistake. Huge.

Two weeks into January I was lost and I’m still completely bereft.  My glittery diary is too small.  I can never find it.  It won’t fit precious photos or slips of paper I may need.  I hate it.

But worst of all, it’s now too late to find a Fearless Woman diary in the shops. 


The moral of this tale is that all that glitters (yes, I know he wrote ‘glisters’) is indeed not gold.  Also - you are not what you eat – you are your diary. And how am I to continue to be a Fearless Woman in 2015 when I only have a stupid glittery yoke to work with?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A FAMINE SIT COM? WHY NOT?

When I first heard that Channel Four had commissioned a ‘sit-com’ about the Famine I winced.  My reaction was one of revulsion.  The famine remains a special kind of horror that we may still be coming to terms with as a nation.  The National Famine Monument in Co Mayo was only unveiled in 1997 and it was not until 2008 that we, as a country inaugurated a National Famine Commemoration Day.   Why did we take so long to begin to deal with this catastrophe?  Do we carry the horror of starving to death in our DNA as a kind of race memory?  Do we Irish people of today carry some residue of guilt that our families survived and remained in Ireland?  I think all of these questions may have an affirmative answer.

I know I was not alone is experiencing revulsion at the idea of a comedy being set around those awful years between 1845 and 1850.  There is currently an online petition with over 20,000 signatures against this proposed project.

But once I got over my initial reaction I was almost equally disturbed by the notion that I might consider certain topics to be off limits to comedy or satire.  All my life I have found humour even in the darkest moments.  And I believe that it is this ability to see the absurd even in the tragic that has regularly saved my sanity.  I am a huge believer in the power of humour to make life bearable and at times joyful beyond explanation.  There is nothing as exhilarating as to be taken to that place where you are literally crying with laughter.

We lost American comedian Joan Rivers last year.  At times Ms River’s comedy made me wince too.  Particularly when she attacked someone for being fat or ugly – or God forbid, both.  I still think that personal attacks are the lowest form of wit.  Ricky Gervais is another purveyor of this brand of humour.  I like my comedy to be a bit clever.

When Ms Rivers died, I tweeted that I sometimes found her humour to be cruel rather than funny.  That tweet didn’t earn me any new followers and I was taken to task by a number of her fans online. 

Over Christmas, ITV screened ‘An Audience with Joan Rivers’ which was originally aired in 2005.  Towards the end of the programme she was asked if there was anything she wouldn’t joke about.  Her answer completely won me over. 

It’s a well known fact that her husband committed suicide (as she says, ‘in the 80s when it was still chic’).  She explained that when she went back on stage the first time after his death,  she could feel the audience wondering how she would be.  She tackled their curiosity head on.  Her first joke was about suicide. 

However, she then went on to talk about how her beloved daughter, Melissa reacted after the sudden death of her father.  Melissa has spoken him on the phone the night before he died.  Melissa was also the only person home when the phone call came to say he passed away.  Joan got somewhat emotional when she explained how, for over a week after the funeral, she couldn’t reach her poor 15 year old daughter.  Finally she took her out to dinner to a very expensive restaurant in Hollywood.  As they looked at the menus Joan said “you know Melissa, if you father were here looking at these prices, he’d kill himself all over again”.  And Melissa laughed.  Connection was re-established.

I think there is a reason that we are the only species on earth that have a sense of humour.  I am sure that our ability to laugh is designed as a release valve – a way of making life more bearable, especially at times of disaster – personal, national or indeed global.

Joan Rivers can joke about suicide because she has experienced it at close quarters (and she did a lot of charity work around the issue).  There was a truth in her comedy. 

The young man commissioned by Channel Four to write this sit com about the Famine is Hugh Travers.  He is Irish.  So too is the production company, Deadpan Pictures.  That also makes a difference.  So although the project may air on a British TV station, it will be an Irish creation.

We Irish should be the first to make comedy around the Famine, because we know the truth of it.  It won’t lessen the horror of what happened.  It won’t insult the memory of those that died.  It won’t change anything.  No more than the movie ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ lessened the horror of the Vietnam War. 


But it had better be funny.  To be unfunny would be unforgiveable. I wish Mr Travers the best of luck.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

LOVE CHRISTMAS? ME?... Maybe this year



Every Tuesday a lovely, chatty man who loves to laugh calls to my door with a delivery of eggs.  We shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes and we always end up with a laugh.  Last week the poor man had the misfortune to ask me if I was looking forward to Christmas.  “Looking forward to Christmas” I roared at him... “looking forward to Christmas.  No I bloody well am not.  Christmas is just a whole heap of hard work.”  By now his expression of slight bemusement had morphed into something approaching terror, as if he has awoken some sleeping beast or had suddenly realised he was on a rapidly accelerating runaway train.  He started to edge back out the door.  But I was only getting going.  “Along with the stress of weeks of present buying in stuffy over crowded shops I then have the prospect of peeling a mountain of spuds on Christmas Eve, followed by carrots and sprouts... that no one likes but we have to have them because they are traditional.. and God forbid we move away from tradition.  Not to mention trifle, puddings and Christmas cake.  Now who the hell in the right mind would look forward to Christmas?  It’s too much bloody hard work” I roar.  The poor man was at the front gate by now, muttering “right so, see you next week.” 

As I closed the door I realised that I seemed to actually resent Christmas even more than I had thought.  I felt sorry for the egg man who would clearly arrive home to his wife saying “jaysus Barbara went off on a right one today”.  Although maybe he wouldn’t say anything to his wife for fear he might awaken the sleeping beast with her too.

But seriously, Christmas is a huge amount of hard work and yeah I do have offers of help but maybe I like playing the martyr or maybe I am a bit of a control freak but I generally do the lion’s share of the donkey work myself. 

Now back when the kids were smaller and I was relishing the surprising joy of being a ‘housewife’ (hate that term) I was a wee bit terrified at the thought of providing Christmas Dinner for extended family.  It’s not that making roast turkey with all the trimmings is that complicated but the trick was and still is getting everything to be ready at the same time.  My Achilles heel is usually getting the roast potatoes sufficiently crispy without the vegetables going soft. 

Actually I have two Achilles heels.  The other is that every year I make two puddings – because I LOVE Christmas pudding but also, because, until last year, I always burn the arse off the first one.  Then someone gave me the secret of placing a saucer under the pudding bowl – who knew?  No more horrible smell of melted plastic in the kitchen followed by hours trying to scrape said stuff off my best heavy bottomed saucepan.

Anyway,  by the time I actually get to eat my pudding I am red faced, in a sweat and completely exhausted and only slightly inebriated.  Everyone else is merrily pulling crackers, well pissed and completely oblivious to my pain. 

But I hate that I am beginning to be known as a Christmas Grinch.  “Oh Barbara, she hates Christmas” people say about me.  But it’s really only the Christmas dinner shenanigans I hate.  I love Christmas carols, I love cold crispy weather, I love the smell of a Christmas tree and the twinkle of the lights. 

So this year I am going to attempt to make life a bit easier for myself.  I am going to buy as much pre prepared stuff as I can.  There is a voice in my head that says “ah but that’s cheating and not very traditional” but feck that.  I want to sit down without a red face and with enough energy to pull crackers with everyone else.

And the good news is that all the supermarkets are full of great ready prepared vegetables and prepared meats to make our lives easier.  The good people at Centra let me have a look at what they have in store to help a tired housewife like me enjoy Christmas more.  It looks like heaven.

From boned and rolled turkey (who needs turkey wings anyway), and ham joints to potato gratin and spouts with bacon.  They also have desserts and party food and cheese boards.   All the hard work done.  Oh joy of joys.

I no longer need to prove I can cook a Christmas dinner for ten.  Been there and done that too many times.  No this year I am taking it easier and letting Centra do the heavy lifting. 


I can’t wait to tell the egg man!!!  Now, where's that recipe for Mistletoe Mojitos?

Monday, November 3, 2014

YOU'RE GRAND....



I love starting a post with “as regular readers will know”.  When I read this phrase elsewhere I always feel kind of slighted that perhaps I am not a regular a reader as I should be.  So ...... as my esteemed and highly valued regular readers will know (are you feeling a little slighted yet?)  I don’t usually review books on my blog.  But very occasionally a book will cross my desk that is a bit special.  And this one is not only special but is the kind of book I wish I could write. because it’s very fecking clever as well as very funny.

Shortly after the launch of You’re Grand by Tara Flynn, a fellow journalist, tweeted that it was a grand read ‘for the jacks’ and he stressed that he meant that as a compliment.  I would like to take serious issue with that.   This is a book for the bath!  Not the jacks.  I read it over four long leisurely soaks in fragrant bubbles and it was the perfect place to delve into the wit and wisdom contained within its pages. 

Why the bath I hear you say.   Well this book may well be ‘a secret guide to life’ but it’s much more than that.  It may well be very funny (and it is, believe me).  But along with the hilarity and the seemingly gentle tone there is a sharp edge of satire which any woman who has lived on this little damp rock in the North Atlantic will recognise. 

However – and here is the clever bit – instead of leaving us, the women of Ireland, feeling very cross at having been ‘shushed’ and sidelined for decades, Tara constantly reminds us of where we came from.  Throughout the book she mentions old pagan Ireland when we were Goddesses.  And she hints time and again that (like cats) we haven’t forgotten that fact.

So this book will remind you of all the crap we have put up with over centuries.  But ultimately this book will raise your spirits and possibly even reconnect you with your inner Goddess.  She hasn’t gone away... she is still there.  And where better to begin to uncover her than while pampering your body and relaxing your mind in a bath of warm bubbles.


Get your paws on a copy of ‘You’re Grand’ and then buy one for your mammy and your best friend.  The sooner we all remember who we really, the sooner this country will be on the way to be properly fixed.  

Oh and by the way... even if you're not Irish and even if you don't even live here, you will find lots to enjoy in this book.. and you also could discover your inner Goddess... Let me know how you get on..  And don't forget to soak in the bath while you are at it!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE HEN HOUSE CELEBRATES ONE YEAR ON AIR



In the last year 58 amazing women have made the trip out to Dundrum Town Centre to be my guest on The Hen House.  This week marks the programmes first birthday!

When I came up with the idea for the Hen House I worried that I would quickly run out of women who were willing to come and talk to me for an hour.  I never doubted that there were lots of interesting and funny women out there.. but asking them for a large chunk of their afternoon to come into studio and be interviewed by yours truly was and is a big ask.  I am very grateful to each and every one of you who have given me your time, your pearls of wisdom and some great laughs.  But more than anything I want to thank you for using your voice to tell your story.

Some stories were intensely personal, some were related to your work and some were related to a cause you feel passionately about.  But each of you gave your talent and your time very graciously and generously.  And for that I am very grateful.

But more than all of that you women have made your voices heard.  Amid the male dominated noise and chatter on our airwaves, The Hen House is providing women with a platform and a space to talk, to tell our stories.

These are the women who made the last year such a great experience for me personally and who have helped to redress the gender imbalance on air in Ireland:

Jillian Godsill, (on surviving bankruptcy)
June Shannon (medical journalist and mental health campaigner)
Joanna Fortune (child psychotherapist)
Sarina Bellissimo (broadcaster – Spin 1038)
Jill O Herlihy (PR supremo)
Eleanor Fitzsimons (writer)
Vanessa O Loughlin (all things writing)
Dil Wickremasinghe (broadcaster and social justice campaigner)
Caroline Grace Cassidy and Sorcha Furlong (actresses and writers)
Abby Wynne (healer)
Sinead Buckley Quinn (Design Loft in Powerscourt)
Andrea Hayes (broadcaster, TV Presenter and animal campaigner)
Mary Mitchell O Connor, TD
Michelle Jackson (author and travel writer)
Sharon Lawless (documentary maker)
Andrea Smith (journalist)
Janet O Sullivan (pagan, witch and feminist)
Orla O Connor (CEO NWCI)
Noirin Scully, Mairin Cullen and Stephanie Batt – wise older women
Maeve O Sullivan (poet)
Caroline Erskine (Women on Air former Chairperson)
Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance)
Carmen Browne (singer)
Elaine Lavery and Hannah O Reilly – Improper Butter
Aisling O Toole (Editor – Irish Country Magazine)
Ann Colgan, Jeanette Kavanagh, Ellen O Connor – local election candidates
Ailson Canavan (model, business women and mental health campaigner)
Denise Deegan (author)
Louise Bayliss (Spark) and Grainne Sherlock on lone parenting
Hazel Gaynor (author)
Margaret Scully (radio documentary maker and broadcaster)
Sinead Burke (fashionista, blogger and small person)
Jen McGuirk (actress and intrepid traveller)
Ellen Gunning (PR)
Muriel Bolger (author, journalist and travel writer)
Maria Duffy (author)
Grace Kelly, Aimee Corcoran and Megan Brady – the Class of 2014
Deirdre O Connor (care of the elderly)
Andrea Mara (office mum)
Dr Ger Scanlon and Laura Haugh – Education special
Jillian Van Turnhout – Senator
Hazel Larkin, (blogger and writer)
Irene Lowry, (CEO, Nurture)
Mary White, Senator
Vicki Mooney (Plus size models)
Helen Walsh (holistic fitness instructor)
Cindy O Connor and Trish Errity from Pieta House
Ciara Meehan (history lecturer and curator of Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition)
Claire McGing (lecturer in political geography).

Thank you all so much......  And thanks to all of you have listened – either live or by listening back to the podcasts.

I am hoping that all of these past programmes will be available on the Hen House page on the Dublin South FM website in the not too distant future.




Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dear Enda.... about IRISH WATER

Yesterday on the Twitter machine, Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor with the Irish Independent posed the following question.  “If @irishwater were to somehow start all over again, what advice would you give to the government?”  140 characters were not enough. 


Dear Enda

There is little doubt that Irish Water a complete mess and a PR disaster.  This is the result of rushing at it like a horny bull at a gate into a field of attractive cows, whose eyes are only on the prize, in your Government’s case – the tax revenue.  Remember what your mammy taught you – “fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”

But the Government has a bigger problem.  The imposition of yet another tax on the beleaguered people of this country has finally pushed us to boiling anger.  And this anger is not just, as some commentators would have us believe, because we live in a soggy country where it rains all the time resulting in our having some kind of psychological reluctance to pay for the very stuff that often makes us feel damp and miserable.

We are angry because we have had enough.  We are angry because this is a tax too far.  We are angry because we now know that in two years time most of us; especially those of us who live in urban centres are going to be fleeced with the unfair property tax that is calculated on value of our homes as opposed to square footage.  

We are angry because this is how we are repaid for our compliance with all the austerity that has been forced upon us for debts that we didn’t incur.  It is the people who have allowed your Government and the previous one, to enforce the cuts and taxes that have given you great kudos abroad.  Ireland’s so called recovery is not your triumph – it belongs to the people of this country. 

But we are now saying enough is enough.  We have no more to give.

But let’s park the anger for a moment.  There is obviously a case to be made for the payment of water and the treatment of waste.  In principle I would imagine most of us would accept this.  So here is what I suggest you do.  If, that is, you really are planning for an infrastructure project that will serve this country and our people for the next number of decades and not (as most of us suspect) you are just seeing Irish Water as another way to raise more tax Euros in the short term.

Streamlined, small efficient company
Irish Water should be in the first instance a small and very efficient company.  It should not be a retirement home for workers who previously have been employed by the local councils. There should be no talk of bonuses or whatever other terms have been used to describe same.  Ditto with car allowances and other nonsense.

Fix the leaks
In the first instance Irish Water should be charged with fixing the leaky system.  And don’t give us the line about how will they pay for it?  If Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council can spend €33 million on a monster library, if the GAA can secure €30 million for the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, money will be found.  How much have you spent on the other ill fated project currently on the table, the Children’s Hospital?  This year we will pay in the region of €4 billion in that other awful austerity tax the Universal Social Charge.  As usual in politics – there is always the money - it’s a question of priorities. 

Grants for rainwater harvesting and other water conservation measures
If water is as precious a resource as Irish Water have tried to tell us it is and if we are serious about changing our attitudes to water then it is vital that the Government introduce incentives to allow people to invest a little now in measures that would conserve water in the future.  To me this is a glaring omission to the current plan for introducing water charges.  Bringing in such incentives would also have a positive PR bounce as it would give the impression that instead of being ripped off we are all in this together.  See how we took to recycling?  We can easily do similar with water conservation.

Install meters
Once the company is seen to be fit for purpose and the leaky system has been brought into the 21st century, then Irish Water can begin the process of fitting meters.  But could I suggest that most people would like a meter that they could read easily – similar to the ESB or Gas Meter and not something that exists solely under the ground at the end of the driveway.  We have never paid for water as a separate utility before and most of us have little or no idea about how much we actually use.  It is vital to build trust so a meter that is visible to householders I think is essential.

When all of the above has been completed then it is appropriate to announce a date for billing to start.  I would suggest no earlier than 2020.

Finally – once we are paying for water – there should be no talk of call out charges.  If there is a gas leak – do we have to pay the Gas Company to attend? 

I know that as Taoiseach you are surrounded by advisors that cost me and the rest of us plenty money.  You might like to review their input Enda.  Because Irish Water is rapidly going to go down in history as the biggest government mess ever – eclipsing the E Voting machines and Children’s Hospital and Incinerator messes that have preceded it.

Once you start bullying your electorate Enda you lose them.  This project needs to be completely reimagined.  Irish Water needs to be completely overhauled before you can do anything.  Then slowly, bringing your people with you, there might be some chance of success.  And your legacy may just survive... and I know that’s very important.  Not to us... but to you and your fellow Ministers.


Sincerely


Barbara Scully

P.S oh and by the way Enda, tinkering about with allowances etc is not going to quell the anger... in fact it may do exactly the opposite.  We know you are on the ropes on this one... it's time for time out and a total rethink and redesign.