In the wake of Trump’s rise to power, Ross Walsh examines the establishment of a Women’s Caucus in the Oireachtas.
“NOBODY has more respect for women than I do”. The supporters of President Donald Trump appear content to take this statement, made during the final Presidential Debate, at face value. However this is in complete contrast to many other statements made by the President before, during, and after the election.
Most notably, he is recorded claiming that he can do whatever he wants to women, including groping them, because he is rich and famous. When a number of women stepped forward to say that the Republican candidate had sexually assaulted them, his defence was that he did not consider his accusers attractive enough to assault.
This contradiction is eerily similar to the concept of ‘doublethink’ from George Orwell’s dystopian classic Ninteen Eighty-Four. This is one of the many similarities between the Trump administration and Orwell’s vision that have been pointed out in recent days.
In the novel, the ruling party have conditioned the public to be capable of accepting two contradictory statements as both being true at the same time. The same way Trump’s supporters can accept that their President molests and insults women with impunity while simultaneously having the utmost respect for them.
“Trump’s supporters can accept that their President molests and insults women with impunity while simultaneously having the utmost respect for them”.
Trump’s openly sexist attitude is merely the tip of an underlying societal problem across the globe. Some of his supporters claimed during the election that they were voting for Trump because his main opponent was Hilary Clinton, and a woman would of course be far too hormonal to be the leader of the free world. For most, the sex of the candidates was likely not a reason in and of itself for their choice. However, a passive sexism did make its presence felt in the run up to election night and its aftermath.
America is not the only country whose leaders are embracing a patriarchal backlash against the gains of the feminist movement. Recently, Russia’s parliament voted 380 – 3 in favour of decriminalising domestic violence, the victims of which are mostly women, in certain circumstances.
On the 21st of January, the international Women’s March took place all across the globe, and was attacked by many in the media. Some agreed with the message, but disagreed with the methods. British television personality Piers Morgan took to Twitter to decry the march as being infested with “rabid feminists”. The line of thought was clear: of course you should fight for your rights, but not like this. Do it in a polite, ladylike manner. Then we will listen.
Coinciding with the timing of this worldwide societal regression, Irish politicians have attempted to put one foot forward. Female TDs and Senators from across the political parties active in the country have come together to establish a women’s caucus. Set up to examine the numerous issues facing women in today’s Ireland, the caucus contrasts with the governmental actions being taken across the Atlantic, such as cutting funding for reproductive healthcare providers in third-world countries.
“The caucus is set to address issues such as maternity leave, the gender pay gap, and domestic violence”.
The caucus is set to address issues such as maternity leave, the gender pay gap, and domestic violence. According to the European Union’s statistics body, Eurostat, the gender pay gap in Ireland stands at around 14.4%, lower than the EU average of 16.4%. The situation is much worse in America, with a gender pay gap of around 22%, and doesn’t look to improve while Trump is in power.
One potential cause of the gender pay gap here in Ireland is are the gender stereotypes attached to certain careers. Even in the educational system, certain careers are still presented as either male or female, with the female orientated jobs often paying less. Subjects are also often divided by gender, with engineering/technology for boys and home economics for girls. Educational reforms will need to be passed through the Dáil and the Seanad if the problem is to be tackled at its root.
Thankfully it appears doubtful that the Irish government will follow in the footsteps of the Russians in decriminalising domestic violence, but the statistics on the issue are worrying. The Fundamental Rights Agency reported in 2014 that 14% of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a partner, 6% of Irish women have experienced sexual violence by a partner and 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a partner. 12% of Irish respondents had experienced stalking. In turbulent times like these, a strong legislative response is needed here as an example to contrast the Russians.
Making up 22.3% of the Dáil, and 28.5% of the Seanad, the women’s caucus might just have the power to decide government legislation on the issues they examine, should they come to a debate in the Oireachtas. By standing together, our elected female representatives can accomplish much more in the face of the misogynistic ‘Trump Era’ than they ever could by sticking to party divisions.