Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Women in Irish Families - Panel Discussion

Last night I took part in a post-show discussion in the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar, Dublin. The panel was made up of 
Caitriona Crowe, The National Archives
Victoria White, Journalist and author of "Mother Ireland - Why Ireland hates Mothers"
Catherine Joyce, Traveller Activist
and me!
Here's the official blurb: 

THEATREclub will host a series of post-show panel discussions to accompany their new production THE FAMILY. THEATREclub makes theatre that is about what's happening now, to us, in Ireland and is focused on creating work that interrogates, asks questions and starts conversations. The aim of these panel discussions is to further explore the issues and themes highlighted in the show in order to continue the conversation with their audience.Spirit of the Fringe winners THEATREclub are back with a play that just might be about you and EVERYONE you know.

Find out more about The Family here.

Mon, 23 Jan 2012
“Only a man would do that" - The Role of Women in Irish Families
Panel Guests include Traveller Activist, Catherine Joyce, Victoria White, Journalist and author of Mother Ireland, Caitriona Crowe from the National Archives and Niamh O’Connell author of The Mama’s Hip blog.

The talk lasted almost an hour, with most of the audience staying on for it, and some people arrived especially for it, having seen the show last week. The general theme of the talk seemed to centre around working women and stay-at-home mums.

Catriona Crowe started by contextualising the role of women in the Irish family in relation to historical practises; the division of land among children and traditional position of women in society. She is the most learned woman, the kind of person you would love to download everything that's in her brain. She spoke about the changing role of the Catholic Church and how it affected families in the past. She made a great point that women have always worked while child-rearing, and it was only from the Victorian era that the "lady of leisure" idea emerged. 

Victoria White had some fantastic points relating to the economic power women have, in aiding each other raising their children, though this is unquantified and not recognised by society. Her book discusses the way stay-at-home mums are dismissed and not rewarded by society, either financially or with status. She mentioned how many educated women she knows who have abandoned careers at their height in order to stay home and raise their children, many choosing not to return to work as they have the "happiness index" and feel so content in their role as mother.

Catherine Joyce spoke about traveller women, how they typically marry at 18 or so, have their children by 30 and then begin to look into a career if they wish. She pointed out that as settled people tend to have children later, in the middle of an established career, this is so disruptive to the career. She said traveller women have all the child-rearing and domestic responsibilties, and are quite content to let their husbands go out to work. There is a huge sense of community among travellers, and the idea of a mother feeling isolated at home with young children is unheard of. 

I spoke about the "glass ceiling" of the corporate world and admitted that despite my education it was never an option for me to enter the corporate world, as I didn't want to spend my career fighting to be treated as an equal. I said there needs to be a shake-up of traditional work practices, away with the old 9-5 Monday-Friday working week, and more flexibility for employees. Possibly both parents could take a 4 day week, spending more time with their children. I pointed out there are lots of great stay-at-home dads who are invisible in the media. I also raised the point about working mother's guilt, and the deep-down instinct to protect your young that we are all programmed with, but women want to / need to get out and work, leaving their children to be raised by someone else for much of the day. There are no studies into the long-term effects of children in creches, and I would have reservations about the emotional impact such a separation has on a child in their formative years.

Overall Caitriona Crowe reminded us the feminist movement is only active in the last 30 years, and it is still at work. We all agreed women have to be the ones to make moves to change their situation and fight for what they want. If we had had more time I would have loved to ask the question of the panel "Do you think the Feminist movement is still active in Ireland?" I for one think a lot of the fight has gone out of women, and they are slipping into traditional roles, changing their names when married, taking on all the domestic work as well as child-rearing responsibilities, and working to pay the bills too. I think women are stretched to their limits trying to do it all. I think on the flip-side, men are unsure of their roles too, and possibly feeling they can't take more responsibility in the domestic sphere. I think instead of talking about "male" and "female" roles, (especially since there are more and more same-sex families) we need to start looking on the couple as a team, and how they can support each other to keep the household going and above all, the children feeling cherished. That's all that will matter on our death-beds, not how much we earned.


  1. Sounds like a fascinating talk - I'd love to see this type of thing on TV. Real, honest discussion amongst real, honest women with no hidden agendas! Was it recorded in any way I wonder? Would be great to get a podcast.
    Interesting that you raised the point of shared parental childcare and long term effects on children in creches - a chap called Jonas Himmelstrand has quite a bit to say on the subject - particularly about the Swedish model of childcare, where 92% of all children aged 18mths - 5yrs are in childcare. He will be speaking at this year's La Leche League Conference in Sligo, 3rd & 4th March.

  2. Thanks Noeline, it was really refreshing to get those issues out in the open. The talk was recorded, I'll try to get a link up here if I can track it down. I'll definitely check out Himmelstrand, won't make the LLL conference I'm afraid, but I'm sure it'll be a great weekend! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!


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