Mary hailed a heroine while the Pope pours scorn on feminism

Here in the People’s Republic, however, we are making progress in terms of recognising the role of women beyond the hearth and kitchen, so writes Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Mary hailed a heroine while the Pope pours scorn on feminism
Mary Elmes Mary in the 1940s.

TO celebrate International Women’s Day, I’m looking forward to going to Seahorse at the Everyman tonight (Friday night, March 8).

Written by and starring Christiane O’Mahony, an award-winning stand-up comedian, the show is described as “a darkly comic play about the anxiety of being a woman in modern Ireland, the expectations of family and society, and the awkwardness of being alive”.

The character in the play, Mara, has an existential crisis in an aquarium in the middle of the night. She starts to fantasise about being a seahorse, “ a species whose male gives birth”. Mara imagines the freedom that would give her.

Yes, indeed, males going through pregnancy, labour, birth and all that follows would certainly free up women — to rule the world, perhaps? It would be a whole new world order.

If women didn’t have to worry about sacrificing large parts of their lives by having babies, the fairer sex could channel its talents in other directions.

Medical science, while making great strides in so many areas, is unlikely, however, to design a male with a womb. (The men wouldn’t allow it, I imagine.)

So those nurturing women who reproduce are at a disadvantage when it comes to making progress in the workplace. They have to juggle the demands of motherhood with their jobs.

We’re told we’re good at multi-tasking. That’s the get-out clause for men who simply couldn’t run a household, rear kids AND keep down a paying job.

What was Pope Francis thinking when he recently described feminism as ‘machismo with a skirt’?

Machismo is, most definitely, something that feminists want to quell. Who wants testosterone to be to the fore? It’s the root cause of much of society’s ills.

Machismo is war-mongering, bloodthirsty, often authoritarian and patronising towards females. At its most mild, machismo is just a bit blind to the needs of women. We don’t appreciate mansplaining. We don’t want to be bossed around. We are perfectly capable of making our own decisions.

The Pope represents the exclusionary traits of masculinity which seek to keep women down. He is the head of a church that has a blanket ban on women becoming priests or playing any kind of truly significant role in ecclesiastical matters.

While I don’t get why any woman would want to be a priest, there are plenty of women out there who want to play a role in the church that is equal to that of ordained men.

“Machismo in a skirt” is actually a good description for priests, in their frocks and narrow masculine approach to their vocations.

They see women as playing an ancillary role which basically comes down to flower-arranging and occasional participation in talks about the Catholic church under the theme of family.

Here in the People’s Republic, however, we are making progress in terms of recognising the role of women beyond the hearth and kitchen. (That’s not to denigrate the domestic sphere, but women’s participation in society has always gone beyond that, despite the obstacles.)

There was a choice of four notable women (and just one man) after which the latest bridge to be built in Cork city is to be named.

The Mary Elmes Bridge, which will connect Merchant’s Quay to Patrick’s Quay, acknowledges the humanitarian work of this Ballintemple-reared woman who was born in 1908 and died in 2002. She risked her life to save the lives of others during World War II.

In 1942, during the Holocaust, Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées became the holding centre for all Jews. Mary worked to save the lives of hundreds of Jewish children. She smuggled them to safety at a time when they would otherwise have been taken to concentration camps in Germany and Poland.

Mary endured six months in a Gestapo prison in Paris on suspicion of helping Jews escape. Undeterred, after her release, she continued to help the victims of the Holocaust. She refused to accept the salary which she had accrued while in prison.

Clearly not a woman who wanted her name in lights, Mary turned down the Legion d’Honneur later offered by the French government. After the war, she married a Frenchman and stayed in southern France for the rest of her life.

She never talked about her war time experiences. It was said of her in 1947 that “with courage and simplicity, she brought to the most deprived the food and clothing which prolonged their lives and the hope of survival. Her confident, affectionate and smiling presence kept the memory of happiness and liberty alive”.

Some years after her death, Mary became the first Irish person to be honoured as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashmen, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, for her work in saving Jewish lives.

Machismo in a skirt? More like humanitarianism at its best.

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