From film stars to angry nuns, women are rocking the system!

Women from all walks of life are beginning to open up about their well-founded grievances in the workplace. From baby steps, great movements and revolutions start, so says Colette Sheridan in her column to mark International Women's Day
From film stars to angry nuns, women are rocking the system!
Mary Beard. Picture: Jo Hale/Getty Images

CHOCOLATES, flowers — or a copy of Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard?

It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, which might mean breakfast in bed with a decorative spring daffodil swaying from a glass tumbler on the tray, celebrating this special day of the year.

But that’s only if you have an evolved partner/husband who is actually aware of what the day marks.

In other words, a middle-class partner (probably) who keeps abreast of these matters that affect the woman in his life.

Do her a favour. If she hasn’t already got a copy of Mary Beard’s book, buy her one. And men should read it too.

Its theme is female silence, something that men, as exemplified in classical literature, had to ensure (and often still do) because, as Beard says, women’s voices were seen as subversive and a threat to the state.

Thanks to the Me Too movement, what was euphemistically called ‘the casting couch’ has been revealed for what it is. Prominent women in the movie business, who had remained mute for years, are now calling out the likes of sexual predators and alleged rapists such as the odious Harvey Weinstein.

Bullying of women in Irish politics and theatre, blatant pay discrimination, unpaid-for care duties undertaken by women and a Dáil that has never been less than 78% male, all add up to a vista that shows women still have a long way to go in the fight for equality.

We’ve been hearing a lot from high profile Hollywood women who are click-bait, guaranteed a voice in the media. But there are countless so-called ordinary women — from low-paid supermarket check-out assistants who are often on zero-hours contracts, to under-valued nurses who emigrate because of relatively poor pay levels here — that don’t make the headlines.

Unlike film star women (who earn a lot, although generally less than leading male actors), the almost invisible women that serve, clean and help make daily life run smoothly, keep their heads down about discrimination.

It’s because they’re scared, scared of losing their meagre livelihoods, not brought up to put their heads above the parapet.

But hang on — a Vatican magazine has denounced the treatment of nuns as indentured servants by cardinals and bishops.

This month’s edition of Women, Church, World, the monthly women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has drawn attention to the fact that nuns cook and clean for senior Catholic clergy for next to no pay.

Now, that’s newsworthy. Nuns are clearly not click-bait, with their dress code of shapeless habits and wimples, but they could be said to represent all those women who serve men without proper pay.

While we always knew that nuns in the lowly ranks don’t get paid for their duties, it is hugely progressive that an official Vatican publication would highlight the slavery (because that’s what it is) and publicly denounce the system.

The editor of the magazine, Lucetta Scaraffia told Associated Press: “Until now, no one has had the courage to denounce these things. We try to give a voice to those who don’t have the courage to say these words.”

Pope Francis (a veritable feminist in papal terms, which isn’t saying too much) has told the editor of the magazine that he reads it and appreciates it. But it is not surprising that the deeply patriarchal Vatican system doesn’t exactly embrace this organ of dissent.

Recent issues of the publication have raised eyebrows, including an edition on women who preach. It supported the idea that lay women should be allowed to deliver homilies.

One of the authors had to publish a clarification, saying he didn’t mean to suggest a change to existing doctrine or practice.

But all this goes to show that women, from all walks of life, are beginning to open up about their well-founded grievances in the workplace. From baby steps, great movements and revolutions start.

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote her dystopian novel about women being reduced to baby-making machines in 1985, during a backlash against feminism. As the Canadian writer said in a recent interview: “People were saying, ‘Well, you got everything you wanted and you don’t have to be a feminist anymore’.”

Clearly, feminism’s job is not over and possibly never will be.

The fight for reproductive justice is the burning issue in this country — and the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment is going to get uglier. But much progress has been made.

As women celebrate International Women’s Day with a drink tomorrow, it’s hard to imagine that in 1970, some pubs refused to allow women in and many refused to serve women pints of beer. Women, accidentally served a pint, would be instructed to pour it into two half-pint glasses. Another Irish solution to an Irish problem.

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