Is it that wrong for a man to ask a woman her age?

When it comes to debates in both mainstream media and social media, women are calling the shots, says JOHN DOLAN
Is it that wrong for a man to ask a woman her age?

Derry Girls star Jamie-Lee O'Donnell. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

THIRTY-five years ago this month, I began my career as a journalist, in the UK.

At the time, a woman was head of the monarchy, a woman was in 10, Downing Street, and I was interviewed for my job, as a cub reporter, by a Group Editor and Editor - both female - and duly taken under the wing of the Senior Reporter - also female.

However, if this sounds like Britain was some kind of feminist Utopia in 1987, I’m afraid it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Monarchs - like Irish Presidents - merely carry out a ceremonial role, and besides, when Elizabeth II’s long reign ends, there are three successive male heirs waiting in the wings. You can expect the next female monarch in the UK some time in the 22nd century.

Margaret Thatcher was indeed the Prime Minister, but her Cabinet, when she was re-elected in June, 1987, comprised 22 men (all white, too) and her.

And while the media has long been seen as an equal opportunities employer, the presence of so many female bosses in my newspaper was somewhat unusual at that time. Indeed, it was only that year, 1987, that the first female Fleet Street editor was appointed, Wendy Henry at the News Of The World - whose chequered career included apparently coming up with the ‘Gotcha’ headline for The Sun, when the Argentinian ship the General Belgrano was sunk during the Falklands War.

In the ensuing years, in the UK, women made giant strides in various spheres of life, as they sought to level the playing field that had seen men hold the upper hand in so many ways for so long.

When I moved to Ireland 20 years ago, I felt this country was behind the UK in terms of progression and opportunities for women, particularly in the fields of politics and business.

But, in the two decades since, giant strides have been made here too. Again, Ireland is far from a feminist Utopia, particularly on issues such as political representation and pay disparity, but it is hard for anyone to argue that a girl born in Cork today will have any disadvantage as she goes through life compared to a boy born next door on the same day.

Indeed, there are some areas of life where women’s voice now hold sway and set the agenda - such as in the debates and spats that daily dominate mainstream and social media.

Northern Ireland women's soccer team manager Kenny Shiels. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland women's soccer team manager Kenny Shiels. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

Two recent illustrations underline my point, where women were generally given free rein to dictate the terms of a debate, as men held back from commenting, for fear of being put into the social media version of the stocks.

The first debate revolved around the manager of the Northern Ireland women’s soccer team, Kenny Shiels, who was clearly in a bad place after his team lost 5-0 to England. He complained that women footballers are susceptible to conceding multiple goals in a short time because they are “more emotional than men”.

Cue a predictable pile-on online, mainly from women, because... well, Shiels had said something negative about the female gender - if that even is a negative.

I happen to believe that women are just as emotional as men, no more or less, but the guy was at a press conference and speaking honestly, for heaven’s sake. Why the ludicrous over-reaction?

Isn’t it better that men are allowed to hold honest opinions on such issues, so they can be parsed and debated, rather than holding back for fear of reprisals?

Soccer is only a game, and we are all sick to the back teeth of managers doling out dull quotes after matches. Those who speak their minds openly should be praised, not cancelled!

It was telling that, after the world and his wife (but not so many husbands) had had a cut off Shiels, the team captain came out to defend her boss and pass on the players’ unequivocal support.

Sadly, it was too late then, as he had already felt obliged to issue a totally unnecessary apology to all the people out there who describe themselves as feminists.

Then, ironically, just hours after this debate had briefly lit up social media, an emotional outburst by a woman was dominating the national discourse.

On last week’s Late Late Show, host Ryan Tubridy, referring to the fact his guest, Derry Girls actress Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, was an adult convincingly playing a teenager, politely asked her age.

Tubridy even presaged his totally relevant query by unnecessarily stating it was “a rude question” and that his guest didn’t have to answer it.

But he was briskly informed the question was “misogynistic” and the prickly atmosphere made for uncomfortable viewing at home.

Even on an issue as apparently one-sided as this, the prevailing view on social media was that Tubridy was in the wrong. Some found it cruelly funny that he had been made to feel uncomfortable, and one gloated that the host’s life “had flashed before his eyes”. Another laughed that the actress was “well able for him”.

Is this where we are now, in the so-called gender war? Finding fault, sexism and misogyny in every male statement, no matter how innocuous? And always placing the woman as the victim and, simultaneously, some kind of “powerhouse”.

Dearie me.

******

A Wordle in your ear... another craze I’m arriving at late in day!

IT only launched to an unsuspecting public six months ago, but Wordle has rapidly become an online phenomenon.

For the uninitiated, it’s a game where a five-letter word is chosen daily on a website, which players have to guess within six tries. Within two weeks of Wordle launching, there were 90 players - then, thanks to word of mouth, numbers soared. On January 2, more than 300,000 people played, a figure that rose above two million a week later.

Allowing players to share their score out of six on social media boosted its popularity further, and the New York Times bought the rights for a seven-figure sum and allowed the quiz to go out daily for free.

All that time, I had studiously (for want of a better word) avoided this latest craze. Then, this week, my 12-year-old son casually mentioned he played Wordle every day - in fact, he proudly told me his personal record was getting the answer four days on the bounce!

Hmmm, now I have the prospect of a little in-house competition, maybe I will start taking this Wordle lark seriously after all. Which would be typical of me - surrendering to the latest craze six months late, usually when it is starting to go out of fashion. The same thing happened with roller-skates, frisbees, skateboards, hula hoops...

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