by Kevin Myers, The Irish Independent
'Protect women and children in next week's Budget', declared the headline in a press release from the National Women's Council last Friday. The statement added a couple of paragraphs later: "Women and children are at the greatest risk of poverty and all payments supporting women and children should be protected. Women are already facing serious consequences from the recession with unemployment figures showing the sectors of retail and services have been severely hit."
So, 36 years after the foundation of the NWCI, we see what the official, government-sponsored version of Irish feminism has mutated into: the cry of the officers on the deck of the foundering Titanic -- "Women and Children First". But at least in those days there was a coherent moral order behind that command. Children were children, and women were seen to be weaker and inferior and thus voteless; gentlemen of all classes would naturally stand back and give them places in the lifeboats first.
If there is a coherent moral order to the present thoughts of the National Women's Council, it is that words no longer mean what they used to. In the Council's prospectus for the year 2009, the word "equality" is used 38 times. Yet clearly, in the sisters' deviant vocabulary, "equality" does not mean equality of pain, or hardship or suffering or poverty. No: it means the opposite of equality. It means a protection from these conditions, regardless of what men are enduring. In other words, lifeboat-feminism, surely the most ignoble and unprincipled of all the many liberal political creeds which dominate our ethos today.
Only a lifeboat-feminism could spout the gibberish "Women and children are at greatest risk from poverty . . . Women are already facing serious consequences from the recession", the very day after the unemployment figures were released. These showed that of the 19,600 jobs lost in March, 13,600 were those of men, and 6,000 were those of women. That is to say, job losses amongst women were just 44pc of the rate endured by men. Moreover, the area in which job losses are not going to occur, the public service, is heavily dominated by female employees. Only an organisation driven by a demented sense of counter-factual, gender self-pity could promote the fiction of female victimhood at such a time.
And no, the NCWI press release doesn't mean "mothers", it makes no mention of mothers, not even once. Though interestingly enough, it refers to "women and children" four times, and to "women" just three times. Psychologically, this is simply placing women at the protected level of children, just as was done on the Titanic: quite an achievement for a state-subsidised feminist body in 2009, if a largely unsurprising one.
Naturally, the National Women's Council is a quango, of which there is (equally naturally) no male equivalent. Over 70pc of its budget comes from the Department of Justice and, wait for it, Equality and Law Reform. Now, you just know that those terms "equality" and "law reform" are never intended to apply to improve the lives or the legal position of men, don't you? Other state-providers of funds to the NWC are Combat Poverty and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. So, we have two government departments and one meaningless quango subsidising yet another quango, which is simply telling untruths, and making totally unrealistic demands of the Government which is paying for it.
This wouldn't matter if the shrill and unprincipled emanations of lifeboat-feminism were ignored. They are not. They are treated with a deferential respect by the Government and media alike. More than that, they have created a systemic imbalance in which women are consistently treated by less exacting standards than are men. The most grievous example of this of recent times concerned an Army officer who one night deserted her post as barracks-orderly, and left the armoury unprotected. She falsified the log to make it seem as if she had conducted perimeter patrols, which had never occurred, and she later lied to her commanding officer when questioned about her suspected absence from her post.
In other words, she had betrayed the greatest single institution in Irish life, and let down her fellow soldiers in a manner for which there could be no other proper outcome: a court martial, with an ignominious dismissal from the service. Instead, she was merely fined, and allowed to retain her commission. (Dear God in heaven, what would the great Bull Callaghan or Mickie Joe Costello have made of that?)
If the Army, the embodiment of the very qualities of steadfastness, stoicism and duty that we, as a society, most require in the maelstrom into which we are now sailing, can find itself applying the exceptionalist dogmas of lifeboat-feminism, what hope for the rest of us?
The blades of fiscal prudence will cut hard and low over the coming months, but you can be reasonably sure that, standing no less tall at the end than they were at the beginning, will be the state-sponsored feminist institutions of Irish life. And as the suffering deepens, their cry will doubtless ring over the ice-covered decks of Irish life: "Equality For All! Women And Children First!"