The idea of equality between the sexes is great, in theory.
In practice, well, maybe it still has a way to go.
Back when I first started writing for a living, I did so in a field that was almost entirely the province of the guys. I was a specialist motoring writer and photographer. I lost count of the number of times I turned up to do a technical article and was treated to dubious looks by the bloke in the workshop.
I lost count of the number of times I was asked if I knew what I was doing, too. Or, strangely, if I got bored doing the job.
As if I couldn’t possibly enjoy my work because it didn’t compute that I might actually be interested in cars.
There were those who went a step further and considered that, if someone like me could do it, then clearly the job must be easy, mustn’t it? Then the comments would start about how they wouldn’t mind my job, and what an easy life I must have. These usually lasted until I had to hang out of a moving car to do the very-low-angle car-to-car moving shots, dragging my elbows on the road surface. Oddly enough, people usually decided at this point that maybe they didn’t want my job after all.
I even had one bloke who asked, in an off-hand kind of a way, if he could have some of the pictures from the shoot but only: “if they’re any good.”
This was not his first transgression of the day. Through gritted teeth, therefore, I enquired if he really thought I would have been sent all that way by my editor, if I couldn’t take a decent set of pictures? “No, no,” he said hastily, “it’s just that you’ve got a better camera than I have…”
“Oh, so now the only reason the pictures might be any flipping good is because of the flipping gear I use. Nothing to do with the twenty-five flipping years I’ve been doing this…”*
(*Note. I did not actually use the word ‘flipping’ but something slightly earthier.)
Buying cars, sadly, has never been a walk in the park, either. My sister recounts how, when she went looking for her last car, with her partner, the salesman (and they were inevitably men) would always want to talk to him, or offer him the keys for a test drive.
I recall, years ago, going into a garage to ask for a test drive of one of the cars on the forecourt. The salesman fetched the keys and, as we were approaching the vehicle, remarked, “It’s a good woman’s car, this.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said. “It’s a good colour…”
Because, of course, that’s all that might conceivably matter to me…
On the test drive, I put my foot down in second gear on a roundabout to see if I could hang the tail out. The salesman went very quiet and held onto the base of his seat all the way back to the garage.
I did not buy the car, ‘good colour’ notwithstanding.
But, I’m just contemplating a change of vehicle at the moment and, foolishly perhaps, I thought things might have changed since I last went car hunting. That attitudes might have become a tad more enlightened.
Sadly, they have not.
Today, I went to look at a car, having made an appointment with the garage, so they were expecting me. Masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser, et al. The car was in reasonable shape but it all boiled down to how it performed on the road. So, could I take it for a test drive?
Er, no, it turned out. The salesman didn’t trust me “in a car you don’t know” in the rain. Plus he didn’t want to get the car dirty, unless I agreed to buy it beforehand.
When I told him there was no way I was going to buy a car I hadn’t driven, he wanted to know if I’d any others lined up to see. Yes, of course I had. One other—a fall-back position if this didn’t work out. He gave me a look and said then I should go and see the other car and come back, at which point (presumably if I then agreed to purchase) he might let me take it out on the road.
I pointed out that I’d come with the money, had it been the right vehicle. He looked me up and down and said he’d been in the business a long time and was “a pretty good judge of character”. Not entirely sure what he meant by that, apart from the fact he thought I was wasting his time.
And, in a way, he was right. Because with an attitude like that, no way was I ever going to buy a car from him.
I think that might be what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The search goes on.
This week’s Word of the Week is lalochezia, meaning the use of bad language to relieve stress or pain. It comes from the Greek lalia, meaning speech, and chezō, to relieve oneself.
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Having spent the last twenty years writing about strong women, I love to encounter them in real life, also. So, I was delighted to learn this week of history made by Eileen Flynn. She has just become the first woman from the Irish Travelling community to become a Senator in the upper house of the Irish Parliament.
Eileen and her twin sister Sally grew up on Labre Park, what’s known as a halting site, in Ballyfermot, Dublin. Conditions at the site, a mix of mobile homes and houses, could be poor. “We could go a week without heating,” she reports. Not surprisingly, this had an ongoing effect on the family’s health and on education.
Her mother died of pneumonia at just 48, when the twins were ten years old. For Eileen, hard times were just beginning. Little more than a week after her mother passed away, she was in a serious road accident, breaking numerous bones including her hips, legs, and an arm. She would spend the next two years in and out of hospital.
Losing her mother at such a young age, plus the undoubted disruption caused by the treatment of her injuries, made school life difficult for Eileen. “I was suspended eight times, I was expelled once… but thankfully at the school I went to, the teachers all believed in me.”
That faith was rewarded when both Eileen and Sally became the first Travellers from Labre Park to go on to third-level education. Eileen went to Trinity College Dublin on an access course, then Ballyfermot College, and got her degree in community and youth work at Maynooth University.
For the past ten years, Eileen has campaigned for the Irish Traveller Movement, the National Traveller Women’s Forum, and Ballyfermot Traveller Action Programme, on topics including equal rights, abortion rights, housing, and anti-racism.
According to the last census in 2016, there are over 30,000 members of the Irish Travelling community, and bias against them is still very much a part of life. Eileen admits that, if anyone commented on her country accent in the past, she would claim her father’s home town of Kilkenny. “I’d never say Dublin because of being recognised as a Traveller and being refused [entry].”
When she married her husband Liam White, who is from the settled community in Donegal, she was concerned the hotel would look up her background on social media and cancel the 2018 wedding booking because of her background. “As a Traveller, it’s a fear you have all the time.”
She stood for election to the Seanad Éireann (the Senate) earlier this year but just missed out on a seat. Fortunately, out of the 60 seats in the upper house, 11 are filled with appointees by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin. Eileen was the only non-party political nominee, as the others are from the three parties which make up the new coalition.
The appointment of a nominee to represent the Travelling community was recommended in a Seanad report from early 2020, after they were granted status as an indigenous ethnic minority within the Republic of Ireland, and it was recognised that they ‘are still experiencing stigma, longstanding prejudice, discrimination, racism, social exclusion and identity erosion.’
Making her maiden speech in the Dublin Convention Centre last Monday, the new Senator Flynn said she hoped to be, “that person that will break down the barriers for Traveller people and also for those at the end of Irish society.” It is her ambition to introduce hate crime legislation in the Republic of Ireland.
I had not come across Eileen Flynn when I created characters from the British Romany and Irish Traveller communities for BONES IN THE RIVER, but I have a feeling Queenie Smith would definitely have voted for her!
This week’s Word of the Week is eudaimonia, from eu meaning well, and daimon or daemon meaning a minor deity or guardian spirit. Aristotle described it as doing and living well, leading to the word ‘well-being’. It differs from happiness as that is a subjective concept, whereas eudaimonia is based on what it means to live a human life well.
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