Gender Policies: An annoying necessity or fair and forward-thinking?

This month marks three years since the beginning of #WakingTheFeminists and the movement is still going strong. In July Irish ten theatre organisations, in collaboration with #WakingTheFeminists, launched their Gender Equality Policies. These organisations worked together to comply with individual policies that were tailored to the work they do. They have all committed to regular reviews and reporting of the results of these reviews. The organisations involved include two festivals (Cork Midsummer Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival), three venues (the Abbey and the Gate in Dublin, and the Everyman in Cork), four production companies (Corn Exchange, Druid, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Rough Magic) and the Lir Academy. The policies were launched by the Minister of Culture Josepha Manigan in the Lir Academy on the 9th of July 2018, and the event was widely reported. This included an article from the conservative Breitbart website. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give them the clicks but here’s a screenshot.

by Thomas D. Williams, P. D. `| 10 Jul 2018. Ireland’s feminist culture minister is pushing a policy to ensure that half of all plays staged in Ireland are written by women within five years as part of a broader “gender equality” campaign. Minister Josepha Madigan launched the aggressive quota drive on Monday at the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College to make sure that women are equally represented on theatre boards. She seeks an immediate commitment from theatres and arts festivals to guarantee that half of all plays commissioned will have female playwrights within five years.

This (male) journalist writes about gender equality (or “gender equality”) with breathless terror. Its an “aggressive quota driven policy” that the Minister is “pushing”. In reality, the initiative did not come from the government and as the policies are a list of aims and objectives, I’d hardly consider it aggressive. (The other thing that fascinates me is the photo they’ve chosen to illustrate the article. Are they dramatic witches? Do they equate all women with witches or just the aggressively feminist ones?) He seems to find the idea of gender quotas insulting, a step too far, almost a personal affront.

This reaction against quota-driven policies is not unusual. To be honest, they made me a little uncomfortable at first. The idea got under my skin in a way I found hard to explain. It annoys me that they’re necessary and I hate the idea that women need quotas to achieve success. I think most people react badly to the idea of needing special treatment. Nobody wants to be told or to think that we achieved something for any reason other than our own skills and abilities. We all want to succeed based on what we do, not who we are.

Then I remind myself how far the scales are tipped in favour of the men and I stop feeling bad about quotas. And that little niggling voice at the back of my mind telling me that quotas mean women aren’t good enough, that maybe there are some things that men are just naturally better at? I remind myself that that’s just the patriarchy talking and I am free to ignore it.

In order to get equal treatment, women currently need special treatment. Decades of research, not to mention my own lived experience, demonstrate that men and women are treated differently, their ideas are given different value, their work is given different worth. The research work that #WakingTheFeminists published in November 2017 demonstrated the inequalities that exist in Irish theatre. That research is available to download here.

Gender quotas aren’t giving women a leg up or tipping the scales in their favour. The scales have been weighted in men’s favour since the dawn of time and quotas are a way of trying to correct. Their aim is to make things fair for everybody. Reminding myself of this makes me less distrustful of the idea of quotas and gender policies. Reading the published policies also helps. They all list small and spectacularly sensible changes. They include things that we already accept, like equal pay for equal work. They all aim to establish a gender-balanced board, something that equally benefits men and women.

The policies are all different. The Abbey’s is a short and to-the-point one-pager, the Lir’s is 11 pages with a table of contents at the beginning. Druid’s policy starts with just acknowledging that there is a problem and it’s great to see that written down and recognised.

Among long-established companies with decades, and in some cases over a century of experience, the Lir stands out as the youngest company, less than ten years old. It also has the longest and most comprehensive policy. Their inclusion and dedication to the project it wonderful to see. Their policy goes further than the others, mentioning non-binary people and recognising the need for childcare facilities. None of the other proposals mention the challenges faced by parents. They will be responsible for teaching students how to treat people; those students will go on to create the Irish theatre of the future.

The policies make me excited about the changes we could see in the Irish theatre landscape over the next five years. I’m interested in seeing new work by female artists, and if that means we hear a little bit less from the male point of view for the next little while, I’m ok with that. The Lir also commits to looking at the female canon with “a view to championing productions of classical works by women at The Lir or on the stages of participating theatres.” which I think could be really interesting. I don’t think the policies will adversely affect the work these organisations do or the art they produce. If they do, I can live with less good art if it means the people making it are happier and healthier and feel more supported and recognised and represented.

I hope these changes in the theatre world will ripple outwards into the wider society. I hope that they will demonstrate that recognising gender inequality exists and setting out some steps to combat it is not difficult, that it will not adversely affect your business, that men will still exist and still have a role in society. I also hope it results in some really great art!


YES! Ireland makes history.

Just before we leave the topic of Marriage Equality, here are a couple of links about the historic weekend in Ireland.


Miriam Lord in the Irish Times does a wonderful job of describing the events of the day as the Yes tallies kept rolling in.

And a shout out to all those who came Home to Vote, it couldn’t have happened without them, espeically the amazing Joey Kavanagh who lead the Get the Boat to Vote initiative.

And finally, I really like Una Mullally’s article on being who you’re meant to be and how the world will change around you when you allow yourself that freedom.

Now – as President Bartlett would say, “What’s next?”

Fabulous Marriage Equality Events

There are two lovely Marriage Equality events over the next couple of weeks that I can’t go to because I have a day job now. It’s so unfair – I feel like I’m being discriminated against! Though I suppose it serves me right for being out of the country on the day of the vote.

Most of the time, I’m delighted to have a job. Being self-employed can be hard work and it’s nice letting someone else be the boss for a change. Instead of constantly trying to keep myself motivated and deciding the best way to spend my time and energy, I just turn up and do what I’m told. It’s nice feeling like I accomplished something at the end of the day, just because I went to work. And because I did that, I know there is a pay-cheque coming along very soon. That’s nice too!

But sometimes there are fun things happening in the middle of the day and I’m sad that I’m not my own boss any more. I can’t go but if you can, you should! (Similar to my plea – I can’t vote, but you should!) These are two events that are definitely worth leaving the house for. (This is always a bit of a struggle for me when I’m self-employed. I tend to become a bit of a hermit.)

ELOVEnesesFringe are holding ELOVEneses tomorrow morning, Friday May 8th. This is their usual Elevenses coffee morning with a Marriage Equality twist! As well as hot beverages, delicious cakes and lots of theatre chat, there will be donation buckets and Yes Equality paraphendilia. Fringe Elevenes are always lovely – very welcoming and chatty, this sounds like it will be more of the same and then some!

Next week, Wednesday May 13th, the Abbey Theatre are hosting A Noble Call for Marriage Equality. I’m very sorry to be missing this. It’s at 11am on the Wednesday morning, tickets are free and available on a first come, first served basis from 10am on the day. They are promising actors, playwrights and surprise guests as well as songs from Romeo and Juliet, The Risen People and Alice in Funderland. I think it will be a total love-fest and I hope the Abbey is jam-packed for it.

VoteYesSo if you do find yourself at a loose end on either morning, whether it’s due to unemployment, under-employment, shift work or whatever, do along and have a ball.

And don’t forget to vote on May 22nd!


When the polling stations across Ireland open on May 22nd, I will be on a plane to Barcelona to celebrate my parents wedding anniversary. I didn’t plan to be out of the country for the Marriage Equality vote and it seems a little bit perverse to be celebrating traditional marriage while the country votes on whether or not to extend that privilege to all Irish citizens, but my parents are forty years married this year and I couldn’t really miss the celebrations.

The flights were booked weeks before the date of the referendum was announced. I am sad and disappointed to not be able to vote. The government has been talking about and promising this referendum for a very long time, it’s annoying to be out of the country when it finally happens. Voting is important to me. In 2002, in my final year of college, I travelled home to vote on the very confusing “abortion referendum” when Bertie Ahern’s government tried to over-turn the ruling on the X-case. It was confusing because a yes vote meant you wanted the case over-turned and the laws around abortion to become more restrictive, or you could vote no and keep things as they were. By a small majority, the people voted not to over-turn that ruling and it still took the government over 10 years to legislate on it. That vote was on a Thursday and I went home to vote on Thursday night and then back to college on Friday morning because I was in final year and we were finishing projects that week.

MarRefIf I was here to vote on May 22nd, I would be voting yes in the Marriage Referendum because I’m a big fan of equality. I’m not that bothered about marriage but I recognise that my ambivalence is a pretty privileged stance to have. I can turn my nose up at marriage and say I’m not sure it’s for me because I get to take it for granted. I can get married if I want to or not. Anyone who wants to get married should be allowed to do so. I’ve heard lots of people be very enthusiastic about marriage, that committing yourself to another person in that way can make you feel like part of a team, a true partnership. Why would you want to deny that to anyone?

I really want this referendum to pass because a yes vote would say so much about this country. I don’t want to live in a backward, mean-spirited, homophobic country that believes that it’s ok to treat people differently because of their sexuality. To me, that’s what a no vote says – it says you think LGBT people should be treated as second class citizens. I want to live in a loving, inclusive society where people are treated equally. Passing this referendum won’t instantly make that happen, but it would be a step in the right direction. It could be great turning point for Ireland, which, let’s face it – has had a rough few years. This could be the start of something new.

To me, the people against marriage equality are against change. They are backward looking and nostalgic for an Ireland that doesn’t exist any more. But to me, Ireland is not a country that can talk about the “good old days”. We are forever discovering new revelations about how bad things were in this country, particularly for anyone on the margins of society. It’s a big step for Ireland to finally step out of the shadows of Rome and Catholicism and make it’s own decisions based on what it best for it’s people. I believe that equality makes life better for all people. I don’t want to have more rights than other people – that doesn’t feel right.

So if you are here on May 22nd, and you are eligible to vote – please make your voice heard! Check now to make sure you’re on the register and if you’re not, you still have time to get a vote before May 22nd. All the details are on the Yes Equality website. Maybe you think I’m a bit of a hypocrite tell you to use your vote when I’m not using mine. I don’t care what you call me, as long as you vote! If the referendum doesn’t pass, I will feel very guilty for going on holiday.

And if I haven’t convinced you to Vote Yes, maybe Bosco can!

(I’m not sure how I’d vote in the Referendum on the Presidential Age of Eligibility. I can’t decide if age and experience is more or less useful than youth and energy in a President. You can still have a youthful outlook when you’re over 35 but is there any substitute for experience?)