No, really, it’s a sport article….eventually.
Last week, the current Irish government passed a gender quota bill into law. Simply put, it says that 30% of all candidates in the next general election from each political party have to be female. For the times story, click here. Any of you that know me know that I’m a feminist. No, I won’t be donning hobnail boots and burning bras, although I am quite partial to Ani DiFranco’s early work. I’m all for equal rites, equal pay, equal opportunities etc but to be honest this one reeks a little bit. Supporters of the bill will tell you that it’s a necessary measure, the only way to get women on the ballot paper, and all the other semi-reasonable and utterly predictable shite that they always spout whenever a specific group’s issues are so important that they have to be drawn special attention to. Sadly, the other side will use mostly misogynistic defences that have been used throughout history to keep special interest groups down. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:
“They’re not interested in politics/Why shouldn’t an equally qualified man get the spot /This is anti-male sexism”…the ususal bollocks gets trotted out every time, whether it’s affirmative action for blacks in the states, employment legislation to prevent discrimination against the travelling community here, or hate-crime legislation to protect homosexuals across the world (a topic that’s nearly brought me to blows with friends of mine in the past so i’m still steering clear thank you very much).
Lots to be said on both sides, right? Idealists – myself included – will ask why one group has to be made more important than others, surely if the existing laws about equality are enforced we don’t need to make an example of a specific section of society. Then again, this is politics. Sure what harm in getting a few of the gobshite options we currently have off the ballot paper, right? Well there’s a catch with that, too. See, in this country, you need to fall into one of the following categories in order to have any chance at all of being elected TD:
- The right surname (more on this below)
- Sporting celebrity, or at least GAA leadership
- Being from one of the “right” professions (teacher, doctor, lawyer)
- a lifelong political career, starting with student union presidency
The more observant among you will have spotted that the above categories cover about 90% of our TDs. There’s something to be said for the bottom three categories in that they at the very (very) least show an interest in leadership, the common touch, and politics. As for the ongoing monarchy culture in this country, it’s a fucking disgrace. All too often if a TD dies or retires, we’re immediately present with their gobshite son (think Healy-Rae, Enright, Kitt, O Cuiv, even back as far as Erskine Childers and the entire godawful De Valera family throughout our nations history). So what happens when Emperor Kenny, Grand Vizier Gilmore and Mickey “Mouse” Martin have to add a gaggle of vulvas to their a-team during the next election? I’ll tell you what, we end up with the arguably even less interested gobshite DAUGHTERS of the outgoing fossils. Mark my words lads, for every decent pol that gets a crack at the whip we’ll have 5 or 6 useless daughters that are just as capable of being useless as men clogging the ballots. If anyone’s not sure that this already happens, can I ask any of my Limerick readers for their opinions on city councillor extraordinaire Orla McLoughlin?
Anyway, back to the sports. Rather than just bang on and hypothesise about gender quotas in action, the world’s greatest hotbed of politics, drama and intrigue has thrown one right into my lap. Let’s turn our thoughts to two Saudi Arabian women -Wojdan Shaherkhani(22, Judo) and Sarah Attar (19, 800m track). The back story is simple and sadly unsurprising. The Saudi olympic committee – a group that are as misogynistic, backwards and fucktarded as every other part of Saudi life – were told that if they wanted to compete they had to bring some female athletes along despite their blanket ban on female athletes in all sports at every level. As such, they were given two automatic qualification spots. While every other nation’s athletes had to reach a given standard to be allowed compete at the games, the Saudi ladies were back-doored into one track and one non-track event each. The two ladies must compete in modified habibs, are not allowed to talk to the press (or anyone else) unless accompanied by their state escorts, and have basically been sent out to be embarrassed in both events. Ms Shahrkhani broke down barriers as the first Saudi woman (EVER) to compete in the Judo earlier this week. I can’t show you the video because the copyright police are on fire just now, but the bout was over in just over a minute. Hardly surprising given that the woman’s a blue belt trying to compete at the olympics. Sure, it’s the participation that counts for symbolic reasons, etc, etc but the more worrying is the 800 metres heat that ms Attar will be competing in.
First of all, the 800 metres isn’t like other track events. It’s too short to be considered long or even middle distance, but also too long to be a full-on sprint. It’s well known for being one of the most challenging and specialist events of the games, so to call it competitive is an understatement. The current world record is 1 minute and 53 seconds (considering that that’s two laps, that’s pretty speedy stuff at 14 seconds for each for the EIGHT hundred metre sprints involved). Sarah Attar’s personal record speed? Two minutes, forty seconds. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll be hoping she’ll have dramatically improved her time and will be cheering her on, but even if she’s managed to somehow shave a full ten seconds off her personal best (wearing a habib, having been trained by the Saudis) she’s going to finish approximately half a lap behind everyone else and it’s awful. Not for ms Attar, who will become the first Saudi (eh….well…born and raised in california with dual-citizenry, at least) woman to cross the finish line at an Olympic stadium. No, in the 30 seconds or so between the effective end of the race and her glorious finish, I’ll be thinking of whatever poor athlete would have qualified as the 16th fastest 800 metre runner over the space of four YEARS and couldn’t go because the Saudis decided to use one of their gender quota-ed wild cards on her event.
So there’s gender quotas in action. Valuing symbolism over fairness. If anyone else is interested, Sarah Attar’s heat is on Wednesday night, somewhere after 6pm. I’ll be cheering her on, I hope you’ll join me.