- Not in the Hot Seat:The Impact of Broadcasting on Women
The impact of broadcasting on Irish women has been transformative on some occasions. In the early 1970s media campaigns were crucial to the successes of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM). A core tactic of the movement was to gain national media coverage for controversial campaign events, best exemplified by the contraceptive train to Belfast. Another key moment for women’s liberation happened in March 1971 when the IWLM produced an episode of Raidió Teilifís Éireann’s The Late Late Show in which it debated its manifesto for change. On the show, while introducing members of the IWLM, the program’s presenter Gay Byrne referred to a “sentence in a report from the RTÉ authority that says ‘Marian Finucane will never take The Late Late Show chair.’” Byrne saw the sentence as “supposed to be significant of the way that women are done down.” Live on air, he vacated his chair to allow Finucane to present the IWLM’s program. The episode was controversial and triggered weeks of debate on women’s issues in the letters pages of all of the national print media. The role of the media in women’s liberation was even specifically discussed on The Late Late Show by Lelia Doolan, a television producer who presented the IWLM’s views on the “education or miseducation of girls and on social conditioning with particular reference to the media” (Levine 180). Sadly, more than forty years later, much of what Doolan said about the media and Irish women still holds true, and to date no female has since occupied The Late Late Show presenter’s chair.
Women in Irish media are still not treated equally in terms of onair representation or their participation as media workers. The 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which examined data from a total of 108 countries, observed a 1:3 female-to-male ratio as the proportion of women to men as subjects of Irish news (Ross and Carter 1155). [End Page 169] Women are also a minority of employees in the print and broadcast media (National Union of Journalists). The International Women’s Media Foundation’s Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media notes that internationally, women constitute only 33 percent of the full-time journalism workforce and that they hold 27 percent of top management positions, 35 percent of senior professional positions, and 33 percent of reporter positions (Byerly 9). In Ireland only 12 percent of all decision-makers in Irish media are female (European Institute for Gender Equality [hereafter EIGE] 26). Ironically, this inequality in both representation and participation is underpinned by a popular myth of the Irish Celtic Tiger that rapid economic growth benefited Irish women as much as men and heralded a postfeminist era of equality for Irish women. As Ging notes, “Much recent debate about gender in Ireland is underpinned, both implicitly and explicitly, by the assumption that equality is a fait accompli and that feminism’s work is done” (53).
When it comes to the role of Irish women in broadcasting, the postfeminist cover story of gender equality makes it difficult to argue that Irish women have not achieved fair and equal representation in Irish media. But the idea of a postfeminist Ireland is belied by evidence to the contrary—as will be detailed in this article—that documents the enduring inequality suffered by Irish women in the media. Because of the prevalence of postfeminist discourse, women’s under-representation in Irish media is quite commonly misunderstood. It is accounted for in neoliberal terms as a choice not to participate, or as a result of women’s lack of confidence, rather than as a social or systemic problem (Women On Air). Similarly, there is little if any public understanding that there are structural barriers to women’s entry into and retention in the broadcast industry. Public understanding holds that the glass ceiling has been well and truly shattered, that discrimination is a thing of the past, and that any odd persisting cases of inequality in the media workplace can be fixed with a...