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DEFINING IRISH WOMEN: DOMINANT DISCOURSES AND SITES OF RESISTANCE PAT O’CONNOR there have been many changes at a structural and cultural level in Irish1 society over the past twenty years. Since the early 1970s diVerent wage scales for men and women in the same jobs have been abolished; the “marriage bar” obliging women to retire on marriage from a variety of jobs in the public service has been lifted; inequalities based on gender have been substantially eliminated from the social welfare system; legal entitlement to maternity leave, without the possibility of dismissal, has been established , and extra-marital births, as a proportion of total births, have increased sixfold. On the other hand many aspects of Irish women’s lives have not changed. Like many European women, Irish women are still underrepresented in the political system, at the higher echelons of the economic system , and in the church structure. Like other European women, their average wage is lower than men’s; they are typically found in a small range of paid occupations; and they typically carry the main responsibility for domestic and child care activities. In addition, and in contrast to their average European counterpart, married women’s participation in the Irish labor force, although it has increased dramatically over the past twenty years, is still very low, with 73.1 percent of Irish married women not being in paid employment in 1992 as compared with an average of 58.4 percent in other European Union countries. When Ireland joined the European Community in 1973, the Republic became bound by a series of directives as regards equal pay and equal treatment in the area of access to employment and social security. These directives were sometimes implemented very tardily indeed. It is fair to say that the Irish state has consistently been a reluctant assentor to European directives in the area DEFINING IRISH WOMEN: DOMINANT DISCOURSES AND SITES OF RESISTANCE 177 1 In this article the term “Irish” refers to the Republic of Ireland. of women, with the initial pressure for legal change in all of these areas coming from Europe, followed up by individual legal action and group pressure from within Ireland. The discourse which has been opened up through this process has allowed Irish women to deWne themselves as equal within the employment area. However, as the Second Commission on the Status of Women in Ireland noted: “Equality for women in spheres other than work does not have any underpinning in the Constitution: the basic law of our country.”2 The dominant cultural discourses in Ireland through which women are still deWned are those related to caring and service—to reproduction and familism— discoursessupportedbythedominantstructuralrealities—thechurch,thestate, the family and community worlds of invisible patriarchy, and the economic system. The paragraphs to follow will show that these discourses raise the question of resistance, and the shape it can take at a societal and individual level, which may be located in the context of similarities in the behavior of Irish and other European women. Over the past twenty years there has been a good deal of interest in the social and cultural construction of femininity, and in particular in the extent to which patriarchal ideology has attributed to women such characteristics as submissiveness, passivity, and self-sacriWce which are particularly conducive to patriarchal control. Indeed, it has been argued that “Femininity is a man-made construct, having essentially nothing to do with femaleness.”3 In her early work, Mary Daly stressed the importance of women saying no to what she called “the morality of victimization,” and yes to what she called “the ethics of personhood.”4 In this context, Robert Parker’s and Hilary Graham’s distinction between “caring for” another person in the sense of tending them, and “caring about” them in the sense of “feeling for” them is useful.5 Gillian Dalley has argued that at DEFINING IRISH WOMEN: DOMINANT DISCOURSES AND SITES OF RESISTANCE 178 2 Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women (Dublin: Government Publications, 1993), p. 26. See also R. Rowley, “Women and the Constitution ,” Administration, 37: 1 (1989), 42–62. 3 Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), p. 68. 4...


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