Irish Times

Thursday, May 25, 2000

An Irishman's Diary

OPINION/Kevin Myers
Irish Times

"The persistence of the emphasis on the role of women as mothers and care-givers tends to perpetuate the sexual stereotypes and constitutes a serious impediment to the full implementation of the Convention," observed the unlamented and unlamentable Boutros Boutros Ghali. Unlamented and unlamentable he may be, but the sentiments he expressed are not his alone; they are close to being the policy not merely of the governments of the world, but also, of the government of this Republic.

Did you know that motherhood was a mere stereotype? Did you know that there is a UN policy which in effect dismisses the duties and responsibilities and the pleasures and the pains and the ennui and the enormous rewards of motherhood as a serious impediment to the full implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women? Did you know CEDAW calls for the removal of obstacles to women's full participation in public life including the family.


So in the laboured prose of UN jargon, motherhood is a stereotype and the family is an obstacle to a woman's participation in public life, and should be "removed" - whatever that means. And truly, it might mean nothing, in the way that hundreds of thousands of words churned out from the UN, either in spurious UN votes or in the pious vapourings of UN bureaucrats, mean only that the people concerned had nothing better to do at the time, and please, please, pay no attention; except that CEDAW is not a passing hallucination from which we shall all soon recover. It is forming the basis of national law, right across the globe.

Many countries might just cheerfully sign up to CEDAW, and then carry on as if nothing had happened. But this seems not to be the case in Ireland, where we have an entire Government department whose job seems to be to impose whatever feminist whim drifts in front of their nostrils. This is what is happening with the CEDAW provisions on motherhood and the family. Far from being dismissed as the idle mental doodlings of a neurotic male-hating feminist, they are forming the basis of government policy.

Though "policy" is perhaps a rather grand word to describe abject cowardice of politicians in the face of the feminist lobby; well , we say "feminist", but that is as much a misnomer as saying motherhood is "stereotypical". Did not "communism" deal with a mythical working class who were intrinsically virtuous and whose woes, both communally and individually, were solely the creation of capitalism - so haven't "feminists" created the mythic oppressed female underclass, whose woes are attributable solely to the male patriarchy?

If so, it follows that every feature of a woman's life which feminists disapprove of - such as the onerous duties of motherhood, and the tiresome complexities of running a family are no more than patriarchal impositions, which can, in the right political circumstances, be removed. Once these fetters are lifted, womankind is free! A new dawn rises! The East Is Red!

Male prejudice

New Woman, untainted by the base and male-imposed tyrannies of motherhood, may now rise onwards and upwards, to be head of General Motors, Microsoft, Boeing, and the US Marine Corps - positions for which her nature and her physique naturally suited her, and which only male prejudice prevented her from reaching.

But just as working class people, knowing themselves too well, refused to accept the starry-eyed images of proles created by middle class Marxist ideologists, so too do many women not recognise themselves in the feminist world picture. They are mothers because that is what nature bids them be. They know this in their bones and in their beating maternal hearts. Yet when such women tried to pose their alternative to the feminist vision, as stated by the National Women's Council of Ireland to the UN, they were told: CEDAW is the basic document of Irish womanhood. It has become almost the Communist Manifesto of feminism, so if you think that motherhood is no more than an unnatural obstacle between a woman and her real self, CEDAW is the document for you. But if you think that motherhood is a rich and fulfilling vocation, vital for the creation of integrated and happy individuals, you are patriarchy's stooge, a mere Aunt Thomasina.

Revolutionary forces

Two forces create a revolution. One is ideological, and the other is economic; and we have both ingredients in the Ireland of today. We have created a housing market in which a double income is vital to keep the rain from the cot, yet which also commands that the contents of the cot be passed over to a child-minder soon after dawn so that the mother, full of fret and fear, can rush off to the day-job. Meanwhile, we have the ideological zealots of feminism, as tolerant of criticism as Lenin was, forging ahead with their political agenda. To disagree, to demur, to doubt, is to be a classenemy.

A couple of truths. Most men are not home-makers, and you can't socially engineer them into being such. Motherhood is as natural to most women as competition and contest is for most men. This doesn't mean lots of men can't make homes, and lots of women can't compete. They are the exception to the norm; and a society which predicates itself upon the exceptions, rather than the norm, is doomed to make some highly revealing rediscoveries.