Stranger Danger


Have you ever sat into a stranger’s car by accident? 

I’ve done it lots of times.

I spent most of my life thinking it was commonplace – thinking that it happened to everybody – until I told my sister a couple of years ago. She explained – between screams of laughter – that No. Everybody doesn’t sit into stranger’s cars. No. No. No. She has never done it. And no it isn’t commonplace.

I was surprised.

Even though I know they’re not reading, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to all those unsuspecting and terrified looking men behind the wheel of the many cars I have jumped into – uninvited – over the years. All those men innocently sitting behind their own steering wheels, after children’s football matches and in supermarket car parks and outside small shops parked on double-yellow lines. I now realise that the look on their faces and their white knuckled hands on the steering wheel were not to do with the cold weather or gentle surprise but rather because they thought they were being hijacked by a (very) strange woman. Sorry.

In this conversation with my sister I also discovered that it is also not all that common to sit into the driver’s seat of stranger’s empty cars in filling stations. That – to be frank – was a real killer.

I once sat into a very swanky car in a crowded filling station after paying for my petrol (gas to my American friends). I sat in and struggled for a few seconds to get the key in the ignition. Then I realised my mistake and had to get out and walk back to my much humbler vehicle while the people filling up their cars with fuel looked on in amusement. Some of them even laughed. I flicked my head and acted like I had meant to sit into the swanky car. Such a rebel. Such a joker. Such a daredevil. Such a felon. Nobody was fooled.

I have done this sitting-into-the-driver’s-seat-of-the-wrong-car-after-paying-for-my-petrol thing lots of times, but the weidest of all was when I sat into a car and my knees hit the steering wheel. I am a tallish woman (5’8″ – or 1.73 metres to my European friends). Did I think – “Oh no, I must be in the wrong car!”

No.

I am embarrassed to say that exactly what I thought was – “Who moved the seat in my car for goodness sake!”

Which proves to me that my default position in the world is that I am right.

I come from a long line of people who think they are right (including that sister by the way even though she might deny it). Engage any of us in conversation and we’ll tell you that of course we know we aren’t always right. That we know we can make mistakes. That we are fallible and always learning.

But you know what they say – what does being wrong feel like? The same as being right – until you realise that nobody moved the seat of your car and in fact you are sitting into some other (probably) woman’s car and if she sees you she’ll think you’re trying to steal her car. Even if it isn’t very swanky.

Miss Guided


Recently I’ve been thinking – and talking – a lot about how women are portrayed in the media.  I’ve also been thinking about how women are seen in society – and in, particular, how they see themselves.

Yesterday I watched the aptly titled, MissRepresentation, a documentary that explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America in particular, and the role the media plays in this. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.

There is no denying that women used to be seen as possessions for the convenience and entertainment of men.

There is no denying that that is possibly even more the case than ever.

Women are increasingly packaged as sex objects and everything is now sold to everybody, using women’s bodies.

I am not suggesting that women are to blame for this phenomenon.  I don’t think it’s caused by hormones or cattiness or any of the other rubbish accusations designed to disempower women.

But I am suggesting that women stop supporting it.

Stop believing the illusion that tells you that being thinner, younger-looking, compliant and presented like a sex-object will make you happier.  It won’t.  It can’t.  And when you aren’t happier even though you are complying it isn’t your fault – you’ve been sold a big, fat lie.  Even if you have to wrestle with yourself until you retrain your psyche – do it – that might actually make you happy.

Don’t buy the handbags or the magazines or perfume or clothes that are advertised by women portrayed as objects of sexual fantasies or with distorted, unnatural body-images.

Don’t watch the films or TV shows that reinforce the stereotypes.

Do watch the films and TV shows that don’t.  One of the interviewees in the movie (a man) makes the point that in the cinema of the 1940s and ’50s, women could get to play real people in movies – bitches, saints, moms, murderers, adventurers – not so nowadays, shockingly.

Stop believing that you have to be like a man – or be liked by a man – in order to make a success of your life.  Let’s face it, men are not any happier than women and have, largely, made a very unfriendly, unhelpful, unsafe and unsatisfying world for themselves as well as women.

Don’t get me wrong – men need to get on board with this boycott as well.

But women – come on – let’s stop waiting for the men to come along – maybe they’re not the early adopters they think they are?

How about we just stop supporting the system and stop accepting the stereotypes and stop conforming to the ‘way things are’ and try to create a new way for things to be – a way that is good for everyone, not just women (let’s not make the same mistakes as men).

Worst case scenario, if it all blows up in our pretty little botoxed faces we can always go back to what we have now…

Gender Neutrality


In 1993, the constitution of India was amended to stipulate that one third of positions as village chief were to be reserved for women. These positions were randomly allocated. The results were not always as positive as one might hope – often even the women complained about the female leaders.  However, there was one very significant outcome – follow-up research suggests that once a village has had one female leader the bias against female chiefs disappears and their candidacy and actions are judged by gender neutral standards. (1)

The same would seem to be true in Ireland – having had two consecutive female presidents – both of whom did a marvellous job – the electorate has moved into a very gender neutral place and we now have a male president. The expectation is that he will bring to the job many of the same characteristics of care, community development, human rights protection etc., that Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made the trademark of their presidencies.  Michael D. Higgins was elected because he is who he is – nothing to do with his gender – and this is due at least in part to us being used to female presidents in Ireland.

If gender neutrality is achieved in political and public life by simply adding women (properly) to the mix – what other emergent advantages might equality – gender and racial and social – bring to all our societies?

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Photograph – 11th November 2011 – Inauguration of President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle. (The former Presidents Robinson and McAleese, are dressed in red)

(1) Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo Dunn, Half the Sky pp 217-18