A self-fulfilling state

I watch a lot of television (really? whyever for? Well…) and therefore spend as much time as possible trying to avoid watching ads.

I’m not some sort of moron who thinks ads are pure evil (well I’m not too keen on children’s ads but that’s a whole other blog post) and I like to hear about new products and services. I think some ads are genuinely clever and entertaining. I think other ads are pure lazy and boring. Many ads are for products that I will never engage with, some are for products that may have been of interest or will be of interest in a particular period of my life.

But advertising execs of the world I am putting you on your first warning. Well apart from all the unheard shouting in my living room. I will no longer accept your made up nonsense about women and men and which of them does the shopping. I don’t care if that’s what the stats say; this doesn’t mean that it’s right. I challenge you to surprise me with an ad that tries to guilt men into buying products with dubious health benefits for their children. Y’see I just don’t think you will do it.

Two men in kitchen amazingI also think it’s dubious and downright offensive to run ads that imply that only women are intelligent enough or organised enough to run a household. If running a household requires that much intelligence (and i think it does require mental, physical and emotional resources not required by some other jobs) why is it so poorly rewarded in western society? You don’t meet many millionaire nannies.* I would buy the product of any manufacturer who convinced a government to also recognise that contribution to society by properly rewarding anyone who takes on these tasks. Work life balance needs a champion. It needs highlighting the way Jamie Oliver highlighted good food in Britain. Should we expect advertisers to spot this trend and act on it? Especially in a recession?

I just worry that using these lazy cultural shortcuts (women are put upon; men are stupid & lazy) that they will become self-fulfilling. People say to me and I hear myself saying how lucky I am to have a husband who pitches in. Every time I hear myself saying it I mentally kick myself. How insulting to both of us. In fact I sometimes think, as he puts on another load of washing, how unlucky he is to be lumped with me!

As I grow older I realise more and more as I see my friends hitching up in all manner of unexpected combinations that it is practically impossible to understand what makes couples tick. They will be as we say in Irish “thuas seal, thíos seal” and stereotypes and assumptions about roles in society just box us all in and remove opportunities.

*As a total aside I wonder are any of the creches built in the boom on government money now in NAMA?

Find your inner Ada

So my Ada Lovelace Day post is a lot late. Ironically it is because I was so busy looking after our own Ada! I have great hopes that in 30 years time I will be able to write about her on Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day and bloggers are encouraged to write about women in technology and science. As the holder of not one but two Masters (or Mistresses!) of Science I feel downright obliged to take up this challenge. However as one of those MScs has been described as a “MSc for drawing pictures” and the other is in the social sciences you will understand that my take on science and technology might be a little broader than most. Rather than writing about one woman in particular I have decided to write about all the women who have inspired scientific thoughts in my mind over the years.

  1. I’m going to kick off badly with an assumption and that assumption is that whoever decided to install two science labs (and only one Home Ec. room) in my secondary school was a woman. It was a convent run school with maybe 5 male teachers, none of whom taught science, so is it a fair assumption? These labs were large, bright and, I thought, well-equipped (although I had never been in any other science lab so…). They were probably very old-fashioned with their wooden worktops and rolly blackboards compared to the labs that many schools would have nowadays. But all the wood and the trees outside conjured up the kind of lab you could imagine Marie Curie hunkering down in for some serious experimentation.
  2. These labs would have been all for nothing if the nuns who ran the school hadn’t timetabled plenty of science. No matter what choice of subjects that was made for Inter or Leaving Cert you could always mix in some science subjects. Not only that but science was afforded the same hours as core subjects English, Irish, Maths & French.
  3. I was also lucky to have some great teachers. Ms. Stevenson taught me science to Inter Cert with a no-nonsense approach. She also went on to have the joy of teaching me Chemistry to Leaving Cert and I’m sorry to have let her down at the last hurdle with that D. Ms. Mee taught me Physics to Leaving Cert and taught us above all, especially in Science, it’s all about experimentation. Every week she would demonstrate an experiment in our single Physics before lunch and not one of her experiments ever worked.
  4. My lab partners in Physics and Chemistry to Leaving Cert kept me going through the more boring parts of Organic Chemistry. A big shout out to S & M, you know who you are! S, in particular said one of the nicest if nerdiest thing to me ever when we were in sixth year. Discussing electormagnetics she said, “I always remember cathodes are negative and Roseanodes are positive.” A description I have always tried to live up to ever since.
  5. My mother has always been a keen advocate of technology especially as a teaching aid. She purchased an IBM PC for the family when I was still in secondary school. Also some thanks must go to the eldest “girl” in my family who brought computers into our home when other families were just getting to grips with VCRs. My eldest brother Blaise won a ZX Spectrum in a Telecom Eireann Art Competition (weird I know) and the headline under the picture of him with his long hair and the two actually female runners up the next day ran, “Three schoolgirls win prizes…” My mother was and still is an early adopter when it comes to technology and was the first person to teach me how to use a PC. Mainly she just left us at it which is what it’s all about really. Except when the child is three (covering my own ass for giving out to Nipper 2.0 messing with my laptop.)
  6. Science and I then parted company for a while as I studied Drama Studies and Modern Irish. That said there was some study of semiotics, the science of signs, and linguistics, the science of language, but no noteworthy women popped up. However aforementioned S and I communicated by email throughout this time as her science career continued overseas. At the time students in TCD had to apply for an email account, with the blessing of a lecturer from their faculty, and it was very complicated because I had to explain to my tutor what email was. I also spent a year in Glasgow University who were a little ahead of TCD and this helped me really develop my use of computers and the internet for communication and research.
  7. My MSc in Multimedia Systems introduced me to plenty of inspirational women not least Ada Lovelace herself as part of our gallop through the history of computing at the very beginning of the course. Between my female classmates and some of our lecturers my love of popular technology developed and grew. However, try as they might, my actual technical abilities did not and the word Java still send shivers down my spine. It’s all coming out now. A particular shout out to my favourite physicist – you know who you are!
  8. Since then I’ve had numerous jobs but my ability to use computers and the internet has always been part of my success. When I read (online!) about a new online course in Social Research Skills I knew I could do it and that the online aspect would be a boon for me rather than an obstacle. I would like to thank the course director, Professor Síle O’Connor, for taking a leap of faith and allowing someone with no previous social science qualification to undertake the course. I hope the fact that I and two other women were the first to complete the MSc online proved her right. It was tough going at times as I had to learn a whole new way of thinking. I was particularly inspired by our qualitative research skills lecturer Wendy Saunderson who managed to communicate her passion for qualitative research methods across time and space. I was only sorry that when it came to my thesis I ran out of time to include a qualitative section to put some of her training to the test.
  9. Since I started working with the Irish Internet Association I have, of course, met many inspirational female technologists, innovators and early adopters. If I start naming names, I’ll leave someone out so I won’t. That said it has not escaped my notice that I tend to be one of only a handful of women at technology events in Ireland. (It also hasn’t escaped my attention that I feel like a bit of a techfaux at many of these events but everyone needs fans and hangers-on, right?) If I have been given the honour of speaking at a business event I will generally be the only female speaker. Coming from a completely different sector which, up to a certain level, is female dominated, it was very noticeable to me how few women were visible in the online/ internet/ technology sector. This is not a new topic but it is certainly one that deserves to be raised regularly. Of course, I don’t think women should only be asked to speak because they are women but I have been asked to participate in initiatives where the fact that I’m a woman is an added bonus. In other words I would not have been asked without my expertise but I am being asked rather than a man with the same expertise because I’m a woman and it’s essential that the initiative include the views of women. Honestly I don’t know how I feel about that. I know it’s wrong but generally I think the exclusion of women in hitherto male dominated sectors is still an issue that needs to be underlined.
  10. I mentioned that my take on science & technology might be somewhat broader than most. I am going to include two architects. Firstly Dublin-based Celie O’Connell designed our beautiful home which is full of light and space and is a joy to live in. Secondly Louise Sliney is an amazing architect based in Cork who has created a beautiful home for herself to which she welcomes our whole family at the drop of a hat. If you need an architect either of these women will treat you royally!

And there I am gone!

No time right now to write but I have just polished off and published a rant from a few weeks back. I was ranting about working parents because it was all the rage at the time. Please leave comments especially if you have points that you think I should make to my local TD, the Minister for Children, Minister for Education etc.

Also don’t forget to check out that lemon meringue pie. Oooh it was delish. I might make more this weekend to try and perfect it. It’s only 11am and I am hungry.

I love my children

but how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless society to paraphrase Shakespeare. I’ve just had three days of worry. I was worrying about who was going to mind my children, how we would afford it, how we would manage it and still get to work on time. (In the Mythical Company as Richard Nelson Bolles calls it) Thankfully all is sorted for the time being. It will be a military operation on a par with Caesar’s manoeuvres at Thapsus. (I have no idea what I’m writing about but we got the box set of Rome as a Christmas present from Lilbro so I though I would chuck in a classical allusion. Fancy huh?)

And all of this planning for next September! All I can say is I am so glad I put the eldest’s name down for his school in early 2004.

However I am planning to write to my TDs about this issue. For the first time I feel like the lack of formal childcare in this State could undermine my opportunities as a working mother. I know it was my choice to have children but if I didn’t have children I also wouldn’t bother recycling or voting or caring about the future. As an atheist my children are my ultimate raison d’etre: they will carry on my genes and memes according to the doctrine of Richard Dawkins.

But I’m not just concerned about the lack of formal childcare for my children, I am concerned about it for all children and all parents. Himself and I are not the only parents in the world who have either ambition or a sense of duty. I work and choose to work in non-profit or public service as I have a strong motivation to improve the lives of others. (“Thanks Rosie” said the public that I serve, “but really could you just mind your own business?”) Some might argue that putting my energies into the Irish Language is a waste of that public service motivation – I don’t think so. But I do feel it’s a waste, when I pay my taxes, work really hard, recycle, do volunteer work, speak Irish to my children, improve your life by boring you to tears about it all and then more than half my wages, fully taxed go on childcare. Who the heck am I promoting the language for? Who the heck am I trying to improve society for? (For whom the heck – just doesn’t have the same ring to it) During my research about voluntary activity last year, one of my respondents, having given a lot of time and expertise as a volunteer, commented that she sometimes felt that she was being used by the government. I would be interested to know if this feeling was prevalent among volunteers.

Now while I am the first to object when schools are blamed for not educating children about nutrition or exercise or sex (why can’t the parents take some responsibility I ask) I also think that the government are getting a bit of a free ride. It’s nonsense to say “It was your choice to have children.” or “What about those who can’t have children?” I don’t own my children. I didn’t have them just for me. If one of my sons grows up to invent the transporter (fingers crossed, fingers crossed!) do you think he is going to say, “I’m sorry, do you have any children? No? Well then you cannot use my transporter as you have done nothing to contribute to its invention. You weren’t willing to pay a little more tax so that I could have a really good quality, well-regulated education, in a fine building, with proper resources and well-trained teachers.” I wouldn’t mind paying nearly 2 grand in crèche fees a month if I though that the government were investing even half that amount again per month per child in the country.

My next rant about parenting will be about valuing fathers.

Kate Holmquist among others had a wry look at the issue of working mothers recently. (Subscription required)

Also Susan Pinker has just written a book about the physiological make-up of women and how that might affect their willingness to aim for top jobs. At least it will make a very interesting addition to the debate about mothers working. There was an excerpt in last Sunday’s Sunday Times News Review.

At the eleventh hour

My New Year’s Resolution has been resolved! I got a letter printed in the Irish Times today. Only slightly edited.


A chara, – Mary Maher (November 10th) is quite right in her advice to working mothers to get the correct information and act on it. Legislation does indeed exist which is intended to protect mothers from inequality in the workplace.

However, employers are well informed by Government and employers’ bodies about the same legislation – so well informed that no mention of the real reasons for isolation or demotion (‘Are you planning on having more children?’) would ever escape their lips.

It is not possible to act upon a perceived bias. The onus is on the working mother to prove that genuine inequality has taken place. Speaking from experience, there aren’t enough hours in the day. – Is mise, Roseanne Smith”

ireland.com – The Irish Times – Letters (Subscription required)