From Maud Gonne to Bathing-suits and Striptease Culture

By Dr Clare Gorman

woirnWaterford Institute of Technology hosted the first ever Women On Ireland Research Network interdisciplinary conference earlier this month. National and International speakers gathered over the two-day event to discuss and share research that is being carried out on the role, representation and perception of women within Ireland. For the first time in a long time we had research being presented on all aspects of women across a broad range of disciplines. Each paper was ‘rocking the system’, ‘shaking the status quo’ and identifying the challenges faced by women past and present.

The jam packed two days facilitated 12 panels on topics ranging from sports/leisurewear, porn, sex, sex education and women and ageing. The issue of gender within culinary arts was discussed by Mary Farrell (DIT) and the question raised as to ‘why women chefs remain poorly represented at top culinary positions in Ireland specifically?’ This underrepresentation of women is a common theme that seeps into other disciplines, like science and sport. As Dr. Claire Murray pointed out in her paper, Where are Ireland’s Women in Science – ‘It is a curious fact that the Irish Chemistry Leaving Certificate and University Curricula tell the story of a molecule by highlighting all the of the men who were wrong about it rather than the one Irish women who was right’. And when it comes to sport, Dr. Brenda Murphy, insists that ‘images of female bodies become hypersexualised, commodified, produced and reproduced into spectacles of unattainable beauty ideals’.

More traditional papers were presented on the topic of nationalism and the role of women within the 1916 rising. Where the ‘ongoing radicalising of women’s organisations and what effect that has on Irishwomen more generally in the period 1917-1919’ was presented by Dr. Mary McAuliffe. A quote used by Dr. Deirdre Flynn from Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, ‘It was better if he didn’t look at her’, raised the topic of women and ageing. Timely papers on the Magdalene survivors, sexual consent and contemporary Irish motherhood all formed part of the conversation over the two days. 

These zestful papers where interjected by five keynote speakers. Professor Louise Ryan (University of Sheffield), gave a brilliant keynote on stories of Irish migrants to London and the factors that cause people to leave Ireland in the first place. Professor Ann Fogarty (University College Dublin), looked at contemporary Irish women’s writing. She specifically analysed the writer Eimear McBride and the idea of women and identity within McBride’s work. Dr. Máire Leane (University College Cork), gave a fascinating paper on the representation of adolescent female sexuality in Ireland. The serious question of girls being oversexualised was raised. Dr. Mary Condren (Trinity College Dublin), finished the keynotes by discussing why are women either depicted as angels or sinister temptresses within mythologies. Lastly, the writer Evelyn Conlon shared some funny and humorous stories from her collection Telling published by Books Upstairs.

The two days concluded with a spirited roundtable discussion which looked at women within academia and beyond. This discussion highlighted the prejudice regularly endured by women yesterday and today in all aspects of life. It inspired us all that fighting supervillains is easy but fighting misogyny is the real challenge.

Dr. Clare Gorman, (organiser) is a Lecturer at the School of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology


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