What women want

A large number don’t feel they’re being heard

When I was a small girl, the month of May was always marked by my mother’s efforts to create a beautiful altar to honour the Blessed Virgin. The striking display was placed in a prominent position in the living room and was replenished every few days with bouquets of fresh daffodils, crocuses and tulips. It’s a lovely custom that reminds children and adults of the role of the mother of God and her prime place in our lives.

In popular culture, Mary is often painted as an ethereal figure, not really of this world, whose presence is far removed from our daily experience. In the media, Mary is portrayed as more good girl than woman of substance.

An image is projected of a person who is so far removed from a modern woman’s experience that she couldn’t possibly be any kind of role model for ‘real’ women. There is little emphasis on Mary as a leader, a protector, a woman of courage and a strong character who remained steadfast even though her life was far from being a bed of roses.

Followers of Jesus

When other followers of Jesus fled in fear, terrified for their own safety, Mary was there with her son until the bitter end, a true model of female strength and resilience.

Mary is portrayed in paintings as otherworldly, but she was a flesh and blood woman with real challenges to deal with. She has a lot in common with women who have suffered pain, loss and heartache and who are dealing with difficult, and often harrowing experiences.

Mary is an ideal example for any woman who doesn’t believe that womanhood is synonymous with a fluffy or feeble femininity. She’s a model of traditional motherhood, but with a resilience and fortitude that are as necessary today as they were when Mary became the mother of Jesus.

I recently had the opportunity to be in the audience of The People’s Debate with Vincent Browne. The topic centred on whether the liberation of women in Ireland has yet to be accomplished.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity be part of a forum for women to express their views and to engage in lively discussion, I was somewhat disappointed with some of the focus.

There were representatives present from various women’s groups, some promoting very worthy causes.

However, what concerned me was how strength and success for women was very much seen in terms of how women measure up to men.

Success seemed to be viewed in very narrow terms which definitely involved breaking out of the kitchen and throwing off what was portrayed as the shackles and constraints of traditional gender roles. There was very little exploration of the complexities of what women really want and of how the needs and requirements of women are different in many ways to those of men.

Many women who were present associated liberation and equality with 'reproductive rights' and the availability of abortion. I thought it was ironic that women who are so focused on human rights can be so blind to the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups – babies developing in the womb.

Having three daughters, I wondered where was the group or campaigners that represent their voices, their values and their unique perspective as females who don’t fit into the box of a radical feminism that doesn’t have room for dissenting voices.

Many who seek to represent women in the media or in the political sphere are singing from very similar hymn sheets. The needs of women are reduced to the demand for more childcare, equal pay, easier access to the workplace and control over their own fertility, a term which encompasses demands for greater availability of abortion.

There’s little reference to women who want less childcare and more hours at home with their children. My own experience of talking to my sisters, friends and other women I encounter is that women have diverse needs which are being brushed aside in the name of a liberation that they don’t identify with.

Many women feel as constrained and limited in their workplaces as women in the past might have felt about their lack of real opportunities and outlets outside the domestic sphere.


They don’t want more hours away from their children or a child care facility that’s open from morning until night. They want the freedom to organise their lives in a way that suits their unique set of needs and the needs of their families. The media presenter or politician who recognises this will give a voice to a large number of women who, at present, don’t feel they’re being heard.

This May, I’ll set up the May altar in my home, just as my mother used to do. My daughters will help me to decorate it in spring floral tributes.

We’ll be honouring Mary, a woman who was a true believer in an authentic liberation, a liberation that comes from following a path you love and saying yes to choices that enrich our common humanity; a woman who was always aware of the dignity and individuality of others and that there’s more power and success in living and loving well than in a million broken glass ceilings.

Until movements supporting liberation make room for other female voices that support this model of freedom and equality, they’ll continue to become less and less relevant to increasing numbers of disaffected women.