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On Labour Women’s Statement on the EU Fiscal Treaty

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Earlier this month, several female elected representatives of the Labour Party held a press conference and issued a statement calling for a Yes vote in Thursday’s EU Fiscal Treaty referendum. Their message was aimed at women, and Mairead Enright has a good piece here pointing out the tired essentialism in their appeal.

The first thing I thought of when I read this was a poster put up by the Yes side during one of the last referendum campaigns:

I never saw the “Ireland for Europe” group’s explanation of what they meant by this slogan – safer from what? – but the message was pretty clear. It was written in the first person singular, “I” rather than “We”, indicating personal and not collective safety. It featured a woman – can you imagine it featuring a man? – of an age where personal safety is likely to be a matter of significant concern; she is past the fearlessness of youth, but is neither so old that voters see her age before her gender, nor too young for senior women to identify with. In short, she is Everywoman, with the exception only of those women young enough to be targeted in the “young people” category. While the Yes campaign generally traded on fear, it was a peculiarly gendered, intimate type of fear that this poster aimed at instilling.

The Labour Women statement of the current campaign isn’t quite so brazen, but there is still a current of intimate fear running through it. Note, again, the reference to women’s safety in their support for the Treaty:

Joan Burton opened by reminding us that for women a YES vote is the safest option.

There is very little in the statement about what the Treaty will actually do to improve women’s lives – in fact, one of the speakers openly admits to the lack of direct positive consequences of a Yes – but a lot about what might happen if we don’t pass it, which Labour Women threaten could amount to no less than “devastation” for “you and your family”.

As Enright’s post shows, the statement makes a lot of suggestions as to why a Yes vote should appeal to our womanly nature. But it gives only one real concrete reason to vote for it: to get access to European Stability Mechanism funding. Without this funding, it is implied, social welfare will have to be cut, gender inequality will worsen, poverty will increase. Not mentioned is the fact that the Treaty also requires a commitment to the same austerity measures that have already led to social welfare being cut, gender inequality worsening and poverty increasing. Measures which Labour themselves have been implementing in government, through the very woman (Joan Burton, the Social Protection Minister) who opened this press conference.

Labour, of course, were firmly opposed to austerity while in opposition. In her response to the final budget of the previous government, Minister Burton said:

There is enough austerity in today’s announcement by the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, to make even the most ardent Tea Party fan grin in delight. There is pain for the poor, money for the rich, particularly for the bankers, and the rolling back of the State.

What has all the austerity and deflation done for us as a country so far? In more than two and quarter years of austerity, unemployment has risen from 4% to 14%, which is 435,000 people. Austerity has slashed growth, it has killed consumer confidence and turned us into a nation who are busy paying down debt or saving – anything but spending.

We all know about the famous three Rs that are the bedrock of early education. There is another set of three Rs that became the bedrock of economic recovery in the post-Depression era and formed the basis of the post-war politics in Europe, irrespective of the country or party in power. These three Rs are reflation, redistribution and reform. If the Labour Party is in Government after the next election, reflation, redistribution and reform will be what its participation in government will be about.

During the election campaign, plenty more promises like that were made by Labour, and all of them were broken. The three Rs we’ve got from this government have been recession, redundancies and repossessions. When asked to explain this about-face, Labour often responds by blaming the EU-ECB-IMF Troika. Burton again:

I am conscious that the reforms which are on the table may be painful for some in the short-term.

But we are constrained in what we can achieve by the fact that we are living on borrowed money, borrowed money which comes with many conditions attached.

In other words, having loaned Ireland the money it needs to run itself, the IMF and its Troika partners are also dictating how it is spent. The internal Labour line, or so I’ve been told by a party apparatchik, is that the Troika has people with veto power monitoring every government department. Now either that’s not actually true and the Labour/Fine Gael government are implementing these measures of their own accord, or Ireland is part of what can only be deemed an extremely unhealthy relationship of financial dependence, in which the other party controls all the purse strings.

The Labour Women statement, incredibly, implies that the solution to the problems created by this financial dependence is to sign up to more of it. The statement admits that the Treaty won’t bring us jobs, investment and growth, but since Ireland can’t access ESM funds without it, we

depend on this treaty to be passed to have a more secure future

At the end of the day, this is really what it’s all about: “security” is equated with “access to [someone else’s] money”. And to be entirely dependent on someone else’s money but have little control over what we can do with it, that’s not a bad thing. To be making huge sacrifices in a relationship that we’re not getting anything else out of – including things that we really need – that’s not a bad thing either. Forget things like autonomy, self-fulfilment and self-determination; as long as we have that security in our lives, that’s all that matters.

What kind of message does that send to women?

About Wendy Lyon

Fighting a lonely battle for evidence-based policy and the proper use of apostrophes.

15 responses »

  1. If you look at female voting patterns throughout history, and at the types of decisions made in even tribal societies by groups of women, this is the conclusion that researchers inevitably come to:

    – Women choose risky paths much less often than men. They are the stereotypical risk-averse voters.
    – This pattern is evident in almost all walks of life: Female financial managers are far less likely to take financial risk; female soldiers are far less likely to take battlefield risk; females generally take far fewer risks than men.
    – Male risk behavior is generally rewarded when successful and not punished when unsuccessful.
    – Women are strongly attracted to males who take risk, in aggregate.

    These patterns are not absolutes, but are understood in marketing to be near-all-consuming truths. The way to appeal to women is through:
    – Security and reliability
    – Men who take risks for women, but then protect women.

    This is most true in the dating world. Obliging a woman to engage in her full independence and be the full equal of a male is the biggest attraction-killer for women. The way to her heart is by offering her some protection (while pretending to act on her “independence”), but pretending that her “moxy” and “cool” are the equivalent or superior to that of men or at least of you. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and represents a kind-of necessary condescension to women. I know a bevy of married guys who do this with their wives.

    “I have to make sure she thinks she was at the edge of making this decision, because she thinks she’s the one who likes to do risky things and get things done.” etc.

    It’s a given that if you’re playing left-right politics, you steal liberties from people by getting the women to vote for them. It’s no coincidence that the collapse of the libertarian, freeholder-ideal (even when it wasn’t anything near a majority opinion) was simultaneous with female suffrage. Women just won’t vote for anything that has elements of risk.

    The two single most important quests for women I’ve known seem to be stability and comfort. These are interesting but not priorities for almost all of the men I know.

    I may be generalizing, and as such this is both more and less true than it seems, but by and large, socialists play on fears by accessing women and female opinions, almost exclusively. They do this because it works.

    And it’s also cross-cultural, which is interesting.

    It’s never women who start a revolution and man the barricades. Those who do are usually male-identified. One of the startling things about the feminist movements through the 1900’s was the radically huge number of lesbian and “male-identified” women.

    I suspect there’s a brain chemistry / social role effect going on here. It may all depends on whether you get flashed with testosterone as a fetus, or whatever happens during embryology. It’s clearly not just behavioral, or just in the brain. But extreme risk behavior, and extreme cautionary behavior, do seem to be gendered, in all societies that are currently known, or historically attested.

    That has to be an interesting fact.

    • I may be generalizing

      Yes, you certainly are. The women who I have stood beside in years of social and political activism bear no resemblance to the wallflowers you describe.

      It’s never women who start a revolution and man the barricades. Those who do are usually male-identified. One of the startling things about the feminist movements through the 1900′s was the radically huge number of lesbian and “male-identified” women.

      Wow. Just wow. In Irish revolutionary history there have been plenty of women “manning” the barricades. I don’t even know what you mean by “male-identified” – that they were transgender? (As far as I know, none were.) Or are you just trying to exclude those who don’t fit into your theory by deeming them non-women in some way (the No True Scotsman fallacy)?

      It should hardly be startling that lesbians would be well-represented in feminist movements, given the challenge their very existence poses to the ascribed role of women. Portraying them as “male-identified” is not only fallacious but ignorant.

  2. Actually, I guess. if examined from a broader perspective, this is all predictable. Much of the typical female life strategy is the minimizing of risk and the seeking of support. It makes sense.

    Most male and female behavior comes from mating behavior. Men take risks to get access to females, females judge males and value the males in appropriate patterns.

    This promotes risky behavior in males and stability-seeking behavior in females.

    This is what women largely do.

  3. As I said, generalized. My basic point remains.

    That said, it’s still almost a herculean task to get women into dangerous or physically risky jobs; the so-called “three D” jobs, dirty, dangerous – there are a few women, but they’re rare and usually deeply respected by the men in the same jobs.

    All advertisers know this hard, inescapable fact of female psychology: women, by and large, abhor risk. They seek stability and reliability in all things, and dislike anything that smacks of danger. While this is true, they paradoxically gravitate to the riskier men, especially when younger. This, of course, makes sense.

    The upshot is this: all voting analysts have known this in all countries practicing democracy. Whenever the government offers a benefit, in almost all cases, women vote for it; whenever government offers tax cuts, it’s almost universally solely a male desire.

    The women who vote tend to vote for security, and to be taken care of. You can decry it, fight it, be annoyed by it, deny it –

    But strategists know this and use it effectively.

    if you can motivate the female population to vote, you are guaranteed to be able to restrict liberties in exchange for security.

    Women voted for both Nazis and Communists and Democrats in much larger numbers than men. The continuity: These parties offered security and cheques and predictability.

    Try this on for size. “Those who give up a little freedom for a little security deserve neither and will lose both.” See how many women agree with this.

    Now ask men.

    The infantilization of women re: the sex industry is part and parcel of this generalized behavior. In aggregate.

    • The existence of the sex industry (as it currently exists) pretty much conclusively disproves the notion that women won’t do dangerous jobs.

      Also, you’re ignoring the myriad of ways in which women are exposed to dangers just in the ordinary course of existence. We live under an ever-present threat of physical attack (mainly from men); we expose our bodies to threats every time we have sex (transmission of some STIs including HIV is more efficient from male to female than vice versa); we incur risks from pregnancy and childbirth. Somehow, though, we don’t just lock ourselves in a room and avoid these. Risks that men face too aren’t the only type of risk.

  4. I see your point. But while women do engage in some risky activities, by and large, men engag e in mot of the voluntary dangerous activities society needs done.

    There’s a spike in risky behavior among males from the age of about 16-24 that really freaks mothers out; most notice it. Females rarely engage in this to the same degree.

    There is some crossover, of course.

    The evidence in in the knowledge you assume in the piece. The advertisers are calling on a certain “female nature” . This is what I’m referring to.

    You see it in everything. Insurers know that females engage in far, far less risky behavior at every age. This is notably most true at the age of 15-24; some peg this at 30. car insurance rates show this exaggerated tendency of males to engage in risky, dangerous behavior (anecdotally, often to impress females, who, if nothing bad happens, are often quite impressed).

    This is raw mating behavior.

    You also see it in startups. it’s almost impossible to get women to risk their own money or those close to them in new business ventures that aren’t guaranteed to make money. Despite some success, nurturing female entrepreneurs always seems to be playing to the same personality types among females – a very limited subset of women. Many female CEOs and company brain trusts run by females lament this, and lament it often. The much=touted successes are usually celebrated because, even with encouragement and pushing, it remains so rare.

    Far too many women are content to seek rent-collection: Collecting income for services, directly.

    It extends into most avenues of art and thought. There’s a lot less risk-taking.

    You can argue this, but independently, the writers, thinkers and do-ers in most fields note this.

    Women seem, en masse, though not universally, to seek security, safety and predictability. They rarely venture what they have for dangerous risks.

    Most men also don’t do this, but a small subset of males seem to be highly danger-prone. These are usually the males in highest demand from females, which is predictable.

    Also, risk-taking behavior, both mental and physical, appears to be linked to testosterone or a lack of testosterone inhibitors.

    These are not absolute rules, but by and large, if you want to see how humans really operate, and not rely on wishful thinking, you need to stop thinking of them as fully autonomous Soul-Filled Beings and start thinking of them as much more limited programmed biological machines. In aggregate, they behave less like independent beings and more like instinct-programmed animals.

    Obviously, there’s something to this: insurers, advertisers, politicians, all play to this. They gain great success from it. They win elections.

    Advertisers are among those who believe most strongly in tightly gendered mass human responses. They believe in these responses because they have a monetary motivation to be successful.

    Notions of gender equality are irrelevant to making $$ in this field.

    • I don’t think you do get my point, because my point is that you can’t just define risk-taking in a way that excludes the risks that women take every day of our lives and then use your definition to argue that women don’t take as many risks as men.

  5. Hm, … perhaps.

    I think we’re talking past each other. I don’t thin we necessarily disagree with each other, just we’re making different points.

    perhaps we need an anatomy of risky behavior. Then we can partition it.

    Anyway, I work in TV and marketing. Everyone who works in marketing knows this: use fear to appeal to women. If you use feaer to appeal to en, you need to do it in a way that activates the “protection” instinct. This is the most powerful motivation for men, and works a treat, even better than sex. Hordes of scary black men raping women : zing. Alien soldiers threatening the women and kids: Zing. Men making noble sacrifice to save women and children: Zing.

    With women, threaten them with poverty in old age. Say: Give up X freedom for Y security. It almost always works.

    If you examine scare-tactic campaigns like the one you mentioned, you’ll see this pattern. It’s appealing to the most basic mammalian part of our brains. Our gendered brains. You can’t use identical tactics for both men and women.

    By and large, women are considered “naturally socialist” in political circles. Even wealthy women will tend to vote more for redistribution than men.

    When it comes to sex, paint prostitutes as harlots out to steal husbands, and it’s also gold.

    • By and large, women are considered “naturally socialist” in political circles. Even wealthy women will tend to vote more for redistribution than men.

      As I said above, that’s not true in Britain. Irish politics is a bit messier because there’s traditionally less of a tendency here to vote on a left-right basis anyway, but this poll just published today says that the party most opposed to redistribution “attracts significantly more women than men”, while the major party most in favour of it “is far more attractive to men than women”.

      Anyway, voting for redistribution isn’t necessarily motivated by fear, as your own example of wealthy women shows.


    It’s worth noting that there actually was a male equivalent to those Ireland for Europe posters. In that version, a man was pictured, again telling us that “It’s Simple”, a crassly condescending opening, but going on to demand not safety but “A Strong Voice in Europe”.

    That particular campaign was in direct competition with the Liberal Society’s “Yes in the City” poster for the coveted title of most sexist political advert seen in this country in the last decade. There’s some discussion of these posters at the link above.

    • I seem to recall a Fine Gael poster featuring melons, too.

      • I’d forgotten about that one. I’m not sure that it’s a fair competition if we include university society posters produced by maladjusted Young Fine Gael Tory Boys though. We should just be thankful that they haven’t yet put out a poster featuring Patrick Bateman using a woman’s severed head as an ashtray.

  7. What interests me is more how successful these posters will be.

    I worked in advertising, and believe me – struggling against these principles is an uphill struggle at the best of times. In order to break from the tried-and-true …

    – Appeal to women’s fears, sell communal values and socialist responses
    – Appeal to men’s independence, sell individualism and independence

    … you need to demonstrate a positive response. What’s so completely, heart-breakingly shocking is that test audiences and samples always indicate this:

    In the west ,a small subset (5-10%) of women rate with men in their responses. Whether this accounts for “lesbians”, as many men say, is irrelevant (and likely wrong). But these are called “male-identified women”.

    90% of women are pretty predictable in their visceral, emotional responses to ads.

    Men: The opposite is true of men, but a solid 5-15% of men respond like women do. This is especially marked of older men.

    As men and wome age, their responses start to balance out.

    Responses that children have tend to be pretty much the same and ungendered until puberty, when boys begin to wildly gravitate away from the “safety’ response. it starts out in both sexes, then diverges so radically that you need different ads, music, and even colors for boys and girls.

    What’s also interesting is that these colors seem cross-cultural. In other words, be may unconsciously be exaggerating and playing to a programmed script predating the stone age. We may not. Who knows?

    But advertisers don’t care. They just care about accessing our emotional responses and bypassing our rational brains.

    And they’re extremely good at it. Never doubt this.

    If an advertiser’s doing it, there’s a very good reason for it. If they do it a lot, then again – they only do it because it’s very effective.

    Socilaism always sells with women, always and ever, whether of the National Socialist variety or the Swedish variety. There are so few libertarian women, it’s a great day for the lone woman at a libertarian conference.

    I’m going to put money on this being not wholly culturally constructed. I’m sure it’s culturally reinforced, but the tolerance for risk is a very Testosterone-linked behavior.

    The ultimate test for this is to approach insurance companies, who operate around the world, and ask them what they see.

    • For the last time (I mean that), what is a “male-identified woman”? Other than a woman who doesn’t conform to the gender stereotypes in your head.

      Why do you keep insisting that socialism always sells with women, when I’ve provided examples of two countries where that is clearly not true – to say nothing of the US, where socialism doesn’t seem to sell with anyone? (Sweden, incidentally, is by no means socialist.)

      And insurance companies are simple number crunchers. They have no insight into the psychology behind human behaviour.


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