We're just back from a delightful holiday: two nights in Blarney, Co. Cork, with just me and Niall
. The Oyster stayed with my parents. I tried to explain this to ailbhe
on IM earlier, and we both had some trouble grasping the detail of it, but basically, it meant unfathomable
amounts of lolling and ambling and relaxed conversation and uninterrupted sleep and tranquil meals and not having to attend to anyone's
food or clothes or excretion or cleanliness except our own. It was lovely.
One of the things I did - for the first time in many many weeks - was read the paper. Which was good, because otherwise I suspect my blood pressure would've dropped dangerously low.
The Irish Times
has been running a series this week, you see, on What Irish Women Really Think. There was a big survey of 1003 women, apparently, carefully controlled for age, class, etc., and Now We Know.
Let's leave aside for the moment how irritating it is to have such a poll in the first place. Let's ignore the absence of any attempt to define "Irish". Let's pass over the fact that so far, all the commentators except for one opinion writer in today's Weekend supplement have been men. Let me just mention one
aspect of Thursday's report that got me going.
Nineteen "issues" (quotation marks used advisedly) were rated in terms of how important they were in the respondents' lives. As the front-page leader pointed out, "financial independence" came top of the list, with 65% rating it as "very important". Other "issues" included "feminism", "equality of the sexes", "female friends", "husband/boyfriend" (yup, that bad), etc. "Politics" came a resounding last, with only 9% of Irish women rating it as "very important". As far as I remember (and sadly, we binned the paper, and ireland.com doesn't give the detailed breakdowns), "feminism" was second last - far behind "equality of the sexes", because clearly, they are TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
Anyway. Best of all, when you do a quick tot-up of the top two rankings, you find that what most closely concerns the Irish woman, with 92% ranking it as "very important" or "somewhat important", was ... wait for it ... "personal care (skin, hair)".
I'll say that again, in case you missed it: "personal care (skin, hair)"
I mean. What?
OK. First off, look, I know I live in a bubble, but who are
these people? Are there really
women who can genuinely
stand up and say that they find the state of their SKIN and HAIR to be more important
than who's running the country, or than whether their careers (if they participate in the mainstream workforce) will suffer from a glass-ceiling effect, or than their friendships with other women ("male friends" didn't feature on the list - *headdesk*)? OK, I condition my hair, I moisturise my face, and I guess at some level it's "important" to me to do so - but it's "important" in the same way that, say, taking the bins out is important. Or shopping for food. Indeed, like food shopping, it's an area where other concerns of mine, such as environmental sustainability and corporate politics, come into play. But I can easily conceive of circumstances where it'd make sense to me to stop doing it (which isn't the case, obviously, for food shopping or taking the bins out!) - and it's not something I'd even mention if you asked me to list the important issues in my life.
So, my second question: who are the gnatbrains
who think it's reasonable to include "personal care (skin, hair)" on a list of "issues" that also features items like "politics" and "financial independence"? Did they give any
consideration to the implications of that decision?
Easy answer, there, of course. The doctrine that teh womenz are all about teh gr00mingz is so central to the discourse of femininity that it probably didn't even strike the survey's authors as odd to include it. And equally, it clearly didn't strike the women whose responses singled out "personal care (skin, hair)" as the most important
of the 19 "issues" they were asked about that it might be just a bit weird to equate it with some of the other items on the list. (I'm just now remembering that "fashion" was also on the list, but it didn't score anywhere near as highly - which is interesting in itself.)
When I think about it, this is depressingly unstrange. Any time I've had dealings with the personal care industry, I've been fascinated by the language its practitioners use: they seem to speak predominantly in terms of moral obligation and profound importance. I really ought
to have a course of facials to solve my problem skin (at 55 quid a pop, thankyouverymuch). I need
to use product X on my hair (or unspeakable horrors will result). It is imperative that I develop an effective beauty regime
(or I'll end up UGLY, presumably, and then
I'll be sorry). I get no sense that any of this is to be done for my satisfaction or enjoyment - it's all about fulfilling my unquestionable duty to some higher principle. If I want to be a good woman, I must perform these (time-consuming and expensive) rituals.
I don't know. None of this is news. But it's thrown me off kilter. I have been wandering around since Thursday murmuring "personal care - personal CARE!
" to myself, in tones of unabated mystification. My normal sense of mild alienation from (what I perceive as) majority attitudes has intensified to a distracting level. I'm sure it'll pass. For the moment, however, you can put me down as nonplussed. And enraged.