My personal story
R: I suppose when I was thinking about it, Ireland has changed a lot and there aren't the stereotypes that there were maybe for my parents’ generation. People have a lot more liberty to be who they want to be, there are a lot of different kind of sectors for people and in a lot of cases gender doesn't limit you from doing something. But saying that there are a lot of traditions and historical kind of ways and outlooks that people have into society that kind of prohibits them so while technically there aren't really limitations, there are kind of ways of live you know that people have assumed and it kind of passes down. Kind of I suppose what I want to focus on most is sport which is kind of my own, - I have been involved in sports for a long time. You know, involved in committees and I've been at a high level of 2 different sports so I'll talk about that in a moment. But, you know, in terms of education and growing up, I lived, I come from a very liberal background where both my parents would encourage me to do what I wanted to do which is... I'm very fortunate because I know a lot of people, you know, the same as me who didn't have such freedom. You know, in terms of education, I probably, you know, I went to good schools where I wasn't pushed into the kind of home economics you know. That would have been more common for a lot of other... I went to co-education schools and there was no uniform and it was a Jesuit school, which in Ireland is kind of a liberal - you know, most of the school are Catholic schools - would be more liberal so I was fortunate in a lot of ways like that. I went to college and did an arts degree focusing on sociology. Not saying the arts degree, the arts subjects were mostly female, so the trends kind of come into it. Whereas I made my own choices, myself as I went along, you know, you could see the trends. Engineering, I don't know the statistics, but 90% male, you know. So, on the one hand you're making your own choices as you're going along and there are certain trends that you notice and you know whether it comes from opportunities that people see themselves or not. Like I would think that it is kind of in-bred socialisation of people, it kind of it comes through, so people don't like to say there are stereotypes or that there are stereotypical ways of doing things you know. Saying that, when I left school, I went on to work in banking. Did administrative level work. It was predominantly female again. The management level predominantly male. You know there were many, kind of a lot of, kind of practical reasons I relate to that which is the females maybe tended to, maybe have families or you know, job-sharing but there was also the fact that the kind of the male attitude that was outward more competitive and outward confidence got people further as well, so. You know, or in terms of teenagers it is often the male leader kind of, that takes a role, like it just tend to sit to be a particular type of person and, you know, maybe suddenly women look up to the man as well and take orders more easily from males so that was... you know, that's probably my working, you know, my education and work story.
R: When I was - just to advance to the sports side - when I was 14 I took up rowing.
I: Rowing, yes, I can see you've got strong arms!
R: Yes, it is more ‘relaxed muscle’ I like to call it now. Because I took up rowing and I got to the top level pretty much - not quickly - very gradually, so it started when I was 14. Rowed in school, rowed in college. I went full time when I was 24. Continued full time until I was 31, made it to world championships, was on Olympic teams but never made it to the Olympics and when I gave up that, I took up cycling. And after two years in cycling, went to the world cup of cycling as well so quite a high level, the highest level pretty much in both of them. What I experienced in sport is slightly different now. When you are doing a sport, you know, you're given a certain amount of respect for what you do and you're not restricted as nobody tells you ‘you can't get into the boat’ and nobody tells you ‘you can't get another bike’ and you can do and you can enter events if you want to do it. But in terms of, I suppose, the typical quality issues like respect, recognition and all that it is quite a lot less than the males would receive. You know, a lot of it comes down to, I suppose, you can start, like: I overanalysed it to death: I completed a thesis on 'gender and sport' - just completed it last year - and all I could come up with, is that you know, men are meant to do sport and women aren't. You know that's what society seems to kind of say and it kind of, while you're never stopped in sports, it kind of permeates through in everything you're doing. In that if you win a race and there is only 10 people in the race, you know you can train your ass off to do it, you don't get the same respect as if you were a man doing something similar but beating 50 people. It's just not seen as the same, you know the respect is just not given for that and without that, when it comes down to kind of in the recognition, if you look at newspapers, if you look at the media, there is very little coverage of female sports unless you are at the very, very top of your game. And once you're at the top of your game, you do get an equal look in, but it is the road that I would see a lot of difficulty with.
(interruption by telephone)
R: So, what I noticed: when I was rowing, is like, you know, for certain races, for the women there may not be prices. If it is a 'book event' it is the overall winner which is always going to be a man - because the man are always stronger, you know, like physically there is a difference and that has to be accepted - when it came to, when I was at the top of my game, the priority always went to the male. The men's crew. You know, I remember qualifying for the Olympics - and we didn't won because we missed by half a second - but we were, our boat was just bought a week before the event. You know, at the same time, the men had 2 boats, so! You know, but, to a certain extent there is no policy in it, we were making history, we were breaking boundaries in being there, so it was also: how do you cope with that? You know, the boat was already a tradition there for the male crews, you know, it is just, you know, it is in people's mind that people want to see what they are used to. You know, they want to see men's crew, but they don't really care about the women's crew. You know, you want, they were kind of prestigious which seems to, in that side.
When I switched - when I finished rowing I was at the top level, basically I was in a weight category and I was struggling with the weight and I didn't want to go back and compete at a lower level. You know, so that was pretty much a clean giving up of the sport. You know, a little bit frustrated with some of the obstacles that were in the way that I was not happy with. When I moved to cycling I kind of noticed on the one hand a lot more and a lot less. You know, you were asking about the advantages of being a women: the advantage is: in sport, you know, there is a smaller group of you, and you can work with that. You know, like when I joined cycling, there was a women's commission. There is no men's commission, but there was a women's commission looking after women because well, basically we needed it, because there were no structures there was no pathway, there was no money, whatever. So there is a committee. But that meant that you can actually fight for something. As it is now, you can, there is probably a better structure for women than men because there is, you know: training, camps, coaching, there's special needs and so on, but, in the same time, in terms of respect and recognition it is still not there. So, it is kind of you know, where there are advantages, there are also disadvantages. And, you know, at a kind of very elite level there will be kind of token efforts to put in, because, you know, different political organisations, the government, the sports council will look for a gender balance. So, there will be kind of token efforts to put in, but it is not always, you know, it is not always put in the right direction. You know, when it comes to consultation, it is usually the men with the typical traditions who make the decisions and very rarely the experts in the kind of women's sports will be consulted upon. So, it is some days you are just banging your head against the wall. Like were you feel you're making strides, you just see dead ends. And, you know, this is just my experience of sport, I don't know if it is reflective of anyone other. I'm conscious that I am representing a lot of people here but this is where I'm getting. I'm working in 'cycling Ireland' at the moment as a sport administrator. And where I see a lot of strides and there is more women versus more men - the % is still roughly the same. You know, it is very exciting to see more people out there but, at the same time, you're always faced with people, you know, if women cycle, they do it leisurely and non-competitively and because it is meant to be competitive. But usually, at training camps we kind of, you know, get a little bit of a competition going. You know, people love it. So, you're kind of wondering where there's people try out arguments that women are not competitive, but I don't know where they get that. So, there is a lot of kind of pre-conceptions.
Gender did matter