Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Pat O'Connor (2000) 'Changing Places: Privilege and Resistance in Contemporary Ireland'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 3, <'connor.html>

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Received: 20/12/1999      Accepted: 25/10/2000      Published: 31/11/2000


This paper explores the reality of patriarchal privileging and resistance within a society which has undergone dramatic change over the past twenty-five years. Using Foucault's ideas of power and resistance (1980; 1988; 1989) and Connell's ideas of the patriarchal dividend (1995 a and b) it first explores these key concepts. It then draws together a wide range of empirical evidence to document the ongoing reality of patriarchal privileging in the world of paid work and the family in Ireland. It then however identifies and illustrates fourteen analytically different types of resistance including the creation of an alternative power base in the family; facilitating the emergence of new child rearing structures; naming the 'enemy within'; naming aspects of culture which are not 'woman friendly'; whistle blowing; targeting key structures; negative power etc. It concludes by suggesting (drawing on Acker, 1998) that although the institutional structures reflect the needs and wishes of powerful men, choices can still be made by individual men and women.

Friendship; Identity; Ireland; Organisation; Paid Work; Patriarchal Dividend; Power; Resistance; Transformation; Whistle Blowing Blowing


Much has been made of Ireland's economic transformation from the 'sick man of Europe' in the 1970s and 1980s with its high levels of emigration and unemployment to what has been dubbed 'the Celtic Tiger' in the 1990s (O'Connell, 1999) with its very high rates of economic growth and low levels of unemployment (<>). Ireland is a small country (population 3.7 million) with limited racial, ethnic or religious differences. It has been seen as patriarchal (because of the low level of married women's participation in paid employment, the absence of divorce (up to 1997), the absence of abortion and the high levels of Roman Catholicism: (Mahon, 1994). Patriarchal privileging in Ireland is perceived by men as being under pressure (Clare, 2000; O'Connor, 1998) with a tension, for example, existing between the importance of men's economic position and the emergence of an increasingly feminised service economy. (For a discussion of the similarities and differences between Northern Ireland, which is still part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which is the focus of this article: see (Breen et al, 1999).

From a wider perspective, in looking at Ireland now as compared with thirty ago, the many nuances implicit in the phrase 'changing places' seem very appropriate. Some 'places' such as families have changed dramatically in size, form and in more subtle ways; other places, such as paid employment, have seen a dramatic increase in the proportion of married women and especially mothers (CSO, 1999a). This poses challenges within a society where women's strength within the 'private' area has been seen as considerable and their levels of education have traditionally been higher than men's. Young women now make up more than half of the first time entrants to University and they are outperforming men in anonymous state examinations (Ruane and Sutherland 1999; Hannan et al, 1996). Women currently constitute just under two thirds of those in the professional services, but only a tiny minority of those at senior management level in the public and private corporate area (Department of Equality and Law Reform, 1999; O'Connor, 1998).

The changes are all the more remarkable since the Marriage Bar persisted until 1973. (It obliged married women in a variety of occupations, such as the civil service, second level teaching, banking etc to withdraw on marriage; while in other areas such withdrawal was strongly encouraged by tradition: see (O'Connor and Shortall: 1999). Within this context, the higher evaluation of maleness could be obscured by ideas about 'difference'. From an interior view of the family women could be seen as powerful (see O'Hara 1997). Indeed they could also see themselves in this way and 'play along' with the idea of male power -almost like a mother colluding with a child's delusions of grandeur (see Cowan, 1996 and Rivera Fuentes, 1996 for similar patterns in Greece and Latin America). Such attitudes contain considerable possibilities as regards resistance.

Nevertheless, in all sorts of ways power and privilege still remain very firmly concentrated in male hands within the institutional church, the state and the economic system. Women are simultaneously depicted by such structures as all-powerful and invisible. I will argue that they are neither- but that they have played an important part in changing the society. Firstly I will first briefly outline some key concepts and explore the existence of sources of resistance other than gender; secondly I will present some evidence as regards the patriarchal dividend; and finally I will explore analytically distinct loci of resistance (within the structures of paid employment, the family and wider civic structures).

Key Concepts

Implicit in this article is the idea that privilege and its perception as 'natural' and inevitable' is associated with power, and in particular with structural power. Power is a notoriously difficult concept to define. Perhaps the most common idea of power is capacity: the idea that the wishes of those with more power will normally prevail over the wishes of those with less power. Weber (1978 p.926) identified power with 'the chance of a man or a number of men to realise their own will even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action' (see also Lukes, 1974 one-dimensional view). Such power may derive from an individual's physical strength, their economic resources, position, expertise, personal charisma etc. However, it is necessary for power to transcend individual sources if it is to be a generalisable and legitimate source of privileges. Social power can be reflected in the creation of structures and of various kinds of collective action: 'whereby persons in co-operation can enhance their joint power over third parties or over nature' (Mann, 1986 p.6). Thus, power may be exerted very discreetly indeed through control over an agenda, so that conflict is not even perceived (Luke's 1974 two dimensional view of power). Such power has been referred to as structural power (differentiating it from power that is exerted at an interpersonal level as part of the ordinary to-and-fro of influence and persuasion between individuals: Archer, 1994). This distinction is critical since it is precisely such structural power to which Irish women have little access (e.g. in the institutional Church, state and economic system).

Implicit in this article is the idea that the distribution of power in Ireland reflects a gendered system of stratification which is as fundamental as that of class (Bottero, 1998; Connell, 1995a and b; see Gottfried 1998 for a somewhat different perspective). Thus, gender is seen as ' a fundamental feature....: arguably as fundamental as class divisions…capitalism is run mainly by and to the benefit of men' (Connell 1995a, p.104). Those men who have access to structural power (i.e. middle class, well educated men) are of course more privileged than men who do not (e.g poorly educated, unemployed men). However, the majority of men benefit from 'the patriarchal dividend' 'in terms of honour, prestige and the right to command. They [men] also gain a material dividend' (Connell, 1995b, p.82). Connell sees heterosexuality and domination as a key element in what he called hegemonic masculinity. He suggested that only a minority of men practise masculinity in this form (actively subordinating women). The majority are most comfortable when it appears that the patriarchal dividend 'is given to them [i.e. heterosexual men] by an external force, by nature or convention, or even by women themselves, rather than by an active social subordination going on here and now' (Connell, 1995a, p.215).

Connell (1995a, p.215)argues that the gendered reality of institutional structures is 'reflected in the commitments implicit in masculinity and the strategies pursued in an attempt to realise them' . Thus it is because men wish to be men, within a society where being a man involves the subordination of women, that patriarchy is perpetuated. Thus, for Connell (1995 a and b); and for Bottero, 1998) male privileging is maintained, not only by individual or group attempts to intimidate, oppress and exclude, but also by women and men's 'realistic expectations.' Their acceptance of the status quo effectively perpetuates 'a structure where different groups are rewarded unequally': 'a gender order where men dominate women cannot avoid constituting men as an interest group concerned with defence, and women as an interest group concerned with change. This is a structural fact, independent of whether men as individuals love or hate women, or believe in equality or abjection' (Connell,1995b, p.82). Connell thus helps us to understand the part played by men who see themselves as unwitting beneficiaries rather than oppressors.

It is suggested that male structural and interactional power is underpinned by beliefs and/or practices and that it is seen as 'natural', 'inevitable,' 'what women want.' Power in this view involves 'not only a capacity but also a right to act, with both capacity and right being seen to rest on the consent of those over whom power is exercised' (Lukes 1974 three dimensional view of power; see also Hindes, 1996 p.1). In this view, power relationships are unstable and reversible, with resistance being a ubiquitous feature.

Ireland has often been depicted as a patriarchal society (Mahon, 1994; O'Connor, 1998). There is empirical evidence of this at the macro-level. Ireland is now ranked 17th on the Human Development Index (HDI), but 27th on the Gender Development Index (GDI), which takes into account the same dimensions but focuses on inequalities between men and women (United Nations, 1998). Patriarchal privileging is not peculiar to Ireland nor does not depend on a society's income level.

Connell (1995a and b) recognized the position of marginalized masculinity, exemplified by working class men who were often unemployed and were effectively irrelevant to family and community life (see Corcoran's, 1998 study). According to official police figures, the most common crime is property crime, committed by young urban working class males (Mc Cullagh, 1996): property being stolen in four fifths of the criminal incidents (Watson, 2000). Official police figures also show that violence typically involves young working class men as victims and offenders (Mc Cullagh, 1996; Clare, 2000). Such patterns can be seen as an implicit endorsement of the value of material possessions and/or gendered force- both bases of hegemonic masculinity. They reflect the destructiveness of a kind of fraternal patriarchy amongst young men, whose power bases includes 'gendered force', 'use of space and the avoidance of domestic work' (Hearn, 1998).

Connell (1995) stressed that hegemonic masculinity was also constructed in relation to subordinated masculinities (such as homosexuality) where it involved economic disadvantage; violence, cultural exclusion and symbolic denigration. In Ireland (as in the UK) lesbianism was not criminalized in the nineteenth century. For reasons that are not clear, homosexuals in Ireland do not seem to have constituted a site of resistance outside the direct area of sexual politics (although they are vulnerable to verbal harassment, threats and actual violence: Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, 1995). There was surprisingly little opposition to the introduction of legislation in 1993 (by a woman Minister for Justice) decriminalising male homosexuality: public support for this having been initially mobilized by David Norris, a Joycean scholar, University Don and member of the Upper House in Ireland (i.e. the Senate).

Women, of course, also differ in terms of class, race, gender orientation etc. In the 1980s and early 1990s the focus was on such differences between women. However, by the late 1990s many feminists who recognised and valued differences between women (for example, Braidotti, 1999) also recognised that it was still useful to differentiate between men and women in view of 'the systematic structuring of relations of domination' (Charles, 1996, p.10). Empirical evidence has demonstrated that 'no society in the world treats its women as well as its men'; that 'In no society today do women enjoy the same opportunities as men……a widespread pattern of inequality between men and women persists...'(United Nations, 1995, p.29). Even in countries (such as Norway or Sweden) that would be seen as relative exemplars in terms of their treatment of women: 'The message I kept hearing was depressingly repetitive. 'Women' did not matter.' (Bacchi, 1996, p.160). In Ireland, the gender axis remains crucial since women, regardless of their age, life stage, class position or participation in paid employment, are surrounded by structural and cultural cues that define their lives (O'Connor, 1998; Byrne, 2000).

Resistance suggests a refusal to comply or some kind of inhibiting or impeding effect. Resistance 'can be understood in terms of consciousness or action........ either collectively or individually engaged' (Gottfried,1994, p.105); a 'conscious collective activity to promote social change, representing a protest against the established power structures and against the dominant norms and values' (Dahlerup, 1986: p.2). It can include challenging the inevitability or 'naturalnes' of male privileging; muted protest; pragmatic adjustments to situations and resistance to 'invisibility and silencing' (Faith, 1994). In a post-modern society (Baumann, 1997) where there are discontinuities in individuals' experiences and identity, the possibility of resistance is increased as individuals 'come to acquire partially, or even wholly, conflicting identifications' (Benton, 1981, p.181) and to reflect on these issues at the level of 'discursive consciousness' (Haugaard, 1997). In this article, resistance includes: firstly, the challenging of male controlled structures within the world of paid employment and the state; secondly the consolidation of an alternative power base for women in the familial area; and thirdly, a transformational element (reflected for example, in the creation of structures to meet needs which were ignored by a patriarchal society).

In Ireland, for a variety of reasons, class awareness has been less muted than one might expect, with political affiliations, until relatively recently, reflecting Civil War positions rather than right/left alignments. In the case of women, the position is more complicated. In the early 1970s only 7.5% of married women were in paid employment. Even yet, the majority (54%: <>) of married women are not in paid employment, and so arguably partly derive their class position from their husbands. The impact of this on their class awareness is not clear. The cross -class basis of women's resistance is reflected in the fact that the National Women's Council of Ireland (established 1973) is the national representative organisation for women and women's groups in Ireland. It currently represents 300,000 women with different attitudes to feminism, different class positions, gender orientations and party political affiliations. Thus, quite clearly, a large number of women have found it possible to focus on the commonalities in their situation rather than on their differences: and this has been encouraged by EU funding < ome.html>.

It seems plausible to suggest that although a kind of moral superiority or patronising pity (O'Keefe and O'Connor, 2000) did exist amongst women, such attitudes seem to have been increasingly replaced by a more relativistic acceptance of difference (O'Connor, 1998, p.103). Such patterns do not seem to be peculiar to Ireland: with Connell (1995b, p.83) suggesting that the relationship that exists between hegemonic masculinity and marginalized or subordinate masculinity does not exist in the case of women.

It is of course possible for men-individually or collectively- to be involved in resistance. However there has been very little evidence of this: 'Men, apart from a minority, seem fearful of making the changes that the death of patriarchy demands' (Clare, 2000, p.194; see also Mc Keown et al, 1998; Mc Keown, 2000; Corcoran, 1998). Increases in male suicide, especially young male suicide rates, have been seen as reflecting a kind of cultural unease about men's position and status. However young women's rate of attempted suicide is in fact higher than young men's (O'Connor, 2001) so that the focus on actual suicides as a key to understanding men's position is rather partial.

The abuse of power by heterosexual (white) middle class men may generate resistance. Preliminary trends from the Irish part of the 1999 European Values Study show (Fahey, 2000) that only 20% of the respondents have high levels of confidence in the political parties and only 33% have such high levels of confidence in Parliament (the latter falling from 51% in the 1990 study: Whelan, 1994). It is possible that such attitudes may become more generalised given the virtual invisibility of white-collar crime (Mc Cullagh, 1996, p.83).

'Difference' within Irish society along racial or ethnic lines appears to be limited although census data only deals with country of birth (just under 7% of the population were born outside Ireland: CSO, 1998). The main indigenous ethnic minority group are Travellers, a nomadic Irish group of approximately 25,000 people (Drury Communications, 2000; see also Kenny, 1997). Refugees and asylum seekers (estimated at 25,000) have from the early 1990s somewhat enhanced ethnic diversity. Variation in religious affiliation is also limited with the overwhelming majority of the population identifying themselves as Roman Catholics, (despite the dramatic decline in religious practice: Hornsby-Smith and Whelan, 1994; MRBI, 1998). Thus, the possibility of resistance being mobilized widely along ethnic, racial or religious lines is limited.

In Ireland, over the past thirty years, resistance has been largely shown by women: it is they who have challenged male privileging directly or indirectly.

Evidence as regards the Existence of the Patriarchal Dividend

In looking at the existence of the patriarchal dividend in Ireland attention will be focused briefly on the paid employment area, then on the family and finally on the state.

Within the Paid Employment Arena

Differential hourly earnings are the most obvious indicator of the patriarchal dividend. The only area we have detailed information on is the industrial sector, and in that area women's average hourly earnings are 73-75% of men's (Ruane and Sutherland, 1999). Eurostat (1998) not including Ireland, shows that even when the structural effects deriving from gender variation in occupations, in type of economic activity and in educational level were excluded, the difference in hourly earnings was 13%- 25%. It seems improbable that trends in Ireland would be different.

In Ireland (as across the EU) 'Segregation across sectors and at all levels of work remains the dominant feature of women's employment' (EC, 1997a, p.1). Across the EU, pay is particularly likely to be poor in the Service Sector (Eurostat, 1998) and in Ireland, 80% of women are employed in it (in clerical work; service work, commerce, insurance and finance and professional and technical work: O'Connor, 1998). Work which is predominantly done by women (such as general nursing) is consistently valued less than work that is predominantly done by men (such as computing).

Ireland has the highest proportion of low paid full time workers in the OECD; with more than half of all full-time workers in Ireland earning less than the average industrial wage (Turner, 2000). Across the EU, women in paid employment are three times more likely to be in low paid full-time work than a man (EC, 1997b). The over-representation of women amongst the low paid becomes even higher when part-time employment, which is even more likely to be poorly paid, is included (Rubery and Fagan, 1993; Tormey, 1999).

Yet young Irish women currently outperform men in state examinations (Hannan et al, 1996). Just under two thirds of those in the professional services are women: and they are increasingly penetrating into traditionally 'male' areas, such as medicine and law although horizontal and vertical segregation persist within sub-areas. Thus, for example, the majority (79%) of primary teachers are women but the majority (72%) of university lecturers are men Vertical segregation exists at both of these levels: men constituting 52% of primary school principals and 95% of university professors (Lynch, 1994 and 1999; O'Connor, 2000b; Ruane and Sutherland, 1999).

Vertical segregation is widespread with men constituting 72% of executives, administrators, managers and proprietors ( Labour Force Survey, 1997). Men occupy 91%-97% of top management positions in the public and private sector (Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform 1999; Mahon and Dillon, 1996; O'Connor, 1996 and 2,000b; Ruane and Sutherland, 1999). In the private corporate sector, the 3% of top executives who are women earn 75% of what their male counterparts earn. At the next three management levels, 15% -23% are women-their salaries being again lower than their male counterparts (86%: Ruane and Sutherland, 1999). Women's under-representation in these positions and their lower salaries do not reflect women's lower level of education. Indeed a number of studies have suggested that women's educational levels need to be higher than men's in order to 'compensate' for their gender and this is the pattern even amongst non-married women (Callan and Wren, 1994; O'Connor, 1998; O'Connor, 2000a). These trends are not peculiar to Ireland (Maruani, 1992).

In summary what evidence we have shows that men's hourly wages are higher than women's (even when factors such as length of experience and education are taken into account); women are concentrated into areas of predominantly female employment, which are seen as less skilled and are paid less; women are over-represented amongst the low paid, and, despite their educational achievements, they are under-represented in management positions, where they are again paid less than their male counterparts. Thus, their skills and achievements are under-valued within a society that privileges males in various ways.

The Family Context

There is some evidence that male authority within the home is weakening. In a Dublin study, the one decision which was most likely to be made by fathers on their own was which channel to watch on the TV (Kiely, 1995). Nevertheless various kinds of social and cultural privileging, such as being the beneficiary of unpaid work in the household and having differential access to personal spending money still seem to characterise Irish families, in the context of 'a patriarchal gender order [which] constitutes difference as dominance, as unavoidably hierarchical' (Connell, 1995b, p.230).

There has been an increasing awareness the inappropriateness of excluding housework comprising 25-40% of economic output from GNP/GDP (Fahey, 1990). In a Dublin sample, only 1% of the fathers were solely responsible for ironing; 5% for doing the shopping or doing the dishes; 6% for vacuum cleaning; 12% for putting children to bed and 16% for discipline. Only roughly one in five fathers in that study were responsible for doing homework, playing with the children and taking them on outings (Kiely, 1995). Broadly similar patterns have long been identified in a wide variety of countries (e.g. Britain, France, Denmark, Sweden, USA, former USSR: Coverman, 1989). There is also some evidence (albeit only from a Market Research Study national quota sample of women aged 25 years and older: M.R.B.I., 1992 p20) that these patterns did not simply reflect the adjustment by Irish husbands to their wives' desire to undertake these tasks.

We know little about the distribution of resources within Irish households (see Cantillon, 1997 and Nolan and Watson 1999) although where income in the household is low, Irish women typically control it; where it is high, it is controlled by the husband. In only roughly one third of a random sample of Irish couples did both partners have access to equal amounts of money 'to spend on yourself for your own pleasure or recreation'. At each level husbands were more likely than wives to have this: the typical situation being for the husbands' 'share' to exceed that of his wife by, on average, 50%. Similarly where only one partner had 'an afternoon or an evening out in the last fortnight, for your entertainment, something that cost money', it was most likely to be the husband (Rottman, 1994).

.Perhaps the ultimate indicator of patriarchal privileging is the idea that men are 'entitled' to 'control' their wives; various kinds of intimidation and harassment being seen as 'not that serious', as 'only' affecting women, thus reflecting an ideology of supremacy (Davies, 1995). Much is made of the possibility of female violence towards males: and indeed this may occur-although Ferguson (1996) found that it occurred in only 6% of the social work cases investigated by an Irish regional health authority. Male violence is much more common. Kelleher et al (1995) found that just under one in five of the Irish women who responded in that national study had experienced violence within their intimate relationships. Broadly similar patterns have emerged in a variety of other countries.

Women's ability to bear children potentially gives them a social value that is incomparable. However there is little evidence to suggest that child bearing is actually accorded high social value. Furthermore, the conditions under which child rearing occurs frequently makes it difficult for women to really enjoy that experience. Irish women who were full time in the home were twice as likely as those in paid employment to be psychologically distressed, their response to that situation being exacerbated by poverty (Fitzgerald and Jeffers, 1994; Nolan and Whelan, 2000; Whelan, Hannan and Creighton, 1991). The stresses faced by many families (financial, social and emotional) have long been highlighted although there is still an inadequate emphasis on preventative measures and very little focus on parental support/empowerment (Gilligan, 1999; O'Connor, 1992; Commission on the Family, 1998). Married women's experience of motherhood is assumed to be 'naturally' positive (reflecting their 'maternal instinct': Hyde, 1997) thus obviating any need to provide support for them as mothers or as women.

Overall then the limited evidence suggests that male privileging persists in the family as regards being the beneficiary of unpaid work and higher personal spending money, with little evidence of the valuing of motherhood.

What about the State?

The Irish state (both in representative terms and at the higher administrative echelons) is predominantly male and can be seen as very subtly maintaining male privilege in many ways. In representative terms women constitute 51% of the population, but only 14% of those in the Irish Parliament and 13% of Cabinet Ministers (O'Connor, 1998). These patterns do not reflect biological realities since very different patterns exist elsewhere (EC, 1997c). Women make up less than 7% of those at top Management levels in the Irish Civil Service; and a roughly similar proportion (9%) in semi-state structures- with lower proportions at top management in the Local Authorities and in the regional health authorities (Mahon and Dillon, 1996; O'Connor 1998; Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 1999).

The implicit prioritising of men is reflected in the fact that it is almost unthinkable that all social welfare payments should be paid directly to mothers although this would increase the likelihood that it would be spent on the children (Rottman, 1994) an important consideration since a quarter of Irish children are in poverty (Callan et al, 1996; Nolan, 2000). Despite pressure from Europe, and although roughly two thirds of Irish married women at peak child rearing ages (25-34 years) are in paid employment, Ireland has one of the lowest levels of publicly funded child-care services for children of all ages (European Commission Network on Child Care, 1996; O'Connor and Shortall, 1999).

Patriarchal privileging is also reflected in the state's prioritizing of long-term unemployment (which is predominantly male) over the reintegration of married women who were excluded from the labour force by law and practice surrounding the Marriage Bar. This practice persists despite the requirement that all EU funds should be gender proofed (Mulally, 1999) and may well constitute indirect discrimination (Cousins, 1996).

At an even more fundamental level households headed by women in the 1990s (whether lone mother households; households headed by women in home duties or those simply living alone) were three and a half times more likely to be at risk of poverty in the 1990s than in the 1980s. Furthermore, women's risk of poverty was substantially higher than men's in similar situations. Thus one in three lone mothers were at risk of poverty as compared with roughly one in ten lone fathers (Nolan and Watson, 1999).

Thus, male power and male privilege continue to be underpinned by the State.


Those who have been concerned with resistance have typically located this in the context of a class dominated, racist or patriarchal society. Scott (1990) has suggested that subordinated social classes within a class divided world resist not only the material conditions of their situation but also their daily humiliations and indignities. Resistance was shown by, for example, undermining the legitimacy of power holders; giving tactical public deference to the accounts presented by those with power; and asserting the value of the powerless in social contexts away from the gaze of the powerful. These kinds of resistance have an obvious applicability to gender and/or race. Since gender is the main axis of resistance in Ireland, I will look firstly at resistance within the male controlled structures of paid employment and the state; secondly at the family as an alternative power base; and thirdly at structural or cultural transformation (reflected in the creation of new structures and attempts to create more fundamental paradigmatic shifts).

Clegg (1994) suggested that the consciousness upon which resistance was based could be inhibited ('outflanked') at various levels, so that it was appropriate to regard outflanking as at least analytically prior to resistance. He suggested that individuals might simply accept the existing social order because it was seen as 'natural' or 'inevitable' or because they were unaware of the social organisation of power ('It is not that they do not know the rules of the game so much as that they might not recognize the game, let alone know the rules: Clegg, 1994:290). Isolation led, he suggested, to resistance being seen as individual deviance. Resistance could also be defused by a 'divide-and-conquer' approach (e.g. fostering divisions between women who were inside/outside paid employment). Finally, resistance might be inhibited by the fact that exploitation was less salient than other daily realities or identities (with the costs of resistance far outweighing any likely short-term benefits). Clegg suggested then that resistance was most likely to occur 'if a subjectivity formed around a will to resist' existed; if individuals were able to draw on family or community networks or on the 'consciously organised resources of a social movement or collective organisation in the pursuit of their agency' (Clegg, 1994:288).

A discussion of resistance thus can be seen as falling easily within a discussion of social movements In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Irish Women's Movement generated a heightened consciousness as regards the reality of women's exploitation, oppression and marginalization. The Manifesto of Irish Women's Liberation Movement (Chains or Change, 1971) looked for equal pay; equal access to education; equality before the law; the availability of contraception; justice for deserted wives, unmarried mothers and widows, and one house, one family. The objectives of Irish Women United, which emerged in 1974, included free legal contraception and women's rights to a self-determined sexuality. Given the low proportion of married women who were in paid employment in the early 1970s (7.5%) little attention was paid to issues related to promotion. Current expectations concerning the extensive and long-term nature of women's participation in paid employment; pressures from the EU; a national focus on strategic management; and women's high educational and achievement levels have increased the relevance of such issues. Nevertheless, paid employment structures remain overwhelmingly in male control-such control being seen by men as one of the last bastions of their masculinity (Clare, 2000; O'Connor, 1998).

In the 1960s and 1970s amongst working class and middle class women, the Irish family constituted an arena where a hidden transcript as regards women's strength and resourcefulness could exist. This may well continue to be the case. However, some women's resistance within the family to-day has a very different kind of shape: lone motherhood constituting a much more prevalent site of resistance than in the past. Women's resistance has also impacted on and been reinforced by the wider social and cultural context. This has led to an extraordinary blossoming of women's voluntary, community and educational activity, reflecting and reinforcing various kinds of structural and/or cultural transformation.

Resistance in Male Controlled Structures of Paid Employment and the State

In the male controlled structures of paid employment and the state, organisational culture is the concept that is typically used to refer to ideas about 'women's place' and to the myths and values that legitimise their position at the lower levels of the hierarchy and portray managerial jobs as masculine (Hansard Society Commission, 1990). Documenting its reality reflects and reinforces resistance. Such a culture has been described in case studies of the Irish civil service (Mahon, 1991); local authorities (Mahon and Dillon, 1996); regional health structures (O'Connor 1996 and 1998); semi-state structures (Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 1999; O'Connor, 2000c); accountancy firms (Barker and Monks, 1994) and academia (Barker and Monks, 1999; Smyth, 1996; O'Connor, 2000a). Its existence is reflected in the areas of expertise referred to in advertisements; in the importance attached to vague criteria at critical access points; in general assessments of a candidate's 'style'; in ideas that men 'need' promotion more; in the composition of interview boards and in the differential value attached to predominantly 'male' and 'female' work. High profile work is frequently not allocated to women in such contexts, making it difficult for them to achieve visibility, to 'show form', to be seen as an obvious candidate for promotion. In such contexts, monitoring can effectively become a rhetorical exercise (see Department of the Taoiseach, 1999).

Developments at EU level (including gender auditing EU funds (Mulally, 1999), and the EU Code of Practise recognising the implicit gender bias in job classifications: O'Connor and Shortall, 1999) and the national commitment to equality proofing (Mc Crudden, 2000) potentially challenges the patriarchal dividend. Indeed, a 40% gender quota in the appointment of government nominees to state boards nearly trebled women's representation over a ten-year period (NWCI, 1997). The Employment Equality Act (1998:S 24(1)) allows (but does not require) positive action. It defines positive action very broadly to focus on 'removing existing inequalities which affect women's opportunities in areas of access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions.' Such positive action is now seen as necessary to deal with gender inequality in the public service (Department of the Taoiseach, 1999: 22nd July p.6). The European Court of Justice suggested that (with certain caveats) where male and female applicants were equally qualified for a post in the public sector, a woman should be promoted, because of deep-seated prejudices against women (Marshall v Land Nordrhein -Westfalen: Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 1999).

However, in contrast to Northern Ireland, equality proofing is not being introduced simultaneously across all areas; and economic leverage is not being used to achieve equality goals (for example, 'by awarding public contracts to those who further a basic policy aim [such] as equality': Mc Crudden, 2000). Parental leave (1998) is unpaid and the EU has already had to instruct the Irish state to extend its coverage (Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform 2000). 'Family friendly' policies are being promoted (Mc Keown et al, 1998; O'Connor, 1998) but such policies, although they facilitate individual women's attempts to reconcile work and family do 'not challenge traditional work structures' (Lewis, 1997:21).

Despite the Women's Movement there appears to be an absence, especially amongst young women, of 'a subjectivity formed around a will to resist', a lack of coherent organisation of their own subjectivity 'as a reflexive agent in power relations' (Clegg, 1994, p.288). Thus although women are severely under-represented at decision-making levels in nearly all public structures in society, many do not 'see' it. The educational and occupational systems relentlessly encourage this illusion: one which is very re-assuring for those who benefit from the patriarchal dividend but are 'bashful about domination' and like to feel that the privileges they enjoy are given to them 'by nature or convention or by women themselves' (Connell, 1995b: 215). In this context, references to women's interests may be perceived (by men and women) as 'sexist' and effectively as attempts to demean. Even amongst well educated women, a widespread lack of confidence and organisational naiveté appears to be common (Dorgan et al, 1994; O'Connor, 1995). Low levels of self-esteem have been shown to appear very early in Irish women and to exist even when class background and ability are controlled for (Hannan et al, 1996).

Nevertheless, individual women and groups of women have been involved in 'whistleblowing' (disclosing 'illegal, unethical or harmful practices … parties who might take action': Rothschild and Miethe, 1994: 254). Rothschilde and Miethe noted that typically whistleblowers were highly competent employees, although the response was to depict them as troublemakers, 'whingers' or crazy people (if they could neither be got rid of nor intimidated into silence). Individuals who were committed to their organisations, but also to an ideology that was at odds with the dominant culture of their organisation (i.e. 'tempered radicals': Meyerson and Scully, 1995) were particularly likely to be whistleblowers. A number of civil servants and university faculty (in at least four of the seven universities) have been involved in legal action against their employers in the past five years because of alleged discrimination (O'Connor, 2000b).

The EU and the nation state have generated a context that is potentially conducive to resistance. However, the organisational culture maintaining the patriarchal dividend still seems to be very much a reality. It implicitly involves the devaluation of 'women's work'-inside and outside the home-an issue that affects all women although the whistleblowers have tended to be middle class, relatively advantaged women.

Consolidation of an Alternative Power Base within the Family

It is suggested that resistance is also reflected in the consolidation of familial power and the emergence of a new family form. Irish dramatists (such as Sean O'Casey and John B. Keane) have long suggested that Irish women have used the family as an emotional power base. Such power has been depicted as a kind of manipulative control characterised by dependency, intrusiveness and martyrdom -the stereotypical Irish mother (McKenna, 1979; Scheper-Hughes 1979). This kind of power is interpersonal and has elements of Foucault's pastoral care (see Smart, 1988): a care which is concerned with the welfare of those subject to it and is also a 'means of creating order and a method of control' (Lee Treweek, 1996, p.119). Its exercise can involve a range of 'emotional tools' including listening, gentle persuasion, firm direction, 'discomforting the person' and even force (James, 1989,p.24; Treweek, 1996). We know little about this aspect of family life to day. It is possible that the power Irish women exert within the family is considerably more than many of them exert outside the family. This may explain why 71% of the women in the Irish part of the European Values study (Whelan and Fahey, 1994) felt that being a housewife was just as fulfilling as working for pay (a pattern which persisted even amongst young women).

One of the most striking recent changes in Irish society is the dramatic rise in births outside marriage. Thus whereas in 1980 births outside marriage made up 5% of all births, they made up 32% of all births in 1999 (CSO, 1999b). Lone motherhood is a heterogeneous group including separated and never married women (47% of lone mothers were separated and 37% were never married: Mc Keown, 2000). Lone mothers have lower educational levels than married mothers, and so can command lower wages. What evidence we have suggests that the mothers of lone mothers (particularly never married lone mothers) are crucially important in enabling such mothers to take care of their children.

Various studies (such as Mc Cashin, 1996; Mahon, 1998) have found that most single mothers were in steady relationships when they became pregnant, but that these men, even if they remained involved, were peripheral to their parenting. Men's adoption of role reversal (remaining at home while their wife is in paid employment) has remained minimal over the past ten years (less than 4% of all couples: CSO, 1997, p.7). Public interest and policy has concentrated on lone mothers and abortion -both misleadingly depicted as predominantly involving teenagers (O'Connor, 1998; Clare, 2000). The question: 'What is left of phallic power if more and more women find the challenge of living with and loving men more trouble than it is worth' (Clare, 2000:193) is rarely posed.

A focus on women's emotional power within the family reflects an interior view of the family. The limits of that power were clearly shown when the Supreme Court found the Matrimonial Home Bill (1994) unconstitutional. (It found that married women did not have an automatic legal right to joint ownership of the family home because of the constitutional responsibility of the state to protect male ownership as the basis for male authority within the family: O'Connor, 1998).

Transformative Activity

Resistance that is potentially transformative as regards the wider structural and cultural context may involve the provision of services to meet needs which were not met by the patriarchal society; creating new structures or attempting to challenge structural or cultural parameters.

From the 1970s on a wide variety of organisations emerged, explicitly created by women to meet those needs which were not recognised by the wider institutional structures (e.g. Rape Crisis Centres and Women's Aid Centres for survivors of domestic violence). Although particularly concerned with the provision of services, they also played an important role in transforming cultural attitudes (for example through advertising campaigns stressing that: 'It's a Crime to Beat a Woman': Kelleher Associates, 2000). Such predominantly female initiatives (like those concerned with valuing women's traditional activities: see Tweedy, 1992) have tended-and indeed still tend- to be characterised by poor resourcing- 'neglect by the powerful' (Davies, 1995).

In Ireland, the 1980s were widely seen as years of demoralisation although the formalisation and mainstreaming of some women's service organisations also occurred (Connolly, 1996 and 2000). The 1990s saw the rapid growth of locally based women's groups and of various regional women's networks (AONTAS, 1994 and 2,000; Connolly, 1996, 1997 and 2000; Community Workers Co-Operative, 1998; Corcoran, 1998; Family Resource Centre, 1997;Hayes, 1990; Kelleher and Whelan, 1992; NWCI, 2000; Ward and O'Donovan, 1996). Almost inadvertently, through such activity, structures emerged which promoted active citizenship through community education and development initiatives. Typically, their funding was short-term and at times piecemeal. They also, to a greater or lesser extent, existed outside mainstream, predominantly male controlled, hierarchical structures. The focus on women was less explicit in the mid/late 1990s than it had earlier been. Typically, however, these structures predominantly involved women and reflected women's needs and interests (e.g. with childcare arrangements being seen as an essential pre-requisite for participation). Corcoran's (1998) study was one of the few which specifically defined the absence of male involvement as an issue.

Some of these groups were concerned with women's poverty, literacy or their housing situation (funded by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs; Dublin Corporation; Combat Poverty etc: <>). Others were directly concerned with community education or community development and were EU funded (through New Opportunities for Women; AONTAS <> or National Women's Council of Ireland, (< ome.html>).

In the 1990s, the National Women's Council of Ireland (<>) became a member of the National Economic and Social Forum and was involved in negotiations on the National Programme for Prosperity and Fairness 2,000 (O'Donnell and Thomas 1998). In health (Department of Health, 1997) as well as in local government (Spalding, 1999) these corporatist type structures are emerging. One might suggest that they are an attempt by the predominantly male institutional structures of the state to harness the vitality and energy of the (predominantly female) community and voluntary sector. However given the numerically limited nature of women's representation on these structures and their frequent lack of involvement in the design phase of these partnerships (NWCI, 2000) it is not clear to what extent a genuinely woman focused agenda will be adopted (see O'Donovan, 1999).

Over the past thirty years individuals and groups have played crucial roles as societal 'whistleblowers.' Thus, in 1973 the Mc Gees successfully took a case against the State's prohibition on the importation of contraceptives for marital use. Ruth Riddick took a number of cases involving the area of crisis pregnancies; while the largely working class Married Women for Equality Group, after nineteen years, forced the State to honour its obligations under the 1976 EC Social Welfare Directive (O'Connor, 1998). The sheer existence of Women's Studies at undergraduate and/or postgraduate level within all the Universities from the early 1990s, reflects an ongoing challenge since it implicitly values a gendered sense of identity and suggests that what purports to be a gender neutral education is not so (Lynch, 1994 and 1999; O'Connor, 2000b).

Women from all social classes have been involved in various aspects of this transformational activity. Thus, women who were full time in the home – whether economically disadvantaged, Travellers or from middle class backgrounds- have participated in a variety of daytime community education programmes. Middle class women have mostly been the ones to engage in legal action. With a very small number of exceptions, few public divisions have emerged between women despite different class backgrounds, different attitudes to feminism, gender orientations and party political affiliations. Recognizing their differences, they have continued to lobby, to organise and to empower each other: constituting a vital and energetic face of active citizenship in an increasingly cynical and disenchanted society.


Despite the impact of the Women's Movement, despite the facilitative context created by a stress on efficiency within the public sector, despite individual, group and organisational challenges and the legal, social and political impact of EU membership, patriarchal privileging continues to exist and to be sustained by an acceptance that it is 'normal' and 'natural'. In all sorts of ways, and in many arenas, women's voices and their concerns are beginning to be heard. However, the perceived legitimacy of those voices, especially insofar as they articulate women's needs and perspectives is still problematic.

Acker's (1998) work suggests that the patriarchal dividend ultimately reflects the wishes and needs of powerful men. It has been suggested that a call to forego such a dividend 'is a doomed call if it is made, as it tends to be made, predominantly by women…….Men can only save themselves. They cannot rely on women to save them' (Clare, 2000, p.194). At an individual level the choice for all men is clear. It is one of choosing whether they want to collude with the patriarchal dividend; with the subordination of women through the fear or the reality of physical or sexual violence; with the implicit devaluing of women's work and skills inside and outside the home; the de-legitimating of their emotional power and their exclusion from such centres of power that men define as key. Insofar as they do not wish to do this then it is clearly necessary to eliminate privileges based on gender.

The choice for women also revolves around a willingness to question the patriarchal dividend. The legitimacy of a woman's agenda, with its prioritising of women's needs, including those relating to their vulnerability to poverty and to domestic violence and their under-representation in positions of authority in the wider society seems likely to continue to be key. Related to this is the value of 'women's work' inside and outside the home and the possibilities for male/female relationships within a world where relationships with men are not inevitably hierarchical. The extent and nature of the solidarity between women and their ability to recognise their different experiences of discrimination; their different choices and life styles and their different levels of gender awareness is likely to continue to be critical. Ireland is changing- has changed. The patriarchal dividend has been challenged, with much of this work being done by women. It remains to be seen if men – for whatever reason- will work with women in resisting the perpetuation of the patriarchal dividend.


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