There is lots of discussion of late of making Limerick a liveable city. Most of this dialogue focuses on the architecture of our streets to transform Limerick into a modern urban oasis on par with other forward thinking European cities. While the built environment plays an essential role in shaping our culture and the wellbeing of citizens, it is the attitude and beliefs of its people that make a city as liveable as it can be. Something that struck me during the #liveableLimerick discourse was how much of this conversation was dominated and shaped by men. From media commentators, to consultant architects, to city councillors, to sports and comedy stars, an androcentric debate developed that very much mirrors the current state of our urban fabric. A fabric that maintains a pervasiveness of sexism existing throughout our city. A sexism not usually seen by men, and some women, in our everyday lives because it is such a habitual way of being in Limerick.
Our sexist media
A quick skim through this week’s local papers easily demonstrates the role of women within our community. Good looks rather than good works appear to the at the centre of Limerick media recognition. The women of our city make the local pages when they win Miss Limerick or are fashion modelling, and any young girl will quickly realise that looks and style are crucial factors in defining value.
Those who are afforded platforms to commentate on important Limerick political and civic issues are invariable male. Take Limerick media darling of the moment, John Moran,a white, privileged, middle-aged man. In a similar vein, the new Limerick Life paper has commissioned Leader writers of the same mould. Personally, I hold nothing against these white, middle aged- male commenators but isn’t it jaded and a worrying trend that we have the same voices representing the same small minority of people. Female commentators are continually sidelined to the lifestyle or fashion pages and not afforded the same opportunities to analyse and critique as their male counterparts.
Limerick is a writer’s city that has reared some excellent female commentators with frequently engaging insights, Emma Gileece, Laura Kennedy and Jen Ronan to name a few. It’s a shame that these women are not afforded the same platform locally as they are often given at a national level.
Our sexist public space
Walk around any city and there will be monuments dedicated to men, a symbol of entrenched patriarchal systems etched deep into the urban environment. Statues rarely get built anymore, yet over the last week two new statues have been erected along The River Shannon. It appears that when we do build public memorials today, they still almost always portray men. The only depiction of women on Limerick streets are as symbols; a willowy dancer on Cruises Street or a matriarch in chains on Sarsfield Bridge. These women are not real women, with first and last names, with a lived history. They are mere aesthetic pleasantries. Moreover, with the addition of these monstrosities, there is an advancing trend of advertising within our public spaces. The call for further retail in our city brings with it an increasing consumerism, a culture that is aggressively built on creating unnecessary inadequacies in women.
I have yet to encounter a women in the city that has not been harassed on the street. Whether walking down William Street after work or cycling out to UL for a spot of study, most women will encounter an uneasy comment or discomforting judgment on how they look. This is amplified on a night out, with a grope or leer as standard practice in a packed Nancy’s. This is simply a part of many of our daily experience. It’s that uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment you feel walking past a group of blokes drinking outside McGettigans on a sunny day. It’s the shameful lowering of your eyes and face, when you dress up for a night out and are crossing Sarsfield bridge by yourself to a litany of beeping and catcalls.
Our sexist commerce
There are currently 40 women for sale in Limerick according to Escorts.ie . Five of these are only 18, though probably younger. Women in our city that are expected to sell the use of their mouths, hands and vaginas to get Limerick men to reach orgasm. One women ‘Emily’ has just been rated 1 out of 5 for value for money and attractiveness by an anonymous punter stating that he is “Very disappointed. As I am a businessmen she wasted my lot of time. Her pictures are genuine but are very old as she looks older now.”
Our sexist sporting city
Limerick prides itself on being a sporting city. Our GAA and rugby heritage has undoubtedly had a cultural significance in defining our city. Yet, it is impossible to deny that our sporting heroes are customarily men and their sphere of influence extends far beyond the rugby or hurling pitch.
Playing sport and knowing about sport are encouraged in Limerick boys from an early age. Performance on the rugby field is an important way for Limerick men to prove their masculinity. This macho culture that is cultivated so continuously, especially in single sex schools, surely creates unrealistic social pressures in our young men (that’s a whole other blog post though!). Can we really pride ourselves in being a sporting city when we almost always exclude 50% of the population from inclusion. Sport is such a significant vehicle to status in Limerick, yet women’s sports receives sparse funding, coverage and recognition.
As depressingly demonstrated by The Limerick Leader this week, women are invariably front page news for dating famous sportsmen. This week saw immense local sporting feats by Limerick women. From epic triathletes at Hell of the West to the anticipation of a must-win clash for Limerick camogie stars. Why can’t this space be devoted to an actual sportswomen instead of TJ Ryan’s beauty queen girlfriend?
Our sexist political sphere
12 months ago, Limerick county was awarded the honour of being the only constituency in the country failing to have any female candidate. Of our 40 local councillors only 7 of these are women. Limerick has abysmally failed to support women in becoming public representatives for their communities. Within our puny 15% female representation, councillors have spoken out about the different treatment they are afforded in council chambers compared to their male counterparts
Only last week, Counsellor Vivienne Crowley, on her election to Deputy Mayor of
Limerick Metropolitan District was likened to a horse, being told she was ‘from fine stock’ and her ‘breeding’ was ‘exceptional’. It is difficult to envision a progressive #liveableLimerick when this type of belittling language is used so freely within our local council.
A liveable Limerick is a city where 18-year-old girls are not available for sale to businessman who rate their looks. It is a city where public spaces are safe for everyone and women can walk freely without fear of harassment. It is a city where young women, in a genuinely modern Limerick, make the front pages for more than being a beauty queen and dating famous sportsmen. It is a city where women are given the same opportunities as men, be that in the political, sporting or public sphere, to contribute their ideas and have their voices heard.
A truly #liveablelimerick craves more than linear parks and urban gardens. It demands dismantling of the attitudes, assumptions and practices underpinning our sexist city. A #liveablelimerick is one where women are afforded the same civic opportunities and engagement as the men of this city and together we re-imagine non-sexist alternative ways of living.
So, if Limerick truly is a lady can we please start treating her with a bit of equal respect?