"But are political beliefs not part of who we are? Are our ambitions not what drive us forward and lead us into the next chapters of our lives? Why is it so wrong for women to get up on stage and discuss political issues while wearing a ball gown?"
Brianna Parkins, the Sydney Rose in this year’s Rose of Tralee competition, made headlines recently for her comments in support of a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
Her comments were in tune with her own beliefs and with many other women’s across Ireland.
However, many people took grave offence to her brief, but firm statements. Some people, including those in charge of the show, feel that the show is not a political forum, but rather a bit of nice viewing for us.
This leads to the question, when can the personal become the political?
In my view, I think the best place for women to talk about political issues that directly affect them is a place where many women are gathered.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Rose of Tralee is an exclusively female contest. Contestants are told to be themselves, but not to be a full version of themselves. Just a watered-down, family-friendly version.
Brianna herself said the entire show is like a ‘Kate Middleton impersonation competition.’ Not that I have a problem with Kate Middleton. I just think that perhaps it’s time that the Rose of Tralee stepped up its game, and became something more than a ‘lovely girls’ competition.
The way the women are shepherded from PR event to PR event was kept hidden from us viewers, along with how cameras were pointed at them during their most vulnerable moments.
Thankfully, Brianna, a journalist herself, wrote a very telling piece, lifting back the stage curtain so to speak and showing us what goes on behind the scenes.
She was too nervous to talk about her strong political beliefs, so instead wore her Repeal the Eighth t-shirt, with its distinctive heart logo, as pyjamas.
As political issues go, abortion is a very complex one and is one not to be taken lightly. But does this mean we should not discuss it at all?
It really is the age-old Irish reaction to anything that would cause a disturbance in the parish. We bury our heads in the sand, ignoring the women who are most vulnerable to our society’s archaic laws.
Just because our citizens are travelling to another country to have an abortion does not mean that our problems are solved.
Instead, we are placing more burden on these women and on the countries they are visiting. For Ireland to truly get behind women, we need to have a choice when it comes to our own bodies and to be allowed to talk about it in public too.
I am not sure what is so unsuitable about the Sydney Rose discussing a political issue which affects women in a competition which is about women.
At the end of the day, it goes back to how women are viewed in the public sphere. All of the Roses were absolutely stunning, all very talented, all very polite and friendly.
However, as soon as one of them put one toe out of line, there was a social media storm, filled with swirling online comments, some supporting the Sydney Rose, and others loaded with virulent hatred.
The fact that even discussing a highly relevant political issue for Ireland on Irish TV is considered extreme or not fit for family viewing is a joke.
Brianna Parkins didn’t even mention the word abortion in her comments. She used the phrase ‘reproductive rights’, so unless your 5-year-old knows anatomy very well, her comments were perfectly fine for family viewing.
This year’s winner, Maggie McEldowey, the Chicago Rose, said in response to the debate: “this event is not to celebrate the ambitions and political beliefs of the modern day Irish woman. Could you imagine if all 65 of us had a political agenda on stage?”
But are political beliefs not part of who we are? Are our ambitions not what drive us forward and lead us into the next chapters of our lives? Why is it so wrong for women to get up on stage and discuss political issues while wearing a ball gown?
Would we really rather the women make painful small-talk with Dáithí Ó Sé which has absolutely no relevance to our daily lives?
I know I am very naïve to expect the Rose of Tralee to be a beacon of women-centric political discourse, but a girl can dream, can’t she?