A year ago, Panti Bliss stood on the Abbey stage and delivered an amazing speech. The video had us all here in Ireland talking. Within days, the clip of Panti’s oration went viral. It wasn’t just Irish people who were talking – people the world over were tweeting the link and getting in touch with Panti. Even Madonna was moved to email Panti and commend her on her honest, passionate speech.
I wrote about it at the time and I haven’t changed my mind. I still think Panti was brave and magnificent that night. I think she deserved every word of praise that came her way.
But there is something that has bothered me since I first saw the video. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it immediately. Something just niggled at me; like a word on the tip of your tongue, or seeing a photograph of someone you used to know really well, but whose face you can’t put a name to. It was a few months before the penny dropped and I realised where my discomfort sprang from.
Here’s the thing; Panti Bliss got on stage and spoke about her reality. She was lauded and applauded around the globe. Suddenly, people outside of this little island knew who Panti Bliss was, the name of Rory O’Neill (Panti’s alter-ego) became known around the world as well. At the same time, women around the world are screaming to have their truths heard. They are clamouring to have their voices listened to, their eloquently-expressed points of view taken seriously and their realities acknowledged.
A woman living in what is still a man’s world – men make the rules and women have to engage with, and play by, them – needs to be like a man in order to succeed. A woman who works in a profession learns very quickly that traits and behaviour mimicking the most male of males is what garners respect, kudos and positive comments. The professions value their creators – men – more than they value women. Men make the rules, and they make them so they favour men. Even the so-called ‘feminine’ professions – like nursing and teaching – favour men. More men get promoted, and more quickly, to senior positions than women. Every day when such a woman gets up to go to work, she is essentially dressing in drag, and trying desperately to fit in to a profession that does not value her nearly as much as it values her male colleagues.
In a nutshell, what made me uncomfortable about Panti Bliss’s wonderful address last year was nothing about Panti and the way she spoke and what she said. What made me uncomfortable was the knowledge that when a man wears a dress, puts on heels, carefully applies make-up and speaks his truth, he is is heard more clearly, listened to more carefully and applauded more loudly than a woman who does the same thing.