Men Of Letters



Sinéad O’Loghlin took the words out of my mouth. Her point about the great majority of published contributors to your Letters page being male had struck me very forcibly in recent months. For my own amusement, I have been keeping a running check on letters published.

From February 3rd to February 15th, inclusive, a total of 196 letters have appeared. Five signatories might have been either gender; of the other 191 letters, 155 (over 81 per cent) were from men and 36 (under 19 per cent) from women.

Do these figures really reflect the contributions received? If so, I can only echo Ms O’Loghlin’s appeal to women to get writing.

Colette Ní Mhoitleigh,
Baile Átha Cliath 6.

Women and ‘Letters to the Editor’ (Irish Times)

Pic: True North Quest

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125 thoughts on “Men Of Letters

  1. Owen O'F

    It’s the always same three or four (male) gimps doing the letter-writing. Don’t you think the editor would be only delighted to get something other than the same old retired windbag, who probably wears red trousers at the weekend, doing a crashingly awful, so-bad-it’s-just-bad pun?

    Much like round here… wait, d’oh!

    1. The Old Boy

      Last year, I noticed that a particular name, Paul Delaney, crept up with alarming frequency and his contributions almost invariably consisted of terrible puns. A quick search of the archives showed the paper had published no fewer than 337 of his letters, mostly since 1999, but a few dating as far back as 1983.

      1. meadowlark

        My great uncle’s hobby was writing letters. He used to do precisely that. He is not, however, this Paul you speak of.

  2. manolo

    Curiously, while the published female readers’ contributions on the Irish Times’ is 18% according to Sinéad’s calculations, the last Dail’s had 16% women, a very similar figure. Maybe the issue is not that women need to get writing, but that they need to get politically engaged, which includes writing to comments to newspapers and taking an active role in community and national politics.

        1. manolo

          I wasn’t aware that a majority of women are active feminists or even just politically engaged. I stand corrected if that’s the case.

          1. The Real Jane

            They aren’t. Women concern themselves mainly with the domestic sphere as suits their gentle, nurturing natures fitted by God to be the companions and carers of infants.

            I know of a decent woman who has never uttered a word in public (outside the confessional, where she attends regularly for the shortest possible times, having committed no immodest or indecent acts) nor made any private utterance for ears other than the ears of her husband. I personally pray for the day more women follow her example.

            Women knowing who’s taoiseach. The very idea.

          2. Caroline

            My point is that feminism has been debating the issue of women’s participation in public life and, more importantly, possible ways of increasing it, pretty much since feminism began. It’s actually part of the underlying rationale for quite a chunk of feminist “demands”. Check it out, I’m not even kidding. They really did spot this quite early on.

          1. Neilo

            *Points to spot on chaise longue* Just set yourself down here, pet. Thinking is tough work for you gals what with the wandering wombs and all.

          2. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

            Sorry Neilo, my weak lady limbs mean I can’t even walk there


          3. Rob_G

            It’s a valid point; women comprise 50% of the electorate. Many political parties would welcome women getting involved and running for election (I think they tend to poll better than their male counterparts).

            If women feel under-represented in politics, they need to start organising and putting themselves forward.

      1. manolo

        Here’s one for you: If women are so politically engaged AND gender balance is so important, with just over 50% of voters being female, how come there are only 16% of female TDs? It has to be either lack of political engagement OR the gender balance is not the most important thing for female voters. Dismiss the point as much as you want, but it is fair and genuine question that I am asking.

        1. Caroline

          Nobody has claimed that women are very politically engaged. At the risk of repeating myself, their lack of engagement has been examined by feminists and other theorists over many years. I think it would be of greater benefit, if you are genuinely interested, to make the effort yourself to find out some of the conclusions they have arrived at.

          1. manolo

            jambon has a point there. The media (and people in general) can be very biased and sexist when talking about female politicians and that can probably be quite off putting.

          2. manolo

            Albert Reynolds was the ugliest politician ever, anywhere, but that never was an issue. Joan Burton though…

          3. jambon

            Not a big fan of questions answered with a question … but anyway. I think women are portrayed appalling in some parts of the media, i.e. in the tabloids etc. I think there is huge class disparity in how a woman’s worth is judged/portrayed, i.e., the less educated/affluent the demographic, the more women’s worth is judged for superficial things: looks, appearance, desirability. However, as the demographic moves ‘upward’ there seems to be less of that, maybe it exists there in more subtle ways? Anyway, I can’t answer my own question here, hence the question …

          4. Caroline

            Sorry about college lecturer mode, but it seemed to me so obvious that if you are aware of the issues around the portrayal of women in the media, then it’s not too much of a leap to conclude that feminists are too, and have identified it as an obstacle to participation in public life. So I was keen to make sure we were on the same page.

          5. jambon

            Fair point, but like I was saying, I think there are elements of that being a barrier that exists in certain elements of public discourse, i.e. the ‘lower’, more sensational end of the media landscape, but if you are an educated, middle-class consumer of educated, middle-class media, is that still an issue?

          6. Caroline

            There is no question there is still a focus on appearance. That exists over every class level. There may be less focus on actual breasts and genitalia than at tabloid level. And yes, it may be more subtle. But the mechanism doesn’t disappear across classes. How well does she look for her age? What is she wearing? How much makeup? How is she physically positioned in the room?

            Plus, even the divergence you’ve identified between the hypersexualisation (linked with working class) and the “not that kind of woman” treatment elsewhere brings with it its own set of problems for women.

            But anyway, as I say, this is all written down in Feminism. Don’t be hesitant, go check it out. It’s usually specific to a particular country, so an Irish book would be ideal. Yvonne Galligan has one called Women and Politics in Contemporary Ireland. Late 90s.

          7. jambon

            Great, thanks for the book recommendation, I will look it up. Meanwhile, the women’s magazines and TV programmes that are so focused (and most aggressive) when it comes to discourse concerning ‘appearance’, for want of a better catch-all word, are mostly run, and almost always staffed, by white, middle-class women. In addition, Europe’s most powerful politician, Angela Merkel, doesn’t seem to be have been hampered by it.

          8. Caroline

            That’s a terrible argument. I call it the Diet Coke argument. Because just like Diet Coke, it is terrible.

            First: women are part of the mechanism of patriarchy. The patriarchy is not an evil cabal of men. It’s a system that benefits men and disadvantages women.

            Secondly: individual women succeeding despite the obstacles women in general face does not mean the obstacles are not there. (As an aside: how many children does Angela Merkel have again?)

          9. jambon

            Sorry, I seem to be just throwing random, defensive facts at you. I don’t mean to. It’s a complex subject and one which we should all know more about. Thanks for taking the time to politely, and patiently(!), discuss it with me. I’d love to know a lot more about feminist theory.

          10. jambon

            That said, I still can’t see why privileged, well-educated women, often educated in feminist theory (if they’ve studied communications/journalism/media studies) are happy to run the very magazines that are so obsessed with placing a huge importance on appearance …

          11. Caroline

            Ah. Right.

            You brought up the media, initially seeing if I would admit it as the sole reason or a “big factor” for women’s lack of participation in public life, because you want to play it like a trump card that allows the blame for women’s woes to be placed on women and women alone, and each response is a further attempt to force that conclusion.

            Well, you got us. It’s our fault. Game over gals. Come on. Man on internet has us bang to rights.

          12. jambon

            I don’t know why you are accusing me of that? Or why you’ve suddenly become facetious. I’m sorry you feel that way, genuinely. There was no ‘game-plan’ in anything I said and I don’t think women’s woes should be placed on women and women alone either. I was having what I thought was a very friendly debate with you. Feeling a bit side-swiped, to be honest. Sorry for wasting your time.

          13. Caroline

            Soz pal. I guess media degrees aren’t the feminist reeducation camps they could be. I know mine wasn’t.

          14. jambon

            Maybe it’s a subject best left to the experts then, or at least those who have a basic understanding of conversational etiquette.

          15. manolo

            This study seems to suggest that woman assess contributions from anyone based on merit, independent of gender, while it is the men who are actually biased. This could also justify, to some extent, the imbalance – though I still think that women do need to be more engaged, otherwise women would hold to at least a 25% of seats if men where to be 100% biased:


          16. Caroline

            Haha. Aw you outed yourself a little bit again there, jambon.

            I can waste no more time, there are so many more men out there who need personalised explanations of feminism painstakingly spoonfed to them so they can spot an opportunity to pull out their awesome trump cards!

          17. jambon

            Outed myself as what, Caroline? Stupid? Sexist? Maybe I am both of those things. I wish I weren’t. But I am not trying to ‘win’ anything. Or paint you into a corner where I can reveal my ‘trump card’ … That kind of behaviour is way more stupid than I am willing to concede I am! Give me a little credit. I felt you turned the conversation sour, became sarcastic/facetious etc. because I said “I still can’t see why privileged, well-educated women, often educated in feminist theory … are happy to run the very magazines that are so obsessed with placing a huge importance on appearance.”? I wasn’t laying down a ‘trump card’, as you call it! I am genuinely interested in knowing why that is. I haven’t studied feminist theory. I don’t know. I am also not saying that this is why sexism exists, or that women have created their own inequality; I understand, and accept that a patriarchy is a system that benefits men over women. I’m not actually a sexist. I just wanted to know why you thought that was.

          18. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

            jam, me old cobber. I get you aren’t looking for a fight but you know every time a woman talks about sexism on the internet, she is guaranteed of one of two responses; something something women’s magazines if it is about judging women based on appearances and something something Diet Coke ad if it anything about being objectified.

            It gets old really really fast. Now, I can’t speak for Caroline, but sometimes, when I get these responses, i get super pissed off. They are hackneyed and don’t prove what the writer thinks they do. Repeating those points like they have relevance is also super annoying. There also comes a point when you think, you know what, I’m bored of explaining feminism to someone who has access to the internet and resources and can go read up on it themselves. That may not seem fair to you but when you do end up doing it a lot, it’s not fair on women to always have to explain things either.

          19. jambon

            Okay, I did not know that. It was a genuine question, I wasn’t trying to score points. I’d imagine it does get old fairly fast, but I wasn’t trying to prove anything, I was just asking as a point of interest and, if I’m honest, it still is a point of interest. But I accept that I’ll probably have to find out the reasons for it myself. Ps, any links to sources where you think I might get an answer to that? Thanks for taking the time to reply.

          20. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

            Not at all but now you might understand the reaction people have sometimes.

            This sounds flippant but seriously have a google. That way you’ll find websites you like and get rather than ones other people like (an its a wiiiiidddddeeee church so you get all sorts of viewpoints). Good luck out there!

          21. Caroline

            Sorry jambon. Looks like I picked the wrong day to come out of feminism-explaining retirement. I’ll leave it to the somewhat younger and slightly more limber.

            Perhaps one day I will see you again, years later, but this time it will be you patiently explaining feminism to the uninitiated… our eyes will lock briefly, I’ll nod and smile… I made the right choice.

            Sht, I need to start writing this stuff down.

          22. meadowlark

            Time for a group hug, I think.

            Also jambon, I found essays from ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’ very interesting. It’s about portrayals of women in literature, and the notion of the ‘angel in the home’ is still around today and you can see it in day-to-day portrayals of women in the media. Not sure if you’ll find much on it but it’s a good read if you do find it.

        2. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

          Sorry, I was taking the pi** before.

          I would argue that women are just as engaged as men in the political process if you widen it to include voting. I don’t think writing letters is the same but things like engaging in advocating for school places, hospitals etc, more community minded things tend to be done by women. Also see the Abortion rights network in ireland, women’s refuges, domestic violence etc. Clearly this is because people engage with these issues that affected them closely. So that’s political engagement – not just limited to being elected.

          On being elected. Yes, there is a problem with women getting selected. There’ve been a few stories about how this might be due to the “old boys network” in political parties and it is probably due to other factors like the sexist abuse women get for standing for public office that men just would not receive – see everything about Hillary Clinton – or balancing that with family, particularly when they have young children, which again does not affect men and is difficult to do with such a demanding job.

          Now, voters may not vote for women because they are not the best candidate or because they think a woman can’t do a good job. I’m not sure which is which but it even get to that point, you need to encourage women and minorities from community politics to taking part in the established political system (Dail etc). Part of that might be quotas for intake, which I agree with to a point, it might be changing the political system to allow greater representation from people who are activists but can’t take part in politics as it stands.

          1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

            No, she isn’t. But she also doesn’t deserve some of the very gendered comments she has received. Like any women in the public eye. You only have to look at the post here about Joan Burton’s poster to see it.

            Even though we all do it, play the ball not the man etc…

        3. nellyb

          Reasons been covered in details and many times.
          Around the clock+weekend home management for many. Logistics are huge.But modern men started participating in it, kudos to you, guys. A level playing field is not level yet, but soon!

        4. The Real Jane

          You honestly can’t imagine why someone would want a foot on the ladder of their chosen profession?

  3. Neilo

    Hey man, some of us enjoy a cinnamon or cranberry moleskin/chino. Doesn’t mean we’re all Pooterish old bores with opinions that would make Denis Thatcher blanch….except for me, of course.

  4. scundered

    Is this some form of OCD where figures like this have to add up to even numbers to fit into some hideously symmetrical plastic world? People have the right to do as they please, get over it.

    1. The Real Jane

      Yeah, why does anyone think about anything? Nothing means anything – it’s all just a load of random stuff that some people decided to do and some people didn’t decide to do. It has no meaning or pattern.

      Don’t think pls tnx.

  5. newsjustin

    It would be useful if the Irish Times gave us the stats (I suspect they’ed have to assign a graduate/intern to the task) on the male:female ratio of submitted letters.

    Maybe then we could decide if they’re being unfair or not.

    I’d be surprised if the IT are deliberately dumping letters from women in favour of men.

  6. meadowlark

    I don’t mean to sound like I’m sporting a tinfoil hat, but I have noticed that there *seems* to be more male than female commenters here, or on the journal, for example. And while the women in this country have traditionally not been given a voice (see gender disparity in politics, mother and baby homes, 8th amendment) things are changing, but it seems to me that the letters in the Times, the comments online, are only a reflection of a wider societal trend, where women still do not have an equal voice to men. I don’t mean to say that comments from women aren’t posted by admin, or that letters from women aren’t published, but that women have learned not to express their opinion in a public sphere and that idea is still there today.

    It’s just an idea , mind.

    1. The Real Jane

      Well, lots of women don’t want to be seen as shrieking hysterics.

      Also, women, they’re all the same anyway. Una, Anne-Maire, who could hope to tell them apart?

      1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

        You get called a shrieking hysteric anyway, even when the men are the ones shrieking.

          1. Neilo

            Or so the owner of NewsTalk thinks. Orla Barry, Sile Seoige, Ciara Kelly – rarely, if ever, heard. That lovely Sarah Carey is still tucked away on Sat mornings, bless her little cotton socks emblazoned with the Esat Digifone logo.

          2. The Real Jane

            No. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I barely bother with the radio any more. I hear enough about what middle aged men think at work, I’m bored of their news agenda becoming the only agenda, bored with the George Hooks/Ivan Yateses of the world deciding what makes the news, what issues count and who gets to express an opinion about it.

            I mean, if you’ve been in a taxi in the last 6 months, you’ve basically heard all the radio, delivered live.

          3. Caroline

            I’ve never understood Irish talk radio. Why would I listen to somebody stupider than me arguing with somebody stupider than them?

          4. meadowlark

            Have to agree with you as regards Irish radio. Marian Finucane is one of the few, and she certainly is not to everyone’s taste. Women are ok for sidekicks on profoundly irritating breakfast radio, but that’s it. ( I wish there were more breakfast shows that are quieter, more relaxed, calmer – lyric seems to be it) You don’t hear women really. Dee Woods used to do a great segment in the evening on Nova.

          5. meadowlark

            Hah that’s mad. Funny ol’ world. Is it any good though? Or is it just like all the other crap breakfast radio out there?

          6. Lorcan Nagle

            I generally hear about half an hour of it in the morning as I try and get moving, I tend to like most of the songs they play, and there’s usually one or two surprises by nova’s standards in there (FEAR by Ian Brown was one last week). They’re nowhere near as forced wacky as most morning shows, they do joke and tell funny stories, but they’re much more grounded and often stuff from their home life.

    2. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

      Top point btw meadow. How many times are women told don’t take up space, don’t be noisy, don’t make a fuss.

      Boring as hell.

  7. KirkenBrenner

    Letters pages are great if you want to know what creepy YFG anti-abortionists and unpleasant Meath clergy are thinking

  8. Pardon

    Caroline the feminist ( when it suits her) makes the following statement “(As an aside: how many children does Angela Merkel have again?) “

      1. Pardon

        Would such a question be asked of a man? If the answer is a firm “NO” , then your question has been answered. Caroline’s ego is trolling her. Don’t fret BS.

        1. Caroline

          I don’t believe it. I’ve literally just sworn off explaining feminism to people on the internet ever again, after an inciting incident above! So I guess this is the first turning point. Which means…

          1. Pardon

            … that you will happily retire and allow your younger , more limber , less irritating female compatriots burn the Joan of Arc/Mother Mary effigies in your honour . Hurrah .

        2. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

          You are completely missing the reason she asked the question. Go back, try again.

    1. Caroline

      Seriously BS. I refuse to believe this is the personal troll you’re assigning me. What happened to “Oh don’t worry Caroline, you’ll love him Caroline, he’ll complement your character perfectly, he’ll be Jeff to your Abed, Quinn to your Carrie!”

      Yeah, like fk he will. Screw you guys. (Not you old buddy, I know you’re just doing your job.)

        1. Pardon

          …Caroline rises like Lazarus and concedes that her question merely served to perpetuate the usual sexism showered upon women. ( Children are never a consideration/barrier to a man’s success.) At the moment , I am playing scarlet pimpernel and Caroline catch up.

  9. Derek

    I believe there is a biological difference between men and women that is at the root of women not putting themselves forward for things.

    If a question is posed to students in an undergraduate 1st year class, its pretty much always a male who will pipe up an answer first. In fact, you’d be lucky to have a female student voice an opinion at all.

      1. Derek

        You know that behaviour essentially comes from the brain, not some mystical soul. The brain is BIOLOGICAL. For some reason people get up in arms over the suggestion that some behaviours may be as a result of biology, perhaps because they wrongly believe that behaviour that results from biology cannot be changed.

        And yes Don, it may not be cultural at all.

        1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

          Well done on ignoring decades of research into nurture vs nature and how as social animals our behaviour is influence by our social environment. Top marks.

          1. Derek

            That’s fairly weak. First of all there is also decades of research into Evolutionary Psychology. And of course there is research which says environment affects personality/behaviour. That does not mean that we can assume every observed behavioural tendency in a group is as a result of social environment. the issue is whether the observation (which you don’t seem to dispute) that women tend not to voice their opinions as forwardly as men do is biological or social, and I believe it is biological. I haven’t ignored any research at all. In fact I have read extensively on the topic.

          1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

            I wonder why boys are more outwardly aggressive but there is no difference in indirect aggression. Must be all biological, nothing social there at all….

            Also, one study suggests a result, it doesn’t prove it. And there are discrepancies in the research as to when this even peaks for children – it could be different for boys and girls and that hasn’t been determined.

            Back to school with ya, ya dope

          2. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

            At least have the intelligence to insult me correctly, it’s 4th wave feminism now, you drip.

          3. Lorcan Nagle

            Not bad, two misogynist dogwhistle terms and stalking Dón in a mere 11 words. That’s efficiency.

          4. Derek

            Actually Don there are multiple studies if you want to take a look at the bibliography. But supposedly I have ignored decades of research. Yes one study SUGGESTS a result. You are never going to PROVE anything in the social sciences arena, to even suggest that I was trying to prove, or that either of us could prove the reason for low female participation in classroom/politics is quite silly.

            In fact, I am not even trying to PROVE my belief that there is a biological basis for male/female differences. I’m actually demonstrating that contrary to you and another poster treating the idea as crazy, and that these differences must be based in societal influences, there is a body of peer reviewed research that supports what I have said. All this weird “Dope” stuff you come out with is a little unnecessary. You’re clearly just trying to shut down anyone who disagrees with you.

          5. human

            3rd wave is all you are, you get challenged and say its ’cause men fancy me’ LOL drip drip doll…….

          6. Lorcan Nagle

            Human, do you actually know what Third Wave Feminism actually is, or are you just repeating it because MRAs and Gamergaters act like it’s a bad thing?

          7. Derek

            I’m curious as to why not. How do you think behaviours are stored in the brain? In some non-physical way that evolutionary pressures cannot affect? And if you believe (as I do) that differening behaviours between individuals (not just men and women) must reflect differences in brain structure, then why would these biological differences not be subject to evolutionary pressures, when all other differences are subject to them?

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