If you have never heard of the Rose of Tralee, well you must be living under a rock.
Tis the pride of Irish pageant shows. It happens but once a year. And if you’re not lucky enough to be from Tralee, fear not, our national broadcaster televises the famed event. Every year, without fail!
I’ll admit, I rarely watch it. In fact, if I come across it I quickly flick passed. Perhaps it is the inherent feminist in me. Though admittedly, repetition on a large scale does nothing for me. That said I do recall some wonderful moments from previous shows. In particular an Australian contestant with bags of personality and intelligence. It’s not that the other ladies were schmoes, she simply commanded the stage with an infectious warmth and humour. We chuckled away watching her. I was disappointed but not surprised when a conventionally good looking but honestly, a bit boring, Rose won. It was my first inkling that this competition liked to play it safe.
I’ve been trying to decide what I think about the show. Tradition and Irish pride seems to be key to why some of these women compete. Many a Rose has spoken of their mother’s well trodden path to Tralee. Or their father’s dying wishes to see their girl up on stage. The number of Roses that participate worldwide is quite impressive. It shows the far reach of the Irish (if we didn’t already know). But what else is the Rose of Tralee saying? What role does it play today in Irish society? Can it justify it’s continued presence? Or does it need to?
It’s obviously not a Ms World but has it moved on from being a lovely girls competition?
Recent events would make you think otherwise.
It appears this year’s Rose of Tralee was quite eventful, with the stage even being stormed by a Fathers For Justice campaigner during the Cavan Rose’s interview. But it was Brianna Parkins, the Sydney Rose’s, “controversial” comments that hit Tweetland and generated perhaps some unsavoury attention for the RoT. As part of her final interview with the uber charming host, Daithi O’Se, she said “I think we can do better here in Ireland. I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights. I would love to see a referendum on the Eighth [Amendment] coming up soon. That would be my dream.”
For those not in the know, the 8th Amendment is a part of the Irish constitution that equates the life of the unborn with the life of the mother. It was brought into 1983 Ireland, a deeply religious place. But now in 2016, it is better known for its divisiveness, than it’s ability to save babies. Since its introduction there have been endless cases of women forced to carry unwanted pregnancies. But it was more likely the tragic and unexpected death of Savita Halappanavar (a woman refused a termination on the grounds that there was still a heartbeat in her unviable pregnancy) in 2012 that started this tidal wave of change.
A campaign has begun to Repeal the 8th Amendment. And with each day it is gaining ground. That said, there are still people who would sit on the fence, as they continue to believe this is not Ireland’s problem. According to Pro-rights campaigners, approx 12 women a day travel to England to get an abortion. So who’s problem is it?
In my opinion it was brave of Brianna to air her thoughts (she’s since gone on to give needed insight to life as a Rose. Definitely worth a read). But really more women should be using public platforms like this to speak out. Whether you agree with abortion or not, we should be talking about it. So why aren’t we happy with a woman using a national stage to speak about a national issue? If it had been one of the men in the Mr Rose of Tralee would we have complained? Oh wait. There is no Mr Rose of Tralee. Sure, haven’t men better things to be doing with their time than standing on stage and chatting with Daithi?
Brianna was pulled aside after her comments and given a talking to. She says that while she wasn’t “gagged or reprimanded as a result of her actions, she had been informed that she had broken a social media rule, as per the contract all Roses are asked to sign”. But it didn’t stop there. Mary Kennedy, chair of the Rose of Tralee, spoke to the Irish Independent in the wake of Brianna’s comments. She berated her for using the competition to speak about something so political, when the The Rose of Tralee itself is an A-political organisation.
So what, then, is the point of the Rose of Tralee?
It’s sweet. It’s twee. It’s fun as they get up on stage, chat about their lives and giggle about their escorts. (All men I might add. God forbid modern day sexuality would be addressed).
It’s a family fun light entertainment show in a time when we’re surrounded by death, war and terror. I get that but I just don’t agree that political views should be separate. I don’t believe this show can continue to ignore the world we live in. I’m not saying our Roses should be up there chanting for abortion rights. Though a recognition of differing beliefs would go a long way. That said, how would I feel if a Rose had said she didn’t believe in Repealing the 8th? Would I still be as happy with her using the show as her personal platform? I think I would.
I hope we would.
Because what a lot of people fail to understand about the abortion campaign is it’s not about whether you personally believe in abortion. It’s about A WOMAN’S right to choose!
Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Cora Sherlock said she didn’t think it was necessary to “politicise the festival”, before adding “you can’t dip your toe into the abortion debate. This is the Rose of Tralee, not Prime Time.”
Well, now Cora, why don’t you tell us how you really feel? What else shouldn’t these Roses talk about? See if the Rose of Tralee isn’t going to evolve and allow these women to discuss current interests, not just women’s issues, then what’s the point? How is it not then just a lovely bottoms… I mean lovely girls competition?
Women all over the world are striving to have their voices heard. Look at the recent campaign by the U.N. and The Global Goals highlighting the importance of women’s rights through a fabulous remake of the Spice Girl song “Tell Me What You Want“. It’s a vibrant, passionate and diverse video using a catchy pop song to reach millions of people. On the other side of that coin, there are women like Qandeel Baloch, from Pakistan, who used social media to change her country’s perception of women. Her outspoken, provocative, and sometimes considered by men, offensive, approach to life ultimately resulted in her death. She was brutally murdered by her brother in one of Pakistan’s many honour killings. Simply for not conforming to what was expected of her as a woman.
It’s the 21st Century, but murder’s like Baloch’s remind us how far we have yet to go. Equal pay and equal rights are just tip of the iceberg when you think about underage marriage, trafficking, female genital mutilation and so on. What we do with our bodies shouldn’t still be an issue or a taboo subject in a first world country. That, may I remind you, can boast a progressiveness not yet achieved in many others. Lest we not forget our positive result for marriage equality in the Referendum last year.
So I’m addressing you, Rose of Tralee A-political organisation, if you still want independent, educated, bright, beautiful (internally and externally), caring women to continue taking part in your competition you need to get with the times. And realise until we have equal rights and pay, autonomy over our bodies and voices then every stage is a political platform. And you should be the first up there promoting that.
NOT knocking us down with the rest of them.