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Rose of Tralee

It's time to admit that the Rose of Tralee's idea of womanhood is simply irrelevant in 2018

There’s more to us than tea and gúnas.

IT’S AUGUST, FOLKS. The Sunday of months. The heatwave is but a distant memory and supermarkets are now in the throes of back to school fever. It’s time to say goodbye to the Aperol Spritzes and hello to pumpkin spice lattes. But before we bid a final farewell to summer, we must first sit through that most lovely of pageants, the Rose of Tralee.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people tune in as Dáithí Ó Sé grills lovely girls from all over the world about everything from their fondness for battered sausages to when their fella is going to get off his hole and pop the question. There are songs and jigs, science experiments and Yanks in cowboy hats. By and large, it is to be commended as a celebration of accomplished young women.

But every time I watch it, I can’t help but feel that it’s limited in terms of who and what it chooses to celebrate. For the most part, contestants fit a very particular mould. They are mostly slim and able-bodied. They are middle class. Most contestants are straight (or at least not out). They don’t have children and they must not be married.

They are good girls with good jobs and good university degrees. Girls who love tea. Girls who love jiving despite being born in 1991. Girls who can gamely laugh at bad jokes and say, ‘Oh, would you stop!’ Girls who want to say a big hello to all the first class students in St. Columba’s NS. Girls who don’t want to rock the boat. Girls you could take home to your Mammy.

There is nothing wrong with any of the above, of course. Women can be whoever they want to be. But it speaks volumes about the Rose of Tralee that they seem to prize niceness and inoffensiveness above all else.

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In 2016, Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins addressed the eighth amendment on stage and said, “I think it’s time to give women a say over their reproductive rights.”

I would love to see a referendum on the eighth amendment come up soon. That would be my dream.

Two years on, the sentiment seems almost quaint. But it caused ructions at the time with festival chair Mary Kennedy later saying that it was neither the time nor the place to air such views. (Views that the majority of Ireland shared, as it turned out.) “I don’t think the Rose of Tralee is necessarily a political platform,” she said.

And therein lies the problem with the Rose of Tralee. It wants women to be articulate, but not too opinionated. Smiley, but not too funny. Pretty, but not sexy. Accomplished, but still looking for a ring on the finger.

It perpetuates an ideal of womanhood that just isn’t relevant to most women in their twenties and is out of step with modern Ireland. It leads to contestants withholding the unique and individual parts of themselves lest they stray too far from this ideal. As Brianna Parkins wrote in The Irish Times, it can sometimes resemble “a Kate Middleton impersonation competition”.

In its current incarnation, the Rose of Tralee fails to recognise the complex, multifaceted nature of womanhood. Just think of all the women who are either excluded or not represented nearly enough in the competition. Fat women. Queer women. Trans women. Disabled women. Working class women. Traveller women. Women of colour. Women of other faiths. Women born before 1990. Women with children.

To name but a few, like.

How refreshing would it be to hear from women with strong, forthright opinions? Or women who can make your sides ache from laughing too much? Or women who let their freak flags fly unabashedly?

Think about it. A competition that celebrated women in all their multitudes and didn’t force them to masquerade as pioneers and virgins.

There’s more to us than tea and gúnas. It’s time the Rose of Tralee figured that out.

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