I’ll admit: my first reaction, upon hearing about the #LadyBall, late last night, was outrage. How had I not heard about this? Had an entire day of potential feminist ire gone wasted, because I hadn’t paid enough attention to Twitter?
Then, of course, I was outraged anew – for the very fact that someone, somewhere, spent thousands of euro (I mean, look at this glossy ad) on a campaign whose very punchline is, well, women. “Specifically designed for the ‘lady’s’ game”, the LadyBall is a putrid, pink sphere which claims to be specially designed for a woman’s grip (what?!) and easier to catch and throw because it’s lighter than those 10-tonne footballs the men enjoy.
There’s much debate going on about whether or not the #LadyBall is a real product, and while my money is firmly in the “it’s a rubbish PR stunt” camp (although the presence of Ger Brennan, whose fame in 2015 was assured when the staunchly Christian GAA player came out against marriage equality, suggests that there is an outside chance of it being very, scarily real), it’s worth noting that, regardless of its ultimate goal, we live in a society where this exists, and people are laughing.
That being said, I’m not surprised. We are, after all, Irish – and, if anything, we’re used to being the butt of the joke. Being Irish is great; we have Beckett and Joyce, Guinness and GAA. We’re the land of Conor McGregor, Saoirse Ronan, Michael Fassbender and Bono. So, y’know, we can take the odd bit of embarrassment – and we do, all too frequently.
That #LadyBall isn’t all that surprising is a testament to the fact that, when you break it down, there’s a lot that’s embarrassing about being Irish. Such as…
There’s a certain time in the evening, when flicking through your radio trying to find something that’s neither Ed Sheeran nor One Direction leads, inexorably, to a loud, frantic discussion – usually being led by a bigoted man or women, ranting about how they frequently see “blacks” / “knackers” / “scumbags” doing dodgy things. Adrian Kennedy, Niall Boylan and other talk radio show hosts whose names I’ve managed to avoid knowing just wouldn’t exist anywhere else – maybe with the exception of America, the land of Donald Trump.
The Rose of Tralee
If you ever want to know what it’s really like to be embarrassed to be Irish, sit down to watch our much-loved Rose of Tralee festival with a well-educated, English speaking foreigner. It’s quite the experience. “What is this?” they’ll ask, bemused, scratching their heads. “Er…” you’ll fumble. “It’s a celebration of Irish women!” “But… is it not a beauty pageant?” they’ll ask, before peering more closely at the screen. Then: “No, it’s definitely not a beauty pageant.” A few seconds later: “Why is this one also reading a poem? Did she write it?” (You’re going to need a bigger bottle.)
The abortion ‘debate’
The abortion debate in Ireland can essentially be summed up thus: Irish politicians are afraid of alienating the demographic of older, Catholic people, who are anti abortion and also the most likely to vote in general elections. The pro-life group claims that ABORTION IS MURDER (but is happy for us to ship our murder out to the UK, for the price of a Ryanair flight and a whole lot of traumatic travel and extra expense). The pro-choice group are all BORING FEMINISTS with the occasional token man, and enjoy baby-murder and heathenism.
A fellow journalist once told me that Ireland is the one region in which Jack & Jones still sells bootcut jeans. Another designer told me that it’s the same for Tommy Hilfiger; we are officially the only country in the world in which our menfolk adore the bootcut jean. And, sorry, but: it never looks good. Not only are we entirely blind to the fact that the world has moved on, we are wilfully, boldly determined to hang on to our bootcuts, despite all evidence that they’re horrific. And that everyone – bar us – knows it.
It’s just a bit of craic
The phrase you hear when you are publicly humiliated, insulted at work, harrassed on the street, groped on the bus, assaulted on the Luas… We have an incredibly embarrassing way of downplaying trauma, insisting that the victim is the one with the problem and that, sure, it was all in the name of that old Irish favourite: craic.
See? Bet the #LadyBall doesn’t seem so bad now after all.