women (it is argued) can be like men. Without diminishing the significance of this challenge to the assumption that women are destined by biology to confine their activities to the ‘domestic sphere’, it is relevant to ask what does not get problematised in this representation of the ‘problem’ (Question 4). In this explanation, for example, it becomes difficult to put in question the masculine norms of the workplaces to which women are demanding access, norms which reinforce the marginalisation of women and which hence are gender ing in their effects – producing gender as a relation of inequality. Illustrating this point, the Irish mainstreaming agenda is described as gender- neutral. The Gender proofing handbook (Crawley and O’Meara 2002: 8-9) states explicitly that ‘gender proofing’ is ‘premised on recognition that inequalities exist which can and do discriminate against either sex’ (see also Polverari and Fitzgerald 2002a: 1). As exemplars the Handbook highlights the need for ‘more emphasis’ on men’s health and men’s right to paternity leave entitlements. Social services are criticised for being ‘geared towards women’ with ‘no alternative or complementary supports for men’. Because this supposedly ‘even-handed’ approach includes men in ‘gender’ in a depoliticised way, it silences the unequal power relations between women and men and ignores the normative status ascribed to masculine characteristics (Question 4). In keeping with this perspective the Irish Gender impact assessment handbook insists that ‘Increased representation of women in decision-making positions will of course be based on merit’ (Crawley and O’Meara 2004: 63). Merit here is assumed to be
127 Approaches to gender mainstreaming: What’s the problem represented to be? an objective method of evaluation, precluding consideration of the gendered biases within the criteria by which abilities are assessed (Burton 1987; Questions 4 and 5). It is possible, of course, that representing the ‘problem’ in gender-neutral terms, in the ways we have just seen, might be part of a strategic framing exercise by Irish feminist campaigners to win over men supporters (Verloo 2005; Chapter 3). The point we are making here, however, is that gender neutrality follows logically the understanding of the ‘problem’ as identifiable statistical differences in the experiences of women and men , ‘differences’ that must be ‘evened out’. That is, gender neutrality follows the conceptual logic informing a ‘differences’ approach (Question 2); it is a discursive effect of a ‘differences’ discourse (Question 5). ‘Gender’ comes to be understood as a characteristic of a person, an attribute, much in the way eye colour is conceived, so that it makes sense to try to ‘even up’ the numbers of women and men in different sites of employment, for example, in an ‘even-handed’ or ‘gender’- neutral way.
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