Last night we held an RTÉ Hourglass Series live podcast in the intimate setting of RTÉ Studio 1, with Director-General of RTÉ Dee Forbes, PWC accountant and activist Deborah Somorin and presenter and designer Brendan Courtney.

Held on the eve of International Women's Day and hosted by our own Taragh Loughrey-Grant the event celebrated resilience and hard work, probed the need for greater opportunities for women and how we should seek out and create them, and explored how men are involved in the discussions around gender equality and how to better engage them. 

Brendan Courtney spoke eloquently of the need to bring men further into discussions about gender equality, reflecting on how he was raised with an awareness of balance between the sexes and how he relates to women today. 

"I felt the mood evolve and the conversation evolve where more and more men feel excluded or want to be included, and more and more women are saying 'where are the men in this conversation?'" 

Growing up in Tallaght, Brendan recalls that his mother "always worked", adding "both my parents left for work at the same time everyday, both my parents drove". 

As an example of how equal his parent's marriage was, he remembered "My father 'bought' - now, they both had a business - as some sort of public statement, my mother a Mini and she walked into the driveway and said 'You drive that, I'm not driving that'. I remember [thinking], yeah, why did he buy her a smaller car?" 

While acknowledging that his parents came from a time when the woman would iron the husband's shirts each morning, Brendan stressed that there was a lot of balance in his home when he was growing up. 

He also recalled seeing his mother marching with her feet for greater equality in various ways, such as when on Christmas Day his mother was "first in the queue at the Well Woman Centre" to collect contraception. 

"I would earn money by being sent to the shop to buy my sisters' tampons ... I didn't understand the shame around that." 

After a brilliant experience in primary school, it was while attending a now-closed Christian Brothers secondary school near Parnell Square that Brendan endured years of "hell and torture", bullied for being gay. 

"Culturally, I was one of those kids who couldn't hide my femininity. I was quite camp as a boy ... Kids in the playground would say 'Is that a boy or a girl?' all the time, which would just kill me."

What got him through the difficult years was his "foundation of really strong love" at home. "It made me this really resilient person ... I knew they loved me." 

Brendan recalled how as a young gay man in Ireland he and his gay friends would sneak into gay bars, out of fear of being arrested as being gay was still illegal. 

His experience as a gay man in Ireland is what has brought him closer to women, as he says he can understand some of the struggles they face as a minority fighting for recognition and equal opportunities. Fashion, interestingly enough, was central to this. 

"My big connection with women has always been that self-realisation. I remember having this moment of clarity where I really noticed with the women I was working with, they had come through some sort of realisation in their lives, which was either back to work, empty nest, a serious illness.

But it seemed to always be women, and I really related to them in that I went through that at 18, 19 when I came out." 

This moment of self-realisation doesn't happen in the same way for men, Brendan says, because society doesn't encourage them to look inward. I think we need to involve men in these conversations because of that.

"They're never asked a question, properly, internally."

Listen to the International Women's Day podcast with Brendan in full by clicking on the video above!

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