“Everybody has to be conscious of their own unconscious biases.”
When I call Panti Bliss, it’s late March, and the world is in the midst of a larger conversation about systemic misogyny.
As we mourn the recent murder of Sarah Everard, it seems the challenge of tackling violence against women is a talking point for many, including Ireland’s most famous drag queen.
In fact, Panti sees a number of parallels between homophobia and misogyny.
“I used to always describe homophobia to people as insidious. It’s built into the culture, it’s there whether or not you acknowledge it, and it affects everybody.
“Misogyny is built into our culture in the same way, and it affects all of us and everybody. All that ingrained misogyny breeds a culture in which men feel empowered to treat women without the respect they treat men with. And then, in some awful cases, it leads to men doing terrible things, like what happened with Sarah Everard.”
Panti stresses that there is no simple answer in eradicating misogyny and violence against women.
“To me, it’s a long project,” she says. “Everybody has to be conscious of their own unconscious biases. It’s about changing the whole culture, and that starts with kids, it starts with schools.”
“The women in my life are much better than I am. They’re just really capable and powerful.”
Right now, Panti is in the midst of promoting her latest project with Kilkenny Design – To The Women Who Made Me Me.
The campaign revolves around an open letter platform, where users can share their gratitude to the inspirational women in their life, not just on Mother’s Day or International Women’s Day, but throughout the entire year.
So, who are the women who made Panti? Well, when asked the drag queen’s female family members are the first people to come to mind – just ahead of Maggie Smith and Dolly Parton.
The drag queen speaks particularly highly of her mother, Fin. Fin’s father passed away when she was very young, and as the eldest she did everything in her power to help her own mother raise the family.
“As soon as she was able to leave school, she did.” Panti said. “She got a job and helped her mother make enough money to send the eldest boy to university. My childhood memory of her was that she was always on the go, because she was involved in everything, she was a real doer. She instilled that in all of us. But also, she was super principled, and that’s something we all got from her I think.”
Panti is also in awe of her three sisters. Two of them have worked as carers since they were teenagers, and the other sister is a disability advocate.
“The women in my life are much better than I am,” Panti admits. “They’re just really capable and powerful.”
Life in lockdown
The Kilkenny Design project actually started last year, however, due to restrictions, it was delayed until March 2021.
The past year, Panti notes, has been particularly hard on those in the entertainment and hospitality industries. In February, the business-owner spoke about, how, without any support or a road-map, the future of the industry remains precarious. The message resonated with many, and Panti herself was taken aback by the response.
“I didn’t think I was saying anything note-worthy or earth-shattering,” she said. “I just felt a bit hard done by that this industry was being asked to make a much greater sacrifice, certainly from a financial point of view. And I don’t think many people acknowledged that.”
Panti recognises the psychological burden and pain a huge number of people faced throughout the last year.
“There’s this pressure on everyone to be like ‘wartime spirit’ and not complain,” she says. “But we’re not in a war. So there’s this internal thing of ‘oh it’s not that bad because we can still go to Tesco’, but people are really struggling at this stage. I think it’s a much bigger deal than we’ve given it credit for.”
It’s been seven years since Panti made her world-famous Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre, and, needless to say, the world has changed a lot since then.
Indeed, while the future of the entertainment and hospitality industry remains uncertain, one thing is very clear. Panti Bliss will continue to use her voice to stand for equality for all – throughout lockdown and beyond.