No matter how obvious the point seems, the world needs reminding that rampant sexism in politics and the media leaves women feeling like they have no place to participate. No — it’s not just harmless banter. Critics of misogyny are not “po-faced”, whatever that means, as the Daily Mail suggested in its response to the “Legsit” backlash earlier this year. There’s a connection, a very tangible link, and it does everybody an injustice to ignore it for a moment longer.
Girlguiding, a leading gender equality charity, has published a fascinating (and heartbreaking) study that confirms the worst. Launched alongside a campaign urging young women to use their vote, they have underlined the problem in permanent marker: 41% of girls aged between 9-16 years believe there’s been an increase in media sexism in the last six months. Furthermore, 39% said this has made them feel less confident.
Sexism hides in plain sight. Unfortunately, you might be more likely to recognise Amal Clooney from descriptions of her “uncharacteristic loose dress”, or as the "wife of" celeb husband George, than because of her tireless work defending the Yazidi people from genocide as a heroic human rights lawyer. Emma Watson once delivered a striking speech to the UN on domestic violence at university. Or, as it’s known in some areas of the media, “whining, leftie, PC crap.”
In the UK, three major political parties are led by women. Leanne Wood leads Plaid Cyrmu in Wales, Nicola Sturgeon heads up the Scottish National Party, and Prime Minister Theresa May runs the Conservative Party. This is good, but not great: after the 2015 general election, there were more male MPs sitting in Parliament than the total number of female MPs in British political history. In the global league table for Parliamentary equality, the UK lags at a lowly 48th. In first place? Rwanda, in Eastern Africa.
Which, inevitably, brings us back to “Legsit” — the infamous day when the front page of a national newspaper described a meeting between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon in the same way that Jeremy Clarkson might compare a Volkswagen Passat with a Ford Focus. “Just look at our leaders, Hammond,” you might hear him say, as James May fervently nods to his left without really knowing what’s going on, “wouldn’t they look spectacular in red?”
There are only three things that are important when scrutinising female politicians: policy, more policy, and — this is the big one, so pay attention — policy. Less important? Theresa May’s shoes. Please, please stop talking about her shoes.
"As a mother of two daughters, it really upsets me that media sexism is having a direct impact on the self-confidence of girls and young women,” Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, told The Independent. “We need it to change, to allow girls and young women to thrive.”
Girlguiding has called for the media to stop talking about women’s appearance, to focus on “opinions, not pins.” It’s vital that young girls play a central part in the conversation.
Otherwise, it will just be more of the same — expect your children to bear the brunt of the joke. According to the 2016 Girls’ Attitudes Survey, a quarter of girls aged 7-10 feel pressure to be “perfect”, and over half feel like they’re not living up to the standard. Sexism here must not be tolerated as banter in print. If we are truly aiming for equality and diversity, as we've been told we're supposed to be, then the misogynist media circus must stop.