Politics and electoral campaigning is all about us making a judgment about a person. Are they a good person? A good ambassador for the country? A good leader? A good politician? Someone with good policies? When I am considering who to give my vote to in a general election, I will make my judgements by looking at them through particular lenses: politics, leadership and character for example. These are the lenses appropriate for the job I am looking to them to do. By comparison, if I were to vote for someone to win the XFactor, I would be looking at them through the lenses of talent and of my own musical preferences. I don’t need to know their stance on the EU, carbon emissions or tuition fees to judge their ability produce a good album, so I wouldn’t need to look at them through my political lens-it wouldn’t be appropriate or fair.
During the recent election campaign, all party leaders were viewed and judged through the appropriate lenses outlined above. Apart from Theresa May, who was also judged through an additional lens- her gender, making her fight even harder than her male counterparts. Don’t believe me? Here are four pieces of evidence:
Exhibit A: ‘Legs-it’
A corker of a piece of sexist broadcasting from the Daily Mail published a picture of May and Sturgeon at the Brexit talks with the headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it?!” with the sub heading: “Oh so frosty! Secrets of Nicola and PM’s talk-in”. This not only reduced two of the most powerful people in the country to nothing more than sexualized objects, but likened their politically significant talks to a scene out of The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills or a teenage sleep over.
This piece used Theresa May’s gender to comment on, undermine and belittle both her position and her work. It seems the Daily Mail cannot allow a woman to look like a credible leader or professional.
Exhibit B: Her well documented fashion choices.
On the day she announced the general election, the Telegraph ran a piece about the dress she was wearing, suggesting that it was her new ‘lucky dress’. Apparently the fact that she was wearing a new dress meant that she had to be about to make a big announcement, and of course a woman would need to gain confidence from their clothing, rather than their brains. May herself has said ‘You can be clever and like clothes. You can have a career and like clothes’. We don’t see men needing to let us all know that you can be clever and have a career and like football/beer/other stereotypical male pastime.
Yes, Corbyn’s outfits have received attention, but because he was being scruffy, and through the lens of politics, it didn’t make him look like a serious political candidate. Apart from this, there has been no wide-spread media coverage of another candidate’s outfits.
Exhibit C: Theresa May carrying the weight of ‘Women in Politics’.
This headline from the Independent saying ‘Theresa May’s incompetence has set women in politics back decades’ is, in my view completely unfair. Despite the fact that time after time we’ve had male leaders who have disappointed us, they have never been held accountable for the public’s opinion of their entire gender. They have never carried the weight of every other male’s credibility in politics. We’re never led to assume that every male politician has a sex-scandal in their closet just because a (relatively high) number of others have.
Additionally, this statement implies that every future female candidate will be judged based on the flaws of the women who have come before them. They will be starting in the red whilst their male counterparts start in the black.
Exhibit D: She has had to justify why she doesn’t have children.
Time and time again, May has been asked to discuss why she doesn’t have children. Instead of being able to discuss matters of government, she has had a painful part of her personal life probed. She has repeatedly been asked to justify the fact that she hasn’t had children through circumstance rather than choice-because we would deeply mistrust a woman who chose not to have children. She has been asked if she were a mum, would that make her a better/worse Prime Minister. Female candidates are consistently having to publicly address the way they balance home and work in a way that men never do.
We don’t judge male politicians through the lens of gender. We don’t look at Corbyn, Farron, or Farage and judge them as males – we simply judge them as politicians and human beings. Think what you like about Theresa May’s policies, her actions as Prime Minister or even her personality. But don’t judge her as a politician or Prime Minister through the lens of her gender – it’s not appropriate and it’s not fair.