It’s the panic about sexism that’s putting girls off politics

Girlguiding, formerly known as the Girl Guides, has claimed that sexist media coverage of female politicians is deterring girls from participating in politics. It surveyed over 1,000 girls aged nine to 16, and found that 41 per cent think there has been a rise in sexism in the media in the last six months. What’s more, 39 per cent said that this had knocked their confidence. One nine-year-old wrote: ‘I would like to see all politicians treated in the same way in the media and for the focus to be on their policies and views instead of what they’re wearing that day.’

Girlguiding cites the ‘infamous Legs-it headline’ (the Daily Mail’s front page comparing Theresa May’s and Nicola Sturgeon’s legs) as an example of this new epidemic of media sexism. But those behind this survey clearly aren’t reading enough newspapers. A day doesn’t go by without female politicians facing scrutiny on the basis of their policies. And if media sexism is still rife it’s certainly not put off the women leading many of Britain’s political parties, from the governing Tories to the SNP to the Greens to Plaid Cymru. It’s insulting to suggest that, despite all the progress women have made, young girls are being put off by one puntastic headline about two politicians’ pins.

What’s even more patronising about Girlguiding’s conclusions is the idea that young women need to be encouraged to discuss politics. This only rehabilitates the old, sexist line that women are too weak to engage in robust debate. It promotes the idea that we’re all delicate flowers in need of protection. If anything’s going to make young women think they’re not up to politics, it’s that.

Izzy Lyons is a writer based in London.

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