This week got off to a great start, when the General Synod voted in favour female bishops; a landmark turning point that ends 20 years of division over the issue. Yesterday’s drastic ministerial reshuffle added momentum to this series of progressive steps towards gender equality, when the Prime Minister promoted 10 women to ministerial positions. Cameron described his new team as one which “reflects modern Britain”, and while there is still much work to be done to redress the lack of women at the top of the government, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
Nonetheless, the Daily Mail’s coverage of the reshuffle took a turn for the retrogressive today, offering a fashion critique of the “new girls” on the Downing Street “catwalk”.
The Mail was widely criticised today for its “heinously sexist” coverage, which made a mockery of the promotions, undermined the achievements of these women in favour of objectifying them, and judging them solely on sartorial merit.
Yet the sexism goes far deeper than objectification, its subtext reads “hey ladies, you may be in the Cabinet now, but we’ll never take you seriously. You’ll always be silly females to us. Go back to painting your nails, and looking pretty!”
Many slammed the newspaper’s coverage for its patent misogyny, choosing to report on image instead of policy.
This Mail spread is heinously sexist, but it’s more complicated than that. Written by women, for women, about women pic.twitter.com/Iuap7cGLLs
— Felicity Morse (@FelicityMorse) July 16, 2014
One thing that I will not miss about working for the Mail: unspeakably awful and demeaning spreads about women. pic.twitter.com/DqIS86kYDm
— Becky Barrow (@beckymbarrow) July 16, 2014
Mail’s catty misogyny re women MPs is revolting but nothing new. Would be more tweet-worthy if they’d focused on their politics instead.
— Chris Wills (@crispeater) July 16, 2014
More reassuring, however, was the mass ridicule and parody of the Mail’s spread. Highlighting the injustice at the lack of male MP fashion coverage, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg even went so far as to tweet his own catwalk outfit.
— John Prescott (@johnprescott) July 16, 2014
Faced with a barrage of criticism and ridicule, I sincerely hope that the Daily Mail will take heed of the backlash it has faced today. Yesterday’s reshuffle should have acted as an encouragement to young women considering a career in government. Instead, the Mail’s coverage conveyed a clear message contradicting this, and warning women that attitudes have not changed towards women. This is by no means the truth, but it is important to bear in mind the powerful influence held by the media. The public reaction to the Mail’s misogyny is comforting, and proves that men, and women, however high profile are calling out sexism and ridiculing those who engage in it. This is 2014, and we will not tolerate sexism.