Let’s go back to the tripartite I suggested in the first article; the Butch, the Bitch, and the Mummy. If you’re a woman working in politics, expect to see your media image forced into one of the above. That’s because, thanks to the mass media, it is so much harder for voters to access a complex, female personality. Did Rudd, Davidson, and Leadsom respectively fit this tripartite when I met them? Of course not. However, catch a headline or two and you might find it hard to believe otherwise.
The ‘Butch’ – Ruth Davidson
Sure, Davidson is in the Army Reserves and she loves a good pantsuit (who doesn’t), but why is her leadership style always exaggerated to fit the ‘Butch’? Again and again Davidson is described as ‘tough-talking’ and ‘storming’ to places. What they want you to read is that she is a difficult woman with a point to prove. Who is she actually? A woman with opinions who just has a purposeful stride.
In fact, being the ’political street fighter’ (The Spectator, April 2018) she apparently is, Davidson’s persona is always up for a brawl. Some of my favourite recent headlines include:
‘Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson defies morning sickness to face off against Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood a week after revealing she is pregnant with her first child’ – The Daily Mail, May 2018
Congrats Ruth on your noble battle against morning sickness! How did the ‘face-off’ go?
‘A lesbian with family values, why the tories love Ruth Davidson’ – The Guardian, April 2018
Finally, the proof I needed that lesbians can have family values!
Davidson transcends so many ‘categories’. She is openly gay, a Catholic, working class, a unionist in Scotland, a Conservative in Scotland, and even a funny woman. So then why do the mass media consistently depict her in one way? You could count two ways now that Davidson’s IVF was successful; every other headline wants to define her politics by her pregnancy. When I met Davidson she put me immediately at ease. She was humble and even resisted putting me in a headlock! I would like to see more of her kindness mentioned in the media and fewer interpretations of her passionate debates as ‘shouting matches’. If there was a fight, Davidson would win, but maybe she doesn’t want to be seen as a fighter all the time.
The ‘Bitch’ – Amber Rudd
The ‘Bitch’ is a less difficult one. A term long ascribed to any woman in power who refuses to placate to those who don’t really deserve it. (Because women are always meant to be accommodating, remember?) Rudd, who since recently was in the second highest position of government, is consistently demonised as a bitch in the mass media. In the run up to Rudd’s controversial resignation, the headlines led with the following:
‘It’s a bit late for Amber Rudd to be ‘heartbroken’ over anything’ – The Guardian, April 2018
Step number one for being a bitch: you have to be heartless.
‘She smiled for the cameras, looking like she’d finally had a decent night’s sleep’ – The Sun, April 2018
Thanks to the before and after pics of Rudd’s resignation shown in The Sun, I can feel relaxed knowing Rudd has not lost the ability to smile after nearly two years in office. We do like our women smiley.
‘The government is killing women and Amber Rudd’s latest plan won’t help’ – The Mirror, February 2018
Killing women? Bit uncalled for, Amber.
Is it a coincidence that one of the few times Rudd is noted to be smiling is when she’s no longer at the apex of government? Rudd as Home Secretary was a position of significant power, where the job is like juggling ninja stars with clammy hands, and after a long day of deterring terrorism, I can’t imagine smiling for the cameras is top of the list. When we met Rudd her focus was entirely on getting the job done. Whether it was protecting vulnerable women from domestic violence or the nation from cyber attacks, Rudd’s pulse was with those she was trying to protect. I can see how this drive is translated to a lack of emotion when those doing the translating just see a woman with too much power. I guess we don’t like our women emotional anyway.
The ‘Mummy’ – Andrea Leadsom
Being the ‘Mummy’ in politics has never been shown as a smooth ride. After Leadsom claimed that being a mother gave her a ‘stake in the future of the UK’, she has become a clear example of how difficult it is for women in politics to discuss their private and professional lives without being vilified. Politicians will often hint at their family lives to indicate their understanding of what ordinary families face and despite Leadsom’s comments being controversial, the extent to which this meant her loss of leadership was perhaps unjustified.
‘Andrea Leadsom’s a sneak who’s heart is as cold as her hands’ – The Daily Mail, November 2017
According to this article: ‘Women do bad things to men, too. Even mums!’ (not my mum.)
‘Andrea Leadsom takes the road to tyranny via the sea of incompetence’ – The Guardian, October 2017
Thank god for that, our government has been crying out for incompetent tyrants for years. Boris Johnson just can’t do the job properly all by himself.
Leadsom has certainly made some gaffs in her career and admittedly she was not my favourite of the three politicians to meet. However, Leadsom is so commonly troped as a mother-of-three and nothing else that it almost becomes an accusatory reason for any moments of her incompetence. The inch of insight Leadsom gave into her family life was taken as a mile by the media’s reporting. When I met Leadsom, her mentioning of her children was relevant to our discussion and never indicated her views were dependent on the fact that she has children. It’s not a dichotomy to be a mother and a politician, and while Leadsom’s comments were misjudged, she continues to be aggressively demonised for a momentary lapse in judgement.
So who’s who?
In short, Rudd could be a bit of a bitch, Davidson might be slightly butch, and Leadsom maybe is absorbed by motherhood, but even if these were true, it wouldn’t be all that these women are. Even then, maybe there are days when these women fit the tripartite, but this is nothing against the to media’s unrelenting caraceturing of them as such. Why is the profiling of women in politics so repetitive? Why is the mass media so fixated by putting women in boxes? And why these particular boxes? Where is the mention of Davidson’s warmth, Rudd’s protectiveness, and Leadsom’s diplomacy? Do the answers to these questions come from the media’s incompetency to capture complex female personas, or just an unwillingness to do so? The strengths of femininity in politics are not yet understood, nor being made space for. Until women are allowed to be three dimensional, rather than being forced to be cookie cutter stereotypes of themselves, women in politics will continue to be underestimated.