Today, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, reshuffled his Cabinet in preparation for next year’s General Election. There was a lot of speculation that he would up the number of women in his inner circle, as he’s previously promised, and this is exactly what he did.
The media, desperate to stir up controversy whenever it can, and having spent the previous weeks muttering that Cameron wouldn’t have a good enough pool of women to choose from to be able to follow through, was probably disappointed that he succeeded in the end. Deprived of feasting on a failure of this sort, it was forced to stir things up by intimating that the women chosen might have been just for show. We really can’t win. Either we are too crap to appoint, or – if appointed – we must only have appointed to fulfill a quota. Of course there is no way that we women could actually have been chosen for our abilities.
Today’s coverage in the London Evening Standard was shocking. The male subjects who were profiled had standard bios – career highs and lows, nothing about their personal lives. Michael Gove was said to have “one of the most acute political brains of his generation”, while Philip Hammond apparently has “a hard edge” and set up his own companies at a very young age.
The profiles of the three women who’d been promoted, although containing factual and some complimentary descriptions, all mentioned their marital status and how many children they had. The unmarried woman – Esther McVey – was singled out for special treatment. In the West End final version of the paper, there were not one but two photos of her, one as a young TV presenter in a revealing crop-top and skin-tight satin trousers, and the other as she was this morning, the wind blowing up her otherwise respectable business skirt such that the slit parted and revealed a bit of thigh. In the text, of all the thousands of phrases she’s ever uttered in her time on GMTV, the journalist chose one in which she mentioned sex, and readers are also helpfully informed that she once flashed her underwear on air. Most disturbingly, she has an entire paragraph about her relationship status that would not be out of place in a gossip column. In it, we learn that although she’s “unmarried”, she’s been “linked” with two prominent men, one of whom proposed marriage. (One cannot help suddenly picturing her as a feisty Lizzy Bennet, spurning not only Mr Collins’ advances, but Mr Darcy’s as well!) Coyly, the piece concludes that she “shares a flat” with a male MP, and allows readers to draw their own conclusions.
Now, I occasionally write copy for magazines and papers, and I know that every word matters. You whittle down the essence so that only the most important information makes the cut. Devoting two of five paragraphs to sex, knickers and which men she’s sleeping with is not an accident: the editor wanted dirt, and got it.
Okay, so they need to sell papers. Fine. But if you’re going to have tawdry irrelevances in your political news coverage, why don’t the men get the same treatment? I’m sure we’re all dying to hear more about whether Mr Gove wears briefs or boxers, and who Mr Hammond may or may not have snogged at the last Christmas party.
Come on, Evening Standard. Up your game.