Why can’t I vote for a female MP?

When I went to vote, I had a ‘choice’ of five men representing national parties; I could not choose to vote for a woman (So I spoiled my ballot paper and wrote SNP). But why were there no female candidates available for me to choose from? Is politics still a ‘man’s game’? And how complicit are the media in shoring up masculine political power?

Where previous election coverage has focused attention on leaders’ wives sadly, not much changed in this election. Our research shows that wives of male political leaders were viewed as more important than female politicians: Samantha Cameron still received more coverage that Harriet Harman and Teresa May. And monitoring by Loughborough showed that women politicians featured in less than a fifth of coverage.

Rather than challenge media stereotypes, politicians themselves have played into them.

Where press coverage of female politicians was inevitable, for example, following the leaders debates, we saw a reversion to form: The Metro reported that ‘ Sexy’ Leanne Wood has Twitter swooning with her accent; Nicola Sturgeon was subject to repeated sexist comments and reviled by the Daily Mail as ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’ and had her face superimposed on a Miley Cyrus in a tartan bikini with the headline ‘Tartan Barmy’ by the Sun. Is this really how we talk about our female politicians? As sexist coverage dominates, we perhaps need to stop and ask questions about the kind of gendered politics that is being conducted. Would we see a headline with ‘Sexy’ Osborne has Twitter swooning with his pecs? Or a picture of Cameron’s head superimposed over fictional character Ross Poldark’s abs? And if we think that sounds ridiculous in respect of a male politician, than why position female politicians in this way?

This issue matters because, not only can this kind of coverage put women off voting, and standing for office, but it also obscures the ways in which women’s issues are repeatedly marginalised. While economic coverage was the second most prominent issue in the campaign far less attention was paid to the 88% of cuts that have fallen on women; these women’s voices and their interests are drowned out.

It is easy to point fingers solely at the media; and indeed commentators have made a point of calling the media on their coverage and not all media outlets can be tarred with the same brush as the Daily Mail. However, what has been less widely commented on in this context is the way in which political parties also play a role in what media cover. Extensive analysis of the ways in which politicians manipulate the media seems to go out of the window when it comes to this kind of coverage. Politicians go to great lengths to manage media appearances: so why are politicians allowing media to get away with this kind of behaviour and leaving it to journalists (independent and professional) and campaigners such as the #viewsnotshoes campaign to monitor this kind of coverage? Rather than challenge media stereotypes, politicians themselves have played into them. Labour’s ‘pink bus’ was a publicity stunt aimed at attracting women voters, yet analysis shows that actually there was a 1% gap between men and women in the turnout at the last election. Gendered stunts are not necessary. We do need however: 1) proactive strategies to recruit women in to political parties; and 2) for those parties to represent women’s issues and 3) for media outlets to focus on the policies promoted by female politicians not their appearances. These are just three necessary conditions to improve women’s descriptive and substantive representation in politics.