Sexism in the Media Coverage of Theresa May

Published: 19 July 2016

Country: UK

Theresa_May_PM_PressSome British media could not avoid falling into stereotyping and gender insensitive reporting when Theresa May took over the job of the UK Prime Minister. The fact that her rival in the race for 10 Downing Street was another woman, Andrea Leadsom, propelled articles on shoes, cooking and motherhood. Instead of focusing on candidates’ policies, ideas and work, some tabloids but also BBC and the Telegraph slipped into textbook stereotypes about female politicians.

Profiling Theresa May and giving reasons why she should be the Prime Minister, the Telegraph reported: “She’s been married to the same man since 1980 (morally sound: check), doesn’t have any children (could be a turn-off for some but it does mean she’s less likely to be distracted on the job). She cooks a new recipe every week and goes to church every Sunday: she knows there’s more to life than Westminster”.

Cooking abilities definitely seemed relevant for The Telegraph because that is how this newspaper leads the article on Andrea Leadsom: “When in doubt, cook a Sunday roast, get the family around you and you’ll feel fine afterwards,” she says. “If my boys are there, it is beef and Yorkshire pudding. If it’s me and my daughter and husband, it’s more likely to be chicken…”

Issue of motherhood became central at one point of the Tory contest after Leadsom told the Times that “she has an edge on May and “a very real stake in the future of Britain.” Not only that those comments caused a reaction and condemnation, but Andrea Leadsom later withdrew from the race against Theresa May.  Although BBC featured an article on sexism in society and comparisons made between UK Prime Minister May and German Chancellor Markel, in another occasion one of the public service’s reporters said: “May and Leadsom may both be women, but they have quite different views’’.

Theresa_MaySome media outlets often use generalisations in reporting on women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities. Generalisations are followed by stereotypes. May’s shoes appeared across various news platforms with tabloid the Sun choosing to dedicate them its front page. Analysing sexism in the case of media reporting, Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday sexism project wrote in the Guardian: “While the focus was on the ridiculous argument about whether motherhood made Leadsom a better candidate for prime minister than May, less attention was given to Leadsom’s opposition to mandatory paid maternity leave for small businesses, or May’s previous opposition to various human rights legislation. Every column devoted to May’s hairstyle or suits is a missed opportunity to scrutinise the treatment of refugee women detained, on her watch, in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre”.

Bates adds that Margaret Thatcher faced sexism when she became the Prime Minister in 1979, but that things haven’t improved much. “Of course, there is one other notable similarity in coverage. Though they became prime minister almost 40 years apart, both May and Thatcher had their faces emblazoned on front pages declaring their victory next to scantily clad female models,” concludes Laura bates in the Guardian.