Media


My round up of the week on the campaign trail for the leaders’ wives is here.

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I just shouted at the builder working next door that he is a “bastard”. He’s more than likely not but he (or they) have been drilling at the site next door from 8 am every week day and it’s getting on my nerves. Now I didn’t say it to his face and probably wouldn’t. After all, in the clear light of day he’s probably a perfectly decent bloke who is perfectly entitled to do his job and part of me might be “mortified” if he heard some of the things I say about him.
I have been listening to the radio with a sense of unease today as journalists position themselves as champions of the (good, honest) working people like Gillian Duffy who are perfectly entitled to raise reasonable questions about race and immigration.
Of course Gillian Duffy is entitled to her opinion and she is probably a good, decent woman who certainly didn’t deserve the humiliation of being told by a breathless producer that the PM had said she was bigoted. (Bit too reminiscent of the playground?)
But I’ve climbed out of a cab wondering why oh why I started a conversation with a cab driver who then went on to give me his particular version of the “I’m not racist but..” line.
Sometimes I”ve been bolder but there are times when I’ve only offered a mild “yes but..” – as Gordon Brown did yesterday – and longed to get away.
I can lay claim to a working class background but admit to a complex range of feelings when I hear those familiar lines about immigration. Because even if they have a right to say them they fly in the face of principles I hold dear.
One thing that seems to have been established after yesterday’s incident is that the (good honest) working class have a right to talk about immigration because it’s a legitimate area of concern.
Although I may have a wry smile at the thought of the media championing a woman from Rochadale’s right to speak out, I am just making a marker that those views don’t make for easy discussions. Brown, like Cameron the day before, probably would have preferred to keep away from the uncomfortable territory of immigration. Now could you imagine if he said “I’m sorry Madam, I find your views very bigoted?”

The beginning of the week was all about the manifestos: On Monday it was the Labour Party’s; on Tuesday Conservative leader David Cameron said he wanted to put people in charge but as the leaders debate loomed the Liberal Democrats’ alleged that Team Cameron had insisted on the no clapping rule during the leaders’ debate because Vince Cable received more applause than George Osborne during the Chancellors’ debate.

The leaders’ debate transformed Nick Clegg’s fortunes, with the majority of polls narrowing the gap between the Lib Dems and Labour, and in some cases putting them ahead.

As for the wives, 20 per cent of those polled by the Telegraph poll thought Samantha Cameron was the most impressive, 15 per cent preferred Sarah Brown and eight per cent rated Miriam Gonzalez Durantez .

However, the Telegraph pointed out, 57 per cent of those polled said they either do not know or declined to express a preference.
The People, which reported Lord Mandelson’s attack on Cameron’s tactics, a paragraph at the end said that “almost a quarter of women are taking a keener interest in politics because of Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron”.
What about the others – the 75 per cent who aren’t more interested in politics as a result and the 57 per cent who had no view?
To use a well-used phrase this week, “I met a woman..” who said she can’t follow politics because she can’t bear the media focus on the wives: “They are all capable talented women in their own right and yet the media trivialises them,” she said.

If David Cameron and his party stole the show in the early part of the week with their “invitation to government” his wife Samantha Cameron was making the headlines in the Daily Mail, which was agog at her bump and the colour of the nailpolish on her toes. A certain victory over Sarah Brown, whose toes got another airing.


Point-scoring over looks was in the air again when Samantha Cameron visited the Surma Centre in Camden Surma Centre, and talked to some girls who cooed over her “pretty” hair and clothes.
In the looks-stakes, Sarah Brown was credited with “channelling” Jackie Kennedy with her “prim and proper” sky-blue coat in the Guardian’s stylewatch on Thursday.
But there were signs of a Sarah Brown fightback: Lisa Aziz in the Daily Mail drew a very flattering picture of Sarah Brown, wife, mother, friend and devoted charity worker on Saturday.
We learn that Sarah Brown sometimes forgets to cook “GB’s” lunch and resorts to throwing “a frozen spag bol ‘meal for one’ into the microwave, does her own shopping at the supermarket and sends flowers to friends.
After the furore over Stuart MacLennan’s indiscretions on Twitter and his rant against Fairtrade, Sarah Brown opened up her secret garden at 10 Downing Street and in the first-person piece in the Observer reasserted her commitment to Fairtrade and sustainability.
She urged women to use their vote in her Sunday Mirror election diary

Our right to vote was hard-won in this country, and in places like Burma democratically-elected leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi are in captivity because the results of the ballot aren’t respected by the military.
We owe it to the suffragettes and to our brothers and sisters in Burma and elsewhere to use our precious crosses, so please remember that the deadline for registering is this coming Tuesday, April 20, and visit www. yourvote.co.uk.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez continued working this week. In an interview with Mark Austin on ITV she criticised the media focus on the leaders’ wives, which she said was “very patronising” for the public. This prompted a jibe from the Daily Mail, which slyly suggested that her “dry-stone walling exploits on the moors of South Yorkshire” last week were “inconsistent with her argument. Will the press turn on Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, who announced she would quit her job is her husband became PM, if she doesn’t play the game?

Photocredits: Labour

It may be that the majority of the British public isn’t going to be swayed by the wives of party leaders on 6 May – according to a recent YouGov poll only four percent felt that wives’ popularity is crucial in the electoral race compared to 51 per cent who felt that it was not important at all.

But the fact that politicians have wives who do -or don’t – work, or do/don’t join them on the campaign trail and how they look seems to be a source of fascination in the media. It’s a phenomenon no one will own up to, or take responsibility for, but somehow, as the Express put it, leaders’ wives “are becoming their biggest weapons”.

“In what is increasingly being known as the Wag election, Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron are finding as much attention on themselves as their husbands.”

So whether the politicians are hankering after something of the Michelle Obama effect or whether it’s driven by the need for pictures and something to fill the space, the fact that the three leaders have wives who are attractive, relatively young and don’t conform to a stereotype that evidently still lingers, means that we can probably expect to hear a lot about Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron over the next few weeks. And she may have genuine reasons for staying out of it all but Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is guaranteed a flurry of attention whenever she does join Nick Clegg on the campaign trail.

The attention afforded the leaders’ wives in the past week has been heralded as a “giant leap” towards First Lady politics.

But the same YouGov poll showed that 76 per cent feel the media concentrate too much on the way that the wives dress, and 70 per cent think they should be seen as women with careers and values in their own right.
Only 15 per cent of the total felt that it was right for the media to focus on the women solely due to their role as ‘leaders’ wives’.

As Jackie Ashley points out, women aren’t getting much of a look in anywhere else in this election.
Whether it’s driven by strategists or by the media, until 6 May I am going to chart what is served up about the leaders’ wives.

Other links:
Times: Election war of the wives.
Telegraph:
This could get nasty
AP: A family affair
Comment is free: Prime minister or primate?

Photocredit: Downing Street via a Creative Commons license.

Zoe Williams in the Guardian the “sexism/ageism pincer movement in the world of broadcast journalism”: where “women are only employed in the first place because they are attractive, and then they’re pensioned off upon reaching an age when they could still reasonably be Bruce Forsyth’s granddaughter”.

Williams, writing after Ceri Thomas answered questions from the BBC Feedback panel, detects there is a BBC policy, perhaps written in a document somewhere: “Plan for current affairs: two oppositional blokes and a little lady.” Contrasts this with Channel 4 News and other commercial broadcasters where women are less prone to be given “lightweight” stories.

Conclusion: “I think it’s the sheer geological pace of change, more than any active agenda of misogyny, that’s locked the BBC in an era of sexual politics decades behind the commercial channels. They need to sort it out: it’s a public service broadcaster; it makes us all look bad.”

More discussion on Guardian’s Media Talk

Photocredit: Mark Hillary via a Creative Commons licence

Photo by Carpetblogger through a Creative Commons license


The story about primary school children being given lessons in gender equality as part of a government campaign to tackle domestic violence by 2011 was headline news on 25 November, which was Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Here’s just a sample of the coverage from: the BBC; The Guardian; New Statesman and the Daily Mail.
Five days later it was in China View that I first got to read about a 16-day campaign to eliminate violence against women in Afghanistan.
The New York Times also picked up the story with a piece headlined Rape In Afghanistan A Profound Problem, U.N. Says
News agency AFP was at the same press briefing with Norah Niland, Chief Human Rights Officer of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Violence targeting women and girls is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghan society. It is not adequately challenged and condemned by society and institutions,” said Norah Niland. “The space for women in public life is shrinking. The trend is negative.
“It’s also a problem because there is very little possibility of finding justice, there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan penal code that criminalises rape.

A journalist who frequently travels to Afghanistan told me it has become almost impossible to find editors interested in stories about women in the country.
“We’ve done it already” is a familiar refrain heard in newsrooms when stories are put forward about women in Afghanistan, about honour crimes, about domestic violence.
Can you imagine an editor saying ‘Sorry, we did a story about a sacked football manager last week’? Since when did stories about women become so “niche”?
The line at the end of the China View piece was particularly striking:

Some 100 women in attempt to get rid of miseries mostly due to domestic violence, according to media reports have committed self-immolation over the past one year in Afghanistan.

The BBC did look at Afghan women who turn to immolation in March this year and November 2006 and there are organisations such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan are working to highlight the issue
I know that it can often be a question of resources for cash-strapped news organisations and that a story has to be “new” to make the news, but I’ve heard some fascinating and shocking and depressing stories about women around the world that are unlikely to ever see the light of day in a national news paper or on a news bulletin. It’s a reminder that you have to look beyond the mainstream news agenda to get a balanced diet.

Is Sarah Palin a feminist? It’s a question that has been exercising the minds of some commentators:

Sarah Palin

Pic: Jeff Geerling

Matthew Continetti believes she is. In an interview with Shawn Macomber in the American Spectator he says:
“Palin does not subscribe to the full menu of what the political consultant and author Jeffrey Bell has called “adversarial feminism.
“But Palin is a feminist. She supports Title IX, frequently mentions the “glass ceiling” separating women from men, attacked Barack Obama for paying his female Senate staff members less than male staff, and outlined a pro-woman foreign policy that Hillary Clinton would be comfortable supporting. But she is also pro-life and does not believe that women necessarily must trade off a happy home life for professional success.”

In his book The Persecution of Sarah Palin, Continetti argues that the “story of Sarah Palin is the story of American political journalism’s intellectual bankruptcy”.
And it was “the feminist establishment” that began the “crusade to expel her from the city of ladies,” he goes on. “They succeeded in making her politically polarizing. But, I think, they also irrevocably tarnished their ability to speak on behalf of women as a whole.”

More criticism of feminists comes from Leslie Sanchez in her book You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe. Writing about the book in the New Yorker Ariel Levy criticises the direction taken by American feminism of focusing on identity politics and getting women in positions of power rather than what they should do when they get there.
Picking up on Sanchez’s complaint that Gloria Steinem‘s criticism of Palin sent the message that, “you can run, Sarah Palin, but you won’t get my support because you don’t believe in all the same things I believe in” Jezebel writes: “The idea that men had the luxury of choosing candidates they actually agree with but women had to vote with their vaginas was one of the most upsetting things about the 2008 election.”

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