Leveson's searing omission on media sexism

If most of the people making the news aren't affected by women's issues, they are niche in the eyes

Sometimes, being a feminist makes you feel like you're going mad. It can feel like misogyny is everywhere, and you're the only one who can see it. I often find myself going through life in a permanent state of muted incandescence, knowing that if I did explode it would be totally useless anyway -- like a dog barking at thunder.

Never is this feeling more piquant than when reading the papers, where misogyny is as palpable and gratuitous as a pair of tits staring blandly out from page 3. So I must admit it was a breath of fresh air to see four articulate women at the Leveson inquiry spelling out the sexism most feminists knew was there all along. In truth, it was just nice to see women making feminist arguments publicly, without being ridiculed or interrupted.

And yet I must confess I was a little disappointed with the recommendations that came afterwards. Journalists should be trained, publications should be restricted, suggested the experts. All very well and good, but not once did they point out the single glaring, searingly obvious problem with media sexism: most of the news is written by men. According to Kira Cochrane, just 22 per cent of newspaper articles are written by women in a typical month. If we're wondering why the media denigrates women so unrelentingly, maybe that statistic is a good place to start.

These male-dominated environments create what blogger Natalie Dzerins describes as a "mutually reinforcing system of dominance": men are dominant, therefore men make the news, therefore men feature more heavily in the news, therefore men are dominant, ad infinitum. This isn't a case of nasty, brutish men pushing women out of the journalism scene -- it's the creation of a culture where male ideas rule and women must compete on a male playing field. Maybe that goes some way to explaining the fact that a lot of sexist articles are written by women: women who might feel the need to differentiate themselves from negative female stereotypes in order to be taken seriously. In 2009, the Workplace Bullying Institute seemed to ratify this, stating: "In male-dominated organizations, where men hold all the executive positions, women tend to adopt male-sex-typed behaviour to survive and succeed."

Is it any wonder, then, that issues affecting 51 per cent of the population are often relegated to the Life and Style section of newspapers? If most of the people making the news aren't affected by women's issues, then they are niche in the eyes of editors. It is acceptable to put articles about knitting patterns and rape side-by-side, as though both are as trivial and marginal as each other.

Making sure women input equally into the news is, in my mind, the only way of ensuring the output is equal too. It's a classic case of "nothing about us, without us." It also means that the next time there is an inquiry into media ethics, women can represent themselves as news-makers with agency, rather than passive victims of a callous and sexist media.

Evening out the playing field upon which media is produced is a lot more tricky than a group of (most likely male) lawmakers quickly introducing regulations to protect women. But the only way we can ensure the news is equal is by ensuring newsrooms are equal, too. Without that, any steps we take will simply be papering over the cracks.

Ellie Mae O'Hagan is a freelance writer living in North London, contributing mainly to the Guardian. You can follow her at @MissEllieMae

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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.