The Daily Mail has removed a vicious article it published about Kate Maltby after the journalist wrote about an uncomfortable encounter with the Tory MP Damian Green, and has agreed to pay her £11,000.
I’m delighted for Kate. The Women’s Equality Party worked hard to support her and other women who experienced Westminster’s misogyny and demand with them that our democratic institutions lead the way in tackling and ending endemic sexism. But the Mail looked little changed on Friday: the so-called sidebar of shame still hems every page of its website, with its snapshots of women forensically assessed by their looks. Its top story involved a footballer’s wife wearing a bikini.
The media tells a story of our lives, one that it presents as an essential truth. So when the media denigrates women, belittles women, objectifies and demeans women, it is both mirroring and buttressing a world in which women are unequal.
As Kate said herself, most ordinary women couldn’t have taken on the Daily Mail. Most women do not have her platform, her knowledge of the industry, her contacts. They do not have the time, or the childcare, or the capacity to withstand the invasion of press, or the finger-pointing, or the accusations of hysteria and devious female manipulation of benighted men. They do not have the resources for legal fees – something Maltby acknowledged by donating half of the Daily Mail’s payout (which came without admission of fault) to the Time’s Up legal fund.
Thousands of women are speaking up about the abuse and harassment they have experienced at the hands of powerful men, but the media is not interested in those who are not well known unless they come in multiples. Too often, the media attention switches from the stories of everyday sexism to fuelling the backlash against women speaking out.
Women’s inequality in media output is linked to inequality in the media industry. Women make up half the workforce but occupy a third of senior management positions and less than a quarter of board members at our main broadcasting companies. The pay gap also illustrates the power gap – the publisher of the Daily Mail, DMG Media, has a pay gap of 20 per cent.
The #MeToo movement may have been a game-changer in terms of encouraging women to self-organise and stop waiting for permission to protest, but it has a lot more work to do before the bastions of male power in this country feel more than a Swansea-level earthquake. At the Women’s Equality Party, we believe the way to do that is by channeling it into politics.
We are standing a candidate in the upcoming Lewisham East by-election, not just to challenge sexism but also because we believe that feminist policies like equality in the media would achieve positive and realistic representations of women’s lives and experiences and in turn make it easier and quicker to achieve all of our other goals – equal education, shared parenting and care, equal pay, equal representation in business and politics, an end to violence against women and equality in healthcare and medical research.
For as long as women are unequal – in politics, the economy and wider society – the hatchet jobs on all women who refuse to know their place will continue. And not just in the media.