Women in the independence debate

This article was first published in Greenprint, the Scottish Green Party’s newsletter.

Imagine you’re watching Newsnight Scotland (or Scotland Tonight if you’re that way inclined). There’s an item on some independence related argument – some big business threatens to leave, some report says we’d be better off alone – you know the drill. There’s a pre recorded film, narrated by a journalist who draws some conclusions. The camera cuts back to the presenter who says “and now in the studio to discuss today’s news…” and welcomes an expert.

Can you picture it? Now – what gender is that expert? What about the presenter and the journalist?  If you’re picturing a group of men, well you’re not alone. It seems our media can’t think beyond the idea that if you want someone to lead a debate, it’s a man. If you want someone to analyse the news, it’s a man and if you want an expert opinion, well why would you get anyone other than a man? This entrenched approach to journalism and public debate is shaping the way we see ourselves and the way we engage with and think about the independence debate and what it means for all of us.

As a woman, and a young woman at that, I find myself utterly turned off the mainstream television media, largely because it’s the same old voices talking in the same old tired formats. However I  recently made an exception to my “no tv debate programmes” rule in order to tune into the debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont on Scotland Tonight.

johann and nicolaI was pleasantly surprised to tune in to see a female chair hosting the two most high powered women in Scottish politics. But oh was I disappointed, and judging by the twitter feed, I wasn’t the only one. The so called debate rapidly descended into the usual aggressive, confrontational shouting match where no one, audience or participant alike, could hear what’s being said. It got worse of course, when the debate paused for some analysis. Cut away from the group of women standing shouting at each other and to a group of men, sitting quietly and offering calm, reasoned analysis of what the shouty ones have just been saying. I eventually gave up trying to watch – as someone said to me this week, it felt like you’d stuck your head in a washing machine – and turned over to Newsnicht. And what did I find there? A male presenter talking to an all male panel in the same format that’s been used for the past several decades.

Needless to say I turned off. As did countless people, men and women, across the country. And the danger is that unless we do something to change this state of affairs, and do it fast, those people aren’t just going to be switching off the tv, they’re going to be switching off from politics and public debate altogether.

Greens have always called for a different approach – for gender balance not for some tokenistic or “nice to have” reason but because genuine equality could transform our society for the better. We can help create a society where the voices we hear in public debate are actually the voices of the public. This is a goal that we as greens must all strive for and we must do it now if we’re to stop thousands from simply switching off.

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