Bombastic, Brutal, Brexit


Here's our Kirsty Strickland looking at Brexit and the need for women's voices to be heard. 


Bombastic, brutal, bellowing Brexit. What a couple of weeks it has been in the world of politics. The EU Referendum was the campaign of the macho man, for the macho man. 'TAKE BACK CONTROL' was the slogan, and Farage and his rabble of merry men were the messengers. The UKIP branch of the Leave side focused on the plight of the 'Common Man.' The guy who had a dream to build a wall around Britain, but was worried that a Polish building firm would win the contract for the work.

The Common Man wanted a Britain that could be great again, not stifled by EU regulation and political correctness gone mad. Back to the days when you could smoke on a plane, drink real beer and give the air hostess a friendly smack on the arse if she wasn't moving fast enough.

While Farage may have surrounded himself with UKIP Hench-men, he didn't leave out women entirely. He helpfully warned us that we would be at risk of rape if we didn't vote for Brexit, citing 'big cultural issues' between British society and migrants. We might be more inclined to believe Nigel Farage truly had our safety at heart if he hadn't happily accepted cash from Demetri Marchessini, a man who has said in the past that a woman cannot be raped by her husband, that - "there is no such thing.''

Remain, led by David Cameron touted the message that 'We aren't quitters'. Yes there may be failings in the EU but we are better placed to facilitate change through continued membership. Like the Leave side, that argument was mostly made by men.

Even without the statistics, we know this. We knew it from the all male panels we saw frequently during the campaign. We knew that the balance might be slightly off as we watched Boris Johnson being interviewed for the fourth time that day. #WFIMediaWatch knew it when ITV hosted a majority female debate and Twitter imploded at the cheek of it. When male commentators in their eminent wisdom posed the question - how would women feel if it was the other way around?

Like it's a regular day in Underrepresented-Ville, probably.

Research from Loughborough University confirmed what many prominent campaigners and female politicians said – women were shut out of the EU Referendum debate. They analyzed the overall proportion of men and women in print & broadcast media in a sample period of the campaign and found:

  • Men were featured 82.5% of the time

  • Women were featured 17.5% of the time.

Is it any wonder that women said they were less sure of how to vote, when the entire campaign was framed around the opinions and grievances of a handful of white, middle-class men?

What we have seen since Brexit, aside from the tumble of resignations and ill-organized coups, is the emergence of female leaders to the fore. Nicola Sturgeon was widely hailed as a cool head in a political inferno. Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May was criticized for ducking under the radar during the campaign and emerging unscathed. But judging by the gender-imbalance in the coverage – weren't all women out of the spotlight? If you've got Boris Johnson giving a bumbling speech about the overregulation of bananas – when do we talk about how being a member of the EU affects women? Not often, it seems.

We should have staged some sort of stunt, maybe got a woman in a vulva costume on a zipwire or something. Ideally taking a route that went directly above Farage and his beer-swilling political correctness warriors. . ''Youuhooo! –over here! 51% of the population, just looking for a wee word.''

A female Prime Minister, First Minister and potential new woman Labour leader doesn't in itself get us any further forward in achieving equality of representation. If broadcasters don't take care in thinking about gender-balance then all we might end up as a result of this is an all-male panel talking about a 'cat-fight' between female leaders or commenting on their clothes. We've seen from the impact of Brexit and the hostile, toxic campaign that it's not healthy to centre our political debate around men. The EU ref was normal, male dominated politics with a large shot of  testosterone and four cans of Red Bull.

Imagine if Caroline Lucas had got equal airtime to Farage. Or if we'd heard more from Harriet Harmen or Mhairi Black.

Imagine we didn’t have a complete white-wash of a campaign. A campaign where BME people and immigrants were given a platform.

Do we really think we would have ended up with such an ill-tempered debate, heightened racial tension and a divided country?

We don't want balance for the sake of it. We believe that debate is strengthened, diversified and informed when the demographic of our country is fairly represented. Those that bemoan the disenfranchisement with politics, the angry voices and the skeptical tone might do well to look at who is currently speaking for the country.

If we want to steer political discourse back to constructive waters then it's time to give women a place on the ship.

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