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Guest Post: Sexism is societal problem that every party must tackle

Guest blog by Kezia Dugdale, MSP and deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party

The months leading up to the General Election have been a reminder of just how blatant sexism is across society. Whether it’s the sexist tweets I get sent about my appearance after every TV interview or reading through a newspaper in the morning and taking a mental note of how many times a male journalist or editor is in the top line, the harsh reality for women in Scotland cannot be missed.

Whether it is in a discussion, whether it is in the media or if it is within my own party, I have and will continue to, stand up to the sexism women face day in and day out.

The reality is, our society is rife with sexist attitudes. Attitudes which hold back women, attitudes which explain why only 35% of MSPs are women and 24% of councillors. Political parties are made up of that very same society, so they too have sexist attitudes within them, which we must challenge and tackle. But disguising an agenda of tribal partisan politics behind the real and necessary fight against sexism does not benefit women, if anything it holds the fight back. I want to hear voices of all parties come together to fight sexism, that’s why I was happy to sign the Women For Independence #SendSexismOff campaign.

Now we come to The Sun. A paper not known for its advocacy of women’s rights, but despite that, I was still taken aback seeing the wrecking ball image of Nicola Sturgeon; a double page of sexism. I may have many political differences with Nicola, but I will never stay silent about such a disrespect of a fellow women.

Before being prompted, before even reading the notification on my Twitter feed, I was angry and I made that known. But then I checked the hundreds of notifications; “why hasn’t Labour condemned this?” “Scottish Labour are not angry, that’s terrible, you should be ashamed”

Did I miss something? Was this written by a Scottish Labour candidate, MSP or activist? I checked and checked again. No it wasn’t. Scottish Labour had nothing to do with it. Why then am I being asked specifically to claim my outrage not as a woman, not as a public figure, but specifically as someone from the Scottish Labour Party?

Perhaps I am cynical, but the responses I got were not based on the remarks being disrespectful to Nicola Sturgeon, or indeed women generally, they were targeting the Scottish Labour Party; distracting us from what matters; holding the Sun to account. There were hundreds of tweets which were more concerned with using sexism as a platform of “one up man ship” (a salient metaphor, given the topic) rather than fighting the cause for women.

I want to see anger at sexism. I want to see it become something so shameful that it ceases to exist. But that anger must come from being outraged at the belittling of women, only then will change happen, only then are we appreciating how damaging sexism is.

The Sun’s portrayal of Nicola Sturgeon was unacceptable and for me, explained exactly why we need the Women 5050 campaign; more women leaders to stand up to this, normalising women’s leadership and sending those archaic attitudes packing. A fair Scottish Parliament, can be the tipping point to change sexist culture.

The Scottish Labour Party has a proud record of tackling gender inequality, the equal pay act, maternity and paternity leave, having the highest number of women MPs and MSPs and being the only party to use all women shortlists. We have made change, but we still have far to go.

Action around women’s equality has always come up against barriers. Often women are told “if you work hard enough, you can get anywhere”, well with attitudes like the ones we see in The Sun, working hard won’t get women to the places they deserve to be, or indeed, the respect they deserve when they get there. Too often we hear the rhetoric of equality, but not the action. To say you are for equality doesn’t make it so. We all need to see it as our duty and part of that duty is to stand up to sexism, wherever it comes from.

It sometimes feels like we never get it right on tackling inequality; If we simply ask women to “work hard enough” we underestimate the societal attitudes they live in, if we take action to ensure they are represented fully, we are undermining “meritocracy”, but what meritocracy, when women with the merit, are so often left out?

We have three women leading political parties in the Scottish Parliament. That is something to be immensely proud of, but we need to consider what legacy we want to leave for the women who come next. The legacy I want to us to leave is a 50/50 parliament and a parliament that reflects the society is seeks to represent.

We have women in leading roles in politics the picture may look like it is equal for women, but scratch away at the surface and reality becomes clear. It’s a reality I want to make into a history, but it takes all of us to make that happen.

Outrage at sexism is not a bandwagon to jump on to make a political point. It is a political point in itself. Let’s respect over 50% of our society by being angry at sexism, not diluting it in political point scoring.

This blog is part of a series that Engender have commissioned looking at sexism in the run up to the general election - we have approached all political parties in Scotland to contribute.

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