Written by Fiona Longmuir

In The News

Yes, First Minister

Andrea Leadsom recently revealed she thought feminism was about hating men. Has she not met Nicola Sturgeon, asks Fiona Longmuir.

Photo: Kenneth Halley.

Photo: Kenneth Halley.

Before it all went to hell, the 2015 General Election was symbolised by a photograph of three female leaders embracing, the male leader looking on forlornly. The image of Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett went immediately viral, feminists around the country punching the air and assuring ourselves that our time was coming.

That, of course, didn’t quite pan out as we had hoped, but the women, particularly Nicola Sturgeon, have refused to back down or fade away. She planted her feminist flag right in the middle of the ITV studios and she shows no sign of taking it back.

American activist Marian Wright Edelman famously said: “You can’t be what you can’t see” and in that sense, Nicola Sturgeon is a feminist purely by virtue of being First Minister. This week, she shared a photograph of herself and the new British Prime Minister Theresa May, with the caption: “Politics aside – I hope girls everywhere look at this photograph and believe nothing should be off limits for them.”

“Immediately after becoming First Minister, Sturgeon made a pledge to put gender equality at the heart of her government and appointed a 50:50 male/female cabinet.”

And she’s right. That a woman could rise to the highest office in her country is surely an inspiration to millions of girls and women who might never have considered that they could be welcome in politics.

Of course, her reception by her opponents and the media hasn’t always been very helpful in that regard. She has been victim to every kind of misogynist smear, from being painted as the aggressive, yappy Highland terrier, to being portrayed as weak, toothless and yes, get your sexism bingo cards ready, hysterical. The Sun even famously ran a story illustrated with an image of her wearing skimpy tartan underwear, astride an enormous wrecking ball.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Image: The Sun.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Image: The Sun.

Despite this, Sturgeon has flatly refused to fit into any of our ‘acceptable’ roles for female politicians. She’s neither a no-holds-barred ballbuster nor a ditzy, hopeless optimist, nor a simpering wallflower. She comes off as warm and funny enough that I’d definitely take her for a pint, but she also has no problem holding her own in political spaces invariably filled with men.

In fact, despite the idea that we need more women in charge so politics can become sweeter and softer, she actually interrupted more than anyone else in the 2015 leaders’ debates. She has shown powerful leadership in the weeks following the Brexit vote, to the point that many of my London colleagues have asked if Westminster could borrow her for a little while.

In May, she hit the headlines for warmly embracing a fellow MSP in Holyrood, after hearing of the breakdown of her marriage. It’s almost as though she’s – gasp – a fully rounded human being, not just a caricature of a woman.

All that said, just being a woman in a position of power isn’t really enough to qualify you as a feminist. I’d point you in the direction of our new Prime Minister for proof of that. Feminism isn’t quite as simple as wearing a feminist T-shirt and collecting power for yourself. It’s in this respect that Theresa May falls down, whereas Sturgeon excels.

“In her first year as First Minister, Sturgeon ploughed a record £30m into preventing violence against women.”

Immediately after becoming First Minister, Sturgeon made a pledge to put gender equality at the heart of her government and appointed a 50:50 male/female cabinet. Three months ago, she did so again. Despite headlines alleging that May would be stuffing her cabinet with “female allies”, her final cabinet contains twice as many men as women.

And what of us ladies down here on the ground? Having more women in power positions is an absolutely vital step for feminism, but only if those women use their power to break down the structural and societal barriers that are holding all women back. Yes, Theresa May, I’m afraid that means even poor women, disabled women, women of colour.

And here, again, Nicola Sturgeon sort of kicks ass. She has pledged to reform gender recognition laws, allowing trans women, trans men and non-binary people to change the gender on their birth certificate without intrusive medical diagnoses. She has pledged to double free childcare hours and announced a ‘returners’ project to help women get back to work after a career break.

In her first year as First Minister, she ploughed a record £30m into preventing violence against women. Take a look at her Twitter timeline and you’ll see a woman who is constantly boosting the voices of other women, from visiting schools and speaking with girls, to cheering on the Scottish women’s team at the Homeless World Cup.

Take a good look at her and I think you’ll see that this is what a feminist looks like.


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Written by Fiona Longmuir

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.