We call for an end to media coverage about politicians' looks

5 May 2017

Girlguiding is calling for a commitment from all media outlets to stop commenting on politicians' appearances 

Girlguiding is encouraging all young women to vote on 8 June and ensure their voices are heard. However, the media obsession with what politicians look like is putting young women off engaging in politics. 

To ensure young women feel engaged in the political conversation, Girlguiding’s national youth panel has set out a three point charter calling on the media to:

  1. Stop talking about politicians’ appearances and focus on their ‘opinions not pins’
  2. Include young women in debates and ensure their views are represented in political coverage 
  3. Recognise the diversity of young women’s voices including those who are too young to vote now but will still be affected by the decisions of the next government

As reporting of the General Election swings into action, Girlguiding - the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women – is today calling for a commitment from all media outlets that they will stop commenting on politicians’ appearances.

The charity has launched a campaign encouraging all young women to vote but is concerned the continual objectification of female politicians and media focus on what politicians look like is sidelining girls from the political conversation. The infamous ‘Legs-it’ headline – referring to a meeting between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon - and constant editorial features detailing politicians’ outfits are two clear examples of this.   

New Girlguiding research 

This call comes as new research by Girlguiding reveals two fifths (41%) of girls (aged 9 to 16) think there has been a rise in media sexism in the last six months with over a third (39%) of these girls saying it has knocked their confidence.

Ahead of the 2015 General Election, Girlguiding members called for more equal representation within Parliament - so to go into an election just two years later with both a female Prime Minister and First Minister in Scotland is a fantastic move in the right direction and should be an inspiring development for girls.

However, at a time when they should be feeling more engaged in politics than ever, girls are telling us the outdated and sexist treatment of female politicians in the press is making them feel excluded.

Now, with the General Election around the corner, Girlguiding wants to ensure girls have their voices heard on 8 June and has set out a charter asking the media to engage girls in the political conversation, recognise their diversity and represent female candidates fairly – focusing on their policies and manifestos, not their ‘pins’, pointy heels and make-up.

What girls in guiding say 

Media sexism worries me. I would like to see all politicians treated in the same way in the media and for the focus to be on their policies and views instead of what they’re wearing that day. The media definitely have a responsibility to engage young women in voting. They can have a big impact on the way people vote and with great power comes great responsibility. -  Hannah Stubbs, age 20, a Girlguiding youth panel member from Swansea 
 Sexist depictions of female politicians in the media put me off engaging with politics. Focusing on a politician’s appearance instead of want she has to say sends the message that even women in the most powerful roles in the country aren’t taken seriously. The media have a responsibility to engage us in the conversation and ensure our voices are heard. - Emma Taggart, age 16, a Girlguiding youth panel member from Northern Ireland 
I think being a young woman, and for me being a woman of colour, there isn’t an expectation for us to be engaged with politics and when we are, we are expected to have all the same views. It’s no secret that the appearance of women in politics is always a hot topic and the media have a responsibility to involve and engage everyone – including young women. -  Jemmar Samuels, age 20, a Girlguiding youth panel member from London 
The media has a huge impact on our everyday lives, shaping our view of the world and current events. This power should be used to encourage young women to engage in the conversation around the General Election as, too often, the media trivialise or ignore our views. - Kathryn Elswood, age 20, a Girlguiding youth panel member from Essex 

Our work in this area  

Girlguiding consistently gives girls a voice and will be running a campaign to encourage young women to register to vote and use their voice on 8 June. Our ‘Hear our Voice’ resource informs young members about politics and our ‘Girls Matter’ campaign launched ahead of the 2015 election highlighted the key issues girls wanted politicians to tackle.

The charity has also continuously worked to highlight the impact obsession with appearance can have on girls and young women. Our Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2016 revealed girls as young as seven feel the pressure to look perfect with almost a quarter of 7-10 year old girls (23%) feeling they need to be perfect and over half (52%) feeling they are not good enough.

Throughout the election campaign, we will be calling out instances of media sexism on Twitter using #ForTheGirl.

Research for the survey

  • In total, 1147 young people (560 girls) aged 9 to 16 were surveyed.
  • Research was conducted by leading research specialists on children and young people Childwise and fieldwork took place during February to March 2017.