Mainstream press can be ‘toxic and nasty’ towards women, says Nicola Sturgeon

Threats of rape and misogyny on social media are ‘really pernicious’

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a public interview in the Royal Irish Academy conducted by journalist Dearbhail McDonald.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a public interview in the Royal Irish Academy conducted by journalist Dearbhail McDonald.


Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the now notorious Daily Mail “Legs-it” front page showed how women are still demeaned in the mainstream press.

In May 2017, the Daily Mail used a photograph of Mrs Sturgeon and British prime minister Theresa May on its front page with the headline: “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”

It was followed by a column inside the paper commenting on both leaders’ legs by Sarah Vine, the wife of Tory cabinet minister Michael Gove.

Mrs Sturgeon singled out the story as evidence that the mainstream media still “veers from being toxic and nasty to . . . dismissing and patronising” about women in politics.

“This is what the media tries to reduce us to. That’s how some of the mainstream media still tries to keep women in the place they think [they] should be though it’s not fair to say they all do that.

“We are treated differently. If a guy is assertive in politics, it is a great leadership quality. If a woman is, she is regarded as bossy and strident.”

Speaking at a public interview in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, she stressed, however, that the abuse of women on social media is much worse than it is in mainstream media.

She described the threats of rape and misogyny on social media as “really pernicious”.

Mrs Sturgeon stressed that she is able to allow a lot of the abuse pass her by because she is in politics a long time, but she worries for young women entering politics.

“Instead of this being a tipping point for women in public life, we are going to go backwards because women just don’t want to put themselves out there,” she said.

“We have to tackle in particular the online misogyny that is probably more prevalent now than ever before.”

Her Scottish National Party (SNP) now has a positive action scheme to ensure that more women are put forward to represent the party, but she said many in the party did not want that initially.

“The big problem is not getting women involved in politics, it is women getting selected into positions where they can be elected to parliament or councils,” she explained.

“What has held the Scottish parliament back in the most recent election is that the Conservatives have very few women. We have to be serious about it if we are going to make that leap.”

Mrs Sturgeon spoke about having occasionally suffered from “imposter syndrome” about her role as first minister.

“I don’t think it is peculiar to women, but I do think it is particular to women that you have these moments when you ask yourself if you are about to be found out,” she said.

“A lot of young people look at people in the public eye and think, ‘you are so confident. You don’t suffer from the same insecurities and personal doubts that I suffer from so I could never do that’.

“So if people hear people in senior positions say that we all suffer from that, we might get a message across to young people that those moments of doubt that we all have should not be a barrier to you trying to strive to do whatever you decide to do.”

Ms Sturgeon addressed the subject of the miscarriage she had in 2011 when she was deputy first minster. She said for a long time afterwards she was asked about it in interviews.

“I’ve been in politics for a long time. I’m kind of inured to all this nonsense that is thrown at women. If I can change the conversation for women who come after me then I think it is worth doing if that involves occasionally opening up personally.”