A whole world of sexist fail in today’s Sunday Times

It’s hard to imagine how today’s Sunday Times could possibly have got it more wrong.

It trailed that it had a “tantalising secret” about Nicola Sturgeon’s private life.

That turned out to be the fact that, five years ago, she had a miscarriage. What a crass way to headline an intensely painful experience.

And to add insult to injury, the paper accompanied the article with a panel featuring childless politicians. All of them were female.

As ever, women are judged by different standards. The excellent Women 50/50 campaign group made the point visually:

It was the Sunday Times sister paper, The Times, which published that interview when Andrea Leadsom suggested that being a mum meant that she “had a real stake in the future of this country.” Some culture change in that organisation is urgently required.

Nicola Sturgeon explained in a tweet why she had decided to let her experience become public in a forthcoming autobiography:

In the last paragraph, she absolutely nails it. Nobody should be judged. If people don’t want to have children, or for some reason they want to and can’t, it shouldn’t be pored over. It’s not a matter for public discussion.

Occasionally, men get this sort of nonsense too. A few years ago, William Hague revealed that he and his wife Ffion had been through several miscarriages after some internet sniping about his private life. It is, however, almost commonplace for women’s status to be seen as public property to be dissected and gone through.

When you have a miscarriage, you open yourself up to a whole new set of judgements and crassness that can take you by surprise. There are people who tell you it was all for the best or set limits about when you should be over it. Seriously, they actually do. They may frown at you if they think you should have been doing something or not doing something. It makes a really tough experience even worse.

Nicola Sturgeon has my total respect for choosing to allow her experience to become public knowledge. I hope that it will help others who have been through it and contribute to greater understanding.

The Sunday Times, yet again, has my total disapproval for the way in which it has framed the article. That sort of sexist reporting hurts people individually and is bad for society collectively.

Pointing this stuff out is always important. The Women 50/50 campaign, who took the lead on this, is, of course, now getting a fair bit of Twitter abuse, but it does a valuable job in making us think about the sort of standards and reporting that we have in our society and give us the confidence that we don’t have to just put up with them. Each time these things are publicly challenged is a step closer to the day when women are not judged on whether they have children or not.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Simon Foster 4th Sep '16 - 5:08pm

    Years ago, I was a partner involved in a silent miscarriage – one where there is no symptoms until it’s picked up on at a scan. It’s a horrible shock for potential parents to go through.

    I think you’re right Caron – Nicola Sturgeon gets it bang on in her final paragraph, and the Sunday Times should be ashamed of itself through its reporting.

  • Credit to Caron for condemning the Sunday Times for the way it has handled this personal tragedy. It may also be added that cot death is another tragedy that people can be horribly judgemental about.

    This is far from the first time the unionist press have behaved like this. It is just the latest instalment of a catalogue of vile abuse. This is the Daily Mail from referendum week in 2014 (that time the target was not just Nicola but also Alex Salmond)…
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2754216/Childless-SNP-chiefs-no-feel-UK-family-Leaders-Scottish-National-Party-want-break-Union-not-understand-families-claimed.html

    We can only hope that one day we will reach a time when printing “revelations” about people’s personal lives will become taboo when they relate to things that have nothing whatever to do with their integrity or ability to do their job serving the public. Sadly, I suspect there will always be those who will abuse the freedom the press have. Maybe things would be better if there were the same pressure to have more women (and more diversity generally) in senior positions in the press as there is in politics?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Sep '16 - 6:20pm

    Papers like the Sunday Times are just as lousy as the tabloids at times, sad part is so much mainstream media panders to the lowest common denominator, trying to appeal to the inquisitive nature in women too, as well as in men, with so much emphasis in private lives in the vein of the womens magazine market , overlapping with the Sunday supplement style.

    I agree with Caron here,in the criticism of this tasteless coverage , and support for Nicola Surgeon,in this instance, but blame or responsibility is sometimes also probably shared by editors or staff who , at times may well be women who think other women are going to read this more than men , and try and pull them in accordingly.

    I do not know if I am correct , but I do not trust the print media at times , male or female led , tabloid or otherwise!

  • Al

    “Maybe things would be better if there were the same pressure to have more women (and more diversity generally) in senior positions in the press as there is in politics?”

    I have never heard anyone suggest The Sun or, later, all of News Corp behaved more ethically under Rebecca Brooks leadership. Perhaps the issue is not gendered and the media reflects our baser preferences as consumers.

  • ‘The Times, which published that interview when Andrea Leadsom suggested that being a mum meant that she “had a real stake in the future of this country.” Some culture change in that organisation is urgently required.’

    One of those occasions where I agree with those who on other issues push identity politics. Just because someone doesn’t have children (by choice or otherwise) does not make them more or less qualified to comment on anything.

    Perhaps the same logic could be applied when people try and apply “lived experience” (translation: personal anecdote) as a source of great wisdom.

    Nothing about life circumstances stops May or Sturgeon from understanding the challenges that families with children face. Though I would disagree with many of the conclusions of both, it would be interpretation of evidence not life circumstances that would cause those.

  • Surely the Times did a public service in revealing Andrea Leadsom’s snide comments. Despiet the Murdoch connection I find it it a pretty good paper.

  • Stevan Rose 4th Sep '16 - 11:31pm

    They wouldn’t print stuff like this if it didn’t sell papers. Regrettably the British public have an appetite for intrusive tittle tattle. Even Sunday Times readers. I don’t buy newspapers these days because they are mostly the same. Gossip mongering truth distorters. When you look at dropping circulations it’s clear they’re desperate and ethics no longer exist. Add this paper to the list of don’t buys.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 5th Sep '16 - 10:11am

    This wasn’t news, it was gossip. It has no bearing what so ever on anyone’s public life. It’s such a pity that the media print nonsense like this but, until the public stop gossiping they will continue to do so.

  • Appalling, my wife suffered a miscarriage and it was trajic. Fortunately she had two subsequent successful births although the period of the pregnancy was one of grave anxiety because of what had previously happened. I fully agree with you Caron.

  • To be clear, Nicola Sturgeon had given her biographer the go-ahead to include her experience of miscarriage. It was the way in which the Sunday Times presented this while serialising the book that was the problem.

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Sep '16 - 11:56am

    I agree with Nicola Sturgeon about miscarriage. My daughter had a miscarriage quite recently and because she was very open about it we discovered that we knew several people who had been through this but mostly kept silent, but were able to talk to her about it because she now sadly knew what a dreadful experience it was. One person was told she had a “hostile womb” of all the most appalling phrases the medical profession can come up with, my daughter was sent a letter telling her that the type of pregnancy she had had might lead to cancer, detailing the treatment she might have to go through for a year, but with no contact number on the letter for her to get support, and another young woman was just given a leaflet. So Psi, lived experience can be very meaningful.
    The Sunday Times should write serious articles about miscarriage and donate some of its profits to helping miscarriage research and setting up support systems to help all women who go through this. I have to add that my daughter has been treated very sympathetically by the NHS through her current pregnancy and everyone has been very willing to do what is necessary to reassure her when she has unusual pain.

  • David Allen 5th Sep '16 - 1:14pm

    The Murdoch Press is to blame for their unfair treatment of Nicola Sturgeon. The Murdoch Press is not to blame for publishing Andrea Leadsom’s bigoted remark that being a mum meant that she “had a real stake in the future of this country.” Leadsom was responsible for that. The Press were right to report her remark.

  • Sue Sutherland

    I think your example shows the opposite of the point you think it does.

    You didn’t personally experience any of the examples you mentioned. Were unable to empathise with those who had suffered? Sounds like you had no issue at all.

    Did personally experiencing these situations make all of these individuals experts on the different approaches in different areas of the country, what procedures drive these outcomes, what the likely impacts of various changes?

    Most people can appreciate the terrible experience and agree that a solution is needed. Understanding the underlying cause, identifying what small changes would impact those outcomes and what the intended and unintended consequences takes particular skills and interest.

    That is not to say that someone with personal experience of something can’t have a good understanding of all aspects of any issue but it will be from far more than their personal experience.

  • The @Women5050 tweet you reference isn’t visible to people who aren’t “confirmed followers” of that account.

  • Simon Banks 7th Sep '16 - 9:42pm

    It really is depressing. And “tantalising”? What does that suggest about their readers, or what they think of their readers?

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