Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Comment

It’s 2024 and female politicians are still having to put up with sexist nonsense about their looks

As two senior women in two different countries have to tackle sexist and degrading incidents in one week, Helen Coffey asks: will we ever get a break?

Wednesday 31 January 2024 15:14 GMT
Comments
Georgie Purcell (left) and Yoko Kamikawa were both at the centre of sexist rows recently
Georgie Purcell (left) and Yoko Kamikawa were both at the centre of sexist rows recently (Animal Justice Party/Getty)

You might be mistaken for thinking you’d stepped into the Tardis and been transported back in time 20 years upon seeing two of the headlines from around the world this week.

In one, Japan’s foreign minister was told by the country’s former PM that she “wasn’t that good looking” (he also got her name wrong several times and threw in an ageist slur for good measure). In another, a news channel ran an image of a female Australian MP that had been photoshopped to make her breasts look bigger and her outfit more revealing.

Both are grim examples of the way sexism still permeates through our political systems, even in so-called “developed” countries – but the second story made me physically gasp. In the year of our Lord 2024, how on earth are we still seeing women in politics being subject to this kind of degradation? And what could possibly be the thinking behind augmenting an MP’s chest for a news bulletin on duck hunting?

Victorian upper house MP Georgie Purcell shared her frustrations with Nine News on social media, tweeting: “I endured a lot yesterday [after the government rejected a proposed ban on duck hunting]. But having my body and outfit photoshopped by a media outlet was not on my bingo card. Note the enlarged boobs and outfit to be made more revealing.

“Can’t imagine this happening to a male MP. What gives?”

She then posted the original photo and the doctored version used by Nine News side by side. In the former, Purcell is wearing a white dress. In the latter, the outfit in the picture has been altered to show a strip of midriff – plus, her breasts undeniably look larger.

The news network attempted to pass the buck to Photoshop itself, with the programme’s news director, Hugh Nailon, saying: “Our graphics department sourced an online image of Georgie to use in our story on duck hunting. As is common practice, the image was resized to fit our specs.

The message this sends to young women and girls across Victoria is that even at the top of your field, your body is always up for grabs

Georgie Purcell

“During that process, the automation by Photoshop created an image that was not consistent with the original. This did not meet the high editorial standards we have and for that we apologise to Ms Purcell unreservedly.”

But Adobe, the software company that makes Photoshop, roundly refuted the claims that the program made the alterations on its own. “Any changes to this image would have required human intervention and approval,” the spokesperson said.

I’d almost respect Nine News more if they’d just held their hands up and said it – sex sells. Purcell is a young, attractive, blonde woman; the temptation to make her just that bit more “hot” was clearly too strong to resist.

“I’m not afraid to say yesterday was the worst I’ve had so far,” Purcell said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the difference for women is that they also have to deal with the constant sexualisation and objectification that comes with having images leaked, distorted and AI generated.

Penny Mordaunt was pictured in a swimsuit in a national paper – unlike her male colleagues (Helen Coffey)

“Let’s be clear – this is not something that happens to my male colleagues.”

Though there was an attempt to laugh it off – “For now, at least I know what I’d look like with a boob job and chiselled abs” – the underlying rage that women must still endure this kind of debasement was clearly bubbling just beneath the surface. “The message this sends to young women and girls across Victoria is that even at the top of your field, your body is always up for grabs,” she said.

It’s not just photoshopped images that are the problem, either. I’ll never forget a British broadsheet’s spread on potential runners and riders for the next Tory leader in 2022, in which they’d chosen to use a shot of Penny Mordaunt in a swimsuit. All her male colleagues were, of course, pictured fully clothed.

In the year of our Lord 2024, how on earth are we still seeing women in politics being subject to this kind of degradation?

Yoko Kamikawa, the 70-year-old Japanese foreign minister (honestly, will it ever end?) whose appearance was insulted by her colleague, brushed the comments aside. “I’m aware that there are many different opinions, and I appreciate any and all feedback,” she told reporters in response to Taro Aso’s remarks, saying that the best response was to carry on her diplomatic work. Because that’s what women are taught to do: ignore it, sweep it under the carpet, keep your head down and get on with the job. But we shouldn’t have to. Cringeworthy Photoshop snafus and comments about whether female politicians are “attractive” or not may seem fairly harmless on the face of it. But they’re indicative of a deeper disrespect of women that still lingers across all strata of society.

Outdated opinions have real-world impacts; Aso’s insults followed him declaring in 2018 that there was “no such thing as the crime of sexual harassment”. It’s 2024 – shouldn’t we finally stop paying attention to what women look like and start listening to what they’re actually saying?

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in