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Nicola Sturgeon blasts 'crass' New Statesman cover of female MPs around a crib with headline: 'Why are so many successful women childless?'

The SNP leader equated it to magazine illustrations from the 1960s

Heather Saul
Thursday 16 July 2015 18:14 BST
The leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) tweeted a picture of the cover on Thursday morning
The leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) tweeted a picture of the cover on Thursday morning (Getty Images)

Nicola Sturgeon has criticised a “cringe-worthy” cover of the New Statesman depicting her and three other female politicians around a crib containing a ballotbox, underneath the headline: “The motherhood trap – why are so many successful women childless?”

The leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) tweeted a picture of the cover on Thursday morning with a caption equating it to magazine illustrations from the 1960s.

Her tweet quickly sparked a debate, with some Twitters users branding it "sexist" and reductionist", while others defended it for highlighting the "double bind" women MPs face in terms of when they choose to have children or not.

The cover, which features Sturgeon, Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Liz Kendall, related to an article written by Helen Lewis, the Deputy Editor of the New Statesman, about successful women being vilified as selfish for not having children, while a number of mothers are presented with barriers to reaching the top of their careers after giving birth.

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, also criticised the cover.

The piece examined this issue by highlighting the number of female members of Parliament who were childless in comparison to men - 45 per cent vs 28 per cent - and detailed the difficulties faced by women who do return to politics after giving birth.

“These eye-catching facts conceal an uncomfortable truth: remarkably high proportions of the most successful women in politics are childless,” Lewis wrote.

“The ‘motherhood trap’ exposes one of capitalism’s most uncomfortable secrets – the way it relies on so much unpaid labour, often from women, to sustain itself.

“This labour comes at the expense of career opportunities, and their lifetime earning power: the pay gap between men and women in their twenties is all but eradicated, but a ‘maternity gap’ still exists, and women’s wages never recover from the time devoted to childbearing.”

It also discussed the way in which a female politician's decision not to have a child can be used against them by opposing parties to present them as unfit to deal with any kind of policy relating to the family. Lewis concluded her essay by calling for an end to "a culture that sees childlessness in women as selfish" and wider social change for mothers and nonmothers.

Lewis responded to the debate surrounding the cover by encouraging Sturgeon and many other Twitter users to read the article in order to understand the cover.

She stressed that both headlines and cover images are often "much blunter" than the articles they correspond to because of the format of the publication, but said it was worth taking the discussion about the front page into consideration.

After reading it, Sturgeon praised her “good analysis”, but blasted the “crass” front page for reinforcing the prejudice against women she outlined in the piece.

Lewis told The Independent: "I have a huge amount of respect for Nicola Sturgeon as a politician, so if she thinks there’s something amiss with the cover, that’s worth listening to. The piece is about the double bind that women in politics face: if they are mothers, then maternity leave and the assumption that they will do most of the childcare can hurt their careers.

"If they are not, then people are often quick to call them selfish, or accuse them of not having a 'well-rounded' personality.

"On the other hand, men don’t face quite the same problems whether they have children or not. I agree it would be sexist to write a piece about parenthood that assumed only mothers do childcare, but that’s not what I’ve done. I’ve referred specifically to women for a reason."

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