The daily Covid-19 update: should more women be on our screens?

Sophie Wilson discusses the lack of female ministers following controversial statements made by Liz Truss.

Sophie Wilson
30th April 2020
Michelle Donelan with Liz Truss visiting the Agatha Raisin set in South Wraxall
The Daily News Briefing is currently the most important part of many peoples’ days. Passing on vital information to the public about the number of deaths and the current lockdown situation, as well as holding MPs to account for their actions; we all look to this for guidance from the Government. 

But what does it mean when there are a lack of women present on our TV screens during this time? The Guardian have reported that concerns have been raised over the apparent lack of female ministers. Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, has dismissed these claims, however. Stating that by showing an “excessive focus on what gender” the speakers are is doing a “disservice to women”, Truss believes that these concerns are a form of “tokenism”. 

Truss states that women should not purely be present at an event because of their gender. If a woman was put at the forefront of the daily news briefing, then she would be put there to fulfil a quota, to prove that women are included in the battle against Covid-19. Truss says that at the moment, the focus is on health, and so it is only right that the health secretary is doing the health conferences, and there is already an appreciation of the vast amount of work that women are doing. 

Despite placing herself as a feminist, highlighting that she believes “women are equally as capable as men” and that we “need more women in politics”, Truss’ remarks have been viewed by some as working against the fight for women's equality. The chairwoman of the virtual women and equalities committee, Caroline Noakes, has questioned her about this. Noakes disagrees that it would be “tokenism” for more women to appear, because women themselves are “a massive group of people who will be impacted by Covid-19”, and so their views on matters should be heard and projected to the nation just as much as those which are being communicated by men.

Embedded so deeply into our society that men hold the highest jobs in our country, is the belief that women are less capable of men

But how far are we supposed to go in the fight for feminism? Should we really be focusing on who is speaking at these conferences, and using it as a weapon to fight against the patriarchy? 

I believe that the issue that many are highlighting here is a structural one. Embedded so deeply into our society that men hold the highest jobs in our country, is the belief that women are less capable of men. In Boris Johnson’s cabinet, for example, there are only seven women out of twenty three members, the Financial Times reported in January. In relation to business, they are also largely outnumbered. With the Independent reporting last August that CEOs are more likely to be called Stephen than they are to be a woman, it is clear to see that men are at the forefront of our government and the business world. 

CEOs are more likely to be called Stephen than they are to be a woman

But all of these statistics do not mean that we should then set a quota for women’s representation. It is not an opportunity for the government to say, we will have x amount of female government ministers. I agree with Truss here that this is undermining the talent of women. Women should get jobs because they are good at what they do, because they have worked hard at their education and are equipped to successfully fill the job role. By starting to introduce quotas this is suggesting that women are getting the job because it is a fairer way to conduct business, and this will only lead to more bias when in the job. If a man got a job based on his merits and a woman got a job based on her gender, there is still vast inequality present.  

It is the same with the news update. We should not be saying that women need to be placed on TV because we need to show that women are present in the government’s actions. The fundamental problem at work here is that women are not getting to these high achieving jobs as easily and frequently as men. If a woman was the Health Secretary then she would be speaking, but she is not. The focus for feminism, in my eyes, should be on changing the opportunities available to women.

Feminists should be fighting for structural changes to our patriarchy

I believe that feminists should be fighting for structural changes to our patriarchy. They should be fighting for more equality in allowing women the opportunity to enter these roles because they deserve to. The issue being stated here is that there are not enough women being shown on the TV. But the media representation of gender equality does not mean that equality is being enacted in real life, it merely means that a quota has been achieved so that those who are fighting for gender equality have less ammunition to fight for their rights. It is the tip of the iceberg, and for these concerns to be addressed, the structure of our society that hides the embedded bias against women has to change. 

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