“Sexist and totally misjudged”: Twitter erupts over feature on “childless” female politicians

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray

A newspaper feature on childless female politicians has created a firestorm on Twitter, with MPs, campaigners, and members of the general public criticising the "sexist" and "irrelevant" piece.

It was presented by The Sunday Times alongside an exclusive serialisation from a new book that discloses details about Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's 2011 miscarriage – which the publication described as her “tantalising secret”.

Sturgeon’s personal story – for which she has since received widespread support – was run alongside a picture list which the paper titled “childless politicians”.

This featured Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Labour MP Angela Eagle, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett, and Education Secretary Justine Greening.

And members of the public were quick to express their disbelief over the piece on Twitter.

The “childless politicians” box also drew cross-party condemnation, with male and female MPs lamenting the “totally misjudged” piece.

Ruth Davidson began the conversation, retweeting the panel into her feed and commenting: “Oh, I do SO enjoy when I’m categorised as a ‘childless politician’.”

Stella Creasy, the Labour and Co-op MP for Walthamstow, responded: “Wombs before brains Ruth, you know that...”

Meanwhile, Chris Elmore, Welsh Labour MP for Ogmore, tweeted: “I’m a childless politician too. Guessing because I’m a man it doesn’t matter.”

His comment was supported by Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who replied: “It’s irrelevant man, woman, trans, whatever!” adding, with frustration: “I sometimes feel we’re going backwards, not forwards.”

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Conservative MP Therese Coffey asked: “What about male politicians with no kids?”

Natalie Bennett, who was also included in the list, criticised the Sunday Times as “living in [the] 1950s”.

She added: “20% of British women aged 45 [have] no children, expected to rise to 25%.”

And countless others have condemned the use of the word “childlessness”, insisting that it is too "emotive" a term - and that it implies a person without children is “missing out or lacking”.

Women 50:50, who are campaigning for 50% representation of women in the Scottish Parliament, decided to take it upon themselves to correct the piece.

They took to Twitter to share an updated version of the list, which now included six male MPs who don't have children.

They captioned the image: “Picture on the left - in today's press. Picture on the right - never appeared in any media. Ever. #everydaysexism.”

It added in a series of posts: “Maternity discrimination is very real in politics (far fewer childless men) it should be highlighted. But this isn’t the way to do it.

“This way simply reinforces stereotypes and that that these women are somehow different.”

Sturgeon has since explained in a tweet (below) that she allowed her miscarriage to be reported in the hope of challenging "assumptions and judgments" made about female political leaders who do not have children.

The new book, Scottish National Party Leaders, disclosed that the miscarriage occurred shortly before the 2011 Holyrood election when Sturgeon was Deputy First Minister.

She went on to succeed Alex Salmond as First Minister after he resigned following the party's 2014 independence referendum defeat.

A spokesperson for The Sunday Times has since responded to the backlash surrounding their handling of the extracts.

They conceded that the piece had been handled insensitively, but stopped sort of apologising, telling The Metro: “We felt our piece highlighted sympathetically the treatment of women politicians and the subject of miscarriage but on reflection we could have presented the sidebar more sensitively.”