There’s been a lot of discussion in the media recently about the supposed problem that the Yes campaign has attracting the support of women. All opinion polls have consistently shown that men are considerably more likely to support independence than women are, and this has been discussed in the media as “the Yes campaign’s problem with women”. But the logically equal question is never asked, and doesn’t get explored in Newsnicht Scotland specials – why does the No campaign have a problem with men?
There are 2 reasons for the media’s peculiarly one sided way of looking at things. Only one is specific to Scotland.
The more general reason is sexism. In the media, as in society at large, men are more likely to occupy positions of power and influence than women, although this is not because men are genetically programmed to seek positions of power and influence and women are not – otherwise we wouldn’t have Johann Lamont making an arse of herself on a regular basis.
It is true however that there are differences between men and women – however the behavioural and attitudinal differences between men and women as groups are typically far smaller than the differences between any two random individuals. What this means is that you can’t use a person’s status as female or male as a predictor of that individual’s behaviour.
But the preponderence of men in politics leads to a mind set where the position of men is seen as the “norm” against which that of women is compared, and this is especially true in matters such as politics which were traditionally regarded as a male preserve. It could be argued then, that by putting the focus on “the Yes campaign’s problem with women” the Scottish media is reinforcing sexist stereotypes. And it wouldn’t be the first time they’d done that.
But there’s also the Scottish specific dimension. Framing the question as the Yes campaign’s problem with women puts the Yes campaign on the defensive. It’s the Yes campaign which has the problem, not the No campaign. The No campaign’s position is seen as the norm against which Yes is compared. The media doesn’t focus on the equally big problem that the No campaign has persuading men to vote its way.
Yet because the media outlet will trot out a pair of talking heads supporting Yes and a pair of talking heads supporting No, a heavily slanted report biased against the Yes campaign falls squarely into the box marked “balanced and neutral” in the BBC’s checklist. As a bonus, it subtlely reinforces sexist stereotyping while at the same time posing as an examination of it.
But it gets worse. For the purposes of argument let’s accept the media’s premise that men are more likely to be interested in politics than women. However if that’s true, then the real issue cannot be that “Yes has a problem with women”. It’s got to be “No has a problem with men”, because after all the media is touting the view that men are more likely to be politically engaged than women are. And if this is the case, then the No campaign is failing spectacularly to convince the group which is more likely to to pay attention to political messages. That’s a much bigger and more serious problem for a political campaign.
Men, it’s probably safe to say, are more prone to anorakish behaviours than women. Although you’ll find plenty of women in anoraks as well – often more stylish ones. However this being the case, it follows that men are more likely than women to follow politics as a hobby. When the referendum was a distant prospect, political hobbyists were those most likely to have engaged with the issues and arrived at an early decision, and those politics geeks were more likely to be male.
And that’s why it is the No campaign’s problem with men which is the real issue. The current pattern of higher support for Yes amongst men in the polls reinforces what the yes campaign has been saying. Once people start to engage with the issues around independence, they tend to see the advantages of independence and the weakness of the No campaign’s case. As the referendum becomes imminent, that pattern will repeat itself with the rest of the population.
So where are all the Newsnicht Scotland specials exploring No’s problem with men?