Nicola Sturgeon has opened up about the challenges of being a woman in politics and warned social media abuse is starting to put women off.
Speaking at the Hay Festival in Hay-On-Wye, Wales, on Friday, the first minister shared some of the double standards she has faced in her political career.
In the interview by BBC journalist Katya Adler, Ms Sturgeon said social media has made it easier for trolls to abuse female politicians.
The SNP leader also described how the increasingly “hostile” environment is “starting to make women think long and hard whether they want to go into politics”.
Sexist double standards
The first minister told the audience she faced criticism early on in her political career for not smiling enough.
She said: “Subconsciously, I was trying to behave like and fit in with the men around me, so I became quite serious.
“That was never said about another prominent Scottish politician, Gordon Brown.
“He is not a smiley person but that was not something used against him.”
“On the one hand we’re seeing more women in senior positions but at the same time that whole environment is becoming much more hostile for women…”
— Hay Festival (@hayfestival) June 4, 2022
On being called a “Nippy Sweetie” – a Scottish insult aimed at women who stand up for themselves – Ms Sturgeon said: “Nippy sweetie is a Scottish term, and it means a woman is a bit mouthy, bolshy and basically speaks up for themselves.
“It was actually said by a trade union official in a Govan shipyard, which he meant as a compliment, but it quickly became a term of insult and abuse.”
The first minister said social media has made it easier for people who have “always wanted to hurl sexist and misogynistic abuse at women can get it very directly to them”.
She added: “We are seeing more women in senior positions, but at the same time the whole environment is becoming much more hostile for women and it is starting to make women think long and hard whether they want to go into politics.”
The interview also covered questions the SNP leader has frequently faced around why she does not have children.
She said: “Every interview that I did which was more behind the politician, I always got asked why I don’t have children.
“My predecessor as SNP leader doesn’t have children and I am not aware that he was ever once asked that question in any interview.”
These questions eventually led Ms Sturgeon to talking about the miscarriage she suffered, saying “it was not an easy thing to do”.
She said: “It is assumed that you have coldly and in a very calculated way decided to prioritise your career over having children. Of course, any woman is entitled to make that choice, but it is often more complicated.
“So I decided to, in an interview, talk about the miscarriage. It is just one of the many things women in politics have to deal with whilst men don’t.”