Leave her alone

Nicola Kemp: Leave her alone

The hounding of Kate Middleton underlines there is no understanding of AI without DEI.

Leave her alone.

The three words that were missing in the industry analysis of Kate Middleton’s doctored Mother’s Day photograph.

Once again the media industry appeared oblivious to the words on the lips of women across the UK. The media news cycle may have already moved on, but the uncomfortable truth remains: the industry still doesn’t understand the lived-experience of women.

As industry commentators lined up to share their thoughts, it was painfully clear that there is still no place for DEI in the industry discussion of AI.

The media gurus and industry commentators who weighed in, sharing their ‘learnings’ on LinkedIn and in print, missed the biggest lesson of all: Kate Middleton is not an object.

She, like the millions of other women, objectified and stereotyped by the media every single day, is a living breathing human being. Yet we write about her with the same level of compassion we would give to a can of Pepsi.

So quick to judge an image, yet so slow to ask why a woman who has undergone major surgery should be expected to serve up a flawless image of motherhood.

A ferocious blood sport

The Daily Mail listed out the 16 issues it had identified with the doctored photograph. A lens which completely sidesteps the biggest issue of all: a media ecosystem which routinely treats women as prey. A news cycle which refused to let a woman rest after surgery.

A media narrative which continues to adopt the language of ‘fascination’ for what is in fact a sustained and ferocious blood sport. For what is left of the media coverage of the royal family when you strip out the vicious and sustained scrutiny of women?

Our culture of misogyny routinely turns victims into villains. Consider how Anne Boleyn remains the villain in our history, despite the fact her husband succeeded in cutting off not one but two of his wives’ heads. (Hat tip to the Oxford historian who recently explained this behaviour away as evidence of how much Henry VIII ‘loved women’.)

We are experts in blaming women. If you don’t believe me just type the words ‘Meghan Markle’ into your Google search bar. The racism and misogyny she continues to endure is equal parts vast and vapid. It never ever ends.

When will enough be enough?

The subsequent news that Kate Middleton, a mother of three, has cancer, sparked the kind of mental gymnastics that only British tabloids are capable of.

Headlines focusing on criticising individual celebrities and blaming ‘internet sleuths’ sidestep the fundamental issue. The culture tabloids are attacking is one of their own creation. One that has fed a persecuting and misogynistic approach to women in the public sphere.

The Daily Mail is a vampire leeching on the blood of any woman who fails to live up to its contradictory and crushing stereotype of what a ‘good woman’ should be. Its cruelty is relentless.

As Kate Middleton navigates the unpredictable cruelty of chemotherapy, media commentators are already drawing lines in the sand. An approach underlined by Helen Lewis’ Atlantic column headline: ‘I hope you all feel terrible now’.

Yet the Daily Mail didn’t stop for breath. Its recent headline berating ‘Me-First Meghan’ and the risk she might look like an ‘Unfeeling Viscountess of Venom’ because of Kate’s ‘Tragic Cancer News’ underlines that even tragedy is an opportunity for yet another new low. How much hatred can one woman endure?

It has been a decade since the death of Caroline Flack, but what has really changed? Enough is only a word, unless it is followed by action.

In a fast moving media ecosystem the speed of the news cycle makes this continuing lack of accountability easy, but nonetheless unforgivable.

The empathy advantage

Yet readers have longer memories than a media news cycle. Women have had enough of being misrepresented and misunderstood by media brands intent on stereotyping and blaming women. Women are tired of being pitted against each other. We are not and never have been natural enemies.

A publisher I once worked with once shared his view that new mothers would be ‘jealous’ having seen the picture of Kate Middleton after she gave birth to Prince George.

Of course the opposite is true. I know of no mother who does not feel an ounce of empathy for a woman who has to endure such a public show after giving birth.

Yet he simply couldn’t comprehend or understand the breadth and depth of empathy women routinely hold for other women. Even if we don’t understand or agree with each other, we know what it is to be judged for simply existing. Especially when it comes to motherhood.  A decade has passed yet this gulf of understanding persists.

If you are only focussed on the mistakes of the Palace media machine now is the time to open your eyes to the bigger picture. The media industry continues to hold women to suffocating standards. Criticism almost always comes ahead of compassion.

Ask yourself honestly: when was the last time you heard a female colleague unfairly dismissed or disparaged? How often have you heard a woman described as ‘difficult’ for simply sharing her point of view? When will you recognise you should not need a woman to be perfect to be on her side?

The writer Elena Ferrante underlines the inherent grace of women eloquently. She shares how people often ask her: ‘Is it possible that you don’t know even one bitch?”

Her response: ‘I know some, of course: literature is full of them and so is everyday life. But, all things considered, I’m on their side.”

You should be too.

Nicola Kemp has spent over two decades writing about diversity, equality and inclusion in the media. She is now editorial director of Creativebrief. She writes for The Media Leader each month.

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