A newspaper cartoon depicting the Sinn Féin leader as a witch is “deeply sexist” and could put women off entering politics, according to the National Women’s Council.
The cartoon in yesterday’s Sunday Independent shows Mary Lou McDonald pouring a packet labelled ‘Sinn Féin frenzy’ into a bubbling cauldron with ‘electorate’ written across it.
It has been widely denounced on social media, with TDs including the Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan and Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll McNeill among those criticising it.
Deputy McDonald responded by tweeting: “We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn - Deal with it.”
We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn - Deal with it #womenpower
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) March 21, 2021
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) Women and Leadership coordinator, Emma DeSouza said the cartoon was not an acceptable way to depict any woman in politics.
“It is a deeply sexist trope used to dehumanise women and is exactly the type of behaviour that deters women from going into politics,” she said.
“Ireland is currently ranked 101st globally for female parliamentarians – which is hardly a position to be proud of – and cultural institutions such as the media do play a significant role in shaping society’s perception of women.
“This gendered abuse is becoming an increasing barrier to women entering public office.”
This disgraceful depiction of Mary Lou McDonald as a witch is a cynical, misogynistic trope that resonates at the power core of all women.
I am asking all politicians to condemn this sexist and hurtful depiction of the leader of the largest political party on our island./ pic.twitter.com/VEaCi79TsB
— Réada Cronin TD (@ReadaCronin) March 21, 2021
She rejected the argument that the cartoon was meant to be satirical rather than sexist.
“Satire cannot be used as a cover for misogyny,” she said. “This is a time-honoured tool used for smearing women.
“The connection between women as witches is well understood and unfortunately is still being used within politics – this derogatory depiction of women as witches or villains to be cast out.”
She noted that some of the most famous women in politics have had to deal with similar tropes in the past – with Hilary Clinton described as a witch throughout her career and Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with chants of ‘ditch the witch’ while she was in power.
“We at the NWCI stand to say that this is completely unacceptable,” said Ms de Souza. “It is sexist, it is misogyny and it is a significant barrier to women going into politics.
“We need to see more women in these spaces, not less. The strength of women should be embraced, not belittled and women should not be portrayed as these terrible witches that need to be cast out because of their powerful positions.
“We hold that is completely unacceptable. It needs to be called out for what it is and we should not be finding any way to try and cover it up as satire.”
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