05/04/2017 13:08 SAST | Updated 05/04/2017 13:10 SAST

Tabloid Coverage Of Amal Clooney At The UN: Damaging And Demeaning

Amal Clooney recently gave an important speech to the UN, condemning their apathy to the atrocities committed by ISIS. From the tabloid press' headlines about the event though, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Clooney was at the UN not to make a speech, but rather to show off her maternity wardrobe and pregnancy. The Daily Mirror led their story about Clooney with the headline "Amal Clooney is a vision in yellow as she shows off hint of baby bump in chic dress". The Sun reported that "Pregnant Amal Clooney shows off a small baby bump in clinging black suit and yellow dress on trips to the UN in New York", while the Daily Telegraph raved about how "Amal Clooney nails an elegant maternity look as she speaks against Isis at the UN". This coverage deeply demeans Clooney and women in general. It needs to be called out to mitigate the damage it does to the right of women to be taken seriously about topics other than what they wear or what fills their uteruses. Firstly, these headlines are concerning in their preoccupation with Clooney's clothes. What alarmed me most about the last two was how they acknowledged the fact Clooney was at the UN, and just chose to ignore it. Forget mentioning why she was there; no, far more important that we know that her suit "gave a glimpse of her toned legs". I know this argument has been made countless times before, but its reiteration is important. Women are not what they wear. Despite what these headlines suggest, their contributions to workplaces and the world is not determined by the height of their heels. If we don't call these sorts of comments out as we see them, they will just further infiltrate society's ways of thinking. Secondly, this coverage demeans Clooney and working women in its implication that the most newsworthy aspect of her UN visit is not her speech but her pregnancy. This rhetoric about the importance of mothering children is growing stronger in society. Last year, Ivanka Trump declared that "the most important job any woman can have is being a mother". In their headlines, the tabloid papers are suggesting that this is Clooney's true worth too. I am not saying that motherhood is not an important job. It is just not the only or most important job all women can have. Implying that it is devalues women who have chosen different care arrangements, who cannot conceive, who do not seek motherhood. It downplays the role of incredible women, suggesting that the achievements of figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Elizabeth Blackburn and Michelle Obama are secondary to the fact that they had children. In suggesting that the value of a woman's work is always less important than her baby bump, this coverage tells the reader that the most effective way for women to contribute to society is to have children. Their most important role is to incubate then care for future men, and future women so they can raise more future men. Presumably the tabloids think it is then the men who take on those jobs that are less important to women than being a mother, such as being president. Not exactly an empowering message for the press to advocate. Finally, the tabloid coverage diminishes Clooney, and women's, autonomy. It treats their choices about pregnancy, from their maternity wear to whether they have children at all, as fit for public judgment. Just look at the Daily Mail's headline following the speech; "Wearing four-and-a-half inch heels at six months pregnant? Is that wise, Amal?" Ask any woman who has been pregnant and they will tell you similar stories of strangers touching their tummies or offering unsolicited diet advice. These women are no longer independent people to some, but rather carriers of society's future (as Virginian senator Steve Martin said last month, they are merely "hosts"). In speaking so blatantly about Clooney's pregnancy and the sartorial decisions she makes in relation to it, the tabloids contribute to this idea that a woman's choices in regard to pregnancy are not just her own. The tabloid's focus on Clooney's womb and wardrobe is a stark reminder that a woman's stereotypical "femaleness", her fashion and her fertility, is still seen by many as the most important aspect of her person. In condemning the crimes of Isis against Yazidi women, amongst other war crimes, Clooney is tackling this fact in its most violent and physical form. The media coverage of her doing so sadly proves this truth also exists in much more subtle and seemingly superficial settings. We need to call such coverage out to ensure it doesn't keep happening every time a woman stands up to speak, pregnant or not.