FORMER First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has faced a barrage of criticism following her appearance at the Covid Inquiry – but were some of the more savage headlines examples of misogyny?

The accusations were wide-ranging – from suggestions that her visible emotion over the deaths in Scotland was merely “crocodile tears” to claims she had “lied” about making all the relevant information accessible to the inquiry.

For Karen Ross, professor of gender and media at Newcastle University, the controversy around Sturgeon’s tears stands out.

“Somehow the fact she showed emotion was fine during her Covid briefings but not fine now,” she said. “It is now seen as strategic, as a tactic to prompt a more empathetic response to what she happens to say.”

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She added: “It is just so easy to undermine women’s political authority by talking about their womanly ‘wiles’ whereas if Boris Johnson had shed a tear – not that we could ever imagine him doing so – people would say ‘oh, good for him to show that caring side’. There are these constant double standards.”

Professor Ross said that if Sturgeon had not been accused of shedding crocodile tears, she would have been accused of not being able to control her emotions – and her competency as a leader would be questioned.

“Women politicians are held to much higher standards than their male counterparts and this is evident in the treatment of Sturgeon,” she said.

She added that too many people are using the inquiry to make political capital rather than trying to genuinely learn something useful.

“Hopefully lessons will be learned and not just about who made the worst mistakes – that is just not helpful,” said Professor Ross.

Bethany Klein, professor of media and communication at Leeds University, agreed that Sturgeon’s emotional state had attracted a lot of attention.

“The headlines talked a lot about her rawness, her emotionality and tears and for me, in a minor way, that reads as misogynistic because if you are a woman politician, there is almost an expectation that you need to be harder than your male counterparts,” she said.

“All coverage of female politicians – particularly those with a great deal of power – can probably be read through a sexist lens.”

Professor Klein said it is “indisputable” that female politicians receive different media coverage and public treatment.

“Some corners of the media universe use their coverage to diminish women in power or punish them – it’s a kind of formal counterpart to what happens on social media where we know female politicians are attacked and abused in ways that would be inconceivable for their male counterparts,” she said.

While mistakes were obviously made by governments during the pandemic that people have a right to be angry about, Professor Klein said Sturgeon’s treatment cannot be removed from a wider structure that “definitely” is misogynistic and sexist and occurs on some level – however consciously – across the media.

Dr Fiona McKay, lecturer in journalism, media and communication at the University of Strathclyde, said there is a valid argument that there is a gendered reaction to female leaders including Sturgeon.

“Female politicians often have a double-bind when it comes to displaying emotion – they are either seen as too hysterical or too cold and emotionless – and I think that is definitely the case with Sturgeon at the moment,” she said.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

She added that there is an expectation that female politicians should be more “spotless” than men and that this is also true of Sturgeon (above).

“They are seen to be more caring and responsible so they have these weightier expectations to be well-behaved or behave in a certain way and when they don’t meet these higher expectations, they are seen to have a bigger fall,” she said.

“I think there was a part of that last week, although there is obviously more to it in terms of the complexities of the background.”