This is the Passport Office’s pitiful excuse for the gender split on their new design

22% is "good representation" apparently

The new UK passport, designed to celebrate the nation’s achievements in art and culture over the past 500 years, was unveiled today by immigration minister James Brokenshire and it features just two women alongside seven men. Because 22% is totally an accurate reflection of how much women have contributed to the culture of the nation over the past 500 years.

The “Creative United Kingdom” passport, which incidentally reveals a massive lack of creative thought on the part of its creators, features portraits of John Harrison, who invented the marine clock, artist John Constable, architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, artists Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor, Charles Babbage, and William Shakespeare pops his head in on every single page.

The two women they managed to squeeze in are architect Elisabeth Scott, who designed the Royal Shakespeare theatre and the Bournemouth Pier theatre, and Ada Lovelace, the mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. I suppose we should be glad they didn’t think of her and say “Oh, well maybe we should put Byron on there instead!” Lovelace shares her page with Babbage to mark their joint effort in building the first computer and although thematically it makes sense to have them share a page, it says at all that out of the two women featured in the passport only one gets a page to herself.

So what’s their excuse for leaving out the achievements of countless very worthy women over the centuries? Oh, it’s good:

“Whenever you do these things, there is always someone who wants their famous rock band or their local icon or something else in the book. In fact, we have got 16 pages, and very finite space. We like to feel we have got a good representation. We have celebrated some real icons of the UK, like Constable, and, of course, Elisabeth Scott herself. So we feel we have got a good representative sample,” says Mark Thomson, director general of the Passport Office.

Right on, Mark. There’s always someone who wants their famous rock band or local icon or entire gender in the book. Tut. Those busybodies.

You’d think after the 2013 banknote campaign when Jane Austen was chosen to replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note because of a lack of representation a little more care would have been taken here. Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist activist who was prominent in the successful banknote campaign summed up our exasperation perfectly when she tweeted:

Thomson continues: “It wasn’t something where we set out to only have two women. In trying to celebrate UK creativity over the last 500 years we tried to get a range of locations, a range of things around the country and to celebrate our triumphs and icons over the years. So there we are.”

Oh, so it was just one of those things, you didn’t set out to minimise women’s contributions across the past 500 years, it just happened. Well, that’s alright then. Except it’s not. In “trying to celebrate UK creativity over the last 500 years” not only did you not fairly represent women in your chosen portraits, you barely fairly represented the whole of the UK, since six of the seven portraits are actually of people born in England. Not only that, you’ve managed to compare women asking for equal representation to someone asking for a picture of their band to be featured which is so flabbergastingly dismissive and far from being on the same level we can barely engage with it as an excuse. So there we are.

He said the decision about who featured in the new passport was made by the Passport Office, after consultation with security experts and designers, and approved by ministers. It seems incredible, and actually worse, that going through all of these people not one of them thought to say “there’s not many women here”, that not one of them could think of a female author, or playwright, or artist to sit alongside these men. Not even one who had used a male pseudonym to attempt to gain the recognition for their talents they’re apparently still being denied.

This is just another example of how something as simple as a lack of thought and consideration can perpetuate gender inequality and we need to keep calling it out. If Getty Images can recognise images have an important cultural impact and that they have a responsibility in the distribution of them, surely our Passport Office can.


Main Image via HM Passport Office