Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Tuesday, 28 March 2017

We Already Knew The Daily Mail Was Sexist, But Here\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s Why The Leg-sit Headline Is Still Worrying

We Already Knew The Daily Mail Was Sexist, But Here's Why The Leg-sit Headline Should Worry You

The Debrief: The Daily Mail headline Leg-sit tells us a lot about the state of society today

Hi, hello. Look: you don’t need me to tell you that the Daily Mail is sexist. But, hey, I’m going to anyway because they’ve really outdone themselves this time. 

In what I can only assume is either a very cynical and calculated attempt to go viral or an editorial decision which belies the prehistoric stupidity of the people in charge at the Mail (or perhaps a heady combination of the two), the newspaper decided to run the following front page today, on the eve of Brexit: 

What’s wrong with this? Oh, where to begin?! Firstly, as I’ve just said we’re about to Brexit from the European Union which, I think we can all agree, is pretty bloody massive news. Not content with Brexit, the greatest gift to newspapers since the invention of ink, the Mail decided to make the top story of the day about women’s legs. Imploring us to forget about THE deciding political event of our lifetimes, the Mail instead directed us toward the legs of the British Prime Minister and Scottish First Minister. Never mind Brexit, the masterminds at the Mail said to the nation, let’s talk about who won ‘Legs-it’. Secondly, the Mail commissioned a woman writer to churn out this inspired ‘light-hearted verdict on the big showdown’ because, you know, that’s the best buffer against criticism they could possibly come up with: throwing a woman under the bus in their transparent and spineless attempt to go viral by inciting outrage from all corners of commentariat and social media. I hope Vine entered into her role as a sexist Trojan Horse with eyes open and serious wedge in her pocket. 

In her totally hilarious (not) sketch Sarah Vine wrote ‘it wasn’t quite stilettos at dawn’ which has got to be the most insulting and dismissive allusion to the fact that May and Sturgeon are currently at loggerheads over the future of the United Kingdom possible. Forget about ‘what happens if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom’, put your fears about how expensive your holidays are going to be from here on into one side for a sec, there are two women, with legs, sitting next to each other. HOLD THE PRESS. 

Vine’s incisive analysis is that ‘there is no doubt that both [May and Sturgeon] consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal. Consequently, both have been unsheathed.’ It seems Ms Vine has been taking writing lessons from the one and only Boris Johnson.  

The Daily Mail is sexist every day so why should we care about today's confirmation of its politically inappropriate and outdated bias? Well, quite simply, because It is a searing reminder to women everywhere that it doesn’t matter who you are, how much you’ve achieved, what you say or what you do, if you happen to be a woman the Daily Mail will come for you, putting you back in your place and reminding you that you are, ultimately, no more than the sum of your anatomical parts. More than this its confirmation that reductive and sexist portrayals of women in power have not yet been consigned to history. 

More worrying still is the fact the Mail is one of the most circulated and widely read newspapers in the country. It both reflects and informs the attitudes of its many, many readers. That’s why its front page, with a sexist story, written by a woman, deliberately demeaning and undermining the most powerful women in the country matters. Young women will see this front page in the homes of their parents and grandparents, the message they will take from it is that women’s legs are more important than their brains. The feeling they will absorb is that how a woman looks is more important than what she says, even if it’s about the future of the United Kingdom. If she had been contemplating entering politics further down the line, she might now reconsider because, let’s face it, who wants to throw their physical appearance into the ring for such scrutiny, especially when men in power don’t suffer the same fate. 

The Daily Mail is toxic. But it’s sexism is reflected in the views of our society and that’s more worrying. Today the five most powerful people in the country are women:  The Queen, The Prime Minister, The First Minister of Scotland, the Home Secretary and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. And yet, headlines like this still make it out into the world. If Brexit is anything to go by, for all the progress we’ve seen on equality and diversity in the last half century, attitudes haven’t actually changed. 

By very large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave. Surely that’s all you need to know about the worldview, filtered and propagated by the Daily Mail, which is informing the future of our country. 

Ed Miliband rightly pointed out that the Mail’s headline belonged in the 1950s. But the point is that Brexit is a return to the 1950s in terms of world view. Rule Britannia, who cares how capable a woman is as long as she’s got a good pair of legs on her and does what ‘the people’ want her to do. Today's debacle is a microcosm of appearances and reality in terms of women in power and sexism. 

Don’t be fooled people, a woman's legs weren’t made for walking, they are only for gawking. We can mock it, be outraged and write reams and reams of critiques of this front page but, really, we should be very worried about what it says about our society at large. Because there are people who think this is acceptable and they think your outrage is hysterical. 

I’ll leave you with Mary Beard who recently summed this up perfectly in the London Review of Books: ‘I’m not sure that culturally we’ve got anywhere near subverting those foundational stories of power that serve to keep women out of it, and turning them to our own advantage, as Thatcher did with her handbag.’ Reducing the country’s most powerful women to their legs is, above all else, a reminder to all of us that when it comes to power, most people still don’t want women to have it and will go out of their way to belittle those who reach the highest levels of power in our democracy and reinforce gender stereotypes, even on one of the biggest news day in recent history.  A minority of women are making it to the top but what Leg-sit demonstrates is that society is still comfortable with that and unsure how to respond to them. 

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Why Is Fashion So Incompatible With Politics?

What Exactly Is The Point of The Victoria Secret Show?

We Really Need To Talk About Sexism Amongst Women

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt 


Tags: Sexism