What The Daily Mail’s headline really reveals about lingering sexism within the media
By Phoebe Lundy
‘Never mind the future of our country within the global community, let’s look at the limbs of these women!’ Cue a nation of sighs and groans as sexism in the media is laid bare on the front of a national tabloid, The Daily Mail. Infamous for its absurd focus on the body parts and fashion statements of powerful and influential individuals, The Daily Mail yet again faced backlash this last week for the headline ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!’ This was in reference to the seminal meeting between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, the Prime Minister and First Minister of Scotland respectively. A crass dismissal of the importance of this discourse between two senior political leaders in favour of starting a senseless debate about whose lower limbs are arbitrarily ‘better,’ signals the astounding resonance of sexism that still pervades our progressive society.
In light of the criticism, The Daily Mail responded that everyone should recognise the article as a joke, telling critics rather offensively to ‘get a life.’ Even May commented it was only ‘a bit of fun.’ It was, after all, a jovial stance on the meeting of two women. Yet this does not appreciate the ongoing issues of institutional sexism facing women wishing either to enter politics or to rise to the top of a corporation, let alone become leaders of influential nations with global powers and with a nuclear deterrent at the press of their supposedly manicured fingertips.
The two women were reduced to body parts next to a smiling, static and silent photograph of themselves, exemplifying a toxic aspect in our culture; women are subconsciously still perceived through a leering page-3 appreciation of the human form. Rather than highlighting the political content of which the leaders discussed, their gendered status as women of only physical significance was deemed more important for the headline. Although May disappointingly implied that this scrutiny is part of the job description and merely some fun, if the media categorises arguably the two most powerful people in the UK simply as body parts, one must consider the implications for women, or any classification, that do not fit a patriarchal heteronormative standard.
The influence of the media is astounding, and for this reason, the freedom of expression in a publication such as The Daily Mail is not to be underestimated. It either can be a means of promoting an egalitarian view for society, or can signal the regression of the feminist project. Although The Daily Mail might not by any means be considered the bastion of journalistic integrity, it still can boast a circulation of roughly 1.5 million. In light of this, it is an alarming fact that the senior editors of immense responsibility chose a sexist headline to front a ‘paper packed with important news analysis’ (as a spokesman commented) as tradition dictates that the front page holds the most pressing and poignant news, hence implying that two women’s legs are of greater significance than the future of our nation.
This is, admittedly, facetious. Yet as The Daily Mail continues to focus on the fashion choices and appearances of women (the infamous 2014 “Downing Street catwalk” still evokes a shudder), the trickle-down effect on the public perception of women suggests that the sexes are not yet equally perceived. What might be mere ‘fun’ for editors and highly educated journalists, simply serves to encourage a general sexist attitude. It is this lack of discernment that reveals the true issue at hand; the propagation of sexist views throughout British culture. In a nation that prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, this blatantly unequal view of women is unacceptable.
Surely the editors, with university degrees and female colleagues, would have recognised the abhorrent sexism splashed in bold font across the front page? Surely they understood the implications of proliferating such views within our progressive society? Surely they would have burnt the first print run before anyone could see what an embarrassment they had allowed to happen?
Apparently not, and that is what is both frustrating and terrifying about the status of feminism in our society. To those who are meant to act as spokespeople for our generation; it is merely ‘a bit of a joke.’
Photograph: First Minister of Scotland via Flickr