This morning’s “legs-it” headline is shocking and has, quite rightly, caused a wave of condemnation from every sphere of the UK. The throw-back to 1950’s everyday sexism has shocked even the most ardent Daily Mail detractors with the first edition seemingly unabashed by its adherent headline, and the second edition trying to soften the blow by saying it was columnist Sarah Vine’s “light-hearted verdict on the big showdown”.
In the minutes and hours since it hit our newsstands a lot has been written about how this is an objectification of women; how demeaning it is and how two of the, arguably, most powerful women in the UK have been reduced to shallow comments about their bodies detracting from the extremely important constitutional debate they were discussing.
The centuries-old tradition of British journalism is to distinguish ‘fact’ from ‘opinion’, to investigate and analyse as cornerstone of our democratic society. Whilst there is a tacit understanding from the public that certain papers reflect differing political views, the expectation is still that the news is reported. The Daily Mail seems to have completely forgotten this, devoting two whole pages to writing about how the two leaders looked rather than what was discussed.
Perpetuating the myth that a female’s self-worth is based on her looks and the continual sexualisation of women is something the media has been striving to address, however it seems every couple of steps forward is matched by a step backwards.
So what fuels the Mail to run a headline like this? Is it an alpha-male fear that there are now more and more women in positions of power and are taking decisions which will impact all of us? I doubt it.
What motivates Sarah Vine to opine on other women in this way? Woman are frequently reminded of the damage done by passing judgement on their fellow females. Does she genuinely believe it or is it just a case of self-publicity for the Vine / Gove household? She’s been on record saying “that you shouldn’t judge people by their clothes, or where they live, but by who they really are” surely this should also apply to judging people by their bodies.
As much as we might all be disgusted by the views pushed in the Mail, it can’t be denied that there are some intelligent people working there, the proprietors of one of the UK’s biggest newspapers didn’t send it out last night without realising there would be a backlash. Could this all be a cynical marketing stunt? In an era where traditional media consumption is falling, the motivation to drive publicity is immense. More people are talking about the Daily Mail today than they were last week, it has been discussed relentlessly on TV, the radio, other newspaper websites, on Twitter and elsewhere. The ‘Daily Mail’ brand is being amplified and its controversial reputation is being promoted nationally.
With the old traditions of journalism at risk, the rise of extremist views and provocation for the sake of clicks, is the media on the dawn of an even more perilous time than we anticipated?