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Why The Sexist Daily Mail Front Page Is A Victory For Women

Because sometimes it's all about the small victories.

The so-called “Legs-it” scandal has been keeping social media alive for the past two days – and I have been loving it.

In case you missed it, the scandal was over the tabloid treatment of the meeting between British Prime Minister, Theresa May and the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon who were discussing Scotland’s role in Brexit. The UK newspaper, the Daily Mail, chose to cover the historic occasion by running a front page picture focusing on the women leaders’ legs, with the headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-It!”

Not surprisingly, the piece attracted instant criticism – writers branded the tabloid “sexist’” and “moronic” and tweets were posted encouraging readers to #ripitup (which must have confused a generation of readers who thought the Daily Mail only existed online). By the next morning the entire rollcall of usual suspects – journalists, columnists, trolls, feminists, shockjocks, editors, bloggers – were waiting with bated breath for the response from the two women at the heart of the scandal.

I loved Theresa May’s response. The Prime Minister – a dedicated lover of fashion who has been stalked by the press for years for her shoewear of choice – has runs on the board when it comes to handling being unfairly judged on her appearance.

“You will notice that I am wearing trousers today!” Theresa May said lightly of her outfit – before launching into her first public comments on Legs-it. “As a woman in politics throughout my whole career I have found that very often, what I wear – particularly my shoes – has been an issue that has been looked at rather closely by people.

“Obviously what we do as politicians is what makes a difference to people’s lives. But if people want to have a bit of fun about how we dress, then so be it.”

May’s flippant response was pure class.

But there will be some who will be outraged that May didn’t seize the opportunity to use her unique platform to stand up for her sisters everywhere – to use the outrageous front page as a reason to lambast tabloid media for their sexist portrayal of women.

They probably would have preferred Nicola Sturgeon’s response, which accused the tabloid of going backwards: “It is slightly surprising that when the first minister of Scotland and the prime minister of the UK meet to discuss the key issues of the UK’s departure from the EU and giving the people of Scotland a choice over their future that the main focus should be on their legs and what they are wearing,” a spokesman said.

The Sturgeon response was also pure class.

Yep women can react to the same situation differently. Scary, but true.

And that is what I love most about the wash-up of this entire story. I love the fact that both women responded differently, and that the world didn’t fall apart. Is this a little indicator that there is finally enough space in the world to accept that women in public life can have more than one opinion on any topic? That women can act outside cultural norms and that’s OK? That women can be both flippant/light and angry/critical (often on the same day)? That we, by the sheer fact more of us are in positions of power, can no longer be all lumped together as a weird minority?

There are other aspects of this “scandal” that I love too: I love the fact that the outrage over the headline came from both sexes – and not just “hysterical women”. I love the fact that no-one accepted the Daily Mail’s lame response to the backlash telling critics to “Get A life’”. The “get a sense of humour” line no longer works. Anywhere.

I know the world is not perfect when publications still can’t take women’s contributions seriously, and only view success through the lens of physical appearance. But amongst other things, the universal backlash to the tabloid’s outdated judgment call, buoyed my spirits.

I’m taking the small victories and I’m calling it: Legs-it was a victory for women.

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