At least now we know. You can literally rule the country and still, if you’re a woman, be appraised as no more than the sum of your body parts.
Last Monday, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May and the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon sat down together to begin complex and vital talks about the relationship between Scotland, the rest of the UK and the EU after the triggering of Article 50. On Tuesday, the Daily Mail ran a front page headline, as the precursor to its main editorial coverage of the talks, that read “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” next to a photo of the two women who… I dunno. Had legs. In tights. Visible from the knee down because they were sitting in skirts. You know. Human legs. The legs they probably used to walk to the talk and to the seats they were sitting in. Those legs.
Social media erupted with objections and even senior MPs – male and female and of varying political stripes – were moved to comment on such an extraordinarily sexist front page. What followed was an object lesson for all of us in how sexism works…
Scenario: X oversteps boundaries/misjudges audience and goes too far with its crap. X may be a national newspaper, a TV presenter, a comedian, a boss, a creepy uncle or any one of a thousand other options. Add/delete as needful.
Response tactic: X tries to wheedle out of it, often by throwing another woman under the bus. Here, the paper did this by changing the description under the headline and picture on its second edition to “Sarah Vine’s lighthearted verdict on the showdown”. Subtext: This woman didn’t mind it! Neither should you!
Scenario: The backtracking doesn’t work.
Response tactic: X comes out swinging. The Mail used two of the most common defences among people who have no argument to offer. It issued a statement that literally began with the words, “For goodness sake, get a life!” and accused its critics of having no sense of humour. These are both responses designed to do nothing more than shut down debate. “Get a life!” is a playground attempt at humiliation (it’s the British equivalent of Trump’s “Sad!”) and accusations of humourlessness are an automatic response by anyone accused of even the most blatantly offensive comments or actions, used to try and nullify both feelings and facts. Remember when you hear them it is because your X has nothing substantive to use in his defence. So keep going. The Daily Mail’s critics did.
Scenario: One of the parties involved claims she is not bothered by what has happened. In this case, Theresa May told another newspaper, “If people want to have a bit of fun about how we dress, then so be it.”
Response tactic: Assume said party has other interests to protect. Here, it’s May’s political ones. The Mail, Britain’s bestselling paper, backed her candidacy for Tory party leadership and remains a vital buttress to her role as Prime Minister. What price a little objectification against the possible withdrawal of that kind of support? It doesn’t mean others can’t still object – the ramifications of what an X does always go beyond the individual. And those likely to be affected – as we all are by egregious examples of unchecked sexism – are entitled to be heard.
Scenario: You are a lady and you have legs.
Response tactic: Use them to kick ass.