It’s the reaction to ‘Legs-it’ that is really sexist

The Daily Mail has been reported to the UK press regulator for publishing a picture of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon in short-ish skirts with the headline: ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!’

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, grassed the paper up to IPSO for ‘breaking the editors’ code and treating women with contempt’. Loads of MPs have damned the paper for its alleged sexism. ‘This sexism must be consigned to history’, tweeted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ‘Moronic! And we are in 2017!’, huffed Labour MP Harriet Harman. May, meanwhile, has said she ‘doesn’t mind’ the front page and thinks it is ‘a bit of fun’.

Surely none of the fuming politicians really believes the Mail’s headline is sexist? A child could see that the Mail’s front page isn’t any kind of political statement or comment on the worth of women — it’s an attempt to grab people’s attention, and it worked. Those frothing at the mouth are giving the Mail everything it wanted: coverage.

Women should ask what is really going on here. Because if it’s pretty clear that the Mail is not being serious and doesn’t actually think that a female politician’s legs are the most important thing about her, then why is there such a shrill outcry? It’s because anti-sexism witch-hunts are morally very profitable for the political class. Coming out against alleged sexism wins MPs instant brownie points. It’s virtue-signalling, an easy way to show you are ‘the right kind of person’. The idea that this has anything to do with defending women’s equality or freedom is ludicrous. In fact, the whole thing is pretty illiberal, as demonstrated by the censure-seeking complaints to IPSO.

The reaction to ‘Legs-it’ is far more prejudiced than the Legs-it image itself. One hysterical columnist says the headline confirms that Brexiteers ‘want to turn this country into the drunk man at closing time, stumbling around yelling obscenities at everyone, leering at women and shouting racist abuse’ – a nice reminder that the media elite views Brexit voters as white trash, in essence, doing and saying disgusting things.

It is the political class that has the low view of women. They clearly think that women cannot handle questionable front pages or crass puns or bad jokes without crumbling, and being put off public life. Normal women, who aren’t looking for Twitter followers or column inches, don’t care about this headline. We’ll ignore it, thanks, and get on with our lives — better than listening to outraged middle-class journalists telling us how we ought to feel about things.

Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. Follow her on Twitter: @Ella_M_Whelan

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