Women in the public sphere are often told to expect criticism for their appearance. After all, they’ve chosen a career in the limelight. But should this mind-set be applied to our female leaders?
The concept behind ‘Legs-it’ isn’t new. Making judgements about a politician’s abilities based on their dress sense has been around for some time. Some Twitter users even joked that they had woken up in 1950.
We need only look back to last year’s US President campaigns. A handful of American media outlets kept a keen eye on what Hillary Clinton wore during public appearances. This isn’t to say they never focussed on her political agenda, but there’s something so demeaning about judging how a female politician dresses; it’s almost an attempt to detract from their political prowess.
But why should it be that politics is trivialised down to a fashion show? Sarah Vine, the brains behind the Mail’s article, doesn’t just comment on their dress sense, but also makes references to their sexuality. The Daily Mail, who supported Theresa May’s bid for Prime Minister last year, have very few negative comments to make about the PM. But this differs for Nicola Sturgeon. May is described as being demure, and showing herself to truly be a ‘vicar’s daughter’. Sturgeon is the Scottish temptress, “…with the dominant leg pointing towards her audience. It’s a direct attempt at seduction…”
Occasionally, news outlets make the same sort of judgements about a male politician. Take the mocking of Jeremy Corbyn’s socks and sandals combo and the shock around David Cameron’s ‘beach bod’ four years ago. Across the pond, Donald Trump’s hair, hands and orange complexion are the media’s favourites to mock. A mock-up Daily Mail front page on Legs-it has even been produced, but using male politicians as their victims instead.
Making fun of our politicians is to be expected. Sometimes it helps to lighten the tone of a usually dark and upsetting news day. But, in this case, no one is helped.
The aim of this article should have been to make a reader think more about what is at stake should Scotland leave the UK?
President of Southampton Solent’s Feminist Society, Em Houghton, told me she was shocked at the lack of respect for the two leaders and how the article disregarded their credentials and focused on sexualising them more:
“I think “Legs-it” was ridiculous, it wasn’t even funny (if that was what they were trying to achieve). It really did look as though media had been transported to sixty years ago.”
None of the women I have spoken to have felt engaged politically. The aim of this article should have been to make a reader think more about what is at stake, should Scotland leave the UK? But no. It begs the question, who spent more on their outfit to meet the other? So you know, it was Theresa May!
In this day and age, articles and publications which still have their heads in the 1950s have no place in modern journalism. Although the Daily Mail is well known for its occasionally outrageous content, this article has just shown me, along with others, that there is a serious lack of basic respect for our politicians. We don’t have to like Theresa May, but to bring politics down to appearances, seems to me to be on the verge of unacceptable.