British Prime Minister Theresa May must feel like she's been time traveling: This week she officially sent Britain back decades by kicking off Brexit just a day after her legs were judged on the cover of a major daily newspaper in what has become known as “Legs-it.”
The two are oddly connected, crappy pun aside. May was promoted from Home Secretary to PM after the Brexit referendum in June, and both Brexit and Legs-it are a manifestation of the same regressive social attitudes — and the power of tabloids such as The Daily Mail.
This week the Mail, one of Britain's inescapably powerful tabloid newspapers, devoted a cover to comparing May's legs with that of Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland.
“Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” the paper blared.
How did it come to this? Let's take a step back in our stilettos. In June, the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. The result in favor of divorce was framed by some as a populist revolt akin to that which elected Donald Trump in the U.S., and by others as old-fashioned xenophobia and outdated protectionist nationalism.
Fast forward to now: May has officially “triggered” Article 50, which is why there's suddenly a host of headlines about Brexit nine months on from the actual referendum. Article 50 is the divorce clause in the treaties that bind together the European Union, setting out the process by which a country can depart unilaterally. The referendum set Britain on the path to leave back in June, like a cheating partner caught in bed with someone else, while Article 50 is the filing of the actual divorce papers.
In reality, it just means May sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the EU, giving Britain two years to sort out the myriad changes to customs, immigration, and so much more that Brexit means. (Tusk's response was sweet: “What can I add to this? We already miss you.”)
Wednesday's Brexit-based political drama was nothing on Tuesday's Mail cover and the fallout from Legs-it, however. If Brexit is one sign Britain is stepping back decades in public policy, Legs-it is further proof that tabloids and the people who read them are stuck in the past.
Setting aside the fact Legs-it makes no sense as a pun, the cover and accompanying story naturally sparked cries of sexism — because it's all completely sexist. "There is no doubt that both these women consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal," reads the article by Sarah Vine, pointing out Sturgeon's "flirty" crossed legs and reminding us that May is a “vicar's daughter” (ooh!).
The article continues: “It’s a direct attempt at seduction: her [Sturgeon] stiletto is not quite dangling off her foot, but it could be. ‘Come, succumb to my revolutionary allure,’” she seems to be saying. ‘You know you want to.’” It's not clear who they're looking to entice and intimidate with the sections of their legs beneath their knees and their saucily subversive footwear. Each other? Mail readers? Tusk and the EU?
If Brexit is one sign Britain is stepping back decades in public policy, Legs-it is further proof that tabloids and the people who read them are stuck in the past.
The Mail said it was all just a bit of fun, just a bit of banter — a defense against sexism heard a million times before — and noted that the paper has previously mocked male politicians' looks, too. That latter point is true, though it's hard to imagine the article's author writing a piece suggesting attempted sexual intimidation via unclothed calves between Sturgeon and the other failed wannabe PMs, especially considering she's married to one of them, Michael Gove.
It's easy (and advisable) to disregard a paper of trolls such as Vine, who has previously compared feminists to Nazis and suggested binge drinking was a worse problem for women than men, but May's own response was also a let down given she's one of the most powerful women in the world. “If people want to have a bit of fun about how we dress then so be it,” she said after the cover ran.
May was originally against Brexit, but now that's officially on the way, the least she could do is push back on the other retrograde opinions pushed by the tabloids.