“It wasn’t quite stilettos at dawn,” read the Daily Mail’s front-page tease, alongside a photograph of British Prime Minister Theresa May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Not that shoes had anything to do with it, given that the photo was taken at a meeting between the two leaders to discuss Britain’s strategy for leaving the European Union and how that might affect the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
But for the Mail, these weighty matters were of far less concern than how the two leaders looked. “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” shouted the headline on the British tabloid’s print edition.
The headline drew fury from politicians and commentators, angry that the paper was — not for the first time — objectifying women to boost sales.
“It’s 2017. Two women’s decisions will determine if United Kingdom continues to exist,” tweeted Yvette Cooper, a prominent MP in the opposition Labour Party. “And front page news is their lower limbs. Obviously.”
Harriet Harman, a former deputy leader of the Labour Party, called it “moronic.”
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn also took a dim view of the Mail’s headline choice, saying that such sexism “must be consigned to history.”
The Mail has not responded to a CNN request for comment about the headline, which also drew criticism from prominent journalists in the UK.
Alan Rusbridger, the veteran former editor-in-chief of the left-leading Guardian newspaper, highlighted the ridiculousness of judging leaders on their physical attributes by tweeting “Nice pins” above a famous picture of wartime leaders Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta conference in 1945.
Cathy Newman, a news anchor for the Channel 4 network, wrote: “Two powerful female leaders, and this is the headline?!?!”
Other social media users were more acerbic. “Hello, Daily Mail? 1972 called. They want their casually sexist & demeaning front page headline back,” said one Twitter user.
Another drew comparisons between the tabloid media’s approach to women and last year’s presidential campaign, in which Hillary Clinton struggled against sexist tropes in her failed White House bid.
“Ignoring an actual story in an attempt to demean & humiliate successful women..dated, unimaginative & so, so boring,” tweeted a user identified as Chloe Wood.
The paper’s Scottish edition used a different headline: “Oh so frosty! Secrets of Nicola and PM’s talk-in.”
May and Sturgeon were meeting ahead of the UK government’s plans to trigger Article 50 on Wednesday, the formal announcement of a separation from the EU.
Sturgeon, Scotland’s leader, has complained that plans to activate the clause have gone ahead without consultation with the Scottish Parliament, or the other constituent governments of the UK.
Lawmakers in the capital Edinburgh are set to vote Tuesday on proposals for a new Scottish referendum. Sturgeon has made plain her view that Britain is heading for a “bad deal” on Brexit. In the June vote, 62% of Scots voted against leaving the EU.
The Daily Mail strongly supported Brexit in the run-up to last June’s referendum, when 52% voted to leave the EU.
The British tabloid press has a long history of female objectification.
Perhaps the most obvious example is the Sun’s Page 3 — a daily feature of topless models launched 1970 by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. It was dropped in 2015.
The Daily Mail is one of the UK’s most commercially successful tabloids, and its website — churning out upwards of 1,600 stories a day — is the most-read online newspaper in the world.
A prominent feature of its hugely successful Mail Online portal is what is colloquially known as the “sidebar of shame,” — a lascivious rundown of short pieces, heavily illustrated with photographs. It usually features celebrity news, focusing on women and their bodies through stories about diets and bikini choices.