What the Daily Mail means when it talks about May and Sturgeon’s ‘pins’

The language used in the newspaper’s coverage of the two most powerful politicians in the UK is a by-numbers attempt to reduce women to objects

Just for the avoidance of doubt, those things that Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon both share, the “finest weapons in their physical arsenal”, as the Daily Mail’s Sarah Vine called them in a column on yesterday’s meeting between the two women, they are just legs. Millions, even most, women have them. They are not a “vast expanse”; that’s just how big legs are. If you want smaller limbs, try arms.

Nor are they “extremities”, which, the last time I checked, were toes (of course, it is possible to cross or otherwise manipulate those in a flirtatious or dominant fashion, but, you know, shoes get in the way). What the Mail seemed to be objecting to, or analysing, or merely just noting in passing (in gigantic letters, as a front-page splash!) was that these two women had legs.

How the Daily Mail presented the story.
How the Daily Mail presented the story. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

The meeting presented a new low for the newspaper, its perpetually disappointed proprietor and its lickspittle columnist: as if it weren’t bad enough that women held high office and didn’t have the grace to think the same about things, they were also each in possession of not one but two legs. Who knows where this will end? Walking. Dancing. The mind boggles.

Vine’s pollution of the culture – the triviality, the 50s prurience, the sheer nonsense – is relentless. The meeting at which it could possibly be relevant whether or not May had red nails, or Sturgeon had eyes like chocolate buttons, is impossible to imagine. The attempts at a visual analysis of what it all means – that May has her legs together while Sturgeon’s are crossed – it’s like watching a cow try to analyse a marshmallow, an insentient creature gazing endlessly at a meaningless object.

Yet there is, underneath all that flam, intention in here somewhere: “pins”, “shapely shanks”, “tantalising” poses: all this is language we would associate with enviable curves draped in jealous-making dresses. It is a by-numbers catechism to remind us that women, for all their irritating achievements, are still, in the end, mostly objects, redeemable when they are pretty ones.

But the curves never arrive: instead, Vine’s piece crescendoes on a clear message: Scots “have a simple choice – on the one hand the reliable, measured, considerate and cautious politics of Mrs May … on the other a wild, dangerous leap into the unknown”.

This nonsense on stilts has a purpose: they can say what they like, these women, but in the end, they are still women. Let their legs do the talking.

Good god, I miss the things in the Mail we used to complain about, before it showed its fangs.


Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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