On Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams’s Arya Stark often comes up against grown men who are dumb enough to underestimate a teenage girl. In real life, the 19-year-old actress is similarly taking on sexism, objectification, and downright stupidity in the overwhelmingly misogynistic entertainment industry.
Williams’s latest target is the Daily Mail, a publication with a dirty history of exclusively covering women from the neck down. In a headline that’s unfortunately indicative of their overall journalistic ethos, the plagiarism-happy rag titled an article, “Unveiled: Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams goes braless in sheer lace dress and quirky headpiece at charity masquerade ball.” Williams, who was in fact lending her celebrity to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, countered with a suggested re-write: “Game of Thrones actor, Maisie Williams, helps raise thousands at a Summer Masquerade Ball for @NSPCC,” she tweeted, complete with an emoji sequence implying that the teenager was sipping a good deal of tea.
From Rose McGowan’s revelation that a push-up bra can be considered a professional prerequisite, to Kate Beckinsale’s recollections of a litany of sexist comments made by Michael Bay, instances of unchecked objectification are alarmingly quotidian. In fact, between a gendered wage gap, on set sexism, and off set manipulation and abuse, it’s hard to pinpoint the worst part of being a woman in Hollywood. Daily Mail’s approach to covering female celebrities might by symptomatic, but it’s still inexcusable. No woman, no matter how intelligent or accomplished, is immune to the British tabloid’s reductionist regimen.
The foul reporting begins, as Williams correctly pointed out, at the clickbait headlines. For female subjects, this Daily Mail treatment consists of totally sidestepping whatever issue or event is at hand, preferring to lure readers in by focusing on outfits and other superficialities.
One of the publication’s favorite victims is Megyn Kelly.
In between bouts of annoying Donald Trump whilst on her period, the Fox News correspondent has managed to incur the simultaneous ire of the Daily Mail. There’s no excuse for the frequency at which they reduce Kelly, a professional journalist, to her personal life or the price of her wardrobe. Daily Mail’s typical Megyn Kelly article is so formulaic a monkey could write it (or, more likely, a very disillusioned intern). A recent headline read, “Megan Kelly sizzles at pre-Kentucky Derby party in a $1600 designer mini dress and $900 gold stilettos.” That isn’t just an article that no one would ever write about a man—it’s also an article that no sentient human being should ever be forced to read.
Last April, Kelly spoke with Katie Couric on stage at the Women in the World Summit. Obviously, the prospect of dismissively reporting on two female journalists was too tantalizing for one man—specifically, the Daily Mail’s Chris Spargo—to resist. The subsequent headline, “We have to worry about our souls: Megyn Kelly accuses the media of putting its ‘thumb on the scale’ for Trump as she dons keyhole dress and $1200 stilettos for Katie Couric interview” is an iconic example of how a jumble of sentence fragments can be both unintelligible and offensive. Instead of actually reporting, this title chooses to bury the lede under a pile of pointless price tags and a “keyhole dress.” A serious political discussion is unnecessarily feminized, implying that women’s stories need to be cloaked in clothes chitchat in order to garner significant traffic. Of course, two journalists talking in skirts shouldn’t automatically make this a “woman’s story,” and reducing the main players to whether or not they’re wearing Louboutins patronizes Kelly, Couric, and the intelligence of the hypothetical reader—because seriously, who’s reading this crap anyway.
Other “I can’t believe this isn’t an Onion article”-level attempts at Megyn Kelly reportage include an entire article on what Twitter trolls were saying about her “fake” eyelashes during a Republican debate. That’s right: a woman grilled potential presidential candidates on a national stage, and the Daily Mail chose to hide behind the sexist, anonymous taunts of basement dwellers and amateur cosmetologists. Equally frivolous, but arguably more insidious, was the Daily Mail’s attempt to dig up dirt through an exclusive interview with Kelly’s ex-husband. For all their obsessive coverage, it seems the only things they refuse to report on are Kelly’s actual accomplishments and credentials.
A great litmus test of any publication’s coverage is their approach to one of the world’s most polarizing women: presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Clinton, with her bright pantsuits and insistence on having both a vagina and a political agenda, has long been a magnet for sexist reporting. In her efforts to become the first female president of the United States, Clinton has occupied a singular role in the nation’s imagination. The Daily Mail has done justice to the complexity and depth of the former Secretary of State’s story with such headlines as, “Pretty as a picnic... table! Hillary Clinton dons bizarre pink gingham outfit for a meeting at Home Of Chicken And Waffles in Oakland” and “Hillary wears glasses on campaign trail for first time at late-night event in Las Vegas.” Whether Clinton’s talking about wealth inequality or Benghazi, the Daily Mail is sure to be on the scene, ignoring her remarks in favor of pic-stitching together shots of the politician in unflattering eyewear.
But don’t worry—you don’t have to be the most famous female politician in America to be objectified by the awful Daily Mail. In fact, the bar for having a gross article written about you in the conservative British publication is as low as having boobs.
An online Daily Mail search for cleavage yields over 14,000 results, featuring recurring terms like “ample cleavage,” “ample assets,” and “VERY ample assets.” It’s hard to say what editors should start scanning for first: obvious sexism or bad writing.
On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss the Daily Mail as an outdated, easily-mocked outlet catering to a niche audience of pervy old men and people with a “skimpy bikini” Google alert. But giving them a free pass ignores how pervasive sexism poisons readers and reduces subjects, relegating girls and women to an eternally punitive feedback loop. This brand of objectification has very real consequences. Take Modern Family star Ariel Winter, who the Daily Mail gleefully reports, “took to Instagram on Sunday to share a few snaps of herself scantily-clad,” insisting that “she proudly flaunted her cleavage and legs.”
This entire article about an 18-year-old girl’s body on social media is yucky enough without context. Now consider the fact that Winter got a breast reduction last year, citing the media’s objectification of her pubescent bod. At the time, Winter explained, “Every article that has to do with me on a red carpet had to do with Ariel Winter’s Crazy Cleavage!’ or ‘Ariel Winter Shows Huge Boobs at an Event!’ That’s all people would recognize me by—not, ‘Oh, she does great work on Modern Family.’” Fed up with full-body paparazzi photos and whole articles dedicated to her growing cleavage, Winter preferred going under the knife to even more oversexualized scrutiny. Instead of writing exclusively about Winter’s physique, insisting that “most of the attention was on Ariel Winter,” the Daily Mail might consider reckoning with the implications of all of that media-manufactured attention.
Of course, expecting feminist content from a Piers Morgan-approved publication is like expecting Hispanic voters to turn out for Donald Trump.
Morgan, who took on the position of editor-at-large at the Daily Mail back in 2014, has a history of making comments as sexist as they are stupid. Highlights include misgendering Janet Mock, slut-shaming Susan Sarandon for “flashing her breasts”—aka showing cleavage—at an awards show, and calling Nicki Minaj a “stroppy piece of work.” If there’s one thing Piers Morgan hates—aside from the Black Lives Matter movement—it’s women and their no good, very bad sexuality.
When Kim Kardashian posted a nude selfie, Morgan tweeted back: “Want me to buy you some clothes?” It’s almost as if Morgan runs the Daily Mail’s Twitter account himself… how else can we explain a recent tweet that literally read, “Who cares what she’s talking about, look how AMAZING Jennifer Lawrence looks!” Suffice to say, the Daily Mail has become a true reflection of America’s second most offensive white dude. If you’re still unconvinced, the Daily Mail Online’s “Femail” section offers an encapsulation of Morgan’s sexist, limited vision, featuring such vast and varied sub-categories as “Beauty,” “Gardening,” and “Baby Blog.” And while Piers Morgan and his subpar tabloid might live in a world where E! is always playing on mute and people actually want to read articles about how “Women who want to succeed at work should shut up,” the rest of us shouldn’t have to.