Samantha Brick And the Daily Mail Woman

The Daily Mail woman is always in the male gaze. This is what Samantha Brick has found, or perhaps it is what she already knew. Insidiously, but hugely successfully, the newspaper sells itself to the demographic it despises most -- women. Its misogyny is in no way hidden -- semi-naked women are displayed across all its pages, labeled too fat, too thin, too old for the outfit, or, outrageously, too young. In the Daily Mail women seduce "innocent" men, often for money, abuse their children and invite appalling violence to be perpetrated against them.

The Daily Mail woman is having trouble 'shifting that baby weight' or she is 'barely containing her curves,' depending on whether her 'excess' flesh is deemed repulsive or sexy. Pippa Middleton (sister of Kate) is in possession of what the Mail refers to as 'THAT derriere,' while older women are told to 'put it away.' Women in the Daily Mail are valued as mothers (though they are rarely good enough) and sometimes as loyal wives, but they are judged mainly on age-appropriate physical presentation, and their age is always given at the top of the copy.

As so brilliantly presented by the case of Samantha Brick, the other given about women, as far as the Mail is concerned, is that they hate and envy each other. The paper likes nothing better than what it calls a "cat fight." It is not difficult to hear the male-gaze titillation in the vocabulary -- cat fight, derriere, barely contained curves and their favourite phrase "cry rape." This refers to a woman (an abhorrent one, of course) who falsely accuses an innocent man of rape. In describing the rape, abuse and denigration of women the paper slavers over the vilest details of the court cases in question.

Well, there is hatred everywhere and nobody is making women read this stuff, you might say. Yet, they do. By the millions. The Mail is one of the few remaining British newspapers doing so well that it can afford to pay its journalists half-decently. We are all clamouring to work for them. I myself have hopelessly pitched hundreds of pieces to the Mail, desperate for the money and the exposure that freelance journalists and novelists so badly need. They want confessional drivel? Please let me write some! I Have Botox, I Drink Too Much, My Marriage is Rocky, My Dad is Dead and I am Sad, I Used to Be Promiscuous. I have near-shamelessly written most of these pieces for them and happily taken the cash. I deal with the editing process -- lots of questions peppering the copy in capitals, asking things like, WHAT DOES YOUR HUSBAND THINK OF THIS? -- and I quite enjoy the hilarity of being photographed by them. The paper does not feature women in trousers, so they send round a rack of really strange red, purple and pink off-the-shoulder dresses to choose from. Nobody looks good in them. I noticed that Samantha Brick (though in jeans in her family pics) opted for the lurid purple, or, more likely, it was chosen for her.

Women assign a lot of the paper's stories, women edit the copy, women style the other women, and every single woman I've ever spoken to on the Mail agrees the whole thing is absurd. They apologize for the questions they "have to ask" in order to make the copy read Mail-ish, they laugh at the hideous dresses they bring around, and they are embarrassed to say they work there when confronted at a dinner party. I have had messages from so many famous female journalists saying they hate every word they write for the Mail, but they've got a book coming out, so ...

Everyone obeys the surreal house style rules, which result in whole opinionated sentences and strange words and phrases being written into the first-person copy you submit -- things like "penned," "take a tumble," "jetting off," "stepping out," "channelling such and such a look," "makeup-free," "barely there," and their all time favourite "THAT dress/hair/derriere." The rules were set, originally, by editor Paul Dacre and are upheld by the senior men who are in charge of making sure the paper makes a killing in advertising. They all need their jobs and have become used to the culture. Almost none of them would be a Mail reader if they didn't produce it every day. That is why the whole thing feels so patronizing -- because it is. A former employee told me that to get a feature into the paper you have to assure the editors that the female subject is photogenic.

I don't believe that many of the women working at the Mail hate other women, even though the paper, with cruel glee, posted a photograph of the ordinarily pretty and not professionally styled Samantha Brick next to Angelina Jolie, styled to appear at the Oscars. I don't believe the women writing for the Mail hate other women, and I certainly don't believe that the women who read the Mail hate other women. So why do we put up with this lurid misogyny?

I think it is because the Mail confirms our worst fears and therefore seems like news. News is our worst fears confirmed-- crime, earthquake, flood, explosion, war, famine. The Daily Mail is able to present misogyny as news because it appears to confirm our worst fears -- people are judging me solely on my appearance and see me purely as an object of potential sexual violence. I am not seen as human. And it must be true because I read it in the Daily Mail.

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