How the Mail Online turned us into misogyny addicts

Ruth Whippman

Untitled 114 How the Mail Online turned us into misogyny addicts

The Mail Online, the more insistent, bitchier spawn of the Daily Mail, is now the most visited newspaper site in the world.  Its 45 million or so monthly visitors tune in for its unique mixture of human tragedy: “Pensioner watched in horror as husband choked to death on sample of free ham at Sainsbury’s deli counter,” and hope: “mollusc mucustouted to beat wrinkles.” But neither of these are the real draw.  The reason why Mail Online has been so spectacularly successful is because it has perfected a genius formula for peddling misogyny,  a formula as addictive as crack.

Unlike its net curtain-twitching parent paper, Mail Online is relatively light on the hectoring right wing politics.  Overall, its editorial strategy comes across as though before launching the online arm, a firm of management consultants were called into the Daily Mail offices:

“You’ve got a good core message – bigotry – but you’ve diversified too far. You’re trying to hate too many people.  Asylum seekers, gypsies, gays, Muslims, the disabled, single mothers. You need to focus more.  We recommend that you settle on one core group to victimise.  It can’t be ‘the gays’ because they had a gay character on the Archers so they must be ok now; Channel 4 did the whole gypsy-bashing thing better than you ever will; local councils aren’t spending any money on the disabled any more so you can’t keep pretending that readers’ taxes are being wasted on them, and people just don’t get fired up about racism in the way they used to.  So that leaves women.  Make misogyny your business strategy, and push it as hard as you can.”

Hence the plucky pets and microwaved babies are all just padding for Mail Online’s main event: the detailed daily inventory of celebrities’ physical attributes and shortcomings, collected in its lengthy signature sidebar, AKA “Femail”.

These stories, which almost exclusively feature women, fall into two basic categories:  Phwoar and Yuck.  In the former category the actresses and reality TV stars are usually doing one of two things:  ‘nearly falling out of itsy-bitsy bikinis’ or ‘pouring their curves’ into a variety of skimpy outfits (typing this odd piece of Mail-speak into their search engine, returns literally hundreds of entries.  On particularly frisky days, the poured curves become ‘ample’ ‘sizzling’ or even occasionally,‘pneumatic.’)  In these stories the women featured invariably look fantastic.  On viewing them, we as readers, invariably feel inadequate and fat.

If the ‘phwoar’ stories are the snake bite, the‘yuck’ stories are the antidote – a powerful shot of schadenfreude to rescue our self esteem after the pummelling it takes from the parade of perfect beach bodies. These stories generally feature the same group of starlets as in the previous category, but this time pictured at their worst. Framed with the disingenuous sisterly tone of ‘poor thing – we all know how horrible it is when we put on weight’ the stories are a vicious list of female failings:  fatness, spottiness, bad fake tans, hairy upper lip, botched plastic surgery, over skinniness, borderline mental illness and when they get really desperate, scruffy feet or claw-like toes. Ratcheting cruelty up a notch from its rivals, Mail Online normalises a level of vacuous bitchiness last seen, for most of us, in high school.

Untitled 115 234x300 How the Mail Online turned us into misogyny addictsIt’s this combination of phwoar and yuck that lies at the heart of Mail Online’s success, and it is this combination that creates the perfect storm of misogyny. On its own, neither would cut it, but together they fly. The perfect bikini bodies give us an unrealistic and misery-inducing expectation of how we ought to look.  Then, like an abusive husband who beats his wife and then buys her flowers from the Esso garage, the Mail then swoops in and exclusively reveals that the glamour pusses on the red carpets don’t really look like that after all, but are actually just as fat and spotty as the rest of us.  This business model, like a drug, creates a need and then provides the hit to counter it.  It’s a self-sustaining loop so powerful it means we are literally becoming addicted to misogyny.

Women have always been judged on their looks, but this type of routine nastiness being played out in the public domain is relatively new. Sexism a generation ago, although debilitating, was a courtly, gracious business. Mad Men’s Betty Draper may have been the bitter prisoner of her ironing board, but in her captivity she was afforded a little dignity. Today’s Betty would have had her shocking weight gain splashed across the sidebar of the Mail Online, complete with detailed upskirt shots of her cellulite. Women have made huge strides in the workplace and elsewhere, but the payoff has been a new kind of sexism that is ugly and vicious.

What makes all this more peculiar and harder to dislodge, is that this new nasty sexism is, to a large extent perpetrated by women. When I was in the sixth form there was a circulating urban myth that at certain parties, the boys would make the girls parade in front of them, giving each of them marks out of ten for their looks.  No one I had ever met had ever actually experienced this horror, but it made for a lot of lunch break speculation at my all-girls school. But strangely, none of us every really questioned the basic validity of the practice, or sought to crush this pipsqueak patriarchy. Instead we spent more time mulling over which girls in our class would get what scores. We didn’t need the boys to demean us – we did it perfectly well on our own.

A high proportion of the Mail’s staff are female, as is the majority of its readership. We as women are complicit in our own victimisation. The Mail sells us misogyny and we buy it. Wholesale.

Tagged in: , , ,
  • Charlotte Norton

    well obviously sexism is never “courtly” or “gracious”

  • Charlotte Norton

    she was “playing at” having a baby, which tends to have that effect. Jesus.

  • Charlotte Norton

    women are perfectly capable of self-hatred and internalised misogyny

  • jleicester

    I have on a couple of occasions. Nothing was done.

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter