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On the eve of the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, signing the Article 50 letter – triggering the UK’s exit from the European Union - she visited Scotland. She met with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Two powerful women, at the highest ranks of UK politics, making decisions which will change the course of our country’s history for generations to come.

It has the potential, regardless of the politics, to be pretty inspiring stuff.

However, before getting too carried away believing that women can reach the top and be taken seriously, the Daily Mail brought us hurtling back to earth.

Jillian Merchant“Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” screamed their headline on Tuesday, along with a picture of the Prime Minister and the First Minister at their meeting.

How utterly sexist and entirely depressing! Remind me again how many pictures we have seen of comparing pictures of male politicians’ legs?

It is bad enough that people find it acceptable to provide a running commentary on Theresa May’s shoes and Nicola Sturgeon’s dresses but commenting on their body parts is a new low.

The only message this sends out is that it doesn’t really matter what women do, what women say, how clever, intelligent and at the top of their game they are, as long as the “look good” – a subjective and demeaning concept based upon dangerous traditional and patriarchal norms – all is well with the world.

Theresa May’s reaction to the picture was also fairly depressing, laughing it off it as a “bit of fun”.  There is something very sad about the state of the world that this is how Britain’s second woman Prime Minister feels she has to react.

Such comments do nothing to help and support women who face sexism and discrimination on a daily basis. It does nothing to make it easier for the women who follow in her footsteps and it does nothing to call out the sexist nature of elements of the UK media for what it is.

Surely women in positions of responsibility want to make things better for those coming behind them? What better legacy to leave than that the path you have walked has become easier and more accessible for the next generation of women.

In thinking about this I am reminded of the comments of Julia Gillard, the first woman Prime Minister of Australia, who faced open hostility and misogyny during her time in the role, when she said that she was “confident” that her time in power, and by her challenging and raising the gender issues she faced would make it “easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that”.

Theresa May should take note.

Blog by Jillian Merchant, Employment Lawyer

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