The Mail's 'Legs-it' headline is disturbing, but are we doing that much better in the Church?

While the UK hovers on the brink of the most significant political change in decades, we can thank the Daily Mail for giving us something to smile about on our dreary morning commutes. Yesterday's snappy 'Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!' headline complete with a photo of our Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister meeting to discuss the future of our nation certainly will have tickled many.

Those leggy ladies in their neat suits, Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, smiling at the camera: if they weren't 'flirting' with each other, they certainly were with us, the British public. Honestly, they should know better to put their 'pins' (remember we do live in the Victorian era) so defiantly on display. Didn't they know they were asking for trouble? They should be bothering with the business of Brexit rather than showing off their sheer tights (it's that tricky Winter/Spring crossover season) to the world's press. Tut, tut girls.

The Mail has since urged those who have criticised their intentionally provocative headline, telling them to 'get a life'. Even May herself, disappointingly, doesn't seem too bothered by this 'bit of fun about how we dress'.

But we should be deeply concerned by the subtle and quite frankly not-so-subtle messages underlying yesterday's lead story.

Reducing any woman alone to what she looks like and chooses to wear is reductionist and misogynistic, let alone two of the most powerful women in the country. To compare the women against each other by drawing the audience's eyes to their legs rather than their politics, intelligence or character is absurd. It dangerously plays into a deep anxiety many women hold: that no matter how much we achieve in our lives, no matter how far we reach, we will be ultimately judged on what we look like, even if we become Prime Minister.

The Mail defended its position by stating that it has also criticised 'Cameron's waistline, Osborne's hair, Corbyn's clothes – and even Boris's legs'; ie we don't just gawp at women's bodies but men's too. The distinction however is the sexual overtones of the Mail's piece indicating that the positioning of Sturgeon's legs were 'a direct attempt at seduction', whereas you get the idea that looking at men's bodies is just a bit amusing. Women however are to be viewed through the lens of sex; the underlying message is clear, essentially women are here for sex, not politics.

This is a dull, archaic and unbiblical stance. Women have been objectified for centuries; their bodies displayed in public as visual indicators of their availability to men. We still see it every day on our screens, in advertising and virtually every Hollywood film. While men are not excluded from the pressure to look good, it is women who have suffered most consistently from being viewed through this lens and we'd be ignorant to think otherwise.

The fightback against this kind of rhetoric must come from both sexes. It isn't a battle for women to fight alone; in fact the pervasive nature of the issue means it affects and demeans us all.

As Christians, we are called to subvert this patriarchal narrative. God made men and women in his image, equally full of potential and worth. God's intimate relationship to his creation affirms time and time again: we are more than bodies.

With many feeling Brexit is throwing us back into the 1970s, the Mail among other news outlets seems to think that 'taking back control of our country' means we can return to the days of sexist jokes, page three nudity and the general sense that men are here for work and important things, while women's place on earth is in the kitchen and the bedroom. We might be leaving the EU, but that doesn't mean we have to leave behind the progress of women's rights from the last 40 years.

In the Church, we have an opportunity to do things differently. And yet some of these same issues creep in, often subconsciously. The expression might not be as brazen as the Mail's headline, but that doesn't make the impact any less destructive. The hidden, unspoken nature of it might indeed cut deeper.

Are women often left in roles below their capability? Do we frequently find men up at the front and women consigned to the kitchen, serving tea and coffee? Are men and women equally represented in leadership and speaking roles? If not, why not? What might be the deep-seated views we hold which however unspoken, still restrict the potential of women? Does looking and sounding a particular way give you more opportunity to lead?

If we're honest, can we truly say that men and women in our churches are viewed in exactly the same way?

In Romans 12 it says: 'Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.' We're right to speak out against the overt sexism of the Mail's front page but we ourselves are not exempt from creating this kind of culture and expectation on gender roles. It's only through acknowledging our own failings and creating new ways forwards, living the way God intended men and women to be, that we can become a truly prophetic voice to the world around us.